Suboxone Withdrawal Music Workshop Series – Day Three

Going cold turkey from Suboxone – a drug that helps control opioid addiction. It’s going to be the worst 72 hours of my life, so between Friday and Tuesday I will be posting music workshops.

This video was recorded at the end of the third day. We discuss learning to play basic frailing banjo and acoustic guitar – with an emphasis on breaking away from tab.

Tab Monkey Rescue

Join our new Facebook group: Tab Monkey Rescue

A tab-free zone where folks who play fretted and stringed instruments such as banjo, guitar, mandolin and fiddle can give advice, answer questions and post videos aimed at helping folks ditch the tablature crutch and join the brotherhood/sisterhood of musicians.

If you are a learning a fretted or stringed instrument and are caught in a tablature failure loop feel free to ask for help out of the trap.
If you are able to play, sing and jam without reading or memorizing tablature feel free to reply to a specific question or post advice aimed at helping folks see the big picture.

Open to all instruments, genres and styles.

Learning Old-Time Banjo

We get a lot of mail and comments asking where to get started on the banjo. Here is my reply to a note I received over the weekend while I was fighting through a five-day migraine headache.

I am aware that I am the rare dissenting voice in this era of banjo gurus who can’t really play pushing banjo tab in place of instruction. The people I learned from expected an old-time banjo player to be able to sing, to fit in with any musical situation and to be able to improvise. Fiddle tunes rarely came up. Even when I played for dances the dance callers and instructors wanted songs rather than tunes. This fiddle tune only routine is as traditional as a rubber tomahawk and the people claiming otherwise are hiding their inability to do anything beyond brainlessly running through a memorized melody line.

Old-time banjo is not a style or a genre. It’s a craft that goes beyond just playing tunes.

Anyway, here’s my answer to the, “How do I get started?” email that came in over the weekend.

The way I play and the way I teach is based on the discipline I learned studying Kenpo Karate and Modern Arnis (a form of stick and knife fighting from the Philippine Islands). I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true.

The trick is the basics. People usually take up an instrument and want to play cool licks in an hour. This is like decorating a house before the walls are up. Building without a foundation will always result in disappointment.

 What I did, and what I teach my students, is to go over the basic skill set relentlessly with no thought of progress. I don’t practice to get better or to reach a goal; I practice for the love of the craft.

In frailing banjo and fingerstyle guitar we must learn to perform several complex actions unconsciously. Rhythm, melody, harmony and percussion all at once. On the guitar our percussion turns into bass lines. On the banjo the thumb on the head provides a percussive effect.

Pick up your banjo. Tune it to open G. Take out any stuffing you may have put in the pot and work with these videos:

Old Time Banjo

Basic Frailing Techniques

Download a free copy of Mechanics of Frailing Banjo The web audio is no longer active, but the text will get you started on the right foot.

Once you can play the basic frailing pattern, start adding chords and sing folk songs.

Then go to a folk jam. Play and sing with musicians who are better than you. Don’t sit on the outskirts. Get involved.

If you can’t find a jam, start one of your own.

Play in the community. Nursing homes, hospices, nursery schools. Make yourself part of your community. Inject yourself into its bloodstream

Practice every day. Forget all thoughts of progress. Just play for the love of the craft.

Forget drop thumb. Keep it simple. Strike strum-thumb. A quarter note and two eighth notes.

When you can hold your own at a jam start teaching. Don’t charge for the lesson because your students will teach you.

At some point you will realize that you have achieved your goal, but if you have learned the lessons of the craft it will not matter. Music will be an expression of who you are in this precious moment – and your music will change moment by moment with you. Do this and your light will shine through every song and note and chord.

It is not talent or mystic secrets. It’s just love. Love of the craft. Love of the music. Love of the community. Love of life.

I hope music brings you joy.

God bless,

The one thing I should have added is to be careful with the Internet. People tend to start browsing instead of practicing – and when your eyes are always locked on your phone you miss the countless opportunities to make music, to make contact, to make a friend surrounding you everywhere you go. I think one of the reasons folk music is on the decline is that people are too distracted to practice!

Approaching More Milestones

I have been riding out a monster headache since Wednesday. This one is so bad, even bad movies don’t help,

To take my mind off the pain I thought I would share some exciting news.

At this moment we have 199 sponsors on Patreon:

This sort of thing can quickly change one way or another, but right now it is kind of cool. It’s a good thing because we have a ton of material in the works exclusively for our Patreon friends.

In other news, The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo has 98 reviews on Amazon. 85% of the reviews give it five stars. This amazes me because the book was never intended for a large audience. I wrote the book as a free handout for an after-school banjo club. When I made the book freely available people said that I was crazy, but we increased sales of the book and introduced a massive number of people to the joy of old-time banjo.

As a lot of you have noticed, I have included my mom on my YouTube channel. We discuss different topics, but the themes are usually the same. She taught me so much when I was growing up, and her teachings influence my work to this day. As Dear Old Dad says, “She is the best of us.

Right now we have 15,859 subscribers to our channel, with more clicking in every day. When we hit sixteen thousand we will have to do something special.

A new instructor will be stepping in front of the camera to whip music students back into shape. I don’t have a biography or any personal details to share with you. He is very mysterious. All I have is a name . . . Dobro Libre.

There are other things happening that I can’t talk about just yet. Keep an eye on Frailing Banjo, Patreon, YouTube and Dobro Libre for more announcements and surprises.

God bless,


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!

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.