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? ...continue reading

Pretty Good For A Girl CoverWe've just crossed into summer, so we thought it would be an appropriate time to direct you to this Summer Reading List over on Banjo Cafe. Murphy's book "Pretty Good For A Girl" graces it, along with three other banjo-centric books, and one about the Louvin Brothers.

Check it out!

5 Summer Must-Reads for Banjo Players

Tip Jar Jam: When The Roll Is Called Uncloudy Day

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

(Psst: The title is not a typo. Read the blog. All will be revealed.)

Well, we didn't have a Tip Jar Jam on Wednesday because, first of all it snowed. Then after I had ratcheted up my courage to drive into town in the snow (I'm from Georgia!) I got into my new-to-me, all-wheel drive Honda Pilot (2008) and darn thing wouldn't crank! Deader'n a door nail. Not a sound. Naturally, I took that as a sign from the Universe that I was to stay home. It was January 21 which would have been my mom's 90th birthday. So, I figured I'd lounge around the house in my pajamas and think about Mama.

Naturally, I shared my car woes with Ben Smelser. He texted that he was coming out this way to look at trees and did I want him to swing by and see what was wrong. Oh, yes! I told him I thought it was the battery and that I'd probably left a light on. He said he'd bring a "battery pack" (whatever that is) and charge up the battery. Fine with me.

Long story short: It was NOT the battery! Nor the starter! Nor the alternator, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come.... Whoops! I let my Baptist slip out. Anyhow, Ben found out that the battery cable had slipped off the battery post. He put it back on but it wouldn't stay because the post was too skinny. (Too much cleaning by my automotively-obsessed nephew?) So, being the resourceful redneck that he is, Ben took some tinfoil, folded it up into several layers, and wrapped it around the post to thicken it up! Brilliant! Now my "new" car has a bluegrass fix! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Wow! We had 12 people at the jam last night: Betty, Kathy G, Ben, Kasey, Steph, Diane, Gregg, David, Chuck (sitting on the floor!), Rhys, Drew, Amber, and Jason. This broke down into 3 guitars, 7 banjos, 1 fiddle, and 1 mandolin. Ben swapped his banjo for the bass early on and with me pounding my Martin we managed to keep folks in line!

We were sorely missing our buddy Bob Van who has landed his butt in the hospital. In his honor we set up his picking chair and put a roll of duct tape in it. The duct tape is in honor of Bobby always saying something like, "I hope we don't play Salt Creek." Which forces me to say, "Why don't we play Salt Creek!" At which point he growls, "Where's the duct tape?" meaning he needs to have his mouth taped shut so he won't say anything else stupid! We will keep your chair and duct tape there, Bobby, until you get back. We love your ornery old hide!

We started off gently with our "party pieces," Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, I Saw The Light, and Blue Ridge Cabin Home, all in G. And thanks to Chuck for being our "G" singer! Then we moved on up to C, for some womyn singing: I'll Fly Away (Kathy), Two Dollar Bill (me), and Circle (Diane). Then I realized, once again, that I had cheated Kasey out of singing her song, I Saw The Light, which we'd already done. (Girl, you gotta get a new song!) But Diane reminded me that Kasey used to sing Rocky Top in C. At first I demurred, saying the chords were too hard for the whole group, but then I thought, "Why not let Kasey sing it as a 'show' piece?"  ...continue reading

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

Here are the recent additions to my (now quite long) list of custom banjo lessons. As always they can be ordered directly from my website.

  • The Battle Belongs To The Lord (B) Watch clip. - Gospel song in a minor key, with rolls to sing along with.
  • Granddad The Preacher (B) Watch clip. - A Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers song. Easy turnaround for the break, along with the vamp chords.
  • Love Lifted Me (B) Watch clip. - This is a melody-only break (just notes, not very many rolls) to this old hymn.
  • Mama Blues (A) Watch clip. - Earl Scruggs's classic break off of the Live at Carnagie Hall album.
  • There Is A Time (A) Watch clip. - A Dillards classic. This teaches two of Doug's breaks.
  • They Call It Music (A) Watch clip. - A Gibson Brothers song in drop-C tuning.

[Betty Fisher, a Tip Jar Jam regular, was kind enough to blog about her recent jamming experience. Betty has been having some problems with bats in her house, hence the blog title. She is also a very, very good sport!]

My friend and neighbor Stephanie is a beginning guitar student of Murphy’s.  She and I have been threatening--or rather promising--to get together and jam as Murphy has suggested.  Finally on Sunday we were able to do that.

A shining example to all! Betty, left, and Steph, right, jamming.

A shining example to all! Betty, left, and Steph, right, jamming.

We sat out on Stephanie’s beautiful new stone patio in the shade with a nice breeze blowing.  Steph warned me that she had not practiced for a couple of weeks.  She had also let Murphy know that things would be on hold for a short while, then she would get back in gear with her lessons.   ...continue reading

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

I have a bunch of new custom lesson I've added to my list and here they are:

  • Big Country (Bela Fleck) (A) Watch clip. - This is a great tune of Bela's. Definitely advanced, but on the scale of all of Bela's tunes, not that hard.
  • Cattle In The Cane (A) Watch clip. - This is a fiddle tune, and it really gave me a time working out an arrangement. There is NO way to play it scruggs style. It ended up being a mixture of melodic and single string.
  • Daisy A Day (B) Watch clip. - Easy strumming arrangement to sing along with.
  • Greensleeves (B) Watch clip. (Single note melody version.) - This tune is also on the Casey's Christmas Collection DVD, but that version is much harder than this. Here I just teach the meldoy, one note at a time. Also the guy who ordered it stiffed me, so I'd appreciate it if some of y'all ordered it...
  • Gum Tree Canoe (High Break) (I) Watch clip. - I already have the low break to this on the list. The high break is much harder, but really fun in a kind of ridiculous way. I'll include both breaks when you order this song.
  • In The Gravelyard (I) Watch clip. - A Blue Highway hit. This is Jason Burleson's kickoff break.
  • Rockwood Deer Chase (Don Stover) (A) Watch clip. - A really, really cool tune in D tuning. Jim Mills also recorded it.
  • You Are My Sunshine (I) Watch clip. - Nice, familiar tune that lays out well on the banjo. This is an intermediate arrangement.

You can order any or all of these on my website:

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

This article originally appeared in the pages of Banjo Newsletter magazine in December 2013. They kindly gave permission for us to reprint it here. Buy the CD here!

When I heard about the forthcoming CD project from Patuxent Music featuring Washington D.C./Baltimore/Northern Virginia-area banjo players I got super excited. The list of participants includes both legendary players and up-and-comers, bluegrass and old-time. Here, to whet your appetite, is a partial list: Tom Adams, Eddie Adcock, Paul Brown, Donnie Bryant, Bill Emerson, Cathy Fink, Joe Herrmann, Pete Kuykendall, Reed Martin, Doug McKelway, David McLaughlin, Mike Munford, Bill Runkel, Mark Schatz, Dick Smith, Roni Stoneman, Steven Wade, and Chris Warner.

I first heard of the project when my mom and I were both asked to participate. Co-produced by ace picker Mark Delaney (who plays with Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass) and Randy Barrett (president of the DC Bluegrass Union) the as-yet untitled project [now titled The Patuxent Banjo Project] will be released in the Spring 2014.  ...continue reading

Murphy and Casey appeared at the after-lunch roundup during Bluegrass Week at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV, July 29, 2014. "Lonesome Road Blues" was the first tune ever recorded by a woman playing Scruggs-style banjo. That woman as Roni Stoneman.

Tuesday evening during Bluegrass Week all the female instructors played a set at the evening concert. What a fun show! Here is "Banjo Pickin' Girl". Murphy and Casey Henry (banjos), Kathy Kallick (guitar), Mary Burdette (bass), Laurie Lewis and Tammy Rogers (fiddles), Sharon Gilchrist (mandolin).

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This was originally published Monday, December 02, 2013.

I have been writing about playing the banjo for 30 years but I have never written an article about practicing. Why not? Well, probably because I hate anybody telling me what to do and also because most of the practice suggestions I read struck me as bombastic BS--idealistic, ivory-tower imaginings that seemed useless to me or, at best, not practical for adult students with lives and families. I never followed any set pattern when I was learning, I just got up, got a cuppa, and started studying Earl at 16 rpm in my pajamas! I thought my students would figure out what worked best for them and follow their own "rules," which many of them do. But finally I have come to understand that not everybody is self-propelled and that some people desperately want and need guidelines. With that in mind, I will present my own extremely general and hopefully not too bombastic suggestions in hopes that maybe a few of these ideas prove useful.

As I pull these thoughts together I have tried to take into account real adults with real lives so...... ...continue reading