Thoughts From Dear Old Dad: Do You Know How Lucky You Are?

More wisdom from my dad

“Do you know how lucky you are?”

I’ve heard that phrase many times over the past thirty-five years. Once a man walked up to my truck and said it while I was playing my banjo. Another time a very well known banjo player told Patrick the same thing about his ability to sing while playing. We hear a version of it almost every time we are doing something musical together. Sort of like we were a couple of hobo’s who stumbled onto a bag of baloney sandwiches.

Well folks, that ain’t the way it works. The ability to play, sing or work together with your son, daughter or spouse has absolutely nothing to do with luck. What seems like simple good fortune is actually the end result of a lot of work. Nothing worthwhile happens by luck. The guy at my truck window only had to accept my offer to teach him how to play. The famous banjo player simply never bothered to fully develop as a musician. The people who look at us and comment on our good fortune could easily change their luck if they wanted to.

The first thing you must do is practice with a purpose. Get grounded in the basics of rhythm, timing and singing. Take whatever skill you have right now and start developing some chops. Get out and play anywhere and with anyone you can. Learn from these experiences. Stop whining that you are not good enough because that cop-out guarantees that you never will be. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by chat-room cowboys who are all hat and no cattle. These losers hide behind words like “traditional” or “acceptable” in order to intimidate you. Remember, music is a language. Once you master the core concepts you can play anything, anywhere with any other musician.

Frustrated beginners often ask us for advice about how to deal with family members who don’t appreciate their music. Think about that for a minute. Music is not for appreciation or preservation (if it must be preserved it is already dead). Music has but one purpose, to entertain. Very few listeners give a damn about a note for note rendition of some obscure fiddle tune played on a banjo with no rhythm, timing or skill. Most people, however, will respond to the simplest folk or blues song played and sung well. Listen to your friends and family. They are trying to tell you something. What sounds to you like some sort of an Appalachian masterpiece may come across to them as pointless noise.

The best way to change your luck is to take control of your situation. Practice the basics until you think know them. Then go play with some real musicians. You’ll come home eager to practice more basics. Get out of the one-trick pony mindset that is turning folks away from your musical efforts. Play songs that everyone recognizes. Get your friends and family to sing along. Odds are that you will soon have to invest in another instrument or two.

When you pull out an instrument you are making a statement. The folks who are watching expect you to deliver the goods. They want to be entertained. By presenting yourself as a musician you have an obligation to do just that. An audience will not respond because you feel the pain of a misrepresented regional banjo style. They will not embrace you for boring them with historical trivia. They could care less how many different tunings you know. They do not see you as a cultural conduit. To them you are an entertainer.

You can change your luck today by behaving like one.

More Later. Till then, don’t step in anything soft.
Pat (Dear Old Dad) Costello