So you can file this under strange things I have mommy guilt for — I’ve yet to arrange banjo lessons for my eldest daughter.
My daughter Grace wants to learn to play the banjo. She is obsessed with it, For me, this is one of the great mysteries in life — why the heck is she fixated on the banjo? Neither myself, nor any of our close relatives, is a fan of country music, yet here is my kid begging me for banjo lessons. She started asking when she was three years old. At the time I highly suspected she didn’t even know what a banjo was, and only knew the word from the lines in the nursery song I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, where it says “someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah strumming on the old banjo”.
Yet here we are several years later and she is still fixated on the idea of learning the banjo. I want to encourage her to love music, I know that learning to play an instrument is great for helping little brains to develop. I know all of this, and still, I’ve yet to find her lessons.
Once a year or so I will ask around, search the internet, and call a few places in hopes of finding lessons for her. When I first started inquiring I quickly discovered that despite all those things I’ve heard over the years about truly great musicians having to start young, no one I spoke to wanted to teach a four or five year old to play anything, let alone specifically the banjo. “She needs to be older.” or “Call back once she’s learnt to read and write.” were common replies.
For Christmas, my mother-in-law bought my daughter a beginner’s banjo. Gracie desperately wants to practice on it but doesn’t know where to start. She reads and re-reads the little booklet that came with it, trying to figure out what chords are, and inevitably comes to me asking for help. I don’t have a clue how to tune this thing, or the foggiest notion on where to start as far as practising chords and learning to play.
A few months back my husband and I were walking around, browsing neighbourhood shops with our youngest daughter during a sidewalk sale. Since Grace was off at an overnight camp with Scouts hubby figured this would be the perfect time to ask about lessons. We walked into the local music shop and stood there waiting to speak with the owner, who was busy chatting with someone about guitars. We asked about banjo lessons and he said sorry, but they weren’t offering any. Making conversation we mentioned how our kid has been asking for years now to learn to play the banjo. It was an awkward railway crash of a conversation. “Which type of banjo?” he asked. And I didn’t have a clue how to answer. There are types of banjos?? Um.. whatever type her grandmother had given her. “Is it a 5 string?” Err… I think so? I was blushing hotly and stammering. He told us he didn’t know of anyone in the city teaching banjo right now, except maybe some guy that teaches out of his house who sometimes puts listings up on Kijiji. Wells that went well.
Lately my daughter has taken to sitting and strumming her banjo and singing loudly off key, frequently and with a level of gusto that is often less than lovely to my ear drums. Without my saying a word of complaint she knows it sounds like crap and is frustrated. “Mom, I’ve been thinking and I think it’s time for me to have those banjo lessons now please.” she says to me earnestly one late summer afternoon.
I know nothing about stringed instruments. I played clarinet for a few years in grade school. There are a bewildering array of YouTube videos out there that claim to teach a beginner to play banjo. When I search online and try and find things I can show her I feel completely overwhelmed. Melody banjo, rhythm banjo, 5-string, 4-string, 6-string, 12-string. I carefully study the banjo her grandmother bought her and discover it’s a 5-string. Is it a parlour banjo or a long neck? I have no clue. Does that make a difference in how you learn to play it? The fellow at the music store mentioned quick “hillbilly style” picking versus only strumming. Which style is meant to be played on this banjo here in my hands? I’m not sure. The how-to videos we watch online show metal picks you wear on your fingers. Her banjo came with a guitar-like pick. That must mean it’s the strumming kind, right? I’m uncertain.
Perhaps a better question would be which style does my daughter want to learn to play? Or does she even still want to learn the banjo? Maybe there’s another instrument she’d be interested in? We talk about it. We spend an afternoon going over various options, watching YouTube videos of people playing instruments ranging from flute and fiddle to drums. At the end she tells me she needs to think about it, and by dinner time she tells me she’s made up her mind, it has to be the banjo. She’s not sure which type of banjo, but most definitely banjo.
Her earnest request sets me off on another round of searching the internet, sending off a few emails and waiting to see if anyone replies. And feeling guilty, seriously guilty that my kid has been asking to learn something for a bit over four years, and I’ve yet to come through for her. It makes me feel like I am failing at this whole mom thing. And I realize banjo lessons, or lack thereof, is a bit weird of a thing to feel so guilty over.
What about you folks? Ever have a kid get obsessed over an instrument? What oddball things do you feel nagging mom guilty over?