Gary from British Columbia asks some great and typical questions:
First, I would like to thank you for all the encouragement you give new and developing pickers on your videos and website.
I have been picking for 6 years, in an active bluegrass band for 2 years, and practicing daily for the last 14 months. I have saturated myself with recordings from the likes Fleck, Osborne, Scruggs, Shelor, Pandolfi, Pikelny, and beyond. My head is full of creative ideas and emulations of what I hear... But when I pick up my banjo, the same old stuff comes out. You know, habits like always resolving a chord progression with one of three predictable licks. Playing live, I play the same old forward-roll driven backup with insanely boring licks and bland breaks where I work the melody into a forward roll. I am just not satisfied with that anymore.
The bottom line is: How can I break into playing the banjo more dynamically and creatively? Specifically, what are the stepping stones to integrating melodic and single-string components into tunes? Or comfortably improvising (on the fly) a break for a tune at a jam? I want to trade in the whole catalog titled: "historic banjo licks", and learn to use more melodic breaks and play fluidly between
the 5th and 12th Fret.
It's a big step from "intermediate" to "advanced"! I need help in figuring out how to chop that step up into manageable chunks!
2. Am I the only one who finds that, at a jam session, every other banjo player's licks are sweeter than my own? Perhaps it's the thrill of hearing something new...
3. I am experiencing extreme difficulty in playing in the key of D. The chords are no problem, and the scales straightforward. I just can't seem to wire up ANY drive, melodic quality, or general ability in that key...I feel like I may as well be playing hanging upside down or with frozen hands. I'd be thrilled just to be able to pick out a melody within a roll in D.
Thus, the question is: What approach should I take to developing fluency in this Key? Should I memorize all scales in all positions by rote, memorize tabbed tunes to learn standard "D" Licks, play only in D for a month?