I picked up my banjo this morning to practice. Lately I’ve been working on speed, and correcting deficiencies in my technique that have crept in as a result of tension. The first thing that happened was my plastic thumb pick snapped in half when I put it on. With an irritated sound which could easily be mistaken for a cuss word, I found another thumb pick.
Now, get this. I have a good capacity to stick with things; bands (17 years with Alison Krauss and Union Station), marriage (20 year anniversary last year), a primarily raw food way of eating (seven years). That’s a good thing. But that capacity can also be misused; it can deteriorate into the realm of “It’s comfortable and familiar, so I’m sticking with it.”
That’s why I was irritated at my thumb pick. I hate changing picks; new picks take awhile to get used to. I use the same tortoiseshell guitar pick for month after month until it wears down; then I reshape it and use it more.
But I put on the new thumb pick. It wasn’t so bad. I played for a bit, and then thought, “What if I changed out my finger picks, too?” I play Scruggs-style banjo with the thumb and two fingers, using two metal finger picks and the plastic thumb pick, and for the past six months I’ve been using a modern pair. I dug into my cache of old National finger picks (probably from the 1940s-1960s) and found an unused pick for my middle finger.
It fit perfectly. I hit the string. Clang. The tone was remarkably better than the newer, more modern picks I’d been using, with a nice zing in the high-end,. So I put another old National on the other finger. Clang – again, better tone.
Well, that was even more annoying in a sense. Here I’d spent months with these modern finger picks with less tone simply because they were comfortable, and I was used to them. But they weren’t optimal.
How many things do I continue to think, or do, or say, or allow in my life because they’re more comfortable than change? How much of the world’s thinking has infected my own because it’s more comfortable than following Christ? How many things could I change with just the smallest adjustment?
Faith steps out of the comfort zone looking for “Optimal.” These picks will take a little getting used to. But faith says I can get used to them quickly, and the extra tone is worth it.
Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.