Teamwork and the Jam Session -- leadership lessons learned from playing the banjo

While attending college at Virginia Tech I discovered old time music.  I quickly realized I absolutely HAD to learn how to play clawhammer banjo which is the style of banjo played in old time music.  I was lucky to find Mac Traynham (also a student at VT at the time) who would become my banjo teacher. 

I was not an easy student to work with but Mac was patient and always positive and encouraging. The banjo was my first instrument and I knew almost nothing about music.  It took me forever to learn how to tune my banjo (I had to train my ear).  Daily practice for six months is what it took for me to learn my first tune.

I was challenged learning how to play the banjo all by myself.  After learning my first tune ("June Apple") I was excited to play it with other musicians.  This is when I went to a deeper level of learning about my instrument and the music.

When I first started playing with other people I regularly rushed the tempo due to my excitement.  It seemed like an impossible task to play in time with a metronome. I so focused on me that I had trouble paying attention to others.  Playing in time with others required a new level of sensitivity.  I had to listen to my own playing while listening to how everyone else was playing.  I began to realize that I needed the same skill in everyday life.  I was too self-centered and always thinking about what I was going to say when someone else was done talking.  Playing music helped me be patient and listen. 

Old Time Music is dance music.  A long time ago (before iPods even) fiddle's and banjos provided the sound track to life in the Southern Appalachians Mountains.  Old Time Music  is the predecessor to bluegrass music.  Bluegrass musicians will "take a break" during a song much like jazz musicians do - - featuring a particular musician.  Old Time Music is different.  Old Time musicians don't take "breaks".  The goal is to create a driving, danceable sound.  The experience, for many musicians, is like a meditation.  The meditative nature of the music requires me to address (experientially) my feeling "separate" but realizing the greater truth that I am part of the "whole".  This experience has helped me become a better team player in other areas of my life.

One of the things I love most about playing this music is the opportunity to meet wonderful people and make music with them.  I've made music with people from all walks of life.  Our love of the music is what brings us together.

On July 11, 2011 I had the opportunity to play music with my friends John Engle (fiddle) and Amy Hobbs (guitar) at a camp that serves autistic kids and adults.  Luckily, one of the camp staff took some video while we were playing.  The tune is called "Soldiers Joy" and is sometimes called "Love Somebody" (a tune in the key of D).

I hope you enjoy it!