Steve from Japan had some interesting thoughts in response to Casey’s comment about my original blog “Playing in C.” I thought I’d post them here, so I can add my two cents worth.
Hi Casey, I don't mean any fighting words here, but I disagree with your comment about students not needing to learn to play in open C. It's not that difficult to do and, here anyway, many of the Carter Family songs such as Wabash Cannonball, Wildwood Flower, etc. are played as instrumentals at jam sessions. Also, here in Japan there's a rather good balance of men and women (singers) in amateur bluegrass too. I'll be a student of the banjo for the remaining years of my life and I want to learn to play, as proficiently as possible, in the Key of C and D. I think you ought to encourage students to learn to play some in open C as soon as possible. It goes with the territory, so to speak. From the back of the classroom, the bad boy's 2 cents.
Steve, you do have a good point about women in jam sessions and the fact that most women sing in the higher keys of C or D. That’s why for beginners I suggest the use of the capo. Yes, even in D! And Carter Family numbers such as “Wabash Cannonball” and “Wildwood Flower” are typically played in C. (Although as instrumentals they could be played in any key.)
I think your operative words are “I think you ought to encourage students to learn to play some in open C as soon as possible.”
I agree with this. I just think our definitions of “possible” are different! I am always thinking of the students I see on a day-to-day basis.
Most of the students I see and have seen typically struggle with playing tunes in G for the first couple of years. At some point we start the usually tedious and difficult process of learning to vamp and learning to hear chord changes. Usually, the only playing they do with anyone is with me in the lesson. Most of them do not get out and jam. So their understanding of the banjo and banjo tunes and songs and even basic music theory is quite limited. For these folks, playing in C is, in fact, very difficult (did I mention the F chord?). And more than that, it is confusing.
This is why Casey said, and I agree, that until a student has considerable jamming experience and really needs to play in C because someone is singing in C or playing a tune in C, it is best to wait until the student’s skills are more developed. (Which will also make it much, much easier to learn and understand.) But, I totally agree with you that life-long banjo players do, at some point, need to learn to play in C and D (and maybe even E and F!) to become well-rounded players. That’s exactly why we devoted two whole DVDs to playing in C! Wildwood Flower and Soldier’s Joy.
PS (totally unrelated to the above!): I’ve not yet mentioned that I’ve been taking square dancing lessons since September and am now completely besotted with this mentally challenging activity. (So many new licks....I mean calls to learn: Load The Boat, Spin Chain the Gears, Relay the Deucy, Ping Pong Circulate.) It’s a lot like learning banjo and it’s so much FUN! Anyhow, I’d given our instructor Mike McIntyre one of my M and M Blues CDs, and he liked it and asked if he could use some of my music in a square dance call. I said Sure! So last night I had the mind-boggling experience of square dancing to “Hazel Creek” (the Murphy Method theme song)! I could hardly keep my feet moving in the right direction because I was listening so intently to the music. Mike had cut out the slow introductory part and had somehow spliced together the rest of the song to make it the requisite six minutes long for a dance. (He’d also slowed it down from something like 147 beats per minute to around 126. It was a bit strange to hear it so slow. Yet that was still fast to dance to!) All the folks at the lesson were very complimentary about the music and I left with my head several sizes larger! Any other square dancers out there??