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Showing posts from March, 2012

Earl Scruggs (1924-2012)

Earl Scruggs, 88, the innovator of bluegrass banjo picking, has died.

Back when I first picked up the banjo, in 2008, Scruggs was the only banjo player's name I really knew and when I heard the term "Scruggs style" I thought that this must be the way.

I borrowed his banjo instruction book from the library and started picking out painfully slow notes. Thumb, index, middle: the forward roll. Middle, index, thumb: the backwards roll. And so on.

After six months of trying, I was frustrated that nothing I played sounded anything close to how Scruggs did it, but nobody else sounded like him either. He at once invented a style of playing and broke the mold doing so.

Listening to Flatt & Scruggs made me realize that I'd be better off learning clawhammer style banjo.

But beyond being a singular talent on the banjo, he was also a great ambassador of the instrument, spreading its popularity far and wide. Legions of men and women owe their interest in the banjo to the late…

Finding the Connection

Learning to play the banjo began as solitary venture. Me plus banjo plus book plus websites: that's how I started.

This instrument and the music I wanted to play wasn't passed down to me from an elder. While my grandparents lived in Brevard, N.C., they didn't play music, and it wasn't until after I undertook the banjo that I learned of the region's thriving old-time community. Instead, the banjo was my key to connecting with others.

After two years of playing (but just one year of playing old-time), I finally summoned the courage to attend my first jam in May 2010, the Kent Shindig, in my hometown of Kent, Ohio. There, I found a thriving -- and growing -- group of people interested in the music to which I had become addicted. 
There's discussion now at the Banjo Hangout about missed generations in the old-time community, decrying the decreasing frequency of musicians learning knee-to-knee from their elders. 
Having to rely on technology to learn the music at fi…