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by Dalton Henry age 3 3/4

by Dalton Henry
age 3 3/4

This weekend, my grandmother Murphy (alias Gran) and my mama Casey put on a big banjo camp. There were 14 banjo students there, which is a lot. (But I can count to more than that. I can count all the way to twenty-eight, twenty-nine, twenty-ten and twenty-eleven.)

Naturally, the best part of banjo camp is that I get to play with Granddaddy for three whole days. I get to do a lot of stuff. For example, I like to play with Tinkertoys. I really get into the intense Tinkertoys experience:

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I make lots of interesting shapes:

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Then whenever I want to, we can go outside and I can play with the hose. I do good work with the hose. I wash the swing set:

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I wash the Dinosaur Rock:

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I wash the tree:

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...and I wash the bushes. I am very careful about washing the leaves:

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Then we go back inside and I get dried off and we do some more stuff. I like to build robots with my blocks. This is a robot car which I made all by myself!

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In case you couldn't see it well enough in that picture, here it is again:

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And then, sometimes Granddaddy reads me a story. But is is more fun when I read HIM a story. I especially like the sound effects. Here I am reading the story of Oink, when it comes to the part where the greedy pig bites the fake apple (which is really a balloon):

Well, as you can see, we had a good time. And I forgot to tell you about the pillow-fights, or the time we spilled the peas, or other good stuff. Those will just have to wait till next time.

Love,

Dalton

2 Comments

I've taught at many bluegrass camps down through the years, and one thing I noticed early on is that the various instruments have little common ground when it comes to tunes. Tunes that are easy for the fiddle or mandolin, like Liberty or Soldier's Joy, are not easy for the banjo. Many lead guitar players start with tunes like Red-Haired Boy or Salt Creek, which are ADVANCED-level banjo tunes. (And even the chords are beastly.) Guitar players cannot usually take breaks to Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Fiddle, mandolin, and banjo players can sometimes find common ground with Cripple Creek or Boil Them Cabbage, although capoing to A for these can be a struggle for beginning banjo players. But these aren't great tunes for lead guitar players.

This disconnect is frustrating. How can you get a jam off the ground if no one knows the same tunes?

For years I dealt with this by having fiddle and mandolin players play their tunes, banjo players play their tunes, and guitar players play their tunes while everyone else scrambled to find the chords or just sat and watched. THAT, friends, is not a jam session. That is an organized practice session. A jam session is where everyone gets a shot at participating in the tune.

It took me a long time to realize that the common ground for student jams has to be singing songs.

ASIDE: I just remembered that this idea initially came to me forty years ago when I was discovering bluegrass at the University of Georgia where I was in the Pre-Med program. (That would last only a few more shaky semesters until "the lure of the honky tonk" wrecked my young life!) When I would come home on weekends I wanted someone to play bluegrass with, and who were better candidates than my four musically talented younger sisters. Argen, our middle sister, was particularly keen on it and she played guitar. But, really, what's the fun of playing only banjo tunes when neither you nor the guitar player is very good or very fast? So, early on, we all started singing bluegrass songs together. That way everybody could participate and I still got to take all the banjo breaks!! Win-win! Our early bluegrass repertoire was eclectic, since we were newbies and had barely heard of Flatt and Scruggs: Delta Dawn, Bugler, Let The Church Roll On, Brush Arbor Meeting, How Mountain Boys Can Love (gender flipping even then!), I'll Fly Away, Farther Along, They Baptized Jesse Taylor, Brethren We Have Met To Worship, and lots of other hymns. I started songwriting early so we also sang Grandmother's Song, There's A Frog In the Pond, and The Florida Song. The point was everyone participated.

BACK TO THE BLOG: Is this focus on singing songs a perfect arrangement? No, it is not. But even if you can't play a break, the chords themselves are not hard to follow and even bashful singers can "pour out their hearts in song" and make a joyful noise! And, with some basic improv skills, three-chord bluegrass songs are flexible enough to accommodate very very very simple breaks. Some of my lead guitar students can pick out the melody to songs like Do Lord and I Saw The Light and Worried Gal on the spur of the moment. It's pretty amazing. My one fiddle student can play about anything as long as she knows the song in her head. Banjo players are learning to do "roly polys" to easy songs. Mandolin players? I'm working on something for you!

The point is, with singing songs you don't have to know a preconceived break to be able to make a stab at playing something! As my friend Marty Bacon points out, "Bluegrass may not be easy, but it is accessible."

Of course, making a stab at playing something requires a great deal of courage. You have to take that leap of faith and accept the fact that you're gonna screw up. Just like learning to walk, you're gonna fall down, you're gonna scrape your knee, you're gonna bump your head. But does this embarrass a kid? No way! It may piss her off and bring on some tears, but she gets right back up and tries it again. And pretty soon: WALKING! RUNNING! Skip, hop, and wobbling!

So, especially to all you wonderful womyn coming to our Jam Camp in July: bring your courage, your singing songs, and your big girl panties, and get ready to jam!

 

Susan Morrison at our Women's Banjo Camp

Susan Morrison at our Women's Banjo Camp

Howdy, folks,

Casey and I are really getting excited about our upcoming Women's Jam Camp! This is a new venture for us and we're looking forward to jamming with women on all the bluegrass instruments, not just banjos!

NOTE: We are offering two scholarships to the camp. These will cover the cost of the camp and the meals there, but will not include the hotel. Call or email Casey for more details.

Singing and learning to harmonize will be a BIG PART of our weekend. Most women don't sing in the "typical" bluegrass keys of G or A, and because these are the "default" keys for most jams, often women don't realize that they CAN SING BLUEGRASS. They just need to find the right key, which is usually C or D or E! We'll be talking about all that.

We will also explain and practice a lot of harmony singing. Bluegrass uses two harmony parts called "tenor" and "baritone." (Not to be confused with men's vocal ranges of the same name!) Casey and I will be showing you how to find the tenor and baritone parts when they are higher than the lead, and when they are lower than the lead. You will learn by doing so we'll be doing a lot of singing!

On a non-playing note, it sometimes takes ovarios to be a woman in bluegrass. It can be awkward in a jam to insist that you need to sing a song in the key of C, even if it means taking time to capo. Especially if the other jammers are saying, "That ain't where Monroe done it!" And it was always painful to me to sing a song in my key only to find out that no one (read: none of the men I was jamming with) could sing the harmony. That often kept me from suggesting some of my favorite songs. I had to get over that. (Still not quite over it....) [By the way, Red could always find the harmony part, so I wasn't talking about him! But sometimes even great players can't sing harmony with a woman. Sad.] And sometimes it's just not fun to be the only woman in the jam circle. It can take courage to even suggest a song. We will talk about always choosing a song or tune you can flat nail to the wall. Sometimes, in Rome, you gotta act like a Roman!

As Casey and I discovered at our first Women's Banjo Camp, it's a wonderful experience to work with a room full of women. An estrogen high! We love you menfolk, but it's a completely different vibe when it's just us womyn. We don't get to experience that often. (Yes, there are risque jokes!)

To sweeten the pot, on Friday night we will feature a concert by Linda Lay and Springfield Exit from right here in Winchester and on Saturday night we will present Marteka and William Lake from Hacker Valley, W. Va. Both Linda and Marteka are outstanding performers and musicians.

If you've been thinking about signing up, now's the time. We still have some slots open. We are expecting those slots to fill up once July rolls around.

Dates for our Women's Jam Camp are July 10-12. It will be held in Winchester, Va., at the Courtyard Marriott. All bluegrass instruments are welcome: Scruggs-style banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, bass, and Dobro. We also welcome all skill levels except for those of you who are just beginning to play. You can come next year! For more information and registration: consult the website.

PS: If you can't come to camp due to conflicts (or gender!), please help us spead the word by forwarding this blog! Thanks!

7 Comments

How does it go, Chris?

How does it go, Chris?

Howdy again, Folks,

Thanks for all the great suggestions for our new mandolin DVD, taught by son Chris, with Murphy on guitar. I totally agree with the student who wrote, "I don’t envy you the task of selecting a name for this DVD." But, it's kinda fun, especially with your help.

As I mentioned, this DVD is designed to follow directly after our Beginning Mandolin DVD. So it's sort of an advanced beginner DVD. And, yes, it is jam oriented. These are songs we play every week at the Tip Jar Jam!

Here are the suggestions we've received so far:

Chris Henry Teaches Mandolin To Inspire You

Chris Henry Manipulates the Mandolin

Chris Henry Teaches Mandolin Mania – Learning to Jam on the Mandolin

Beginning Mandolin: Taking you to the jam

Our New Mandolin DVD.

The songs we all Love

Making Friends with Your Mandolin.

Chris Henry Teaches How To Play Like A Man…More On The Little Fiddle With Frets [Note: This is a friendly jibe from a friend who is constantly ragging me about my feminist stuff...I've already busted him on it!]

Man Handlin’ Mandolin

Chris Henry Teaches Mandolin for Misfits ! (Me being one, of course).

Chris Henry teaches: Next Level Bluegrass Mandolin.

Chris Henry's Beginning Mandolin Jammin' DVD

Chris Henry Goes Hardcore

Chris Henry Teaches Hardcore Bluegrass

Chris Teaches Hard Core Mandolin

Mandeasy

Even More Mandolin Fun with Chris Henry

Chris Henry teaches “Middlan” Mandolin…the next logical step for beginners.

Chris Henry teaches No Tab Mandolin for the Masses.

Chris Henry Teaches “Breaking Good”

” NOT” Beginning Mandolin with Chris Henry

Mandolin Jam with Chris Henry.

Chris Henry Teaches You How to Take a Break, too

Hardcore Mandolin for the Begintermediate [I LOVE the word "begintermediate!]

Bluegrass Mandolin Jam Breaks like the Pros

Break out your Mandolin for Bluegrass Jamming

Break like a Pro at your next Jam

Take the next break like a Pro

Chris Henry Teaches Easy Jamming Favorites

Chris Henry Mandolin – More To Know, Way To Go

Chris Henry Teaches Easy Mandolin Jamming Favorites

And from an email I sent out to some Tip Jar Jammers:

  • More Mandolin Melodies
  • Mountain Mandolin Melodies
  • Mountain Mandolin Basics
  • Main Mandolin Melodies
  • Smooth Sailing into Mandolin Jams
  • Essential but Easy Tunes on Mandolin
  • Simple and Lonesome Songs on Mandolin
  • Your Favorite Tunes on the Mandolin
  • How to Begin . . . . .. . To Play the Mandolin
  • The Way of the Mandolin
  • Mandolin Power

So let us know which one or two you like by writing in the comments box. And if you have other suggestions, bring 'em on! If we select the title you came up with, you get this mandolin DVD FREE!

Happy naming! May the odds be ever in your favor! <Grin>

50 Comments

 

Chris and Murphy Henry

Chris and Murphy filming our new mandolin DVD.

Howdy, Folks!

Long time, no blog! Been busy.

Been shooting a new mandolin DVD. We finished up the actual recording this past weekend! YEA! Done! In the can. Now, Red's real work beings: editing it and pulling all the pieces together to make it look like we did everything in one take with no mistakes! Then it will be my job to upset that apple cart and find the best bloopers!

About the DVD:

Our excellent son Christopher drove over from Nashville to do the teaching. If you do Facebook, you may know about Chris Henry & the Hardcore Grass. (If you don't, now's the time!) Chris is a world-class mandolin player, singer, and songwriter (if I do say so myself!). He is also well-versed in the Murphy Method way of teaching, having grown up surrounded by the sounds of "Now, the first thing you have to do is tune the banjo." He already has one Murphy Method DVD under his belt, the amazing Monroe Style Mandolin and he has helped out on many others.

On this beginning-level DVD, Christopher teaches tried and true arrangements that I worked out on my mandolin students. (Thank you, Kristina!) Leading my Tip Jar Jam has really helped me understand what beginning mandolin students need to know in order to jam. We've tried to provide that on this DVD. (It will also be available as a download.) It is designed to follow right after our Beginning Mandolin DVD. So we need a catchy title!

Chris teaches mandolin breaks to eight songs:

Blue Ridge Cabin Home
I'll Fly Away
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Lonesome Road Blues
Do Lord
Bury Me Beneath the Willow
Foggy Mountain Top
Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms

(Not sure all will end up on the DVD. Some may end up on the internet. We will see!)

We don't want to simply call this Beginning Mandolin Volume 2. Boring! What we want to call it is "Chris Henry Teaches....." Something!

So we're fishing around for ideas. Hope you can help us out! Naturally, the one (or ones) that help us arrive at a title will get a free mandolin DVD! Respond to this blog, or send an email to the Murphy Method (info@murphymethod.com). And thank you all for playing!

PS: And for those of you on the Left Coast/Best Coast/West Coast:

Chris Henry & the Hardcore Grass will be playing at the California Bluegrass Association Father's Day Festival June 18-21 and teaching Intermediate Mandolin at their camp June 14-17.

Chris Henry--video wrapped!

Chris Henry--video wrapped!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

ASIDE: (Putting this first so you'll read it!) Dan and I have recently started working on playing melody-based breaks. (He had met my prerequisites: being able to play Roly Poly breaks in the jam in the key of G and the key of open C and knowing the core Scruggs repertoire and being able to play that in the jam.) But Tuesday, at our second lesson on playing the melody, we ran into a snag. His assignment had been to work up a melody-based break to the Crawdad Song. He tried and he came up with something he thought was "correct." He thought he was hearing the melody of the Crawdad Song but, in fact, he was not. Short version: I told him he needed to listen to the song more than 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 times. I told him he needed to listen to it 50 or 100 times. So, bless his heart, he programmed the song to repeat on his iPod and listened to that one song for the entire 45 minutes he was exercising at the gym. (Rowing, I think he said.) Then last night at the jam, one day after his lesson and his Crawdad Song-binge at the gym, he played his melody-based version of the Crawdad Song. And we heard it and, behold, it was good! When I congratulated Dan on his break he said, "What you said about listening was the key. I listened to it so much I got sick of it. But now I know how it goes." My reply? "YES! If you're sick of it, you'll know it!" And his playing showed that he DID know it and he DID hear it. Happy, happy teacher! I'm excited about this new teaching venture and will be sure to keep you posted!

Now, to the blog!  ...continue reading

Tip Jar Jam: When The Roll Is Called Uncloudy Day

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

(Psst: The title is not a typo. Read the blog. All will be revealed.)

Well, we didn't have a Tip Jar Jam on Wednesday because, first of all it snowed. Then after I had ratcheted up my courage to drive into town in the snow (I'm from Georgia!) I got into my new-to-me, all-wheel drive Honda Pilot (2008) and darn thing wouldn't crank! Deader'n a door nail. Not a sound. Naturally, I took that as a sign from the Universe that I was to stay home. It was January 21 which would have been my mom's 90th birthday. So, I figured I'd lounge around the house in my pajamas and think about Mama.

Naturally, I shared my car woes with Ben Smelser. He texted that he was coming out this way to look at trees and did I want him to swing by and see what was wrong. Oh, yes! I told him I thought it was the battery and that I'd probably left a light on. He said he'd bring a "battery pack" (whatever that is) and charge up the battery. Fine with me.

Long story short: It was NOT the battery! Nor the starter! Nor the alternator, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come.... Whoops! I let my Baptist slip out. Anyhow, Ben found out that the battery cable had slipped off the battery post. He put it back on but it wouldn't stay because the post was too skinny. (Too much cleaning by my automotively-obsessed nephew?) So, being the resourceful redneck that he is, Ben took some tinfoil, folded it up into several layers, and wrapped it around the post to thicken it up! Brilliant! Now my "new" car has a bluegrass fix! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I interrupt my playing with Dalton to bring you this blog!

Our Wednesday night jam was really different this time. Of course, all jams have their own flavour (to use Brit spelling!) but Wednesday we started off with just two jammers, Diane on guitar and David on banjo. So, guess who I'll be talking about? [Editor's comment: Yourself?]

My job, of course, is to figure out how to make the jam work no matter how many people are there. (I just realized that I actually got a lot of practice doing this early in life while trying to figure out how to get my four younger sisters involved in whatever activity we had going on--and still keep me interested!) So initially I thought David could play his banjo tunes in G and then we'd go to C and Diane could sing and he could do Roly Polys. It only took one pass through Banjo In The Hollow for me to realize that there was no way this would work for me! Boring! (No disrespect to David's playing, but bluegrass jamming is all about taking turns, something else I learned in childhood! Not one of my favorite lessons.)

So I said, "Diane, have you got the chords to Banjo In The Hollow?"

She said, "Yes, I think so."

I said, "Okay, you are going to carry the rhythm while David and I trade breaks."

And, by golly, she did it. First time. All by herself. And she was solid! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our first Tip Jar Jam of the New Year was a cold one. We had two or three inches of snow on the ground and a windchill factor down near zero and still five hardy souls braved the elements to come jam. Thank you Kathy H, Ben, Kasey, David, Dan, and Steph.

So, about halfway through the jam we're singing Do Lord in the Key of C so Kathy and Dan can practice playing their breaks un-capoed in first position. Ben has moved from banjo to bass. Now, we've been playing Do Lord in the jam since we first started over two years ago. It is a Beginner Level Song which uses three chords no matter what key you're playing in.

Let me remind you that Ben went to Bluegrass Camp at Augusta Heritage this past August where he took the bass class. He learned to play simple songs in all the keys---A, B, C, D, E, F, G. So why in the name of Earl (or even Cedric Rainwater!) was he screwing up the chords Wednesday night? Who knows? I gave him The Look but that didn't seem to help.

When the song was over I looked at him and said, "What was THAT about? What was going on?" He looked right back at me and said, "It is what it is."

It is what is it? Nobody has ever said that to me in a jam before! ...continue reading