Pencil and Paper

I am working on a book about my adventures learning how to play the banjo, guitar and other folk instruments.

My circumstances as a young music student were unique. I was dealing with massive hearing loss and epilepsy. I had been exposed to Eastern philosophy as a young martial arts student. My mother taught me to use the tools the good Lord gave me, so I applied concepts from Kenpo karate and Taoism into my explorations into old-time banjo and country blues guitar.

Much has changed over the ensuing years and much is still the same. I am still learning new things every day, but now I am also a teacher. I have BAHA implants to help me hear, but new problems have sprung up to make my path more interesting. Neurological issues are making it difficult for me to type, so I am writing this new book entirely by hand in pencil.

I am writing at a desk that once belonged to my grandfather. He delivered it to me tied to the roof of his Dodge Dart on my eighth birthday. My great-grandmother helped my grandfather run his electrical contractor business from this desk. I feel them both with me as I work.

I write on Amazonbasics legal pads in pencil. I start out with a large quantity of sharpened pencils point-up in mugs and jars. As they go dull I drop them point-down in an empty container.

I am mainly using Blackwing pencils now and I can’t say enough nice things about them. Some of the nicest pencils I have ever used. The Blackwing long-point sharpener actually makes a difference. It is not fast, but the slow pace adds to my Steinbeck-style morning ritual of sharpening enough pencils to get through the day.

I use a shitajiki writing board under the page as I write to keep the pencil point from making an impression on the pages below it.

MUJI erasers work really well for someone who writes with a heavy hand like I do.

Field Notes and Write notepads help me keep my thoughts in order when I have to step away from my desk.

When I finish a chapter I pass it over to Dear Old Dad. He gives it a quick edit and passes it back to me for scanning.

I scan the chapter to post for our Patreon sponsors. They get the raw unprocessed data that will eventually be organized into a complete work.

After I post the chapter I give the pages back to Dear Old Dad for transcribing to Word, editing and recording for the audio book edition.
Scanned Sample Pages:

To give you a taste of what our Patreon sponsors get, here are single-page scans taken from the first page of the first three chapters.

My father takes my handwritten draft and transcribes it into Word. Here us a sample of how that turns out.

I looked up and a middle-aged man was gawking at me like I was a geek in a sideshow. He started laughing and turned to Lefty.“Why is Pillsbury gnawing on a guitar?”

They both started laughing. He made fun of my Converse high tops. He made fun of my Miami Vice tee-shirt. He made fun of my guitar. I started to get mad.

“What’s your problem? Never heard somebody play the blues before?”

He didn’t just laugh at that. He screamed. I thought he was going to go into hysterics. He opened the shop door, leaned out and hollered to somebody, “get in here and take a look at Pillsbury. He says he can play the blues!”

The next thing I know these guys come marching in and all of them think I am the funniest thing they have ever seen. I knew that I had a lot to learn on the guitar, but this was serious ball-busting. I was being mocked and it didn’t feel good, so I mustered up my courage and said, “if you guys are so great, why don’t you teach me something?”

The guy who had started the let’s laugh at Patrick party looked at one the others. They had a silent conversation, with one pointing to his watch and signaling that they had some time. Laughing guy pulled up a stool and sat in front of me. He reached for my guitar, and while it was hard to trust him I handed it over. “Damn, this is a heavy guitar. Okay, Pillsbury, do you know any bass lines like Elmore James played?”

“Who’s Elmore James?”

“Who’s Elmore James! You want to play guitar and you’ve never heard of Elmore James?” The rest of the group voiced their disapproval. “Well, Pillsbury, this is what I’m going to show you.” He took my guitar and made the bass strings ring out in a boogie-woogie rhythm. He started simple and driving and changed the pattern each time through until he had this amazing walking bass happening.

“I want to play like that!” I said.

Several people have encouraged me to move away from my current analog approach to writing and switch to voice to text or write on a tablet computer. I appreciate the input, but I like the simplicity of working with pencil and paper – and I get to have another adventure with my father.

When I do have to type – and the keyboard is inescapable in 2018 – I just take things in very small doses. It took three days with help from Dear Old Dad to put this post together. I move a little slower, but things still get done. Life is good.

Let’s wrap this up with a complete list of my books and essays released under Creative Commons licenses.




New Book News!

Patrick just handed me the next chapter of his new book. This one is a doozy. I will have the first edit back to him tomorrow to scan and upload in longhand for our Patreon subscribers. Then back to me for transcribing and more editing. I am having a ball working with him on this project. As God is my witness it is all true and no names have been changed to protect the guilty.

To watch this book come to life go here

Two tests at our local hospital last week with one more (MRI) next week. Them back to the neurologist. Prayers welcome.

Peace to all,
Pat Costello (Dear Old Dad)

Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat


For more than ten years my Father and I Have been hosting annual gatherings for folk musicians. These events were modeled after the jam sessions, retreats and shindigs we attended when we were first learning the craft.

Meeting so many of you has been a source of great joy to us over the years. Each event takes months of planning, organizing and just plain old hard work that contributes to my almost constant migraine headaches.

This year was no different. I was in severe pain when we arrived on Thursday to set up and in agony when we left on Sunday.

I can no longer put my body through this. I need to focus on work that I can do without triggering migraine storms.

After a great deal of soul-searching my father and I have decided that the 2018 Maryland Folk Musician’s Retreat just completed will be the last.

Thank you for all the happy memories.

The Daily Frail will continue, and I look forward to completing my next book which I am writing longhand as typing is one of the migraine and blackout triggers. Dear Old Dad will help with transcribing and editing.

God bless,
Patrick and Dear Old Dad

Yet Another Milestone

We passed fourteen thousand subscribers on YouTube.

Right now the official numbers at this moment for the channel are 4,801,058
views and 14,002 subscribers.

We are still growing, learning and sharing the joy of folk music together. With each new video and each new subscriber we take another step closer to my goal of making the art of frailing banjo universal and accessible to all!

Folk Retreat Bottleneck Banjo Workshop!

I am really excited about hosting a bottleneck banjo workshop at the 2018 Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat!

Will will be posting the place and time of the workshop once everybody arrives at the Retreat.

What you need to bring to the workshop:

  • Your banjo
  • A bottleneck or steel
  • An open mind and a can-do attitude!

You do not need to alter the setup of your banjo to play slide. I keep an extremely low action on all of my banjos and they all work great playing slide.

Shop around and try a few different types and styles of bottlenecks so that you can find the right slide for you and your banjo. Companies like DunlopErnie Ball and D’Addario make lots of different types and styles of slides at prices cheap enough that you could end up building a collection of different slides.

If you want a slide that doubles as a functional works of art, check out Diamond Bottlenecks, Rocky Mountain Slides or Silica Sound.

If you are playing lap-style, you may be more comfortable with a bullet slide or tone bar.

For myself, I like glass slides. When I first started playing slide banjo I used inexpensive medicine bottle replicas. Now I use an inexpensive heavy glass slide that is too big for my little finger but it sounds and feels so good to my ears . . . well, BAHA.

I really want to splurge and get myself one of those blown glass custom slides, but every time I go to order one I talk myself out of it. What I have works. Why mess with success?

Back to the workshop: in addition to a slide, you will get more out of our workshop time together if you already have a little bit of knowledge. Start out with my Frailing The Blues DVD and then work your way through the slide workshops that have been part of The Daily Frail for the past ten years or so.

I think slide is an amazing addition to any banjo player’s toolbox. While my main focus is on frailing banjo, any banjo player with a slide is welcome to take part in the workshop.

If you have any questions feel free to post in the comments, email me or call Dear Old Dad at (410) 968-3873.

I can’t wait to make music with you at the Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat!

In The Works . . .

The Daily Frail and the Patrick and Dear Old Dad Vidcast are starting a regular production schedule and our Patreon is growing day by day. This gives us time and resources to start working on new projects.

Here are just a few of the things we are working on:

Folk Guitar:
A weekly workshop with Patrick sharing insights and instruction on the techniques that come together as folk guitar.

Group Video Workshops:
We are setting up a weekly group video chat. This feature will be limited to our Patreon supporters. More information soon.

Book In Progress:
I have a new book in the works. This summer we will be making it available a chapter at a time to our Patreon supporters. In addition to reading the work first you will gain insight into the creative process behind The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo and other much-loved music books.

This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We have a lot of great stuff in the works, Your support on Patreon will go a long way towards helping us make it all happen!

Read more about our Patreon page:

Maryland Folk Retreat Instructors

Dear Old Dad here with a link to the Folk Musicians’ Retreat instructor page.
Workshops on fiddle, songwriting, dulcimer, ukulele, banjo and more.

I am really looking forward to Jared’s early banjo class. He also teaches dulcimer and ukulele. A great instructor.

Diana will host a workshop to help folks get comfortable in a jam (a lot of requests for this one). She will also lead a hootenanny on Friday evening in the dining room.

Guy and Karen will help out with country singing and jamming.
Believe me, Guy is a country music jukebox.

Joe and Rosa will lead a gospel sing-along/jam. You’ll love these folks.

Sarah is a brilliant musician and a gifted teacher. Your fiddle will thank you for spending time with her.

Pete will host workshops in songwriting and singing. You’ll love his creative and entertaining style. I hope that he will again host our Saturday evening open mike.

Lowell will be on hand to answer questions about your banjo, instrument building and woodcarving. He will also have some of his favorite builds on display.

Patrick and I will be doing our thing in groups and one on one as needed.

Call me if you have an idea for a workshop