I recently received this email from a student:
I have learned the notes to Old Joe Clark and can play the slow version along with the DVD. However, I absolutely cannot translate this to the correct rhythm. I cannot even get the first lick! I am going crazy!
And I answered thusly:
I don't know if it will make you feel any better, but MANY students have trouble with the correct rhythm to Old Joe Clark. It's hard! Remember: the first two notes you play are pick-up notes--before the down beat. The down beat is the third note, the fifth string. My guess is you might be hearing it wrong. If you are hearing the first note you play as the down beat, then you are.....well, let’s just say you’re in trouble! If you can count time, then you can count those first two notes as “and-uh” with the fifth string then becoming “one.”
ASIDE: I’m not much of a time counter myself, but when I was learning banjo I occasionally had need to count time. What worked for me was counting every single note like this: one-ee-and-uh (which would represent four notes), two-ee-and-uh, three-ee-and-uh, four-ee-and-uh. So a simple square roll—3,2,5,1—would count out “one-ee-and-uh.” One syllable for every note. Ignore this if it’s confusing!
Now, if you are worried about the "bounce" or what notes to emphasize, it's way too early for that. Just keep playing the correct notes mechanically for a while as you try to get them into your fingers. Do not try to play fast! I promise it won’t help. After a while, if you are faithful and diligent, the "correct rhythm" will come to you. Don't rush the process!!!!! In fact, you can’t rush the process. (Can you, Marty??) And if you could find someone to play guitar with you, that would help. Especially if the guitar player knows Old Joe to begin with.
Believe me, there is no trick to learning this, no magic cure. Listen lots to where I play Old Joe with the guitar on Beginning Banjo Volume 2. You might also try the Slow Jam DVD, which includes Old Joe played with a band. You can play along with us, and we leave a hole for you to play by yourself. That should help. Although it might be too fast to play along with at first. But you could listen over and over and over and vamp along. Learning to vamp to the song should help with your understanding of it.
You didn't say how long you'd been playing or using the Murphy Method, but if you are a really new player, or new to playing by ear, then it might be too early for Old Joe. You might need to go back and get some of the “foundation” tunes from Beginning Banjo Volume 1 and Misfits.
Last resort: Hop a plane and come take a lesson with Casey in Nashville or me in Winchester!
But in the meantime, as someone said to me recently (two people, actually!): Patience, patience, patience.
And don’t give up! Good luck!