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A Book of Five Strings: Strategies for Mastering the Art of Old Time Banjo Paperback – November, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

There is a difference between a folksinger and someone who sings folk songs.

To become a folksinger you must go beyond performing and actually live and share the music.

Patrick Costello is a folksinger.

Growing up in rural Chester County Pennsylvania and the suburbs of Philadelphia, Patrick Costello spent his formative years learning the language of music from seasoned musicians in places as diverse as "Dutch Country" cornfields and Philadelphia subway stations. Patrick was introduced to the banjo, old time music, the blues, fingerstyle guitar and much more by an army of old timers who just wanted to pass on the core skills of their craft.

As a musician, teacher and author Patrick is dedicated to sharing the spirit of folk music. He continues to pass on the legacy of sharing and fellowship that inspired him with friends, students and customers all over the world.

Patrick now resides in Crisfield, Maryland on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his fifth book. The How and the Tao of Folk Guitar Volume Two: Getting Good is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2005.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Practice, Perspective & Speed

Before we dive into the core techniques of old time banjo I think we should take a moment to talk about three very important issues that are front and center with new players.

Practice

The mistake people make when it comes to practice is that they either make it too much of an issue or treat it as work. When we sit down to practice and tell ourselves, "I must attain this" or, "I am doing something important" our heads get so full of judgments and opinions that there isn't any room for anything else. The will to achieve or prove something winds up working against us.

When you sit down to practice don't worry about playing this tune or that melody perfectly. As you will see later on in this book the melody of a song is actually the easiest and most flexible part of the equation. Once you "get" old time banjo the odds are pretty good that you will never play a song exactly the same way twice.

Instead, focus your attention on fundamentals such as the frailing strum, chord changes and other basic techniques. Work on these faithfully for a short period of time every day. Then stop worrying about practicing or gaining anything. Just play your banjo and sing some songs.

Don't treat this like work. Take joy in it.

Perspective

I run into people all the time who make the mistake of deciding that they will never reach a certain level of skill before they ever strike a note. I don't think I have to explain how detrimental this kind of attitude can be to someone's progress.

The thing we sometimes forget is that the notion of success and failure really depends on your perspective. What might seem like a minimal achievement to one person could be a great success in the eyes of someone else.

Judging yourself against other people is always going to leave you feeling inadequate in some way or another. I'm a good banjo player and I love what I do, but if I compared my achievements and training to that of a concert violinist I could start to feel inadequate. What we forget is that the violinist in question may also be comparing himself or herself to somebody else. Don't be distracted from your own personal journey by falling into this trap. Allow the learning process to work.

It's the same kind of thing when a beginner compares himself or herself to an experienced banjo player. Seeing someone perform with what appears to be effortless skill when you are struggling with the basics can leave you feeling like you will never be able to get that far.

What we forget in that situation is that even the greatest banjo player in the world was at one time a beginner. What you are seeing is the end result of a lifetime spent making music. If you really think about it the only thing a hot picker really has on you is time.

Be yourself. You are not lacking in anything. You may at times feel that you are not measuring up to someone else but when that happens all you have to do is change your perspective. Look at your progress from a rational point of view. Ask yourself if you really know the whole story or if you are just making excuses. Trust me, if all you can ever do is sing and play two or three songs people are going to watch you and say, "I'd give anything to be able to play like that!"

Speed

The problem with speed is that banjo students tend to make the mistake of thinking that playing fast is somehow different than playing slowly.

If you watch a truly accomplished player in action you will notice that whatever the tempo of the song is he works with the same easy pace. Whatever the speed of the song he or she never really appears to be playing fast.

To quote Mitamoto Musashi, "Really skillful people never get out of time, are always deliberate, and never appear busy."

In other words, once you have developed your skills playing fast isn't really any different than playing slow. The note values stay the same, the rhythmic structure doesn't change and your technique doesn't change. The only thing that changes is the tempo.

Practice deliberately. Don't be in a rush to show off or get the song over with. My general rule of thumb is to never play a song any faster than I can sing it. Build up your skills and after a while you'll be able to play fast and even ridiculously fast songs or breaks with just as much grace and ease as slow tunes.

Good first. Fast second.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Pik-Ware Publishing (November 2004)
  • ISBN-10: 0974419028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0974419022
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 6.8 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #638,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Schmidt on December 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
A Book Of Five Strings is one of the best books I've read about music. The author uses language that is accessible to anyone trying to learn old-time banjo. It is primarily for those wishing to learn frailing or clawhammer banjo as opposed to three-finger or Scruggs style. It is an awesome companion to The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo. The goal of this book is not to be a straight up lesson book nor a songbook. Although it hits those areas as well, the author aims to teach the read about music, in general, as applied to the banjo. The author leaves some things to the reader to figure out on their own, as a good teacher does in order to know that a student is understanding the concepts that are being taught. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to begin playing the banjo, even if their only aspirations are to be a living room folk musician. The information in this book uses the basics as a backbone for everything.
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It's an "okay" book, but if you've already purchased "The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo," it's a bit redundant. It's more or less the same book. If you have one, you won't need both of them.
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i have enjoyed both books by this author, definitely more for the clawhammer or frailing players then the 3 fingerstyle. That said i play 3 finger and have been able to incorporate some of his ideas into my playing and he has great wisdom and stories.
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This is the second of Patrick Costello's books on old time banjo I've bought. It contains lots of information and instruction as well as good tips on technique. While there is some duplication of Patrick's other book there is a lot of new material.
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Well produced book, a good read, all the usual suspects covered and discussed in an easy-to-read style and I am glad I bought it. More material on the contemporary application of fundamental clawhammer techniques would have lifted this book to the spectacular, five star category.
But, it is a good solid discussion of many key issues in clawhammer craft.
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Started learning the Banjo last spring and can honestly say that Patrick Costello has taught me everything I know. I've watched dozens of his videos on uTube and this book is a concise review of his very enjoyable and helpful teachings.
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This is a great little book with a simple, understandable approach to old-time banjo playing. I think every banjo player should have it in their library... very helpful stuff!
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By Fred on March 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
I used (and am using ) the material in this book to improve on my clawhammer/frailing banjo techniques. It is chock full of good drills, exercises, songs and advice, all delivered in an easy-to-read and accessible style, and interspersed with Patrick Costello's stories from his own musical journey. I am on my second copy, having given away the first to another aspiring banjo picker. This book (and his first book, The How and Tao of the Old-Time Banjo) have taken me further on my musical journey than I thought I would ever get and in a much shorter time. If you want to be a banjo picker or frailer, BUY IT.
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