That's all it took. After I hung up the phone I started doing some research. That’s when I realized that the banjo I had seen played in Ireland during visits in 2004 and 2005 was a 4-string tenor banjo that you could tune and play like a mandolin. Stupid me hadn't made that distinction before then. The phone rep was probably referring to a 5-string clawhammer banjo based on the CDs I was buying, but being somewhat of an impulse buyer I decided that tenor banjo was the instrument for me! After a crash course in figuring out which tenor banjo to buy, a few days later I had purchased a vintage 1920’s Bacon tenor banjo online from Intermountain Guitar and Banjo.
The Hot Seats. I took a few lessons from Josh and initially had him show me how to play some songs by my then favorite bands – the Grateful Dead, Phish, Ween, the Meat Puppets, My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog, Neil Young. Not surprisingly, I found playing that music on tenor banjo to be unsatisfying. So instead I tried playing a couple fiddle tunes and Irish jigs and really liked them, even though at that point I hadn't actually heard that much old-time or trad.
I quickly gained a knack for reading mandolin tablature, which also works for GDAE tuned tenor banjo, and found great pleasure in tabbing out arrangements of different fiddle tunes – about half old-time and half from the Irish tradition. Unfortunately this reliance on tab took away from some all important aural development. In 2007 I got up the nerve to start attending a local slow session that permitted music stands. I was a complete novice in every aspect at this point, and instead of motivating me to learn more, attending this session backfired because it caused my inner critic to kick in. Eventually I started to dread having to attend the jam and in 2008 I stopped playing altogether.
I plucked a little bit here and there in the interim, but the story literally picks back up in late 2010 when I was inspired to once again pick up the 4-string banjo. After a few months of sitting around the house playing by myself, a new opportunity to play publicly presented itself; this time with an expert musician at a local coffee shop. I began playing every other Saturday morning at this coffee shop – first as a duo and now as an open jam that attracts many other musicians. In fact, I currently try to participate in at least 6 old-time jams and Irish sessions per month, and I feel like I might stick with it this time!
I've learned to not spend too much time worrying about what others think; chances are they are more concerned with what they are doing than what you are doing. My aural skills are still pretty undeveloped and I still use sheet music and tablature as a learning aid, but by immersing myself in the culture as much as possible through real life music making I hope that eventually I will become a competent amateur player.