Camps

Casey and I are excited that our Intermediate Banjo Camp is coming up soon, March 24-26, in Winchester, Va. We’ve been in the Banjo Camp Bid-ness (as we say in the South) only a few short years and we look forward to this cozy, intimate weekend, working closely with about 20 students. We are proud to say our students always learn a lot, and they certainly have taught us a thing or two!

One thing we learned pretty quickly is that students who survive our Beginning Camp…I mean students who LOVE our Beginning Camp in October often want to continue to feed their banjo euphoria by coming to our Intermediate Camp in March. I totally get that. In fact, I encourage students to strike while the banjo is hot, because life has a way of making other plans for you, as I’m sure you all know. To support these dedicated beginners, we’ve started offering a “I Just Barely Became An Intermediate Student By The Skin Of My Banjo Head” level. Which we shorten to “Newbie Intermediates.” You all are welcome at our Intermediate Camp!

Here’s what you Newbie Intermediates can expect:

First of all, our camps differ from other camps in that we have a list of prerequisites for each camp. These songs give us a foundation for our teaching and put all the students on the same page. For instance, to attend Beginning Camp you have to be able to play:

Banjo in the Hollow

Boil Them Cabbage Down

Cripple Creek

To move on up to the Intermediate Camp, Newbie Level, you simply add three songs. (And stir!)

I Saw the Light OR Foggy Mountain Breakdown (low break) Both songs teach, for the first time, the all-important “tag lick.”

Blue Ridge Cabin Home (“roly poly” version)

Bury Me Beneath the Willow (“roly poly” version)

These six songs plus the vamping will get you into the Newbie Intermediate class. Using those songs, which everybody in the class can play, Casey and I can then teach other Intermediate Skills such as:

How to Trade Breaks in a Jam (When do I come in?)

Improvising On the Fly At a Jam (How do I come up with break to a song I’ve never played before?)

Using a Capo (How the heck do I find the vamp chords when I’ve got a capo on! I’ve lost my markers!)

How to Interchange Licks in Songs You Already Play (Really? I can do this?) Yes, you can. We call these “upgrades.”

Our focus is never on speed. We focus on helping you develop the courage to play a break in a jam by giving you the tools you need. (Which are listed above.) Nowadays, we almost never focus on teaching new songs. You can get those off of our DVDs. Instead we focus on teaching you to actually play the songs you already know in a friendly jam setting. And that’s what we do with the Newbie Intermediates.

What do we offer our Advanced Intermediates?

First of all, the Advanced Intermediate class also includes you Intermediate Intermediates (which always reminds me of the character “Major Major” in the book Catch-22). The prereqs for our Advanced Intermediates are all of the above plus a few songs of your choice from this list:

Foggy Mountain Breakdown (low and high)

John Hardy

Old Joe Clark

Lonesome Road Blues

I Saw the Light

Worried Man

Two-Dollar Bill

Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms (a must!)

The Advanced Intermediate class plays faster (but not too fast!) and we move through the new material faster. In this class we almost always work on whatever new thing I am currently gung-ho about in my banjo teaching. This year it is playing in three-quarter (¾) time. Working with my own Tip Jar Jammers this past year, I have come up with a great list of songs in ¾ time that work with ¾ time roly polys: Amazing Grace, Before I Met You, In The Pines, All The Good Times Are Past and Gone, and Angel Band. We will start out with the simplest way to play these and then, if the class is willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll move on to a more complicated way.

We will also be delving into my last year’s passion, playing in the key of C without using a capo. We’ll take one or two of the three-chord songs you already know in the key of G, and learn to play it in C. Doing this usually leads us into a discussion about playing in D, which opens that can of worms labeled “I hate to tell you this, but when you capo at the second fret you’re not always playing in A.” Huh? Really? Yep, really. You could be playing in the key of D! Casey and I will explain all. And then we’ll let YOU play in D—based on what we just learned to play in C.

Our goal in this camp and all our camps is to help you become better banjo players. We want you to walk in on Friday playing at one level and walk out on Sunday playing at a higher level. We do this by playing the songs—over and over and over—that you already know how to play. Sometimes we will play them at different capoed positions, usually A (two frets) or C (five frets). We also encourage you, gently, to play improvised breaks to simple, three-chord songs that you’ve never played before. But this is only after we show you how.

To support everything that you’ve learned during the day classes, we offer instructor-led jams at night in which everyone who wants to play breaks gets to play breaks. In these jams, we play slow for the Newbies and faster for the more advanced players. Kathy Hanson has been our jam leader for the last few years and we are excited to have her back again this year.

If spending a weekend actually playing the banjo, in company with like-minded people and under the tutelage of two seasoned, caring teachers (one more seasoned that the other!), sounds like your cup of tea, join us March 24-26 in Winchester, Va., home of Patsy Cline and Lynn Morris. All the details are here.

We just finished up our SIXTH Beginning Banjo Camp here in Winchester. I had one of the best groups of intermediate beginners ever, and this was mainly due to their own hard work before the camp. They all had learned their prerequisites and they all knew their vamp chords which made playing together so much easier. Norman was one of those hard-working students. With his permission, I’m sharing our email exchange which began in August. These are real emails. I have lightly edited them to take out details about airplane flights and directions to Winchester and the price of eggs in Alaska!

Emails, August 2016 BC (Before Camp)

Hi,

I'd like to come to your beginner camp in Oct. and, since I'm from Colorado, would like to dovetail that with a lesson or two. Perhaps come on Thursday for a lesson, stay till Monday for another Sunday afternoon. If you have any energy left.

I've been picking away for some time but need direction, better practice habits and so forth.

I've not played much with others but know a reasonable break to the songs that you've mentioned, plus some back-up. I'm open to suggestions.

There are banjo teachers closer by but they're generally band members and not in the business of instruction.

Thanks for your help and I look forward to hearing from you. Norman  ...continue reading

BREAKING NEWS: We’ve just added a Novice Class to our Women’s Banjo Camp, July 29-31, in Winchester, Va. No experience necessary!

I had been wondering where I was going to use that quote from George, one of my Tip Jar Jammers. It certainly makes a great title for this blog. Here’s the back story. We usually have a fair number of women at my Tip Jar Jam and one night it was all women. And George. And while we don’t usually drink at the jam, Kathy G had brought in a bottle of port and we were enthusiastically following Saint Paul’s sage advice to “take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.” Soon the air was punctuated with ribald remarks, risqué allusions, gales of laughter, and womyn singing. Into the middle of all this walks Dan, another Tip Jar regular. Says George, “Thank goodness you’re here! They’re drinking wine and playing in B-flat!”

And that spirit—the freedom to laugh boisterously, to share jokes in a room full of understanding, to enjoy the sound of womyn’s voices raised in three-part harmony, to pick the banjo however you pick it knowing that you will be supported and not judged--is the spirit that makes our Women’s Banjo Camps so successful. And so much fun. That spirit is the wind beneath our wings. (Even if Alice Gerrard doesn’t like that song!) And in the middle of this “good natured riot,” there is much learning. And perhaps a little wine at the late night jams…

Each of our Women’s Banjo Camps has organically and of its own accord revealed a particular focus. This year my suggested focus will be the idea of playing in open C without using a capo.

What does that mean and why do it? After all, isn’t that why capos were invented, to play in C? Well, yes. You certainly can play in C using a capo and I’m all for that! Just take any song you’ve learned in G, slap the capo on at the fifth fret, tune up the fifth string, and………I hear a question.

What? How do you tune up the fifth string? Well, you use those little spikes that are there.

What? You only have one spike? At the seventh fret? Well, you can put your fifth string under that one spike and then tune it up three more frets. No, the string won’t break. Usually it won’t break…

What? You don’t have any spikes? Well, you can leave the fifth string where it is, tuned to a G note, and that will work. Yes, it does sounds a little funny.

These are a few of the problems I’ve encountered when telling a roomful of banjo players to “capo to C.” Furthermore, once they have situated the capo, tweaked the tuning, and figured out all the fifth string problems, then you are confronted with the very real problem of teaching folks where the vamp chords are. It sounds simple to say “Just move everything you’ve been vamping up five frets” but, in practice, this is extremely hard for beginning or even intermediate players who have little experience using a capo. Their markers are all gone!

Nevertheless, in order to make sure that women can sing in my jams--because women usually sing most bluegrass standards in the key of C or higher--we capo up to C in every jam to do some “womyn singing.” I insist on it. But here’s what the students have taught me: THEY DON’T LIKE TO CAPO IN C. It’s a pain in the butt, it takes too long, there is way too much re-tuning, and they don’t like the way it sounds. (And honestly, the sound of an inexpensive banjo capoed to C is not pleasant.)

Thus, I’ve been teaching my Tip Jar Jammers to improvise in C without using a capo. With one roll, the Foggy Mountain Breakdown roll (2121,5215) which they already know, and a couple of two-finger chords positions (first and second position C, both movable to make F and G), they can play a simple, improvised break to any three-chord bluegrass song. It’s not fancy but it sounds like bluegrass. And they like it. And the “upgrades”—new licks that can be added on—are really fun!
Question: Don’t you have to retune the fourth string to a C note to play in C?

Answer: No.

Question: That’s a bit terse. Could you elaborate?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Well?????

Answer: Sorry, too much Facebook! Yes, you can retune the fourth string down to a C note to play in C. Earl did that in Home Sweet Home, Pike County Breakdown, and (deep catalog!) in his backup to Paul Warren’s Billy In The Lowground. But you don’t HAVE to tune the fourth string down to play in C. And the whole point here is to NOT retune anything.

I remember when I was learning to play the banjo I almost always capoed up to play in C. At that time I was, of course, in thrall to Earl, which is not a bad thing, and I loved learning his breaks to songs note for note. I prided myself on sounding like Earl. But since I often sang in C, I’d have to capo up five in order to play Earl’s break in the key where I could sing it. It did not occur to me to try to work out a different break—my own break—in open C. That only came years later. At the time, I was completely invested in trying to sound like Earl as much as possible so I would be accepted by the banjo-playing community.

I remember the great banjo picker, Jim Fee, heard me play the song Just Because at a festival in Florida where he was running sound. My husband and bandmate Red was singing it in C, so I capoed up five to play my break.  I thought I had done a pretty good job until Fee-Fee saw me later and said, in his gruff Kentucky way, “Why’d you pick it way up there, Murph? You oughta pick in it open C. That’s where the sound is!” Of course, I wasn’t nearly the picker Jimmy was (then or now) and it would have been too hard for me to play the melody in open C then. So I was just doing the best I could. But that thought sorta stuck in my mind, and as the years went by and I got more confident in my own playing, I began to try a few songs in open C and I discovered that Jimmy was right. Of course he was! Open C has a bigger, more robust sound. And yes, when I play Earl’s songs there (Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Little Girl In Tennessee) I don’t sound “just like Earl” anymore, but I like to think that his spirit—playing the melody “as she is sung”—is still there.

If you are interested in being a part of a weekend filled with the joyous spirit of womyn picking the banjo and singing their hearts out, join Casey and me July 29-31 in Winchester, Va., for our Women’s Banjo Camp. All levels are welcome. And we have just added a Novice Class in which no experience is necessary. All you need is a banjo and a set of picks. Kathy Hanson will be teaching the Novice Class. And, yes, we may be drinking wine and playing in B-flat. Bring your own wine!

Last year Casey and I held our first-ever Women’s Jam Camp. It was a fantastic experience for everyone and so we’re doing it again July 8-10. What was so fantastic about it? Three things stand out.

Women's Jam Camp 2015

Women's Jam Camp 2015

Harmony singing! As we discovered serendipitously at our first Women’s Banjo Camp, most of the women loved to sing and loved to harmonize. In many bluegrass jam sessions, however, women are often relegated to singing the tenor part so they have little experience with singing high baritone or low baritone or even low tenor. In other words, they haven’t experienced the full range of bluegrass harmony. So in our camps, we put songs in women’s keys (often C, D, or E) and demonstrate the various harmony “stacks” that are possible. Then we work on singing them. (Shout out to Janet Beazley! Everything I know about teaching harmony singing I learned from her!)

We also work on lead singing and every woman who wants to gets a chance to sing lead—in the key of her choice. As I’ve said many times, most women cannot sing lead in the key of G. This is unfortunate because G is the “default” key for beginning bluegrassers thus leading many women to conclude that they can’t sing bluegrass. That is why I make it a point to play in the key of C in all of my jams sessions, including beginning-level jams, so the women can sing the lead. They love it! At the jam camp we help women find the best keys for the songs they sing. And when women are singing lead, other women usually have an easier time finding the harmony parts because the song is now pitched in their vocal range. We don’t think that women need to wait to get to heaven to “sing, sing, sing”!

Totally supportive atmosphere. You know, I find the men in my Tip Jar Jam and the men who come to our mixed-gender camps to be some of the most supportive and kindest men on the planet. But, as most women will tell you, there’s just something different about playing bluegrass in an “estrogen jam.” It’s really hard to explain. But let me just say it hasn’t been too long ago that many people thought—and wrote—that women could not play bluegrass. To wit: “Bluegrass bands are made up of between four to seven male musicians.” In 1965, when this first appeared, there were already plenty of women playing bluegrass. It’s just that nobody, apparently, noticed. Then there is this: “Few women seem to possess the technical skill necessary to play bluegrass instrumentals properly and few women can sustain the ‘punch’ or ‘drive’ so essential for the successful presentation of bluegrass vocals.” Fortunately, the fabulous Alice Gerrard pointed out that “women have not been encouraged to develop these skills and qualities; or have been made to feel that the skills were not in keeping with their oft-defined roles as women.” And finally guitar-picking whiz Marcy Marxer said that she often battled the idea—spoken and unspoken—that “women aren’t strong enough to play guitar.” [References below.] These statements are not just innocuous words on a page. Whether we knew it or not, we women internalized these thoughts. So when a woman ventures out to learn to play a bluegrass instrument, she almost always has to contend with these negative inner voices. And when you’re in that vulnerable place of having to screw up and fail—in front of people--before you get it right, it helps to be around other women who are experiencing the same things or who have been there already and survived.

To quote from that wonderful poem by Cheyanne Whien, “When you have to walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it by yourself [i.e. play a solo break in a jam session] the women will be cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley’s end.” That’s what happens at Women’s Jam Camp.

Working with a second instrument. Since the camp is open to women who play at all levels (except rank beginner), women who are learning a second or third instrument come because, again, it’s a comfortable place to fall on your face as you go back to square one. It’s not easy to go from being a competent banjo player who can rip through breaks to being a wannabe fiddle player who hears every wrong note she plays yet who knows she has to keep playing in order to get better. Been there, done that! And the most supportive thing ever said to me about my fiddle playing was said by an older woman. I was working hard on a difficult new fiddle tune, playing it repeatedly and making many mistakes. We were at a vacation cabin and people were starting to wander into the living room where I was sawing away, so I became self-conscious and apologized as I left to take my fiddling out onto the porch. I said something like, “Sorry I sound so terrible.” Then this woman, herself a long-time professional bluegrass bass player and singer said, “You don’t sound terrible. You sound like a good musician who is trying to learn a new song.” OMG! I feel all choked up just writing that. Nobody had ever said anything like that before. I felt so supported. And though this happened years ago, I’ve never forgotten it. Thank you, Polly Johnson, bass player with the Sounds of Bluegrass from Jacksonville, Florida.

At our Women’s Jam Camp you will be supported and cheered on! If you need to play slow, we will play slow. If you want to play a fast one, we will support you with rhythm even if we can’t play lead. If you want to sing, we will help you find the right key and we will harmonize with you. And sometimes we may all sing the lead together just because a chorus of women’s voices is so beautiful!

And with apologies to the old gospel song “Heaven’s Jubilee,” this just popped into my mind. I can’t help it!

Dozens there will join the throng

With them we shall be

Singing bluegrass all day long

Jam Camp Jubilee!

 

CAMP DETAILS: JULY 8-10, 2016

This year our Women’s Jam Camp will be held July 8-10, 2016, in Winchester, Va., at the Courtyard Marriott. (They love us there!) There is a limit of 20 students.

Dede Wyland will be our harmony singing teacher! She will join us Saturday, July 9, for a workshop and she and her band will play a concert that night. I’m so excited about this!

Seasoned players: If you’ve been wanting any of the women in your life to give jamming a try, this is a golden opportunity. We welcome new jammers. You do have to know your chords and be able to change quickly. Guitar players and banjo players have to be able to use a capo. Capos are also encouraged on mandolin. For everything you want to know about the camp and the requirements click here

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References: All the quotes in this paragraph are from my book Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass, University of Illinois Press, 2013, pgs 3, 4, 182, 344.

by Dalton Henry age 3 3/4

by Dalton Henry
age 3 3/4

This weekend, my grandmother Murphy (alias Gran) and my mama Casey put on a big banjo camp. There were 14 banjo students there, which is a lot. (But I can count to more than that. I can count all the way to twenty-eight, twenty-nine, twenty-ten and twenty-eleven.)

Naturally, the best part of banjo camp is that I get to play with Granddaddy for three whole days. I get to do a lot of stuff. For example, I like to play with Tinkertoys. I really get into the intense Tinkertoys experience:

Dalton12a

I make lots of interesting shapes:

Dalton5

Then whenever I want to, we can go outside and I can play with the hose. I do good work with the hose. I wash the swing set:

Dalton10

I wash the Dinosaur Rock:

Dalton2

I wash the tree:

Dalton3

...and I wash the bushes. I am very careful about washing the leaves:

Dalton4

Then we go back inside and I get dried off and we do some more stuff. I like to build robots with my blocks. This is a robot car which I made all by myself!

Dalton8

In case you couldn't see it well enough in that picture, here it is again:

Dalton9

And then, sometimes Granddaddy reads me a story. But is is more fun when I read HIM a story. I especially like the sound effects. Here I am reading the story of Oink, when it comes to the part where the greedy pig bites the fake apple (which is really a balloon):

Well, as you can see, we had a good time. And I forgot to tell you about the pillow-fights, or the time we spilled the peas, or other good stuff. Those will just have to wait till next time.

Love,

Dalton

I've taught at many bluegrass camps down through the years, and one thing I noticed early on is that the various instruments have little common ground when it comes to tunes. Tunes that are easy for the fiddle or mandolin, like Liberty or Soldier's Joy, are not easy for the banjo. Many lead guitar players start with tunes like Red-Haired Boy or Salt Creek, which are ADVANCED-level banjo tunes. (And even the chords are beastly.) Guitar players cannot usually take breaks to Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Fiddle, mandolin, and banjo players can sometimes find common ground with Cripple Creek or Boil Them Cabbage, although capoing to A for these can be a struggle for beginning banjo players. But these aren't great tunes for lead guitar players.

This disconnect is frustrating. How can you get a jam off the ground if no one knows the same tunes?

For years I dealt with this by having fiddle and mandolin players play their tunes, banjo players play their tunes, and guitar players play their tunes while everyone else scrambled to find the chords or just sat and watched. THAT, friends, is not a jam session. That is an organized practice session. A jam session is where everyone gets a shot at participating in the tune.

It took me a long time to realize that the common ground for student jams has to be singing songs.

ASIDE: I just remembered that this idea initially came to me forty years ago when I was discovering bluegrass at the University of Georgia where I was in the Pre-Med program. (That would last only a few more shaky semesters until "the lure of the honky tonk" wrecked my young life!) When I would come home on weekends I wanted someone to play bluegrass with, and who were better candidates than my four musically talented younger sisters. Argen, our middle sister, was particularly keen on it and she played guitar. But, really, what's the fun of playing only banjo tunes when neither you nor the guitar player is very good or very fast? So, early on, we all started singing bluegrass songs together. That way everybody could participate and I still got to take all the banjo breaks!! Win-win! Our early bluegrass repertoire was eclectic, since we were newbies and had barely heard of Flatt and Scruggs: Delta Dawn, Bugler, Let The Church Roll On, Brush Arbor Meeting, How Mountain Boys Can Love (gender flipping even then!), I'll Fly Away, Farther Along, They Baptized Jesse Taylor, Brethren We Have Met To Worship, and lots of other hymns. I started songwriting early so we also sang Grandmother's Song, There's A Frog In the Pond, and The Florida Song. The point was everyone participated.

BACK TO THE BLOG: Is this focus on singing songs a perfect arrangement? No, it is not. But even if you can't play a break, the chords themselves are not hard to follow and even bashful singers can "pour out their hearts in song" and make a joyful noise! And, with some basic improv skills, three-chord bluegrass songs are flexible enough to accommodate very very very simple breaks. Some of my lead guitar students can pick out the melody to songs like Do Lord and I Saw The Light and Worried Gal on the spur of the moment. It's pretty amazing. My one fiddle student can play about anything as long as she knows the song in her head. Banjo players are learning to do "roly polys" to easy songs. Mandolin players? I'm working on something for you!

The point is, with singing songs you don't have to know a preconceived break to be able to make a stab at playing something! As my friend Marty Bacon points out, "Bluegrass may not be easy, but it is accessible."

Of course, making a stab at playing something requires a great deal of courage. You have to take that leap of faith and accept the fact that you're gonna screw up. Just like learning to walk, you're gonna fall down, you're gonna scrape your knee, you're gonna bump your head. But does this embarrass a kid? No way! It may piss her off and bring on some tears, but she gets right back up and tries it again. And pretty soon: WALKING! RUNNING! Skip, hop, and wobbling!

So, especially to all you wonderful womyn coming to our Jam Camp in July: bring your courage, your singing songs, and your big girl panties, and get ready to jam!

 

Susan Morrison at our Women's Banjo Camp

Susan Morrison at our Women's Banjo Camp

Howdy, folks,

Casey and I are really getting excited about our upcoming Women's Jam Camp! This is a new venture for us and we're looking forward to jamming with women on all the bluegrass instruments, not just banjos!

NOTE: We are offering two scholarships to the camp. These will cover the cost of the camp and the meals there, but will not include the hotel. Call or email Casey for more details.

Singing and learning to harmonize will be a BIG PART of our weekend. Most women don't sing in the "typical" bluegrass keys of G or A, and because these are the "default" keys for most jams, often women don't realize that they CAN SING BLUEGRASS. They just need to find the right key, which is usually C or D or E! We'll be talking about all that.

We will also explain and practice a lot of harmony singing. Bluegrass uses two harmony parts called "tenor" and "baritone." (Not to be confused with men's vocal ranges of the same name!) Casey and I will be showing you how to find the tenor and baritone parts when they are higher than the lead, and when they are lower than the lead. You will learn by doing so we'll be doing a lot of singing!

On a non-playing note, it sometimes takes ovarios to be a woman in bluegrass. It can be awkward in a jam to insist that you need to sing a song in the key of C, even if it means taking time to capo. Especially if the other jammers are saying, "That ain't where Monroe done it!" And it was always painful to me to sing a song in my key only to find out that no one (read: none of the men I was jamming with) could sing the harmony. That often kept me from suggesting some of my favorite songs. I had to get over that. (Still not quite over it....) [By the way, Red could always find the harmony part, so I wasn't talking about him! But sometimes even great players can't sing harmony with a woman. Sad.] And sometimes it's just not fun to be the only woman in the jam circle. It can take courage to even suggest a song. We will talk about always choosing a song or tune you can flat nail to the wall. Sometimes, in Rome, you gotta act like a Roman!

As Casey and I discovered at our first Women's Banjo Camp, it's a wonderful experience to work with a room full of women. An estrogen high! We love you menfolk, but it's a completely different vibe when it's just us womyn. We don't get to experience that often. (Yes, there are risque jokes!)

To sweeten the pot, on Friday night we will feature a concert by Linda Lay and Springfield Exit from right here in Winchester and on Saturday night we will present Marteka and William Lake from Hacker Valley, W. Va. Both Linda and Marteka are outstanding performers and musicians.

If you've been thinking about signing up, now's the time. We still have some slots open. We are expecting those slots to fill up once July rolls around.

Dates for our Women's Jam Camp are July 10-12. It will be held in Winchester, Va., at the Courtyard Marriott. All bluegrass instruments are welcome: Scruggs-style banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, bass, and Dobro. We also welcome all skill levels except for those of you who are just beginning to play. You can come next year! For more information and registration: consult the website.

PS: If you can't come to camp due to conflicts (or gender!), please help us spead the word by forwarding this blog! Thanks!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our fourth Murphy Method Beginning Banjo Camp is just around the corner (October 24-26 in Winchester, Va.) and we still have a few openings. We keep the camp small and never take more than 20 students so you can be sure you're going to get plenty of individual attention from Casey and Murphy. (We hope that's a good thing!)

Since our camps are all about YOU PLAYING THE BANJO we do have a few prerequisites. You need to be able to play three Murphy Method tunes, the Big Three: Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Boil Them Cabbage Down. You don't have to be able to play them fast, but you do have to be able to play all the notes in time. We will spend a lot of time playing these three tunes. Mostly the class will play at the same time, in unison, but we always offer the chance for you to solo. Perhaps by Sunday you'll be ready to make that Leap of Faith! ...continue reading

(Casey's students, Ben and Kasey, who are also regular Tip Jar Jammers, recently attended the Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Week in Elkins, W.Va. I asked Ben to write a little about their experience. So, heeeeeeeere's Ben!)

Hey Murphy,

Told ya I'd write a blog on our Augusta experience and I didn't want to let you down so here goes.

First off I need to touch on what got us to attending Augusta. Last year after Casey's return from Augusta she had mentioned that it might be a good fit for my Kasey. Especially since there are more young people there versus our local jams. That got things started. So over the course of the winter I did some research and read up on it to try to get some understanding about this event. Since Kasey definitely wouldn't do this by herself that meant I needed to be going. So I thought it would be best for me to take the bass course and her to do the banjo stuff. This would allow her to start to separate herself from me a little. What you have to understand is that it's a little nerve racking especially since we both have been under the wings of our banjo and bass bosses. (Murphy and Casey) When things go wrong they're always there to bail us out and mostly in a kind way! Unless you're me and you play Fireball Mail when you're not supposed to! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our regular Tuesday Tip Jar Jam was canceled this week so I could go up to Elkins, West Virginia, and give a talk about my book, Pretty Good For A Girl. I also played in a concert that night with another band of "Merry Chicas" that included Casey, Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Tammy Rogers, Sharon Gilchrist, and Mary Burdette. "My, my, my" as the song goes! I was accompanied on my trip by my friend and "personal assistant," Kathy Holliday, who is the Best Book Seller Ever and a great road-tripping buddy. We talked all the way up, and all the way back. And on the way back we also Ate Chocolate and Drank Cokes! Yippee!

The book talk went great. IMHO, it's finally shaping up now since I've given it a number of times. I've finally figured out that I do better sitting down with "my banjo on my knee" and just talking. When I run out of things to say or feel like I'm "yammering," I punctuate the talk with a song. This time, Casey joined me on stage so we had the full force of two banjos! As one of our songs, I got the audience to sing along with us on "Worried Gal," in the women's key of C and asked them to pay attention to how difficult it was to actually remember to sing the word "gal" instead of "man," which is the more conventional way to sing this (and the way the Carter Family sang it).

After being immersed in a book talk and an all-female band, I'm feeling my feminist oats! I was so proud that Laurie Lewis called me a "firebrand." High praise, indeed! ...continue reading