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Zen and the Art of Playing Dobro

Posted by Michael Hughes on Friday, January 6, 2012

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Dobro lesson with David Ellis: $xx.xx per hour.

Having folks at my weekly jam say "Wow, you've gotten a lot better lately": Priceless!

In my last blog I detailed some of the great insight I got from a recent lesson I had with David. My improved right-hand positioning and plucking certainly contributed to the compliments I got last night. But there was something else going on besides that. Thinking about it on my drive to work this morning (yes, still basking in the warm glow of compliments from musicians I respect), it struck me what else I took away from my last lesson: David has me paying attention to every note I play.

You would think that would be an obvious thing to do, but my focus tended to fade at my wrist. I was aware that my fingers were moving,  and I was aware that certain strings were vibrating, but the details of the connections were lost in that  fuzzy flurry I liked to call "finger pickin'."

But David has me now paying attention to every note as if each note counted. Because each note counts. I first noticed something different was going on when all of a sudden I could lay in bed at night and visualize every note I played in whatever song I had been working on that morning (I get my practice time in between 4:30 and 6:00 AM). It was almost as good as physically practicing. I could even mentally experiment with changing notes around or virtually experience what using a hammer-on or a pull-off would do as opposed to using separate strikes on the string.

My ability to remember and visualize was coming from my increased focus, my deliberate playing of each note. What's the Zen principle? When you do that, do only that. My full focus is now on plucking each note. Not only has this improved my precision and consistency, I noticed last night that I am making decisions about how I want a note to sound. I move my right hand up or down to change the twanginess. I'm finding on some phrases I have moved my picking fingers to be even with the sound holes--giving a tone that reminds me of a Les Paul being played through a vacuum tube amp--you know, the richness of even-order harmonics. (Kudos to Paul Beard and Mike Auldridge for designing the MA-6 to make this an exceptionally sweet spot.)

Again, I can't over express the value of getting a coach to periodically shake your status quo--give you fresh insight that let's you take yourself up a notch.


2 comments on “Zen and the Art of Playing Dobro”

Preston Thompson Says:
Saturday, January 7, 2012 @5:33:12 AM

If you're playing a MA6 you shouldn't have a problem at all with anything. That thing practically plays itself.

Liz Williams Says:
Saturday, January 7, 2012 @5:43:20 PM

I'm loving your blogs about your time with David. Such a good reminder than playing music is about listening. I love players who are hearing and choosing - and loving what they play. Pulls me right in.

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