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Showdown at the OK Plateau

In reading about productivity tricks learned from the late author David Foster Wallace, I was introduced to the notion of the "OK Plateau," a concept coined by another author, Joshua Foer, who defines this as the place where people reach an acceptable level of skill and then stop trying to learn new things, which Wallace describes in his very long novel Infinite Jest.
"Then [there's] maybe the worst type, because it can cunningly masquerade as patience and humble frustration. You've got the Complacent type, who improves radically until he hits a plateau, and is content with the radical improvement he's made to get to the plateau, and doesn't mind staying at the plateau because it's comfortable and familiar, and he doesn't worry about getting off it, and pretty soon you find he's designed a whole game around compensating for the weaknesses and chinks in the armor the given plateau represents in his game, still — his whole game is based on this plateau now. 
"And little by little, guys he used to beat start beating him, locating the chinks of the plateau, and his rank starts to slide, but he'll say he doesn't care, he says he's in it for the love of the game, and he always smiles but there gets to be something sort of tight and hangdog about his smile, and he always smiles and is real nice to everybody and real good to have around but he keeps staying where he is while other guys hop plateaux, and he gets beat more and more, but he's content."
It occurred to me upon reading this passage that this is how I have come to play the banjo ever since taking up the fiddle. I have learned to take the tunes I have learned on fiddle and play them on banjo, but I don't recall the last time I set out to learn a tune just for the banjo.

Over the weekend, I decided to change that.

I have a giant book of banjo tablature with many tunes that I have never learned. Though the idea of learning from tabs at this point seems regressive, it was the easiest way to randomly pick a tune and try to learn it on the spot.

My eye caught "New Five Cents," which I have a version of by Bruce Greene on fiddle, and it's a fabulous version, but of course playing through the tabbed version a couple times slowly does not seem to sound like the same tune. I know I would be better off learning it by ear, but it was a start.

The effort to learn something new on the banjo led to some noodling and improvising a little diddy that I had fun fleshing out.

It strikes me as a good idea to try something new each time I play whichever instrument I choose because, though I have been busy learning from Brad Leftwich's DVDs, I have sort of fallen into rote repetition in the effort to get things sounding the way I want. I went back to the video lessons this weekend to pick up some of the nuances I did not catch the first time through. It is amazing what you hear when you keep listening.

Do you ever find yourself stuck on the "OK Plateau"? How do you keep your playing fresh? Share your thoughts in the comments ...


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