The ever-slowing banjo

This entry was posted by on Saturday, 4 February, 2006 at

So most everybody’s listened to NPR’s Car Talk, right? I don’t have one whit of interest in automobiles, but their talk show is still immensely entertaining to me. I guess it’s all about the personalities.

If you’ve heard the show, then you probably are familiar with their opening theme song, which is a bluegrass tune mainly played on a banjo. (According to their website, it’s a live recording of a David Grisman tune.) Ever noticed how great a tune it is? It’s just this perfectly smooth stream of eighth notes coming from the banjo, perfect pull-offs and hammer-ons, and the melody just stands out in the cascade of sound.

When I first started listening to Car Talk years ago, I remember thinking, “dang, it must be so hard to play banjo… listen how insanely fast that banjo is going!” The stream of notes where just a blur, and all you could do was just sort of listen, slack-jawed, and wonder how the guy was performing such a feat.

But as I practice my banjo more and more, pick more licks and pick up speed, the magic has gradually dissipated. Over the last year, every time I hear the theme song, the banjo seems to be playing slower and slower. I actually did a double-take this morning when I heard the song. I mean, I can actually visualize what the banjo player is doing. I can hear the exact notes he’s playing, understanding every arpeggio and run and lick. In fact, I’m sure that if I had the recording in front of me, I could transcribe the tab now, and learn to play it myself.

Honest! He’s just not playing as quickly as he used to!