The Continuing Flatpicking Saga

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

You devoted blog readers may remember the time I've previously written about my student Ginny, who is now playing banjo (rolls and everything) with a flatpick (here). Her playing is progressing in all sorts of unexpected ways as a a result of having to slow WAY down. One of the things a flatpick roll can't do that that a finger roll can is achieve the same kind of speed. Having to play everything so slowly has inspired her to start to explore variations on tunes that probably never would have occurred to her if we'd just been plowing through material at the usual pace. She's worked out a high break to "Cripple Creek" that is pretty darn nifty, and a couple alternate breaks to "Angelina Baker" out of C position.

Today I paired her with one of my beginning students, Amy, for a mini-jam lesson. Amy has the first five songs under her belt (Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, Boil Them Cabbage Down, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Cumberland Gap) and we've been working on the vamping  as we go along. Speed wise I thought the two would match up well, despite the fact that Ginny has been playing far longer. Amy did brilliantly for her first time at playing with anyone other than myself, even though, as she said, "I've been practicing all day and dreading it all week!"

We started out with "Boil Them Cabbage Down," which Amy and I have traded back and forth a lot. Ginny, though, didn't do this tune in the course of her lessons. So right off the bat she had to improvise a break---licks over chords---which she gamely did, and I think she appreciated the challenge.

As we worked through the rest of the tunes, Amy performed all the jam session basics (vamping and hearing the chord changes, handing off the break to the other person, kicking off and ending tunes) with aplomb. She even showed good recovery skills when she missed a note or two and was able to keep going in her break. I wish that more of my students were in the same place learning-wise so that I could do a regular jam like Murphy does with her students. But until that circumstance presents itself I'm going to try and explore these mini-jams and see what develops. After all, playing with other people is what's important, even if it's only one or two other people!

7 thoughts on “The Continuing Flatpicking Saga

  1. Steve (in Japan)

    Thank you, Casey, for your words of encouragement. I’ve progressed quite a bit with your arrangements of Old-Time Religion and Redwing and now if, only, my son would have a little more patience with me! He’s one of those Steve Kaufman trained (CDs, etc.) flat top pickers, but still he’s got to read your entry above and become more like you.

  2. Susan Morrison

    Ginny and Amy, I am so proud of you! Ain’t jam’in both fun AND terrifying?!? But hang in there, cause the terror will subside and leave only a whole lot a fun! How lucky you are to have TWO females playing banjos together with a female banjo teacher! Safe, SAFE, S A F E !!! Keep it up and keep having fun!!! And when I’m in the area (probably never!), I’ll come join ya’ll for a tune or two. (I play in Murphy’s weekly jam, and jam’in is where it’s at – tho you couldn’t have convinced me of that a year ago).

  3. Steve (in Japan)

    Why Susan, whatever do you mean? I think it’s safe, SAFE, S A F E!!! to say … … Ah, what’s this world comin’ to?

  4. martha carlton

    Of course, I would ADORE to participate in mini jam sessions with you and others of your students, Casey. Please try to add this activity to your already busy schedule. I would even plan to stay over in Nashville to do this fun activity!!!

  5. Martin Bacon

    Susan and Martha,
    IBMA is at the end of September and the beginning of October. Casey said we might be able to have one or more slow jams them. Come to Nashville and listen to a lot of really fabulous bluegrass and we could play.

  6. Cameron

    That’s so cool! I wish I could have seen / heard that!

    And I thought Amy had no sense of rhythm – looks like she had the last word, hahaha.

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