I have decided I want to learn how not to play the banjo next.
I already know how not to play the ukulele, guitar and accordion. I have forgotten how not to play the flute, oboe and saxophone (tenor and baritone). And my ability to play piano is only just slightly above how not to play.
I think you could say that, technically, I know how not to play the trombone, although the one time I got to not play it for high school marching band I really did not play it. Since I was just being used a place-filler in the formation, the director didn't even issue me a mouthpiece.
(This was after an ill-advised attempt to learn how not to twirl a color guard rifle. Now that, in my opinion, is a really funny story.)
I say this to establish the fact that when I decide I want to learn how not to play an instrument, I don't give up. So there is a very real chance that at some point in the future a banjo will join the guitar, ukulele, flute and piano gathering dust in our house.
Make no mistake. These are instruments that I have actually made a concerted effort to learn how to play, but through no fault of my own – other than a complete and utter lack of talent and ability – I have failed.
But that doesn't mean I'm going to give up.
Take the last time I learned how not to play the ukulele. This was, I believe, the third time I've taken intermediate group ukulele lessons, in addition to the two beginner group ukulele lessons and two sessions of beginner group guitar lessons. I lump both instruments together only because they are both stringed instruments and you would think there might possibly be some overlap.
Turns out? Not so much.
I would like to point out that my lack of ability is not a reflection on my teachers. It is solely and completely a result of my lack of manual dexterity (my fingers don't bend that way), spacial recognition (my fingers don't know where to go), and my utter lack of rhythm. My teachers have all been amazing, which is evident in the rapid improvements made by my classmates as well as my teachers' kind unwillingness to either call me out in front of the class or kick me out completely.
This time around I was in a class of child prodigies. By the end of the first class they were playing chords with ease. By the end of the second they were fingerpicking melodies. By the end of the third they were experimenting with amazingly complex rhythms. By the end of the fourth they were all comparing acceptance letters to Julliard.
I actually did master a few chords and was able to transition smoothly(ish) between them. My downfall was the whole lack of rhythm thing. I mean, I can dance. Sort of. I can keep time when I play piano. Sort of. But moving beyond a simple “One, Two, Three, Four,” or “Down, Down, Down, Down,” strumming pattern was much more difficult than I had realized.
There were a few times I started to (slowly) get into a “One And, Two And” or “Down Up, Down Up” rhythm. (Some people might even call this an eighth note rhythm. I think. Maybe.)
But when I tried to strum that pattern and switch chords it went something like this:
“One And, Two And, Chordchange And, Wrongchord And,
One aaaa, Wheream I, Crap I, Missedit And,
There! And, Two Nope, Three oops, Change uhh,
Change Arrrgh, Almost GotIt, Whatdoyou Mean, Wefinished Twobeats, Ago And?”
In other words, I have absolutely no business learning how not to play the banjo.
I'm not really sure why I want to learn how not to play the banjo. Maybe it's because of the shape. Or the short, fifth-string reentrant tuning. Or the unique sound. Or because it's so Tragically (un)Hip. Or because I want to be able to (not) play “Dueling Banjos” and scare the bejeebers out of anyone who's seen Deliverance.
Or maybe it's because I'm one of those hopelessly optimistic people who keep on trying no matter what. I'm always certain that the next time things will be better. Success is just around the corner. Just around this bend in the river. Just beyond this set of rapids.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to strum faster.
I hear banjos.