Tip Jar Jam: Chords, Chords, Chords!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our first Tip Jar Jam after Beginning Banjo Camp showed a marked improvement in the jamming skills of campers David and Gregg--especially when it came to improvising on the fly. During camp we had hit the Roly Polys pretty hard since the new DVD, Kickstart Your Jamming, is coming out soon. (Two weeks, we hope!) So last night, David and Gregg, flushed with enthusiasm, were more than willing to try Roly Poly breaks on most of the singing songs we played: Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Circle, Two Dollar Bill, I'll Fly Away, I Saw The Light, Katy Daley, When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, and the Crawdad Song, which is new to us. ("You get a line and I'll get a pole, honey...").

One of the things that shook out of this post-camp jam was, again, how important it is to pay attention to the chord progression. For instance, many of you know from working with the Misfits DVD that I Saw The Light, Do Lord, Worried Gal, and Two-Dollar Bill sound very much alike. (In bluegrass-speak we'd say they sound "sim-u-lar." Or perhaps, eschewing extra syllables, "sim-lar.") However, when you're getting ready to improvise a break with the Roly Polys, if you fail to pay attention to the chords while the singer is singing, you may not notice that Two-Dollar Bill has only two beats of C, NOT SIX! That's a pretty big difference! 

Now, you don't have to memorize how many beats each song has--in fact, I strongly discourage that approach. You only need to be aware that some songs have short groupings (2 beats), others have long groupings (8 beats or more), and many have the more regular four beat groupings. The rest of your improvising is done strictly by feel, intuition, and guess work! I know it sounds scary to be playing without a net, so to speak, but as the Tip Jar Jammers will testify, it works. It doesn't always work the first time or even the second, but eventually it does work. So I was proud of Gregg and of David for all their Roly Poly efforts. (And, no, Gregg, I'm not going to mention When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder...!)

Ben and his squirrel

Ben and his squirrel

It was good to see Ben and Kasey again. Kasey was improvising lots of breaks up the neck, which is a good place to go in a jam once you have a decent grasp of improvising in the first position. Ben brought along two squirrels that he rescued as tiny babies from a tree he cut down. He and Kasey have been raising them and, now as you can see, they are almost full grown. When Ben was asked the question, "What are you going to do with them now?" he calmly replied, "Eat them!" Which engendered exactly the horrified response he was expecting. Of course he's not going to eat them! (Not that there's anything wrong with eating squirrel, IMHO.) But eating a pet is different. When they are full grown, he will turn them loose in the safest outdoor environment he can find, after giving them little banjos and teaching them to play so they can earn a living!

Kasey with the squirrels.

Kasey with the squirrels.

And I have to give a shout out to Chuck who, on short notice Saturday morning at the camp, was willing to play rhythm guitar for my class of Advanced Beginners who were learning to Roly Pole their way through Blue Ridge Cabin Home. Of course, I wanted Chuck to SING it because, in G, it's way too low for me, but alas! Bury Me Beneath The Willow is the one that he knows the words to. Still, having his solid rhythm guitar was wonderful. He was nursing a cold last night so he only sang Circle but, as Kathy G said, it's nice to have another singer who can sing in G.

Bob Mc was attending his last jam until December since he's off to Florida again soon. He acquitted himself well on the two areas we'd been working especially hard on: coming in on Old Joe Clark after a guitar break and playing a break to Katy Daley that he made up himself. (Okay, he missed the last D lick the first time through but nailed it when I gave him another break!)

Several students including Gregg, David, and Kathy G, are working on John Hardy, so we played a slow version all together. Safety in numbers! We then did a faster version that Kasey kicked off. That girl can fly when she wants to! Doug treated us to one of the off-the-wall tunes he's been working on, Silver Eagle. This is one of Earl's later tunes, and I'll confess, I don't play it myself and can never quite remember the chords! Still and yet, I muddled through while Doug displayed some fine picking skills.

I would write more but Dalton wants to know if I can come to his tea party in the back of the van. So here I go!

P.S. Well, the tea party was a bust because Dalton didn't want to use pretend food. And he didn't want any of the real food I brought out, which included an applesauce cake we had made that morning with him tasting all of the ingredients and eating the batter! So Casey and I entertained him by playing Rock, Scissors, and Paper which he thought was hilarious. I love to see and hear that kid laugh. It was funny to us, too, because we kept coming up with exactly the same thing: Rock and Rock, Scissors and Scissors, Paper and Paper. We finally went back inside where he painted with water colors while I cleaned off the brushes, played at Chinese checkers (where I put the marbles in lines of the same color at his command), and then all three of us played of Go Fish using three different decks of cards. (Not all at the same time! We played three games. Hearing Dalton say, "Do you have any tens?" cracks me up!) I love being a Gran!

We will be jamming next Wednesday, November 5, 7-9. All Murphy Method students are welcome. Suggested donation: $20. Hope to see you there!