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 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
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, September 30, 2013.
Now that we've got the "by ear" question out of the way (non-believers notwithstanding!) (it was last months' blog post...), let's look further into the method behind my madness (or vice versa!). It's not enough to simply learn by ear--you've got to have some "method and order" to your learning. And that's where the Murphy Method comes in. I've done your homework for you. I've been teaching banjo for over 40 years now and I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.
First of all, if you're new to the banjo, you need to start simple. And simple does not mean a dumbed-down version of Blackberry Blossom. (Don't get me started on Blackberry Blossom! Okay, I already got me started--we'll talk about that later.) The Big Three in the Murphy Method are Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Boil Them Cabbage Down. Why these three and not three others? Mainly because they are easy to play, sound good slow, and are well known in bluegrass circles. They are also "tried and true." I know they work because I see my students playing them! ...continue reading
Here are the new songs I've added to my list of lessons in the last month or so:
- Bookends (Simon and Garfunkel) (A) Watch clip. - This is a little something different. Beautiful little melody.
- Carrie Brown (I) Watch clip. - Del McCoury and Steve Earle recorded this on their CD "The Mountain"
- Garry Owen (I) Watch clip. - A celtic tune played single-string style.
- More Than Enough (I) Watch clip. - Gospel tune from the band Blue Ridge.
- To Morrow (I) Watch clip. - Kingston Trio folk song. This arrangement is the chords for singing along with, and a little intro/turnaround lick.
As always, these are available to order over on my website.
One of the comments prompted by my last blog: "Can you give me a quick explanation of the Roly Polys?"
Well, you know me. I can definitely give you an explanation, I'm just not sure it will be quick! (We will have a DVD that demonstrates everything you want to know about Roly Polys coming out this fall.)
Short explanation: The Roly Polys are a series of banjo rolls I developed to give beginning banjo players (specifically adults) the ability to play banjo breaks to three-chord singing songs ASAP.
Using the Roly Polys, a student can join in a jam and play breaks almost immediately. In order to use the Roly Polys, you have to either be able to hear your chords changes (G, C, D) or else be really good at "reading" the chords from the guitar player's hands. Either way will work!
So, without using tab (!!!), let me try to tell you more specifically about the Roly Polys. They are really the very first level of improvising--"Entry Level Improvising." ...continue reading
Last night we welcomed Kristina and her mandolin back to the jam. It's been a while since we've had heard her steady chop which is always a nice addition to the rhythm section. Ben, on bass, supplied the downbeat, Kathy G, Dan, and Kasey (looking Pretty in Pink) tickled the fives, and Bob and Diane played lead guitars.
With this combination of players we were able to stretch out and play Soldier's Joy in D since Kasey and Dan play it on banjo, Kristina plays it on mandolin, and Bob plays it on guitar. To play Earl Scruggs' version of Soldier's Joy, which is what we teach, you have to tune the fourth string of the banjo down two frets AND capo all the strings up two frets, which of course causes major retuning problems. Therefore it's always a good idea to play other D tunes once you've gone to all that trouble! So Kasey and Dan also played Liberty. (Kasey can also play Arkansas Traveler, so better start working on that, Dan!) Then, in the interest of minimizing tuning problems we went to A, which meant we were still capoed two, but were now playing in G position. All the banjo players had to do was pull the fourth string up to the correct note which was E. I'm sure that is clear as mud! ...continue reading
Sometimes smaller is better. Although "better" is not quite the right word. (I just used that to get your attention!) Perhaps it's more accurate to say sometimes smaller is a different kind of fun. (!!) Last night we had four folks at the Tip Jar Jam--Kenney, Janet, Betty, and Doug--and we made some excellent music.
I knew Betty and Doug (banjos) would both be at the jam so my plan (which I was formulating during Kenney's lesson, which made me forget the chord changes to Farther Along!) was this: Since Betty is an Advanced Beginner (not improvising yet) and Doug is just plain old Advanced I figured we'd alternate our banjo tunes, doing one slow for Betty and then another fast for Doug. I mentioned this at the beginning of the jam so everyone would know they would be getting their turn. ("Getting my turn" is very important to me--the oldest of five sisters!) So for our first song, I asked Betty to kick off Banjo In The Hollow. Which she did. And let me tell you, she put some fire into it! As Hank Snow said, we were moving on! Kenney and Janet and I were shelled shocked because we saw Betty when she first came to the jam, knees knocking and finger trembling. Hence Kenney's comment when we finished: "Betty's slow isn't slow anymore!" ...continue reading
Short version (in case you don't want to read all this!): I am giving Skype lessons now. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. Put "Skype lesson" in the subject line, please.
Long version: Well, folks, I have finally entered the 21st century by giving my first two Skype lessons! I am pleased to say I thought they went rather well.
Of course, being a Baby Boomer, I had to get Casey to set up my Skype account and show me how to use it. My only contribution was buying a camera at Radio Shack and letting it sit around for six months before I knuckled and asked for help. Casey showed me how to work it, but since I didn't use it immediately, I promptly forgot everything she showed me. (Yeah, it happens to me too!) ...continue reading
Trying to help Murphy again on these blogs so here goes. At 12:30 campers began checking in and picking up their name tags. After looking around I could tell that some of these faces I had seen before. Yep I was right!! Returning campers from last year's intermediate camp. Going around the room listening to introductions I noticed that some folks did a great deal of traveling. Maine, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, and Southern Virginia. Plus I noticed that most of our heads were grey/white except for one teenager, the gentleman from Maine, and one Banjo instructor. The other instructor's hair has been altered. [Ha, ha!] I would say the average age for this Camp would be probably around 55. Where are all the young people? We've all gotta do better job of getting the youth involved. How many of us wish we wouldn't have waited so long to start playing? Encourage the young! ...continue reading