I broke my frailing nail to the quick packing up to go home after Monday Music Night.

Part of being an old-time banjo player is being neurotic about your frailing nail.

I do not use my fingernails like flatpicks. I actually strike close to the middle of my fingernail. Even painfully short nails can produce good tone with practice. Long nails just make things a tad easier.

I do not recommend salon nails. I tried it and it was more uncomfortable than watching Basic Instinct with my parents. The plastic is so thick that it kills the tone of the strike.

The best solution I have found is a custom sterling silver frailing thimble by Ellington Silver Picks. The pick was hand made to fit the measurements of my finger and engraved with my initials.

The pick features a wide striking area with a downward curve to avoid getting snagged on the banjo strings. The interior of the band has a sandpaper texture to help keep the pick in place.

How does it sound? It’s not the same tone that I get with my unadorned fingernail. There is more volume and that seems to draw out the strong points of my banjo. It sure feels nice when the pick strikes the string.

The only downside to plying with a pick is that there is a chance you can catch the pick on the strings and send it flying through the air. It doesn’t happen often, but when it dies everybody knows it!

Do the picks need to be silver? Yes. I think they do. The picks have a lovely tone on steel string s without a lot of scratching, The material also forces me to be aware of where my picks are, so I am less likely to loose them or loan them out.

After using the pick yesterday to record The Daily Frail for my Patreon sponsors I was struck again by how good the frailing pick sounds. I think I will keep my nails short and my silver picks handy.

Ellington picks are no longer available, but I am sure there is a craftsman out there willing to make his or her own version of this amazing tool.

In addition to the frailing pick I was also given a silver fingerpick and bladeless thumb pick. The are awesome on my Dobro resophonic guitars!

Snow Geese

Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge sent out an email announcing that the snow geese are back for the winter.

On Valentine’s Day 2010 I took Amy out on a date in Easton, MD. At 40, I had never been on a date for Valentine’s. My hearing had put up such great walls around me that the whole experience was new for me. When she kissed me it was the first kiss of my life.

The next day I took her to Blackwater. I had always wanted to visit the place, but I never imagined what we would find.

I had taken Amy to Chincoteague a few weeks earlier and a baby seal swam up to her feet. I was sure Blackwater would not be able to deliver that kind of emotional punch.

Man, was I wrong.

In the MP3 file you can hear Amy calling for me. After I set my little Zoom microphone on the hood of my Mercury I ran to her side and we stood in awe as thousands of snow geese circled overhead.

With driving being difficult for me now, I can’t get to Blackwater or Chincoteague. Dear Old Dad has offered to give me a ride, but he isn’t a photographer so it would be a boring trip for him. My Nikon is just gathering dust now.

If you have the chance to get out to a wild place to be our among God’s glory, don’t miss it. Just pick a place, go out and be still. Don’t look for anything specific and you will be amazed at what comes to you.

Scary Stories for a Snowy Day

It was a winter many years ago when my mother shared two things with me. The first was a The Witch of Coös -New England ghost story disguised as a poem by Robert Frost. That was wonderful. The second was a paperback anthology of stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

It sticks out in my memory for several reasons. My mothers voice, reading loud so I could hear, as she read of the bones making their trip through the house in The Witch of Coos. The warmth of being bundled up in a blanket next to my mom as she helped me through some of the strange words in The Pit and the Pendulum and later the happiness of reading in bed until I drifted off to sleep.

I think I should point out that these stories never left me afraid. When I was ten I took a dare from some kids in town and crept out of the house to spend a summer night in the old graveyard down the street from our sandwich shop in Marshallton, PA. Some of the graves went back to the time of William Penn. I sat in the dark reading some of Jack London’s crazy horror stories by flashlight. No ghosts came to bother me, but I did see an owl and some deer. The only unpleasant part was the cold that comes right before dawn. I should have brought a jacket.

While we tend to center scary stories around Halloween, winter has always been my favorite time of year to curl up with a good gruesome tale. Autumn is so pretty, but winter is ugly and bleak with bare trees and howling wind.

My mother and I read every book in the Chester County and later Haverford Township libraries. We would visit the library once or twice a week and go home overloaded with books. We read everything we could get out hands on, but I always got a thrill when I came across something the was both scary and well written.

Algernon Blackwood, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft stand out as the favorites of my childhood, and their stories are all available on the web in text or as audiobooks. If you are snowed in today, why not send a shiver down your spine?

If horror stories are not your thing, maybe introduce a kid to Robert Frost instead? I think a lot of my comfort with words, rhythm and melody is the direct result of my mother turning me on to poetry.

Doc Moonshine Interviews Patrick Costello

Doc Moonshine writes:
This is an interview I recorded, during the station that I broadcast with’s previous incarnation. during this conversation, Patrick and I discuss what lead us to music, Patrick’s philosophy on banjo playing and on making music in general, and what sets his teaching apart. like any good friends, there are methods Patrick and I agree on and methods we don’t. but that doesn’t stop us having a good laugh and hopefully teaching you a thing or too.

Ten Thousand Harmonicas?!

It’s been a long day for me. I woke up at 0-dark-thirty with a hideous migraine.

Thankfully, Dear Old Dad picked up more of my migraine medicine and Pooka has been glued to my side. Right about now I just feel like I have been run over by a truck hauling pig manure – and that’s a big improvement from this morning.

While I am laying low today. Dear Old Dad is busy scheduling banjo lessons and mom is working on her web site.  

I do have one cool bit of news to share! YouTube sent me a notice that my beginner harmonica lesson has passed ten thousand views! Wow!

I guess I have to add harmonica to my upcoming slate of workshops!

I am going to curl up with Pooka and a cheesy movie. Something really wonderfully grotesquely bad like Project Metalbeast, The Gian Claw or Head.

Have a great weekend!
God bless,

Wow . . .

When I started out on the banjo people were quick to tell me the limits of frailing/clawhammer/old-time banjo. in a lot of ways it was similar to the list of things my doctor said I would never do when I was diagnosed with epilepsy.

I proved the doctor wrong just like I proved the old-timers wrong. You can do ANYTHING with the technique of frailing!

Now that my students are frailing blues, bluegrass and bottleneck slide I have been pondering what comes next..

I can’t say much right now . . . but I have just experienced that next step. Something that will open a whole new world of music for frailing banjo players. All I can say is, “Wow!”

Expect updates sometime in 2019 and beyond!