Team Work Makes The Dream Work

This post originally appeared on Banjo Hangout.

Last week, we undertook one of the biggest projects in our business lives and re-recorded our Murphy Method Beginning Banjo DVDs in high definition (HD), with amazing sound. I never thought I would be doing those again in this lifetime! This makes the third time Red and I have recorded these tunes, starting with our first cassette series in 1982.

One of the reasons I wanted to reshoot these lessons was to put the songs into the order than Casey and I now use in our teaching. Over the years, we have both learned how to teach more effectively and our current “best order” is what you see on these three DVDs.

Our “team” this time included not only Red and me but our son Christopher who played guitar, sang, and helped with the sound. The fourth member of the team was sixteen-year-old Kasey Smelser, my banjo/guitar/singing student, who also proved to have great skills with wardrobe and makeup. When I first taught these lessons I recorded them in our house in Florida wearing only two things: corduroy cut-offs and a tank top. When you first saw me, on our videos, I did buy a new turquoise shirt but other than that, nada. But now, being well into the “autumn” of my life, I realized I needed help. What goes good with grey hair? Kasey figured it out. She also did my makeup. And when her school duties called and she couldn’t be there to apply the “paint and powder,” Christopher stepped up to the plate and did my makeup! Is that teamwork or what? Bill Belichick would have been proud!

I was not familiar with the phrase “Teamwork Makes The Dream Work” until Christopher used it during the shooting. One of his jobs was being on the lookout for Mistakes Mama Makes. So, in the middle of Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, I heard, “Excuse me, Mom, I think you forgot to mention the pinch at the end of that C lick. You played it but you didn’t explain it.” After using a few choice expletives (which my mama would have whipped me for!), I took a deep breath and said, “Thank you, Chris. I’ll add a little clip talking about that pinch. Thanks for noticing.” To which he replied, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” I loved the phrase, and asked him if he had just made it up, and he said no. (I later Googled it to find out that the phrase comes from leadership expert John C. Maxwell.) So, thanks to our whole team for a great week of shooting DVDs!

So what’s different about the lessons this time? What improvements have we actually made? Besides the stunning clarity of the picture and the great sound! One of our upgrades is that we now teach the vamping with every song. And we use just one vamp chord position, the “F” shape. I do strongly caution new students to not take up the vamping immediately. It’s too hard. (Soul-sucking is the word that came to mind, although that might be overkill!) We also include ending licks with every song.

But I would say that the biggest difference is in the order of the songs.

New Beginning Banjo 1 (HD) (Easy level)

Introductory material: strap, picks, hand position, 3 rolls, 3 chords
Banjo in the Hollow (hard to beat this for a first tune!)
Boil Them Cabbage (low break)
Cripple Creek
Boil Them Cabbage (high break)
Cumberland Gap
Blue Ridge Cabin Home: introduction to “roly polys”

This is how Casey and I now structure our lessons with a brand-new student. And these are the songs we ask our Beginning Banjo Camp students to know. (Except for Cumberland Gap.) So, now one DVD will contain them all. With vamping! And ending licks! And high def sharpness!

Each song now includes a “count off” of some sort, a “one, two, ready, go” or a “one, two, three” which will define the downbeat and give students a better understanding of what the song sounds like.

For those of you who are familiar with the actual arrangements of the songs, there are some slight differences. These reflect changes Casey and I made as a result of seeing our students struggle with troublesome spots in these songs. When we see that many students have a problem with a lick we try to fix the lick, not the student!

For instance, I “streamlined” Cumberland Gap, choosing not to teach the “bridge” part that connects the high break to the low break. (Forgive me, Earl!) [“It’s okay, Murphy, I never really liked that part anyhow!”] It works fine without that part and makes the structure of the song clearer.

Since the order on Beginning Banjo 1 changed, so did the order on the Beginning Banjo 2. Two songs previously on the first volume, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and John Hardy, now show up, appropriately, in the second volume.

New Beginning Banjo 2 (HD) (medium level)

Foggy Mountain Breakdown (low)
I Saw The Light
Bury Me Beneath The Willow
Do Lord
John Hardy
The most important improvement I made here was in teaching the all-important “Foggy Mountain Breakdown Lick.” I chose to teach it without using the thumb of the right hand on the second string. I realize this is trivia beyond belief to most of you, but to hardcore devotees of Earl Scruggs, like me, using the thumb on the second string is the Mark Of Earl. So, when I started teaching banjo, I thought it was a point of honor to use the thumb on the second string. But, over the years, this has created real problems for my students, and finally I realized, “Enough!” Who, besides Earl (and Alison Brown and Tony Trischka), can even hear the difference? So, IMTM became IMIM.*

I also simplified the last lick in I Saw The Light into a more useful Scruggs lick that can be used in other songs. (It has less melody but is easier to play.) (Thank you, David Nelson for that push. I know you can now play both licks!)

And finally, the New Beginning Banjo 3 (HD) (harder level)

Foggy Mountain Breakdown (high break)
Old Joe Clark
Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
Lonesome Road Blues
Salt Creek
As I say during the teaching, these songs are very close to being at the Intermediate Level. I feel much more comfortable pushing these harder songs to a third volume.

Not much changed in the teaching of these songs. I tried to be clearer about the timing of the pickup notes into John Hardy. I simplified the ending up-the-neck tag lick in Lonesome Road Blues to make it consistent with the ending lick in Foggy Mountain Breakdown (high). Using that lick should also make it easier to get back into Lonesome Road Blues for the second time. (Thank you, George, for the inspiration!) I know this is TMI (“too much information,” not “thumb, middle, index!” Tee hee.) but, honestly, I’m proud of these small tweaks because I know it will make these lessons easier for the students.

It will take some time for Red to get these lessons edited down and packaged. My work is done, but his is just beginning! We’ll let you know when these are ready. They will be available as downloads also.

So to all of you faithful Murphy Method students, thanks for your comments down through the years. You’re actually part of the team and we do pay attention to what you say. Those two missing notes in Salt Creek—the “5, 1” fill-in after the F lick—are now explained! We feel pretty sure you’re going to enjoy these high definition lessons. Shooting them was a labor of love!

Intermediate Banjo Camp coming up March 24-26. We still have some openings. Come join the fun!

*Translation: IMTM: Index, middle, thumb, middle (fingers of right hand); IMIM: index, middle, index, middle

5 thoughts on “Team Work Makes The Dream Work

  1. Wayne Bartlett

    Murphy! Great to hear those lessons are dusted off and redone. I learned ’em from the old ones, but sign me up for all of the new ones as soon as they’re available–I need a dusting off too! Now that I’ve retired from high school English teaching (last May), I’ve had more time for practice. Me and Banjo the Dog have been recording daily practices in our ‘OPS’ (outdoor practice studio), or as I call them, ‘daily annoying passersby sessions.’ They’re all on YT, search for ‘tophatbanjo.’ I’ll be in place in a couple of weeks for the intermediate camp…Wayne Bartlett.

  2. Jeff Messenger

    Thank you Murphy and gang for making the banjo come alive for me. I am one your newbie student with less than a month working on Banjo in the holow. This is also my fourth or fifth attempt in learning the banjo in the last five years. I’ve learned more in less than a month then I did in all the previous attempts combined. I’m very anxious to get the new and improved version. I will definitely be one of your first customers when you release. So please stay in touch!

  3. Ken Weaver

    I’m looking forward to the new release since you included vamping and tag licks. It will be interesting to revisit those tunes and compare to the original lessons as well.

  4. Bill Otten

    I anticipate the new updates with a question: will those of us who purchased those volumes prior have any discount for the updates?

  5. admin

    Probably so, but we haven’t worked out any details yet. There will be plenty of publicity to let you know!

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