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
(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
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
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
It is with a sad heart that I write this blog about my friend Ira Winarsky, one of my earliest Florida students, who died a few days ago. He was found on the floor of his home near Gainesville, Florida, on January 1. He had attended Dale Crider's New Year's Eve gathering where he had heard his friends including Dale, Hunter Merritt and his dad Wyndell, and our son Chris play music. Ira dearly loved music and art. He himself was an artist who supported his avant-garde creativity by teaching at the University of Florida where he was a Full Professor of Architecture. You can learn more about him and his art at his web site: http://www.artfromiraland.com.
I wrote about Ira in the my first-ever Banjo Newsletter column, June 1983. The article was titled "A Day Of Banjo Teaching" and I was moved to write it after reading an earlier BNL article by the same titled with which I violently disagreed! (No surprise there!) I set up the column to spotlight each student according to their time slot. Ira had the last lesson of the day, 7:30, so I closed out with him. Here's what I wrote: ...continue reading
Well, here it is, December 31, the last day of 2014. And as Lester Flatt sang, "I've been sitting here thinking back over my life..." And what I was thinking this morning as I drank my coffee and read my favorite new author Louise Penny on my Kindle was, in fact, Roly Polys.
For me, this was the year that all my attempts to teach improvising on the banjo finally came to fruition in the form of the Roly Polys. In addition to 40 years of teaching (and thank you Tim for that constant reminder!), several things fell into place to coax the Roly Polys into being: My wonderful teaching place in town, the Tip Jar Jams, and an amazing group of courageous banjo students.
The Teaching Place (TP) finally offered a room big enough for a jam session and plenty of parking right in front. I'd tried Misfit jam sessions before---twice in the Barber Shop and once at our house out in the country---but, frankly, I didn't have the skills or experience to make these really work. (And there was no parking at our house. In fact one of the students backed into a tree coming out of our driveway which is how I met Ben Smelser when I called him to come cut it down, but that's an entirely different story!) ...continue reading
On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
a banjo in a pear tree!
On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
two mandolins and a banjo in a pear tree!
On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
three violins, two mandolins, and a banjo in a pear tree!
On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
four good guitars, three violins, two mandolins, and a banjo in a pear tree!
On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
five.....doghouse......basses! Four good guitars, three vi'lins, two mandolins, and a banjo in a pear tree!
On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
12 jammers jamming
11 singers singing
10 tuners tuning
9 Dobros dancing
8 vampers vamping
7 chunkers chunking
6 cloggers clogging
5 doghouse basses
4 good guitars
And a banjo in a pear tree! (Hope it's a Stelling!)
And what an appropriate title for the last Tip Jar Jam Blog of 2014!
We had a bodacious and Brobdingnagian crowd at the jam Wednesday night. As Kathy G said, "Just mention hooch and they will come!" Yes, we did have a small holiday party with adult beverages! The entire Campbell family showed up and as always it was good to see Drew (banjo) and Rhys (pronounced Reece, on fiddle). We have Drew to thank for the blog title!
Here's the story: I was looking for one more song to sing so Dan could continue to play in Open C. He'd already done well on Do Lord, Circle, and I'll Fly Away, even playing some two-finger melody pinches on the latter ("when this life is o'er"; and "God's celestial shore"). The crowd was too big and too diverse to try Dooley or Long Black Veil or When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, so I settled on I Saw The Light. I called for a volunteer to kick it off, and Drew stepped up to the plate. He was capoed up five frets as were most of the banjo players.
Drew was all excited about kicking off I Saw The Light because, as he said, "I want to play my new high break!" I told him gently but firmly (although it might have been just firmly....) that he had to kick the song off with the low break. However, nothing ever seems to dim Drew's enthusiasm, so he said, "Well, I'll play my high break second." I raised my eyebrows at his father, Jason, and said, "I don't think so" because with ten other pickers taking breaks I knew that Drew wouldn't get a second chance. This, too, did not make the slightest dint in his joy. Amazing kid. He was willing to hope for the best! ...continue reading
Last night's jam started off in a sedate fashion, with five banjos and two guitars circled up ready to pick. Then, while everyone was tuning up, I heard some thrashing around in the adjoining room. I did a quick calculation, ticking off students who I knew weren't coming and I couldn't quite figure out who it was. Then just as Kathy G was fixing to kick off Banjo In The Hollow (this time in G!), in walks......Bob McQueen! "Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays!" Even though he "officially" lives in Florida now, I'm sure Winchester still feels like home sweet home. He was nattily attired in all things "Steeler" from his jersey, to his hat, to his tennis shoes! Go, Big Ben!
After the excitement of seeing Bob, things settled back down for a while. We did a bunch of G tunes and then Kathy H sang I Want My Dog Back, which is fast becoming a favorite. All the banjo players--which also included Ben, Kasey and Betty---tried Roly Poly breaks and they all got an A for effort but the odd chord pattern was really throwing them, even with me yelling "Short D! Short D!" So after the song was over we "workshopped" it a bit, with Kathy H singing the melody lightly while I called out the chords and everyone Roly Polied at the same time. I now know that the first half of the break has an extra two beats of G and, as Diane (on guitar) pointed out, the second half of the break does NOT have those extra two beats of G. Confusing! Especially when you're trying to play a break on the fly. Which is one thing that makes bluegrass so much fun! ...continue reading