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February 3, 2014 / Aware of the Void

The Benefits of Being a Quitter

Temple Bar

About four years ago I took a notion to try and learn to play the Banjo. I tentatively dipped my toe in the blue-grass river and took a loan of a friends 5 string banjo. I had played guitars on and off since I was a teenager so I had some skillz regarding stringed instruments. But the banjo was something new and different. I decided that I wanted to do it right. No short cuts. Learn the theory, learn the picking patterns, learn the chords and progress in a way that helped me know what I was doing. I had no interest in learning individual tunes, that would come later once I had the technique and skills built up.

Eventually what I was doing started to sound like a tune and I felt that I was ready for a commitment. I returned the borrowed Banjo and set about sourcing one of my own. This involved many hours of research regarding pitch and tone. Variations in Banjo style. Solid backed or open. The skin type of the banjo head. I pretty much over considered every detail and eventually launched myself into the seedy underworld of the second hand banjo market. I paid what I was happy to pay and my beautiful, new to me, Banjo arrived.

I plucked and I twanged and I started to get a little better, but only a little better. I spent hours sitting alone looking at books, practicing picking patterns trying to improve. You tube helped a bit but again the improvement was marginal. We moved house 4 times since I brokered a deal on my dream Banjo. Each time we moved that instrument felt a little bit heaver. My own failure to learn and improve added to the heaviness of the instrument. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting staring at the monolith, my very own Everest in the corner and a thought occurred to me.

Why was I trying to do something that was clearly making me miserable? I took a few pictures of the beast and wrote an ad for an on-line market place that I hoped would attract some attention and get the thing sold.
Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, John Hickman and Alan Munde are just some of the bluegrass greats that I failed at emulating with my banjo picking skills. I am finally calling it quits – my fingering technique has done nothing but cause frustration in the house and it is time for me to leave my banjo string alone. The instrument is in great condition and produces a lovely rich sound. Included in the sale is the Banjo, guitar tuner, and two books “Bluegrass Banjo Basics” by Dennis Caplinger and Hal Leonards “Banjo Scale Finder”

People were interested and I had the usual tyre kickers sending me low-ball offers but last Friday evening I had an offer that just about reached what I was willing to sell for. I had a choice take the offer and move on or continue to suffer at the hands of the “sunk cost fallacy“. My problem was I had already spent many, many hours of my life trying to play this thing. I had also made a financial investment and I was reluctant to admit to myself that I had made a mistake. But I took the offer and on Saturday morning money changed hands and I said goodbye to my banjo dreams.

I feel like a weight has been lifted from my life, I can now walk into my sitting room without being confronted by my own failings as a musician. I feel wonderful and my only regret it that I had not done this a few years and two house moves ago.

For what it is worth this is my advice, if you really have a choice and something is making you miserable it really is OK to quit.

And for the people who follow my blog because I post a lot of stuff about film photography don’t panic, the pictures were all taken with the Mamiya RB67 that I bought with my Banjo money – its the circle of life.

The Chapel Royal - Dublin Castle

Camera:Mamiya RB67
Film: Kodak Tri-X
Dev: Agfa Studional R09 1+ 50 (14mins 20c)


Leave a Comment
  1. David / Feb 3 2014 7:39 pm

    Well put, and that’s a good trade. I’m not quite ready to give up on my five-string. I opted into the “Murphy Method” DVD where you do start learning songs right away rather than technique. Lack of time is my problem. I’d rather be developing film than staring at the TV with a banjo in my lap.
    Also, did you post the first photo backward?

    • Aware of the Void / Feb 3 2014 7:46 pm

      The first photo is indeed backward and I think I am amazed that I missed that. I must have scanned it with the wrong side up.
      I think the left hand side of the street is a better location for the Olympia Theatre so I will call this a silent protest.

      I pretty much learned the guitar one song at a time and it worked ok, but in the beginning with the banjo I had dreams of doing it “properly”. Anyway I have moved on and at least at the moment I think I can see an improvement every-time I venture out with the camera…

      • David / Feb 3 2014 9:17 pm

        It would be interesting if you learned photography by taking the same photo over and over until you got it “right.”

      • Aware of the Void / Feb 3 2014 9:38 pm

        How else would you do it ๐Ÿ™‚

        I have a spot that I keep going back to time after time trying to get it “right” – I like the spot

  2. Moni / Feb 3 2014 7:59 pm

    Well good for you! What a good life-lesson. It’s always nice to feel lighter.

    • Aware of the Void / Feb 3 2014 8:01 pm

      Thanks Moni, it does feel pretty great.

      • Moni / Feb 3 2014 8:50 pm

        It’s funny, minutes after reading this I got some news about the house (talk about dead weight) we own and are now in decision mode. Very timely advice! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Jameslp / Feb 3 2014 8:32 pm

    Is THAT what that noise was!?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Very wise words… that aren’t easy to follow – well done! And what a beautiful replacement too and the examples above are really nice, especially the first one (although did you notice it’s back to front?)

    • Aware of the Void / Feb 3 2014 8:34 pm

      Yeah James, its a test I am trying to see how many people actually look at the photos…..
      or a mistake…

  4. frauinga / Feb 3 2014 8:37 pm

    You’re absolutely right! Nothing wrong with being a quitter. And personally, I’d rather have a Mamiya than a banjo. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. deirdremarieosullivan / Feb 3 2014 9:44 pm

    At least you tried and you tried your best and now you know music is not where your talents lie … Don’t be afraid to try another new thing and another!! I’m 37 and just bought a guitar and amp !!! Kinda the opposite to what you did actually ๐Ÿ˜‰ I used to play years ago but unlike you I never gave it my all. I find it easy to be good at most things but the challenge is being REALLY good! Well, there’s that and there’s also an enjoyment factor.. Sometimes you might not be the best but if you enjoy it I guess you should carry on.. But yea I still want to be better. ๐Ÿ™‚
    The image above looks ace! Looking forward to seeing more from the Mamiya, it was a shame for it to be lying idle ๐Ÿ™‚ Enjoy!

    • Aware of the Void / Feb 3 2014 10:27 pm

      Pretty sure I seen a photo of you with a flowing dress and a rocking guitar lately.
      I am happy to let the Banjo go and find my creative outlets elsewhere. I have no fear of trying and failing, I have just learned to fail better ๐Ÿ™‚
      The Mamiya is wonderful and a lot smaller than the banjo – I took a pile of portraits yesterday so will post them once I have had a chance to digest them.

      • deirdremarieosullivan / Feb 3 2014 10:28 pm

        ๐Ÿ™‚ it’s all about being as happy as possible really. Look forward to the portraits ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. mewanchuk / Feb 4 2014 3:45 am

    Great post! Thanks for the insight.

    I always thought it would be nice to play the banjo for those times around our house (we have four kids…) when things were crazy, and “the chase was on…”

    Now I guess I know differently.


    All the best,

    • Aware of the Void / Feb 4 2014 10:25 pm

      Hey there is nothing in the world more beautiful than the sound of 4 kids fighting over a banjo.

  7. aafke / Feb 4 2014 10:14 am

    Thanks for post, info and photos alike. Wishing you more and more happiness with the Mamiya. I’m sure she’s worth all your love, attention and skills.

  8. Susi / Feb 7 2014 11:32 am

    You have convinced me to sell my mandolin! Beautiful photos, impressively sharp… I thought they had been taken with a digital camera.

    • Aware of the Void / Feb 7 2014 1:15 pm

      I love the idea that all over the world I have now inspired people to give up playing instruments…
      The world will be a very sad place without us all giving it a go ๐Ÿ™‚
      I had a good giggle at the idea of my photo being so sharp that I could have taken them with a digital camera.
      Thanks Susi

  9. Carissa / Feb 7 2014 2:27 pm

    “A man’s got to know his limitations.” – Dirty Harry

    You gave it a good try, but as you noted, why do something that makes you miserable? There is enough in life we “have to do.” Your photography is wonderful!

    • Aware of the Void / Feb 7 2014 2:35 pm

      Carissa for the Dirty Harry reference you get a hand printed silver gelatine dark room print (if you want one) Email me your address and I will stick one in the post – I am printing this weekend.

      • Carissa / Feb 7 2014 2:39 pm

        Wow! Thanks!

      • Carissa / Feb 7 2014 2:41 pm

        I can’t seem to locate your email address . . .

      • Aware of the Void / Feb 7 2014 2:43 pm

        ************ should reach me and all the spam bots –
        let me know when you have a note of that so I can remove this ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Carissa / Feb 7 2014 2:44 pm

        Got it.

      • Aware of the Void / Feb 7 2014 2:46 pm

        Great, will send it on as soon as I am happy with it…


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