Author: Cornish, Rick

People will follow a bad example as quickly as they will follow a good one.
People will follow a bad example as quickly as they will follow a good one.
Today's Guest Column from Lynwood Lunsford
Thursday, January 29, 2009

(Editor’s Note: Lynwood has appeared here at least once before. He’s a well-known banjo player back east and a pretty lucid guy. Mark sent me this piece that appeared on the “L” on Tuesday and I asked Lynwood if he’d mind us sharing it with CBA folk. Of course he said sure.)

"People will follow a bad example as quickly as they will follow a good one, if they don't know the difference."

I heard this statement in a seminar that I once attended, which had nothing to do with music. But it immediately struck me that this statement quite appropriately applied to the music industry. In fact, I could have been a poster child for it!!

When I first tried out for Jimmy Martin, I had already been playing banjo about 8 years. I felt confident that I knew how to play the banjo. WRONG!! Jimmy immediately pointed out some things that I was doing wrong.......mostly, not using my thumb to accent the downbeat in my rolls. Up to the point, I virtually never picked the 2nd string with my thumb. I always used my index finger. And why not? It was the closest finger to that string!! Jimmy began explaining the difference to me like this; "If you don't use your thumb to pick the 2nd string, you will always be playing in front of the beat. It takes just a little longer to reach that thumb down there, but that is the amount of time needed, to put you right in the middle of the downbeat. And ol' Jimmy's music plays on the downbeat." At first, I thought he was crazy (this is the "not knowing the difference" part) but I did have a tendency to rush the timing. So, I began to change the way I picked (I didn't get the job with Jimmy) and I'll admit that it felt really uncomfortable at first. But I stuck with it and I began to notice a change in my playing.......better timing.......less rushing........more drive........and I actually started to sound more like my banjo heroes!

After 4 more tries, I finally got hired by Jimmy........I think more out of sympathy than ability!! But things didn't go too smoothly! Jimmy started hammering me about this rhythm thing. He kept saying that I wasn't playing in rhythm with him. I just couldn't understand it.......I knew that I was in time.......I wasn't rushing the beat........I was playing on the downbeat.........but he kept saying I was playing wrong! I'll have to admit that it was tough to work for him those first 3 or 4 months!! He would always get me just before we'd go on stage. He'd started just playing rhythm on the guitar and tell me to get with him. I tried, I really did, but he would just get so frustrated with me........he kept saying that my roll was out of rhythm with him. I actually contemplated quitting but I was determined to learn from him. In June of that year, we did a west coast tour and we were at the Huck Finn festival in Victorville, Ca. As he always did, Jimmy called me over to him, just before we were to take the stage. I usually tried to avoid him.......but I couldn't this time! He started playing rhythm on his guitar and told me to get with him. Well, I tried but he just fussed at what I was doing. Out of desperation, I started changing my rolls and all at once, Jimmy just about knocked my shoulder off!! He said; "do that again, what you just did!" He started playing rhythm and I started doing this roll.........he hollered; "that's it!! That's all you gotta do!" When I heard the difference.......well, it was like a light went on in my head!! I couldn't believe how I had never heard that before!! From that moment on, Jimmy never fussed at me about being out of rhythm with him again!

After that, he and I would sit and listen to other bands perform. We would listen to see if they were playing in rhythm with each other. Those that were (and there were few of them) sounded really good, and those that didn't, sounded like a train wreck!!

In closing, I want to say to those who have chosen to argue and discount what I have tried to share, that I understand why. I did the same thing until I actually experienced the differences, that playing in rhythm makes in the sound of a band. My beginning statement applied to me perfectly! But ol' Jimmy used to say that; "if you really learn to play my music right, you will never again be satisfied with music that is played wrong." Now Jimmy didn't mean that his music was right and everyone else's was wrong. He meant that the principles his music was based on, are musically correct and if they aren't followed in the music of others, that music is being played wrong. Those principles are: playing in time with each other, playing in tune with each other and (perhaps most importantly) playing in rhythm with each other. I guarantee you that, once you've experienced the difference, you won't want to play (or hear) music that doesn't employ those principles. Thanks
Posted:  1/29/2009

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