Learning My First Earl Break By Ear

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

We promised you, those of you who read the TMM newsletter anyway, some discussion of Earl's tunes and the trials and tribulations we went through to learn them. This is the first post in what will hopefully be a series on that topic.

But first, in my last post I mentioned I was working on a "Greensleeves" arrangement for someone who wanted a custom lesson of it. I got it worked out, recorded it, and here it is if you'd like to hear it.

The first break of Earl's I tried to learn just by listening to it was "Doin' My Time." (It was either that or "Head Over Heels," I can't remember which now. But for the sake of the story, I'm going with "Doin My Time.") Murphy may have steered me in that direction because the break is so straightforward, but I was listening to it on a CD player at full speed, NOT on my record player that slows down to 16 r.p.m. I kept listening to the beginning of the kickoff over and over. I could tell that it started with a slide, so I played the only slide lick that came to mind, which was a slide from 2-3 on the third string, followed by a 2-1-5 forward roll.

That didn't sound exactly right, so I was stumped. So then my mom prodded me along a little. "What's another slide lick that you know?" Hmmm. Um. OH! The Cripple Creek lick. Duh. I played it and that was it!! What I played sounded just like what Earl played on the record!! Well, not just like, but you know what I mean.

The excitement of that moment has blotted out the process of learning the rest of the break. I did learn it, and mostly by ear, at least until the end, when I suspect I had considerable help. It sure was convenient to have a Scruggs expert in the same house while I was learning. Well, really two Scruggs experts, because Red could have answered my questions just as handily as Murphy did.

That first taste of figuring out a break by ear got me hooked. I didn't need an intermediary. I could just listen to it and figure out what Earl did!! Sure it wasn't easy, but I would definitely remember it forever after working so hard to tease out every note in the roll. For future attempts I did make use of my record player, and it was awfully nice of my parents to let me use their albums. I'm sure they had some qualms about putting them into the hands of a sixteen year old armed with a turntable and a needle. But the LPs survived to play another day, and my Scruggs knowledge grew exponentially.

3 thoughts on “Learning My First Earl Break By Ear

  1. Murphy

    After your father was kind enough to let ME use HIS records to Study Earl they were already pretty scratched up! (And I got them out of alphabetical order, too!) I guess that is True Love…..

  2. Marty Bacon

    If I could ever learn to use Amazing Slow Downer, I would try this sometime but I have a lot of work to do anyway. This is a great topic though. And all 4000 of my Cd’s are in alphabetical order too.

    MEB

  3. Patty

    So I’m a little behind on the MM blog so this is in response to both THIS entry and the Dec. 14 entry…

    Tackling the aftermath of an exploded water heater without waking up your partner!?!?? THAT has to be True Love! I’m sorry you had to go thru that!

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