Does hard work pay off? Yes it does! This afternoon, banjo Bonnie (the nickname was originally part of her self-depricating humour) wrote and played an original jig, and participated (with Peter T. and I) in an old time up-tempo hoedown. She frailed away with good timing, abandon and skill. Thirty seconds into the tune I forgot that she's just learning and had a hell of a time myself. Not many months ago she didn't know anything about the instrument, but I think from now on, the music she plays will make a lotta folks happy. Oh of course she's gonna find out that there are people who HATE banjo playing as well!
OK, what about those people? Obviously banjo is a loud instrument and I've already discussed ways to quiet it down, but if you really want to practice noiselessly, stuff a medium sized towel inside the thing. Only a total neurotic will get annoyed.
Guitar muting? That's another story entirely, but there are a couple of things you might try. A small piece of foam about 6" by 1" by 1" squeezed under the strings right up against the bridge will usually do the trick, but the best thing is to spend a hundred bucks on a cheap Korean made solid body electric, get some headphones and one of those little practice amps that are the size of a walkman. Should be completely noise-free and won't wake those sleeping babies. Spend the bucks, it's worth it.
The foam will work on a mandolin and dulcimer as well. Hammer dulcimers? Beats me.
WHEN ALL ELSE HAS FAILED: The baritone Uke is a GREAT instrument for anyone who's had trouble learning guitar (and relax...you're in the majority. If you weren't, the world would be FULL of guitar players...and it's not)
The uke is easy on the fingers, the chords are simple, you can sing to it, and I guarantee you...play it for a few months and the guitar will seem much less daunting than it did when you first struggled with it.