Steve Kaufman always lets the instructors have Friday morning off while the campers participate in the band scramble so I had a lovely sleep in!
Yesterday was a busy day at camp with one class scramble, one regular class, one private lesson, and another Master class. For the class scramble each instructor gets to pick any music-related topic in the world to talk about for two hours and any of the students can attend. Naturally, I chose to talk about my book! As I walked into the building where my teaching room in, I met one of my beginning students coming out. He said he'd wanted to attend my Scramble but when he got up there, it was all women, so he thought he'd go somewhere else. I told that to the women when I got up there, and one of them said, "Now he knows how we feel!" I spent a wonderful two hours talking about the women in my book with other women who actually know something about bluegrass. That made it much more fun for me.
I'm feeling a sermon coming on, so if you're already a member of the choir, you can skim this part--or go to sleep which is what I frequently did when I was in the choir!
Several folks have asked me, point blank, how they can improve their playing and move the next level. All three of these folks can actually already play. Two are in my advanced class and one is in my intermediate class. It goes without saying that these folks can improvise and play a number of tunes. In all three instances I have suggested that these already good pickers do one thing: Study Earl.
Study Earl. This topic was one of the first I wrote about for Banjo Newsletter. One thing I remember saying was that since we have Earl, we don't have to re-invent banjo playing. We can use what he has already so brilliantly invented. We can make that our foundation and then start to be creative from there.
How does one Study Earl? You can do it the hard way, as I did, by slowing down the vinyl records; you can do it the modern way by using the Amazing Slow Downer to decipher Earl's tunes; or you can do it the easy way and use the Murphy Method DVDs, where Casey and I have already done the hard part!
This is why I teach the Roly Polys. Even that basic forward/backward roll is Earl's. When you start with the good stuff, your playing sounds banjo-y. And, as my Tip Jar Jammers know, the Roly Polys are just the foundation upon which we will build our Church. (Sorry, that doesn't make any real sense but I couldn't resist!) It's the foundation to which we will add genuine, actual Scruggs' licks to upgrade the breaks so they will Sound Like Earl. We'll add the Tag Lick, we'll add the Foggy Mountain Breakdown D lick, we'll add the Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms lick, and we'll eventually add the double-square roll from Earl's Breakdown.
And where do you learn these licks? You learn them from Earl's tunes. I'm not a fan of learning licks that are unattached to songs. Songs and tunes provide the context for the licks.
As I told one of my really, really good Advanced students when she or he asked me to critique her or his break to Blue Ridge Cabin Home: "The break sounds great. You are a great player. But since you asked....I think you should learn Earl's break. It has more nuance."
The response I got, half in jest: "I hate criticism!" I told her/him, "I know where you are coming from. I do too!"
So if you are a New Reader who is interested in upgrading your playing by Studying Earl here are a couple of songs to go for, just to get you started. I've listed the DVDs that they are on. Hopefully, you will get bitten by the bug and continue the wonderfully rewarding experience of Studying Earl.
Foggy Mountain Breakdown (low break) [Beginning Banjo Volume 1)
Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms (Jam Session Standards)
(And if you get Jam Session Standards, the tune Dueling Banjos includes a break made up totally of classic Scruggs licks. I actually need to start teaching that one more!)
And if you are a beginning banjo player wanting to get off on the right foot, then just start at the beginning: Banjo In The Hollow and Cripple Creek from Beginning Banjo Volume 1.
As you can see, teaching banjo for a week gets me back on my Earl horse. Ride 'em, cowgirl!
P.S. I figured we need a picture, so let me explain this one.
The guys I've been eating lunch with everyday, from my Intermediate Class, mentioned yesterday that they both carry Swiss Army Knives. I told them that I, too, carry a Swiss Army Knife but it was back at the hotel where I had used it to open a can of evaporated milk for my coffee. So, I thought I'd post this picture as proof.
P.S.S. In the blog about the concert, I forgot to mention that Kathy H came up with the best line in the fem version of Glendale Train: "Girls on horses, girls with guns and no sign of a bra!" Good one, A. J. Jr.
Time for oatmeal, shower, and more of the Jamie and Claire book! Then off to teach!