Tip Jar Jam: Turn Your Radio Off!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Rain and snow prevented our having a Tuesday jam (I was at Casey's house watching Dr. Who!) but when it warmed up on Wednesday nine students braved the elements to come jam. Can you say "cabin fever?" Or maybe "jamming fever?"

Now, about that title. As you know Ben and his daughter Kasey have been regulars at the jam since the start, always sitting side by side (so Ben can copy Kasey if he forgets his break). Last night Ben's safety net was unceremoniously ripped away when Kasey debuted her new break to Will The Circle Be Unbroken in open C while Ben was still playing his break capoed up five frets! Not having the "radio" on to guide him, Ben faltered a bit and there was not one thing in the world Kasey could do to help him. So she and I just looked at each other and laughed! And then we looked at Ben and laughed! Such a supportive daughter. Such a supportive teacher. Such a fun jam!

After the song was over I shared my "radio" analogy with Ben. I said, "When you're in the car singing along with the radio, you think you know the words to the song. But when you try to sing without the radio you find you don't know squat. So, Kasey is like your radio. As long as she's playing the break, you do fine. But when the radio is off, you're lost!" Ben just shook his head. Luckily, he's a good sport. Plus that, that comment was a partial payback for him scaring the heck out of me and Betty with his fake "wild animal" in a box. Bad boy!

TEACHING STUFF: Let me say a little more about playing in open C, which is a great way to expand your playing options. When you play in open C you do NOT retune the banjo and you do NOT use the capo. You play your breaks using first-position C, F, and G chords using many of the same licks you use when you play out of G position. Unfortunately, some of the best G licks--the tag lick and the open pinches (3, pinch, 2, pinch)--can't be used in C. Which is a pain. But there are bunch of easy new licks on the first and second strings (pinches and Foggy Mountain Breakdown rolls) which are fun to play.

However, before you can attempt to play in open C, you have to be extremely comfortable using the F chord. You must be able to go to the F chord without thinking about it, you must be able to make the F chord without fretting the fourth string (no small task), and you must be able to move your ring finger around easily--while you are in the F chord--to fret melody notes. All this makes playing in open C an advanced skill. So I guess that means that Kasey is now venturing into advanced turf! I'm proud of you, Kasey, and I know your dad is, too!

ADVERTISEMENT: We have devoted two entire DVDs to the subject of Playing In C Without A Capo. The first one, Wildwood Flower, starts with Do Lord and Worried Man, songs you are already familiar with. The second, Soldier's Joy, features instrumentals played out of C position like Soldier's Joy and Liberty. The second DVD gets more involved as we actually do retune the 4th string to a C note. And we also use the capo (second fret) to play these fiddle tunes in the key of D. It's complicated! We'll talk about that more when Kasey starts playing these tunes!

Murphy and Bobby

Murphy and Bobby

BACK TO THE JAM: Speaking of Soldier's Joy, last night Janet and Bobby showcased this very tune on their guitars. Soldier's Joy is not an easy tune for banjo players, so I just had them vamp along in the key of D using the chords D (I chord), G (IV chord), and A (V chord). (Remember: no capos are needed if you are just vamping.) Janet had learned the tune out of C position so she capoed up two to play in D, and Bobby had learned it in open D so he didn't need to capo. For a first outing, they both did quite well. (Although I can see Janet making a face right now and I can hear Bobby saying some non-Sunday School words.) I don't mean they played it perfect--I wasn't expecting that. But, as we say in the biz, they hit more notes than they missed so that counts as an excellent rendition! I'm determined to keep this as a jam tune because it will push Janet and Bobby to another level of guitar playing. I am convinced that the only way to really learn a tune, to "own" that tune and make it solid, is to "jam" it--play it in a jam. Note to Kasey: I just told my Casey (who is here) that you should start working up this tune on the banjo! No rest for the wi.......I mean the wonderful! Loved your boots last night. Loved yours too, Ben!

Next Wednesday, February 19, we will be joined by the great Ned Luberecki who will be in town to shoot a new Murphy Method DVD that Casey is producing. Nedski, as most of you know, is a star deejay on the Sirius/XM bluegrass radio network with his own show, Derailed, and has been known to spin a tune or two that Casey and I have recorded. (Can you still say "spin" in the digital age?) He's also a "prince of a fellow" as Dalton Brill used to say and a fabulously inventive banjo player. And did I say he is very, very funny? Perhaps he will entertain us between tunes.

Casey and her Nerf ball

Casey and her Nerf ball

Young Dalton and Casey have just entered my office, where they are busily identifying books by their colors and uncasing my CDs. So I will close so I can entertain Dalton's request to throw an orange Nerf ball against the ceiling. (The Nerf ball used to be Casey's!) It's one of Dalton's newest and ever-changing games! Too much fun!

CAMP COMING UP: Don't forget our Intermediate Banjo Camp, March 28-30, in Winchester. We will be having a Tip Jar Jam at the hotel on Thursday, March 27.

We'll be jamming next Tuesday and Wednesday, February 18 and 19, weather permitting. Please call (and talk to a real person) before driving long distances!