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A Stringed Instrument

 I was in Jackson's Java Saturday and someone had lain a stringed musical instrument on the bench that runs down the middle of the store. It looked to be made entirely of wood,with  a circular body and a long fretless neck. I was quite curious about exactly what kind of
instrument it was. Aside from clearly being a musical  instrument, it was every bit as mysterious as the gizmo described in Peter Paul and Mary's The Marvelous Toy.

The wood had a very nice finish to it, and it looked expensive. It made me think of the piano they have at UNCC's Robinson Hall that is roped off and has a sign in front of it that says "do not touch". This sign is about as effective as the mothers exhortation to her children not to put beans up their nose. similarsmell  was at the next table and I told him how I would occasionally pass by the piano, look around, and reach  over and touch it with the very tip of my finger.

I couldn't resist touching the instrument with the tip of my finger. Even though it was clearly a fine and probably expensive instrument, it had no velvet ropes or signs around it, so it wasn't as much fun as touching the grand piano in Robinson Hall. I asked similarsmell if he knew who it belonged to.

A young fellow sitting in one of the comfy chairs in the front corner of the store said it was his, and that it was a banjo. That made sense. It was certainly shaped like a banjo, but the wooden body and lack of frets had thrown me off. He not only didn't object to my touching it, he very generously and graciously allowed me to play it.

I picked it up and after a couple of false starts I managed to pick up the opening notes of Pipeline. Even though no one would confuse me with Earl Scruggs, I played a little more competently than I expected to. I hadn't played any stringed instrument in at least 5 years and it has probably been 20 years since I played a banjo.

The other thing reason I expected it to be hard is that I just assumed fretless instruments are harder to play. Of course the lack of frets does make it harder to figure out exactly where on the neck to press the strings.  But it's not that hard...you can still have a ball park idea and if you're playing by ear frets aren't as helpful as you might think. Having played the theremin a bit probably helped .And a lack of frets probably  makes it easier to get a good sound out of an instrument. I suspect that frets make it difficult  to press the strings hard enough, and that's why I was never any good with bar chords.

I had a fun educational experience. Thanks, young dude with banjo.