Pretty Good For A Girl CoverWe've just crossed into summer, so we thought it would be an appropriate time to direct you to this Summer Reading List over on Banjo Cafe. Murphy's book "Pretty Good For A Girl" graces it, along with three other banjo-centric books, and one about the Louvin Brothers.

Check it out!

5 Summer Must-Reads for Banjo Players

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BREAKING NEWS: We’ve just added a Novice Class to our Women’s Banjo Camp, July 29-31, in Winchester, Va. No experience necessary!

I had been wondering where I was going to use that quote from George, one of my Tip Jar Jammers. It certainly makes a great title for this blog. Here’s the back story. We usually have a fair number of women at my Tip Jar Jam and one night it was all women. And George. And while we don’t usually drink at the jam, Kathy G had brought in a bottle of port and we were enthusiastically following Saint Paul’s sage advice to “take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.” Soon the air was punctuated with ribald remarks, risqué allusions, gales of laughter, and womyn singing. Into the middle of all this walks Dan, another Tip Jar regular. Says George, “Thank goodness you’re here! They’re drinking wine and playing in B-flat!”

And that spirit—the freedom to laugh boisterously, to share jokes in a room full of understanding, to enjoy the sound of womyn’s voices raised in three-part harmony, to pick the banjo however you pick it knowing that you will be supported and not judged--is the spirit that makes our Women’s Banjo Camps so successful. And so much fun. That spirit is the wind beneath our wings. (Even if Alice Gerrard doesn’t like that song!) And in the middle of this “good natured riot,” there is much learning. And perhaps a little wine at the late night jams…

Each of our Women’s Banjo Camps has organically and of its own accord revealed a particular focus. This year my suggested focus will be the idea of playing in open C without using a capo.

What does that mean and why do it? After all, isn’t that why capos were invented, to play in C? Well, yes. You certainly can play in C using a capo and I’m all for that! Just take any song you’ve learned in G, slap the capo on at the fifth fret, tune up the fifth string, and………I hear a question.

What? How do you tune up the fifth string? Well, you use those little spikes that are there.

What? You only have one spike? At the seventh fret? Well, you can put your fifth string under that one spike and then tune it up three more frets. No, the string won’t break. Usually it won’t break…

What? You don’t have any spikes? Well, you can leave the fifth string where it is, tuned to a G note, and that will work. Yes, it does sounds a little funny.

These are a few of the problems I’ve encountered when telling a roomful of banjo players to “capo to C.” Furthermore, once they have situated the capo, tweaked the tuning, and figured out all the fifth string problems, then you are confronted with the very real problem of teaching folks where the vamp chords are. It sounds simple to say “Just move everything you’ve been vamping up five frets” but, in practice, this is extremely hard for beginning or even intermediate players who have little experience using a capo. Their markers are all gone!

Nevertheless, in order to make sure that women can sing in my jams--because women usually sing most bluegrass standards in the key of C or higher--we capo up to C in every jam to do some “womyn singing.” I insist on it. But here’s what the students have taught me: THEY DON’T LIKE TO CAPO IN C. It’s a pain in the butt, it takes too long, there is way too much re-tuning, and they don’t like the way it sounds. (And honestly, the sound of an inexpensive banjo capoed to C is not pleasant.)

Thus, I’ve been teaching my Tip Jar Jammers to improvise in C without using a capo. With one roll, the Foggy Mountain Breakdown roll (2121,5215) which they already know, and a couple of two-finger chords positions (first and second position C, both movable to make F and G), they can play a simple, improvised break to any three-chord bluegrass song. It’s not fancy but it sounds like bluegrass. And they like it. And the “upgrades”—new licks that can be added on—are really fun!
Question: Don’t you have to retune the fourth string to a C note to play in C?

Answer: No.

Question: That’s a bit terse. Could you elaborate?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Well?????

Answer: Sorry, too much Facebook! Yes, you can retune the fourth string down to a C note to play in C. Earl did that in Home Sweet Home, Pike County Breakdown, and (deep catalog!) in his backup to Paul Warren’s Billy In The Lowground. But you don’t HAVE to tune the fourth string down to play in C. And the whole point here is to NOT retune anything.

I remember when I was learning to play the banjo I almost always capoed up to play in C. At that time I was, of course, in thrall to Earl, which is not a bad thing, and I loved learning his breaks to songs note for note. I prided myself on sounding like Earl. But since I often sang in C, I’d have to capo up five in order to play Earl’s break in the key where I could sing it. It did not occur to me to try to work out a different break—my own break—in open C. That only came years later. At the time, I was completely invested in trying to sound like Earl as much as possible so I would be accepted by the banjo-playing community.

I remember the great banjo picker, Jim Fee, heard me play the song Just Because at a festival in Florida where he was running sound. My husband and bandmate Red was singing it in C, so I capoed up five to play my break.  I thought I had done a pretty good job until Fee-Fee saw me later and said, in his gruff Kentucky way, “Why’d you pick it way up there, Murph? You oughta pick in it open C. That’s where the sound is!” Of course, I wasn’t nearly the picker Jimmy was (then or now) and it would have been too hard for me to play the melody in open C then. So I was just doing the best I could. But that thought sorta stuck in my mind, and as the years went by and I got more confident in my own playing, I began to try a few songs in open C and I discovered that Jimmy was right. Of course he was! Open C has a bigger, more robust sound. And yes, when I play Earl’s songs there (Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Little Girl In Tennessee) I don’t sound “just like Earl” anymore, but I like to think that his spirit—playing the melody “as she is sung”—is still there.

If you are interested in being a part of a weekend filled with the joyous spirit of womyn picking the banjo and singing their hearts out, join Casey and me July 29-31 in Winchester, Va., for our Women’s Banjo Camp. All levels are welcome. And we have just added a Novice Class in which no experience is necessary. All you need is a banjo and a set of picks. Kathy Hanson will be teaching the Novice Class. And, yes, we may be drinking wine and playing in B-flat. Bring your own wine!

Last year Casey and I held our first-ever Women’s Jam Camp. It was a fantastic experience for everyone and so we’re doing it again July 8-10. What was so fantastic about it? Three things stand out.

Women's Jam Camp 2015

Women's Jam Camp 2015

Harmony singing! As we discovered serendipitously at our first Women’s Banjo Camp, most of the women loved to sing and loved to harmonize. In many bluegrass jam sessions, however, women are often relegated to singing the tenor part so they have little experience with singing high baritone or low baritone or even low tenor. In other words, they haven’t experienced the full range of bluegrass harmony. So in our camps, we put songs in women’s keys (often C, D, or E) and demonstrate the various harmony “stacks” that are possible. Then we work on singing them. (Shout out to Janet Beazley! Everything I know about teaching harmony singing I learned from her!)

We also work on lead singing and every woman who wants to gets a chance to sing lead—in the key of her choice. As I’ve said many times, most women cannot sing lead in the key of G. This is unfortunate because G is the “default” key for beginning bluegrassers thus leading many women to conclude that they can’t sing bluegrass. That is why I make it a point to play in the key of C in all of my jams sessions, including beginning-level jams, so the women can sing the lead. They love it! At the jam camp we help women find the best keys for the songs they sing. And when women are singing lead, other women usually have an easier time finding the harmony parts because the song is now pitched in their vocal range. We don’t think that women need to wait to get to heaven to “sing, sing, sing”!

Totally supportive atmosphere. You know, I find the men in my Tip Jar Jam and the men who come to our mixed-gender camps to be some of the most supportive and kindest men on the planet. But, as most women will tell you, there’s just something different about playing bluegrass in an “estrogen jam.” It’s really hard to explain. But let me just say it hasn’t been too long ago that many people thought—and wrote—that women could not play bluegrass. To wit: “Bluegrass bands are made up of between four to seven male musicians.” In 1965, when this first appeared, there were already plenty of women playing bluegrass. It’s just that nobody, apparently, noticed. Then there is this: “Few women seem to possess the technical skill necessary to play bluegrass instrumentals properly and few women can sustain the ‘punch’ or ‘drive’ so essential for the successful presentation of bluegrass vocals.” Fortunately, the fabulous Alice Gerrard pointed out that “women have not been encouraged to develop these skills and qualities; or have been made to feel that the skills were not in keeping with their oft-defined roles as women.” And finally guitar-picking whiz Marcy Marxer said that she often battled the idea—spoken and unspoken—that “women aren’t strong enough to play guitar.” [References below.] These statements are not just innocuous words on a page. Whether we knew it or not, we women internalized these thoughts. So when a woman ventures out to learn to play a bluegrass instrument, she almost always has to contend with these negative inner voices. And when you’re in that vulnerable place of having to screw up and fail—in front of people--before you get it right, it helps to be around other women who are experiencing the same things or who have been there already and survived.

To quote from that wonderful poem by Cheyanne Whien, “When you have to walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it by yourself [i.e. play a solo break in a jam session] the women will be cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley’s end.” That’s what happens at Women’s Jam Camp.

Working with a second instrument. Since the camp is open to women who play at all levels (except rank beginner), women who are learning a second or third instrument come because, again, it’s a comfortable place to fall on your face as you go back to square one. It’s not easy to go from being a competent banjo player who can rip through breaks to being a wannabe fiddle player who hears every wrong note she plays yet who knows she has to keep playing in order to get better. Been there, done that! And the most supportive thing ever said to me about my fiddle playing was said by an older woman. I was working hard on a difficult new fiddle tune, playing it repeatedly and making many mistakes. We were at a vacation cabin and people were starting to wander into the living room where I was sawing away, so I became self-conscious and apologized as I left to take my fiddling out onto the porch. I said something like, “Sorry I sound so terrible.” Then this woman, herself a long-time professional bluegrass bass player and singer said, “You don’t sound terrible. You sound like a good musician who is trying to learn a new song.” OMG! I feel all choked up just writing that. Nobody had ever said anything like that before. I felt so supported. And though this happened years ago, I’ve never forgotten it. Thank you, Polly Johnson, bass player with the Sounds of Bluegrass from Jacksonville, Florida.

At our Women’s Jam Camp you will be supported and cheered on! If you need to play slow, we will play slow. If you want to play a fast one, we will support you with rhythm even if we can’t play lead. If you want to sing, we will help you find the right key and we will harmonize with you. And sometimes we may all sing the lead together just because a chorus of women’s voices is so beautiful!

And with apologies to the old gospel song “Heaven’s Jubilee,” this just popped into my mind. I can’t help it!

Dozens there will join the throng

With them we shall be

Singing bluegrass all day long

Jam Camp Jubilee!

 

CAMP DETAILS: JULY 8-10, 2016

This year our Women’s Jam Camp will be held July 8-10, 2016, in Winchester, Va., at the Courtyard Marriott. (They love us there!) There is a limit of 20 students.

Dede Wyland will be our harmony singing teacher! She will join us Saturday, July 9, for a workshop and she and her band will play a concert that night. I’m so excited about this!

Seasoned players: If you’ve been wanting any of the women in your life to give jamming a try, this is a golden opportunity. We welcome new jammers. You do have to know your chords and be able to change quickly. Guitar players and banjo players have to be able to use a capo. Capos are also encouraged on mandolin. For everything you want to know about the camp and the requirements click here

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References: All the quotes in this paragraph are from my book Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass, University of Illinois Press, 2013, pgs 3, 4, 182, 344.

Murphy, BJ Dove, Bob, Barb VanMetre at the Apple Blossom After Party

Murphy, BJ Dove, Bob, Barb VanMetre at the Apple Blossom After Party

My dear friend and long-time guitar student Bob VanMetre, 68, died Thursday, October 15, 2015, after a valiant battle with kidney cancer. He was buried October 19 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. At his request, I got together a band and played at the funeral. Since Red and Casey and Chris were all out of town, I called on mutual friends David McLaughlin and Scott Brannon to help out. Patty Massey, also a Bob friend, volunteered her husband Tim to play bass. We sent Bob off in style! I'm sure he was tapping his toes as he crossed over to the other side of Jordan!

Over the years, I wrote a lot about Bob both in Banjo Newsletter and in our Murphy Method Blog. When my heart is hurting, it helps me to talk. My second-best help is writing. So I will write out some of my grief by telling Bob stories.

Just four days before Bob died, Ben and Kasey Smelser went with me to see Bob and play music. Bob was in a hospital bed in his living room and couldn't play the guitar any longer but he surprised the hell out of me by singing his heart out. I was stunned! He remembered most of the words, too. Or as I told him on an earlier visit, "Hell, you remembered as many of the words as you did before you got sick!" [For some reason, Bob brought out the cussing in me. I include it here because it makes these stories seem more real.] Of course there were tears because who can sing White Dove without bawling, especially if you yourself are on Death's doorstep? And even Blue Ridge Cabin Home, one of Bob's regular songs, ends with the line "When I die won't you bury me on the mountain, far away in my Blue Ridge Mountain Home." Tears! But what a wonderful memory.

Kasey Smelser, 15, played the best banjo I've ever heard her play, loud, strong, and confident. She's another student that Bob helped along the bluegrass path with his kind and kidding encouragement. As Ben told me, when he and Kasey first came to our jam, Bob greeted them in the waiting area and said, "Do you play anything?" Ben said, "We take banjo lessons from Casey." Bob said, "Just what this world needs, another damn banjo player." But it was said with a smile.

Chick Caldwell, Steve, Bob VanMetre, Murphy, Mark Zimmerman, Susan Morrison, Bob McQueen

Some of Murphy and her latter-day Misfits: Chick Caldwell, Steve, Bob VanMetre, Murphy, Mark Zimmerman, Susan Morrison, Bob McQueen (Ellen Zimmerman photo.)

I started giving Bob lessons way back in 1995. His first lesson set the tone of our relationship for the next 20 years. He told me he had bought my cassette series on how to play the guitar Carter Family Style. Now, in this style of guitar playing you play two or three melody notes and then you do a strum. And I had explained every note and every strum. I asked him to play one of the songs for me. He played Wildwood Flower. And while he played all the melody notes correctly, he left out all the strums! Which meant the song made no sense. There was no musical timing!

I was so taken aback that all I could do was croak out, "What about the strums? Where are they?"

He fired right back, "I didn't know I was supposed to put them in!"

To which I answered, "Didn't you listen to the cassettes? Didn't you hear me say 'fourth string, STRUM; fifth string STRUM'?"

"Yes, but I didn't think they were important," he replied, defiant to the end.

Thus was born the first Bob and Murphy Story. I've told that many times and I told it again at his funeral. It is now a precious memory.

Another memory from early on was the day Bob came in and sat down and started strumming chords on his guitar. He was doing it in some sort of regular fashion so I figured he was up to something. I kept waiting for him to start singing but he never did. I doubt that I let him go on for very long before interrupting to ask, "What are you doing?"

Bob: "I'm playing a song."

Me: "You are?"

"Can't you tell what I'm playing?"

"No, I can't. I can't recognize a song just from the chords."

"Well, I don't know why not! I CAN TELL WHAT I'M PLAYING."

I'm pretty sure this is before we started cussing freely in the lesson, so I said, patiently, "I know YOU can tell what you're playing because you can hear the song in your head. All I'm hearing is a bunch of chords. It could be anything. I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS."

"Well, Jesus Christ, it's (and he named some well-known bluegrass song). I thought anybody would recognize that, especially you. You're a professional musician."

"Bob, nobody can recognize a song just by the chords if you don't tell them what it is first! If I sit here and play this (and here I played a simple chord pattern on my guitar) can you tell what it is?"

"No, but I'm not a professional musician."

Me, losing patience, "Even a professional musician can't tell a song from just the chords! They don't know what's in your head. THANK GOD!"

"Whatever." Which meant he wasn't convinced but he wasn't going to argue anymore.

God, he was hard headed!

And here is another of my favorites from Banjo Newsletter, August 2002:

"Bob, who is from West Virginia, describes himself with pride as a Southern Redneck. He's recently been working on moving from the chords to the lead when flatpicking Old Joe Clark. I explained the mechanics of it over and over and recently concluded that he just wasn’t hearing it--he couldn't get the timing right. Finally I sang the words onto a cassette. He comes back next week and says, yes, that did help and he thinks he’s got it. I say let’s play it. So I’m sitting there with my banjo, running my mouth, reminding him that he should be hearing the words to the song while he’s playing his guitar break. Bob is sitting there, apparently deep in thought, and I think he’s hanging on my every word. I feel a little like God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. When I finally wind down, Bob says to me, in his blunt West Virginia way: “I’m just trying to figure out how to kick the sonofabitch off, Murphy.” Touché, Bob!"

And one more short story. I was having a small student jam in Brill's Barber Shop where I was still teaching in 2004. Bob is by now playing bass. I have a new fiddle student, Sandy, who can play a simple melody break to any song she can hear. She and her husband have recently retired to Winchester and she barely knows me and doesn't know Bob at all. After nine years of lessons, Bob and I had a comfortably cantankerous relationship and were going at it tooth and nail about something. Probably about him missing some bass notes. Finally Sandy asked, "Are you two married to each other?" "Just shoot me!" said Bob. "Ditto!" said I.

Bob's long tenure as a student was broken only twice. Once, when he had the insane idea to start working for the railroad and once when I raised my prices. That did not go well!

"Fifty dollars an hour? Jesus Christ! I don't make fifty dollars an hour."

"But, Bob, I don't work forty hours a week. I also have to pay for my own health insurance. And I don't have a pension plan!"

"I don't care. I'm not paying fifty dollars an hour for guitar lessons!"

So he quit. He stayed away for about a year. But eventually he came back. We forever more referred to that as our "divorce." I think we both missed each other!

Before he died, knowing that eventually I'd be writing this very blog, I asked Bob to jot down some thoughts about our lessons. This is what he wrote:

"Fact: I bought guitar new in 1995 I think, first approached you about lessons at barber shop in ’94 maybe. No openings at time. This went on until sometime in fall of ’95 before you had an opening. 

(BS on my part) First lesson, you ask me if you could see my guitar. I said sure. (Being the pessimistic SOB I am, I’m thinking “this gal is thinking: this dumb-ass 50 some year old redneck will drop taking lessons in 6 months and I’ll buy that new guitar cheap. (Fooled you on that scheme didn’t I. Don’t laugh now, you asked me to help tell this story)."

OMG, that story tickles me! As many of you know, I'm probably the least instrument-aware person in professional bluegrass. I didn't give a rat's ass about Bob's guitar, other than I was glad he bought a Martin. I only asked to see it because I knew that he would expect me to! So, I am laughing now, Bobby, because it's so damn funny. And I wish you'd told me this earlier so we could have laughed about it together. I would have called you a "dumbass redneck" and you would have said, "Bullshit! You know you wanted that guitar!" And then I would have said, "The hell I did. Let's pick Salt Creek." (Knowing he hated Salt Creek!) And he would have said, "Where's the duct tape?" Meaning, he should have just kept his mouth shut.

Bobby, wherever you are, thanks for the friendship, thanks for the laughter, thanks for all the help you gave me whenever I needed it, thanks for all the calls to say, "Just checking in to see how you're doing. How's Red? How's Casey and Chris?" As Chris said to me when we were talking about you recently, "He's just about my favorite redneck." I agree with him. I am going to miss the hell out of you. In fact, I already do.

Here's the song we did that I loved the best, Step Off On That Beautiful Shore by Paul Williams. I loved your guitar break. (Readers, check this out on YouTube!)

Down here we have family reunions
Where we'll visit for just a short while
Then we'll part and we'll not see each other
For a year or more at a time
But someday when life here is over
And all of our troubles are o'er
There'll be an everlasting reunion
When I step off on that beautiful shore.

Chorus:

Someday (yes, someday)
I'll cross the river (cross the river)
And step off on that beautiful (beautiful shore)
After while (after while)
I'll see my Jesus (my Savior)
And live in His presence evermore (evermore)
I've got (yes I've got)
Lots of loved ones (friends and loved ones)
Who are waiting for me to come o'er (to come o'er)
I'll be (yes, I'll be)
There forever (yes forever)
When I step off on that beautiful (beautiful shore).

I'll see you again, my friend.

How time does fly! The three months since our last post here have been filled with camps, swimming, a new mandolin DVD release, the IBMA convention, and one huge award for Murphy. The IBMA honored her with a Distinguished Achievement Award recognizing her groundbreaking work writing the history of women playing bluegrass: Pretty Good For A Girl: Women in Bluegrass.  They give out five each year and her co-recipients this year were Pete "Brother Oswald" Kirby, Alison Brown, Steve Martin, and the International Bluegrass Music Museum.

Murphy and Missy

Murphy Henry hugging Missy Raines as she goes to accept her Distinguished Achievement Award. Photo by Ted Lehman.

Missy Raines made the award presentation with a fabulous speech. I knew she would do an amazing job, but I was still blown away by how over-the-top amazing it was.

After the ceremony Murphy got introduced to Steve Martin by Alison Brown (who sits on the board for his Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo) and they got a picture of all three with their awards.

Murphy, Steve, Alison

Murphy Henry, Steve Martin, and Alison Brown with their Distinguished Achievement Awards plaques.

...and their shoes

...and their shoes!

Here is the entire presentation by Missy and Murphy's acceptance speech following. It is a great overview of Murphy's life and career. Her acceptance starts around the 9:00 mark. Thanks to Kathy Holiday for the video work!

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:

Dalton12a

I make lots of interesting shapes:

Dalton5

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:

Dalton10

I wash the Dinosaur Rock:

Dalton2

I wash the tree:

Dalton3

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

Dalton4

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!

Dalton8

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

Dalton9

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

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!

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>

 

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!