Thursday, December 6, 2012


One of several instruments that I play badly is the five-string banjo. It's difficult to play in bluegrass style, and while I can play that style very slowly, I don't seem to get any better at it. But I'm not here to talk about my musical limitations. The five-string, a uniquely American instrument, has a short top or fifth string which is usually tuned to a high "G." A banjo may be tuned in several ways, but the most common is the "G" tuning in which the strings are tuned (from the top down) G-D-G-B-D. In other words, when played "open" (no strings fretted), a G chord results.

The top G acts as a drone. It is rarely fretted and in bluegrass style, sounds almost constantly.

Other instruments also make use of a drone. The Scottish bagpipe is one example. So is the Indian sitar.

Songs also  use of drone notes. "Restless," by my man Gordon Lightfoot, begins with a B on the keyboard which is held during the entire song. The Beatles used a middle-range drone in "Blackbird." There are high drones on the last verses of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Yesterday."

The connection to writing is this: the urge to write and ideas for writing form a constant undercurrent for the writers. Every waking moment, that urge and those ideas are present. One of the concerns I have as a writer is that I will wake up one day and have nothing to write about. It hasn't happened so far, and I don't think it will and I hope that it won't. In the meantime, there's this undercurrent of writing that runs through my life and the lives of other writers I know.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting comparison, and you are absolutely right in that. I always think of it as an antenna (or Spidey-sense) that picks up metaphors or phrases or just ideas that might be turned into something somewhere down the line. The older (and more forgetful) I get, the greater the need to put it down somewhere so I won't forget the thought, the image, the phrase that kicks off the alarm. One of my favorite movies (A Thousand Clowns) ends with Jason Robards shouting to his neighbors, "Campers! I have nothing more to say.." The death of imagination and always makes me cry.