Our first Tip Jar Jam after Beginning Banjo Camp showed a marked improvement in the jamming skills of campers David and Gregg--especially when it came to improvising on the fly. During camp we had hit the Roly Polys pretty hard since the new DVD, Kickstart Your Jamming, is coming out soon. (Two weeks, we hope!) So last night, David and Gregg, flushed with enthusiasm, were more than willing to try Roly Poly breaks on most of the singing songs we played: Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Circle, Two Dollar Bill, I'll Fly Away, I Saw The Light, Katy Daley, When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, and the Crawdad Song, which is new to us. ("You get a line and I'll get a pole, honey...").
One of the things that shook out of this post-camp jam was, again, how important it is to pay attention to the chord progression. For instance, many of you know from working with the Misfits DVD that I Saw The Light, Do Lord, Worried Gal, and Two-Dollar Bill sound very much alike. (In bluegrass-speak we'd say they sound "sim-u-lar." Or perhaps, eschewing extra syllables, "sim-lar.") However, when you're getting ready to improvise a break with the Roly Polys, if you fail to pay attention to the chords while the singer is singing, you may not notice that Two-Dollar Bill has only two beats of C, NOT SIX! That's a pretty big difference! ...continue reading
By Dalton Henry
This last weekend, my mama Casey and my gran Murphy were teaching lots of people to play at their banjo camp. That meant that my granddaddy Red and I had the house and yard all to ourselves! We had fun.
We play a lot indoors. I like to make things with Play-Doh, which is an exciting new invention that I just learned about. Here I am at the table, having a great time making a mess with the gooshy stuff. (Granddaddy says that "gooshy" is a useful and respectable word.)
We played in the yard, too. One of my favorites games with Granddaddy is the "Flying Baby." I ask for it over and over and over and over. Here is how I fly!
When we got back inside, Granddaddy showed me a surprise: a Big Box. A REALLY Big Box. It was a lot bigger than I was. So I got into it, and started turning it over and standing it back up from the inside. I turned the box over on its sides, and turned it back up. I turned it on its ends, and then back up. I got Granddaddy to close the box, so I had my own house and pretended to be a wild animal. I played in the box for a long time!
So, we had a good time for three whole days. I hope that all the banjo students had as good a time as we did. Granddaddy says that he may be able to move by Wednesday. Bye!
After a week at IBMA, which I thoroughly enjoyed, it was good to get back to teaching and the Tip Jar Jam. I missed yall! Wednesday's jam featured SIX banjo players and three guitar players counting me. Actually for a while there were only five banjos as Kathy H honed her rhythm guitar skills on the Big Three for the late night jams at our upcoming Beginning Banjo Camp.
The blog title was handed to me on a silver platter about halfway through the jam, when Dan arrived, fresh and glowing, from the Bible study class he is teaching at the Presbyterian Church. I don't normally divulge so much personal information but his life's work--minister--makes the quote WAY funnier.
We were up in the key of C, for some womyn singing, when Dan walked in and strapped on his banjo just in time to take a break on Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Since Chuck was gone, Diane had her old song back! We missed you Chuck! We did several other songs in C--I'll Fly Away (Kathy G), I Saw The Light (Kathy H), Katy Daly (moi)--and then I asked Bob A to sing East Virginia Blues because C is his key for that and Dan has been working hard on a break for the song from one of Casey's Custom Lessons. (Note to Marty: You might try to sing EVB yourself in that key.) Everyone else (except David) was going to do the Roly Polys, which goes to show you how far they have all come in this area because East Virginia Blues has a long and slightly complicated chord pattern. [Editor's note: It's exactly the same as Lonesome Road Blues.] ...continue reading
Here are the recent additions to my (now quite long) list of custom banjo lessons. As always they can be ordered directly from my website.
- The Battle Belongs To The Lord (B) Watch clip. - Gospel song in a minor key, with rolls to sing along with.
- Granddad The Preacher (B) Watch clip. - A Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers song. Easy turnaround for the break, along with the vamp chords.
- Love Lifted Me (B) Watch clip. - This is a melody-only break (just notes, not very many rolls) to this old hymn.
- Mama Blues (A) Watch clip. - Earl Scruggs's classic break off of the Live at Carnagie Hall album.
- There Is A Time (A) Watch clip. - A Dillards classic. This teaches two of Doug's breaks.
- They Call It Music (A) Watch clip. - A Gibson Brothers song in drop-C tuning.
Our fourth Murphy Method Beginning Banjo Camp is just around the corner (October 24-26 in Winchester, Va.) and we still have a few openings. We keep the camp small and never take more than 20 students so you can be sure you're going to get plenty of individual attention from Casey and Murphy. (We hope that's a good thing!)
Since our camps are all about YOU PLAYING THE BANJO we do have a few prerequisites. You need to be able to play three Murphy Method tunes, the Big Three: Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Boil Them Cabbage Down. You don't have to be able to play them fast, but you do have to be able to play all the notes in time. We will spend a lot of time playing these three tunes. Mostly the class will play at the same time, in unison, but we always offer the chance for you to solo. Perhaps by Sunday you'll be ready to make that Leap of Faith! ...continue reading
Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This was originally published September 25th, 2014.
I've been trying to figure out how to teach banjo students to improvise for almost 40 years. And it's only in the last year that I've finally figured out a teachable technique that works. As always, I used my own students for guinea pigs and now every week in our Tip Jar Jams I get to see them playing breaks to songs they've never even heard before. It's pretty fantastic! (I swear this sounds like one of those unbelievable, too-good-to-be-true TV ads! I feel like I should be saying, "And wait! If you order now, we will send you two of everything. All you have to do is pay additional shipping and handling!") But I digress....
Pause For Shout Outs: Before I go further let me give some shout outs to my guinea pigs: Kathy G, who challenged me to come up with something simple for her to play on the singing songs that she loved; to Julie for showing me that this technique would also work for instrumentals; to Tim for naming this technique the "roly polys," and to Kathy H, Kasey, Ben, Pam, Dan, Betty, Gregg, and Drew who almost never pass up a break to a song anymore! Why should they when they can make something up on the spot? ...continue reading
Yee haw! I will be presenting two awards at the IBMA Awards Show this Thursday, October 2. My good friend (really!) Bill Evans will be my co-presenter and we will be handing out the awards for Female Vocalist of the Year and Guitar Player of the Year. Thanks to my other good friend Chris Stuart, one of the show's producers, for asking me to take part in this year's show. (Note: Both Chris and Bill, along with Janet Beazley, are the teachers on our Harmony Singing DVD!)
The Awards Show will be broadcast live on Sirius XM Satellite Radio (Bluegrass Junction) and streamed live at ibma.org. The show starts at 7:30 but that may just be when they want us in our seats! Not sure what time the broadcast itself starts. The online bluegrass magazine Bluegrass Today is a good place to find out more about what's happening, along with the IBMA website. ...continue reading
I just realized I should have taken a picture of the three Bobs: Bob Mc, Bob A, and Bob V! In lieu of that, I will paraphrase a nursery rhyme:
Murphy, merry, quite contrary
How does your jamming go?
With Silver Bells and three-ply shells
And three Bobs all in a row.
Not my best effort, to be sure, and no one in the jam plays a Silver Bell banjo, but I'm guessing there are some three-ply rims!
We welcomed back banjo-picking Bob Mc who now lives in Florida but still makes the occasional foray back to God's country! With Bob A and Bob Van on guitars, that was quite a collection of Bobs. And, for a time, they were all sitting in a row. And then they were sitting in a row with Kathy G in the middle, a rose among the thorns, as we say here. ...continue reading
We resumed shooting our new DVD, Kickstart Your Jamming, on Friday after a two-day hiatus. On one of those days Casey and I took her son Dalton to the Shenadoah County Fair. I could write a whole blog about that but will settle for letting you see a picture of our lunch, since I seem to be really into food pictures right now:
Friday morning we were back in the saddle again with me playing the Roly Poly versions of the songs I'd previously taught, but this time with Casey accompanying me on guitar. On this DVD, for the first time ever, we are including some songs that I don't teach breaks to. These songs (Worried Gal, I'll Fly Away, Foggy Mountain Top, to mention three) are so similar to the songs I DID teach that I decided to let you, the students, make up your own Roly Poly breaks. To aid and abet, I vamp and sing the song while Casey plays guitar. Then we leave a space for you to play (with me still vamping, but not singing) and at the end I play my version of the Roly Poly break. I think you'll really like this and it's all done super-slow. ...continue reading
And thanks to Diane for the lovely blog title! It's one of those sayings that makes sense, only you're not quite sure WHY it makes sense. She said it to Gregg toward the end of the jam after he'd been valiantly trying to do the Roly Polys all night long. She called it "jamming by fire hose" and I wrote it down. We all knew exactly what she meant.
Gregg, you might recall, started taking lessons from me and coming to the jams in July, right after Kaufman Kamp. At that time he sorta knew two songs: Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage Down. I let him keep his version of Cripple Creek, but finally told him I never wanted to hear him Boil the Cabbage like that again. It was confusing his hands.
Anyhow, I was telling you all that to tell you this: Since he was coming to the jams, I had to give him a crash course in Roly Polys so he could play on more songs. So he didn't get the slow, let's-ease-into-it-one-song-at-a-time version. He got: "Here's a G Roly Poly, here's a C Roly Poly, here's a D Roly Poly. Let's play Bury Me Beneath The Willow!" Which is a song that Chuck was learning to sing. ...continue reading