Learning By Ear

Harmony Singing Made Easy Cover

The Murphy Method, known world-wide for its “learn music by ear” teaching, now turns its attention to harmony singing. On Harmony Singing Made Easy we teach you to sing harmony by ear. It’s the easiest method ever.

 

On this brand new DVD, Murphy and friends Bill Evans, Janet Beazley, and Chris Stuart join together to sing some beautiful trios and quartets. First you hear the three (or four) voices blending together, then you hear each harmony part sung separately. You learn your part by singing along with us. With three separate parts to choose from, you can pick the one that best suits your voice.

 

One creative approach we have taken is that we sing several songs in three different keys so no matter what your vocal range (female or male, high or low) you can try your hand at singing the lead part. We provide keys to fit high voices, middle-range voices, and low voices. Sometimes the men (Bill, Chris) take the lead; sometimes the women (Murphy, Janet) take the lead. The harmony parts are then worked out to fit the lead voice. With the choice of three keys, you can also find a harmony part to suit your voice.

 

For instance, Murphy sings Will the Circle Be Unbroken in the key of A, while Janet adds the tenor part (above the lead) and Bill adds the baritone part (below the lead).
Then Janet sings the lead to Will the Circle in the key of C while Murphy adds the baritone (below the lead) and Bill provides the low tenor (below the baritone).

 

Finally Bill takes a turn singing the lead to Circle in the key of E (a pretty low key for this song) while Murphy adds the tenor (above the lead) and Janet comes in on the high baritone (above the tenor).

 

We also use this same approach—three different keys—for Bury Me Beneath the Willow and All the Good Times are Past and Gone.

 

For the song Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky we use just one vocal arrangement with Chris singing lead in the key of G while Murphy sings tenor and Bill adds the baritone. Amazing Grace and Over in the Gloryland are done as quartets so you bass singers can have a chance to get in on the action!

 

Along the way we offer some helpful hints such as “What key do I sing in?” “How do I find my harmony part?” and “How can I get a good blend?” At the very end Murphy and Bill break out their banjos for a rousing quartet version of Over in the Gloryland. Very entertaining!
If you’ve been wondering how to sing harmony, we’ve made it as easy as possible. Or as we say in Virginia, “It’s as easy as pie.”

 

Order your Harmony Singing Made Easy DVD today and join in the fun!

 

Songs: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Bury Me Beneath the Willow, All the Good Times Are Past and Gone, Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky, Amazing Grace, Over in the Gloryland.

Murphy Henry

Just a quickie here, folks, to let you know that our second Murphy Method Intermediate Banjo Camp was a rousing success! Sixteen students gathered in Winchester under the watchful eyes of Casey and me to play and play and play! They also did some learning, but I think the playing was the big hit of the weekend. After all, our motto is “Less talk, more playing!”

 

Intermediate Banjo Campers

Intermediate Banjo Campers

One of the surprise hits of the weekend was the singing of Barry, one of our LA students. (And I don’t mean Lower Alabama!) I’ve known Barry from meeting him at many camps over the years and I had no idea he knew so many songs and could sing so well. And since I caught a cold and could not sing (arrrgh!), he stepped into the breach and really helped out. His song choices were excellent—just plain old three-chord songs, but ones that were a bit unusual. The ones I remember are:

Let Those Brown Eyes Smile At Me
Long Black Veil
Your Love Is Like a Flower
Little Cabin Home on the Hill
Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane

(Help me out, Barry! There was another one about drinking and the one you sang Sunday that had the word “Wander” in it....my brain is muzzy today!)

Barry also played the banjo as he sang and did the kickoffs to all these songs! The rest of the class then had the opportunity to improvise breaks to the songs, on the spot, and play them solo while everyone else vamped. (But only if they wanted to.)

Jim also came through with some good sing-along songs like Worried Man and I Saw the Light. And on Saturday and Sunday Zac came in to be our guitar man. Nothing like playing Blue Ridge Cabin Home fifty times at a very slow pace, is there Zac? He also played banjo on our Saturday night concert and did a bang up job. Bob Van Metre came in to play bass and provide some comic relief with his off-the-cuff remarks...he also provided the medicinal Jack Daniels and I am forever in his debt for that. I still couldn’t sing but I didn’t feel so bad about it!

If I had to describe what we did during the weekend with one word it would be “improvise.” We divided the class into Beginning Intermediates and more Advanced Intermediates and both sections worked hard on improvising. The BI’s learned about it from the ground up—finding basic licks to use in simple three-chord songs and then using those same licks over and over to play more songs. The AI’s improvised to Barry’s and Jim’s songs and to the version of East Va. Blues I managed to croak out. (Not pretty!) Everyone did fantastic, and no one’s break was the same. The AI’s also improvised a break, on the spot, to Bluegrass Breakdown, altho Roy (back again from England) later said he was just copying me. Hey, that still counts! You were doing it on the fly.

There is much more to tell, but I’m out of time. I’d love it if some of you students would chime in with your impressions.

We are already looking forward to next year’s camp which will be this same weekend in March (we hope). Mark your calendars! We picked up great ideas from the students for improvements we can make for next year and we are already laying the groundwork to implement some of them.

Thanks to everyone for making our second Intermediate Banjo Camp such a great one. And don’t forget about our Murphy Method Beginner Camp this October!!!! See you there.

Folks, the Murphy Method Banjo Camp is coming up this weekend here in Winchester, and guess who is Casey's designated babysitter for the weekend! So while all the Murphy Method students are having fun learning banjo licks from Murphy and Casey and having fun playing together, the youngest banjo player in the family (Dalton Henry, age 7 months) and I will be having fun playing together too!

The music involved, of course, might be a little different. For the Murphy Method students, it will be Banjo in the Hollow and Cripple Creek and tunes like that. For Dalton and myself, the music will include "Go Tell Aunt Roady" and "Way Down Yonder in the Paw-Paw Patch." But a good time will be had by all!

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Back in January I got a call, pretty much out of the blue, from the director of the bluegrass program at Colorado College, Keith Reed. I had met Keith at RockyGrass last year when I was teaching at the Academy and he mentioned that he wanted to get me up to Colorado Springs sometime to teach at the college. It sounded like a perfect opportunity to get out to Colorado Springs, see some mountains, meet and help some eager young bluegrass enthusiasts, and pick with Keith at the faculty concert.

I left a sunny and fairly warm Nashville and flew to Denver, and Keith scooped me up and we rode through snow dusted plains up to the campus to have a meal and meet with a couple of Keith's students. Keith, an excellent and solid Scruggs style player who had picked with Open Road for years, started teaching at the college about eight years ago and grew the program into a successful enterprise with about 20 students and three different ensembles.

That evening about 7 pm, we met about eight of Keith's students in one of the many music study rooms and I commenced a workshop for about an hour and a half. I've been teaching for about fifteen years, so I have done many workshops and private lessons, but it had been a while and my muscle memory for the experience was a little lethargic. But nevertheless, I set up my webcam to stream the workshop onto my Facebook page and plowed ahead. I figured it would be appropriate to give some background into my own influences and how I came to learn the music and play it the way I do. I always enjoy younger folks in workshops because frequently they have had heaping helpings of more contemporary bluegrass but haven't really studied the classics too much. At least one had heard of Frank Wakefield, so that was encouraging. Keith and I picked a couple of tunes - Bluegrass Breakdown and Farewell Blues.

I have been playing a lot in Nashville and so I really didn't think too much about it when I kicked off Bluegrass Breakdown at close to 180bpm. The students seemed entertained with the offering. There are many great styles of hardcore bluegrass mandolin, so I demonstrated, as best I could, tones of Red Henry, Bill Monroe, Frank Wakefield, David McLaughlin, and how my style was a mixture of those influences plus some innovations of my own like the circus-style ascending and descending blurs of mandolin motion (cheap licks as I like to call them), also integrating some unusual intervals that are more likely to be heard in eastern European, Klezmer, and Middle Eastern music.

Before long, one student asked me what I thought about Chris Thile. I expressed that beyond the obvious - his formidable technique, creativity, and overall contributions to the awareness of the mandolin in popular culture, he has an outstanding dedication to what he pursues, be it classical, or nuvo-grass, or the blend of pop and acoustic music in his most recent band. I also told them that he also provides me with a great contrast stylistically. If there were hundreds of young mandolin pickers who were all super deep in studying Monroe, then what I do would not be as unusual, so I appreciate that.

After dusting off two or three original mandolin tunes, I invited the students to pick, and we had two guitars, about four or five mandolin pickers, Keith on banjo, and a bass player. There was an excellent contingent of four young women, all very sharp and capable, with mandolins and so the gender balance was quite respectable. We started with a blues number which I figured was a good place to begin to get everyone improvising a little bit. At first go round, everyone played well, although with a couple of exceptions, fairly quietly. I like it when pickers really bear down and get good volume and projection out of their instruments. So, on the second round I asked them to all play as loud as they could, and they really could be heard a lot better the second time, and by my estimation, the music itself was more engaging and interesting. We sang some songs and passed some good fiddle tunes around for about a half hour with various students having to come and go as their hectic academic schedules allowed.

I demonstrated a few different guitar styles as well. The strums or licks of folks like Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Del McCoury, Carter Stanley, and David McLaughlin were something that they had not spent much time studying, so I was happy to help them add a few tools to their toolbox in terms of different guitar strums for different songs.

We had a little pizza and then went to relax for a while. That evening a friend of some of the students offered to have us over to pick some. So Keith and I went over and joined a few early 20s fellows playing an ice hockey game projected on to a white wall. We picked a couple in the kitchen, running over Groundspeed, which was going to be one of the tunes for the faculty concert the next night. The video game was finished and so we moved into the living room to pick some more. I was playing guitar, Keith was on banjo, and the most proficient mandolin student, Charlie, was picking his mandolin. Before long there were about twenty young folks in the room sitting wherever they could, a fairly large but well behaved snake being passed around, and three more mandolin pickers. We picked for about two hours and had a great time.

The next day we got to the college about noon, and had a great lunch from the cafeteria before Keith went to take a swim and I went to teach some one-on-one lessons. First up was Charlie, and he was a true sponge and quick on the pickup which is always great for lessons. We looked at staggered sixteenth notes like Bill Monroe used many times. I showed him how to play one sixteenth note with a downstroke, and then continue up the arpeggio on an upstroke, then a downstroke on every next note, and then how to change chords at the top to go to a C chord from G, and then also how to go from G to D and back down. He picked it right up.

Being curious about how I approached tremelo, I demonstrated how I pat my foot and play down-up-down-up for every foot pat so it keeps the tremelo even and uniform. He's got a good handle on what I might call the spastic tremelo which is more haphazard but when used properly can be powerful. The spastic tremelo is basically playing as fast as possible but without an even regularity to the pick strokes in relationship to the beat. I employ that technique myself frequently as well, it's more along the lines of Buzz Busby's style.

Next up was Mattie, a young woman that wanted to learn some practice techniques that would help here clean up her playing while developing speed. So I showed her my usual regimen of three patterns of the major scale in G and A. I start off with the regular two octave scale with alternating up and down pick strokes. Then we played two pick strokes (up and down) for each note up and down the scale, then triplets, and finally sixteenth notes. We did that in both G and A.

The next pattern I showed her was a little more complex. It starts on the first note in the scale then jumps up to the third note in the scale, then back to the second, then up to the fourth and so on. She picked it right up and we went through the permutations of one pick stroke through four pick strokes for each note in the scale. We did that in G and A.

Finally, when she had a good handle on all that we moved on to the hardest pattern which, in my experience, is the most beneficial for developing speed. It, like the previous scales is all up and down, starts by playing the first three notes in the scale, then going back to the first note and playing the next four notes in the scale, then back to the second note in the scale and playing three more scale notes, then going back to the third note in the scale and playing three more scale notes and so on all the way up and down. It's a lot easier to understand if you can hear it! We did that in G and A as well.

My third lesson was with Nicole, who wanted to learn some alternate up-the-neck picking ideas for one of her singing songs, so we picked Blue Night. She had an outstanding ability to pick up what I was showing her and in about a half hour's time she had a great handle on a difficult Bill Monroe-style break out of what I call first position, up-the-neck C. It was bluesy and melody based and was a good complement for her usual approach down low. I was tickled she was picking Monroe style so quickly.

The last lesson was with Esther, a final year student, who wanted to learn a particular strum pattern. She had been at the workshop the day before and had seen me do a strumming/picking rhythm lick but she didn't exactly know how to describe it or remind me what it was. So, I played this one and that one and she made leading suggestions such as "it connects to itself" and "it's more rounded", until finally we hit on something that was at least fairly close to what she was looking for. It was a rhythm lick that was very similar to the syncopated way Bill Monroe would frequently play on Muleskinner Blues or Rawhide. So we worked on getting the nuances and pick strokes until we were playing the same thing, and then I grabbed the guitar and sang the Rocky Road Blues so she could play her new rhythm lick, which she did quite well.

That evening was the faculty concert which was the main reason Keith had me fly out. There were opera singers, a wonderful harpist, and a wind ensemble among the other performers, and then Keith and I were scheduled to close out the show. About an hour before the concert we sat down and picked the tunes - Groundspeed and Sally Goodin. The arrangement was that he would kick off Groundspeed, and we'd both take a couple of breaks and then he would finish it and a similar deal with Sally Goodin' except I was starting and finishing that one. It was an interesting experience playing for that academic crowd. I'm not sure they were too familiar with bluegrass, but they laughed supportively when I invited them to get up and dance the buck 'n wing if they felt to inclined. We picked the tunes and they went off without a hitch. I had one of the students holding my Macbook so I could stream it to my Facebook page like I try to do whenever I can these days. The stream went out, we got a rousing applause at the end and then several of the other performers were favorably complementary towards our efforts which was especially nice considering the diversity in our musical paths.

After the concert we went to a local pub where two of the students have a regular gig. It was a tight spot, but comfortable with so many enthusiastic young listeners who were responding well and exchanging some good energy with everyone who was picking. I used my iPhone to look up a lyric I had forgotten to Roving Gambler, and we had some good trios on Sitting Alone in the Moonlight, All the Good Times Are Past and Gone. Keith let me pick his nice pre-war banjo for a tune and I picked one of my favorites, Clinch Mountain Backstep. It was interesting because as I was starting it off I was patting my foot on the off beat as I like to do sometimes, and due to the volume in the room, the guys picked up on the foot tap more than the melody and came in backwards, but it was quickly remedied and we had a good time with it. We picked until about eleven o'clock and headed for the house.

As I look out the plane window right now I see a whole lot of what I reckon is Kansas on the way back to Nashville. I'll get to town with a couple of hours to spare before heading to the Station Inn to sound check with Shawn Camp and his band. Till next time!

Murphy Henry

Now that I’ve told you about content of the Harmony Singing DVD, let me tell you about the fun stuff! I picked Janet Beazley and Chris Stuart up at the airport on Saturday night about 7:45. I’d originally told them I’d meet them curbside, but of course by the time I’d made the almost two-hour trip (primed by a Starbucks Tall Americano and oatmeal cookie!) I needed the visit the “loo” as they say in Jolly Olde England. So I met them inside at baggage. I’d told them they could use our instruments, so all they had was two suitcases. (“And no merch!” as they both exclaimed.)

When we stepped outside the terminal, they were both stunned by the cold (22 degrees) which was made even colder by the brisk wind which was making the flags stand straight out. Yikes! We didn’t waste any time getting in the car and cranking up the heat.

I figured they would want to eat something so I told them they had three choices: eat junk food at the airport, eat fast food when we got to Winchester (about an hour’s drive), or wait till we got home and eat some of the food I had fixed. Bless their hearts, they opted to eat at home.

With Janet in the front seat, she and I talked all the way home, with Chris occasionally chiming in from somewhere in the back. She and I had met (and bonded) a few years ago at Mid-West Banjo Camp over a beer at a local tavern and the book Eat, Pray, Love. Deeply engrossed in conversation, we didn’t realize a huge summer thunderstorm had arisen and that we were due back on campus to perform real soon. The only thing to do was to make a dash for it through the pouring rain with lightning flashing all around and “thunder roaring, bursting in the clouds.” We arrived at our dorm drenched to the skin and looking liked drowned rats. We had just time to towel our hair day and change clothes before jumping on stage to sing Love Come Home as a duet. It sounded great. We’ve been buddies ever since.

Arriving back at the house, I warmed up bowls of a slow-cooker roast/stew I had concocted based on my friend Robyn’s recipe which included dumping in a bottle of beer and ¼ cup of brown sugar to the roast and adding onion, carrots, apple, apricots, prunes, and cranberries. By the time I’d added all that there was no room for the sweet potatoes! So it goes. They said it was yummy and I had to agree! (Could have used a tad more salt...)

Meanwhile Bill Evans was making his way to the house in his rental car. (He’d flown in earlier in the week to visit his sister in Richmond and to do a banjo workshop.) I called him and he said he’d be there at precisely 10:26. So of course, at 10:27 I called and told him he was late! He had a good excuse: he was almost in sight of the house when he found the road blocked and a “blue light special” (police cars) surrounding a truck which had run off the road and had “fetched up” with its front tires in the lake. The cops had rerouted him up the mountain which was taking longer than he had expected. I was aghast at the police cars because Chris and Janet and I had passed that same truck on our way in. (No police cars at the time.) I had laughed about it because there was a can of beer sitting by the truck and had said, laughingly, “Welcome to our hillbilly subdivision!” The truck looked abandoned and I certainly didn’t think anyone was in it. (And I hope to goodness I was right). But still, I realized as Bill was telling the story that we should have stopped to make sure.

Anyhow, Bill arrived safe and sound, and joined us in our evening meal and conversation. We batted around a few ideas for the DVD, talked about what time we’d like to start filming (11ish) and then....what do you think we four banjo pickers did? Did we rehearse? Did we break out four old fives and get down with some Earl? Some Ralph? Some Sonny Osborne (one of Bill’s favorites)? No, we did not. Sad to say, being the Baby Boomers that we are, we all went straight to bed. (Okay, Bill probably stayed up a while and did Facebook and email from his bedroom.) But, maybe, being Baby Boomers, we just realized that we had work to do tomorrow and that the RESPONSIBLE thing to do, was get a good night’s rest. I prefer to think of it that way!

And now, as my grandmother would say, “Mouse is run, my story’s done.” At least as much as I can tell now. Now it’s time to go record a few extra introductory clips for the DVD. When you get the DVD, you can check closely to see if you can tell which ones I added today! The clothes will be the same, the earrings and necklace with be the same, but the hair never turns out the same way twice!

Murphy Henry

Wow! What a weekend! On Monday evening, we finished recording our brand-new Harmony Singing DVD! (Not yet titled and not yet for sale!) Bill Evans, Janet Beazley, and Chris Stuart (all from California) joined Red and me in the studio to record a DVD that’s all about teaching folks to sing harmony. It was way too much fun, and we put down some amazing lessons.

And of course we did it totally by ear, the Murphy Method way, with no talk about theory or use of big phrases like “five chord,” “parallel thirds,” or “sing a B note.” In fact, I made Bill go back and re-do a clip in which he referred to an E chord as a “five chord.” That’s a no-no, Bill!

We chose six songs that are fairly easy to sing and are well-known, standard bluegrass numbers: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Bury Me Beneath the Willow, All the Good Times Are Past and Gone, Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky, Amazing Grace, and Just Over in the Gloryland.

It is our firm belief that you learn to sing harmony by singing harmony! (Just as you learn to sing lead—which is the melody—by singing lead.) So, for every song, we sang the lead part and each harmony part separately (with guitar accompaniment) so you can hear that part clearly and practice singing along with us.

And here is beauty of our approach: We demonstrated the first song, Will the Circle, in three different keys so that no matter what your vocal range is, you can sing with us! So, Murphy sang lead in the key of A, Janet sang lead in the key of C, and Bill sang lead in the key of E. We also demonstrated and sang the harmony parts (tenor and baritone) for each key. We also did the second and third songs (Willow and All the Good Times) that way.

For the fourth song, Rough and Rocky, which is longer (verse and chorus in harmony all the way through), we used just one arrangement with Chris singing lead in G. And the last two numbers we performed as quartets so all you bass singers can get involved!

Since this DVD concentrates on singing, we kept the instrumentation minimal (usually Chris on guitar) so you could always hear the singing. Then, at the very end, we closed out with a rousing quartet of Over in the Gloryland with Bill and me both playing our banjos. We were cooking!

[Then there was that extra footage we shot with the strange rabbit, but I don’t want to say too much about that yet....]

I am so excited about this DVD! We’ve never done a singing DVD so this is a totally new venture for us. I started thinking about this (with some prodding from Bill!) after he and I did a harmony singing workshop with Janet at Mid-West Banjo Camp this past June. She was the workshop leader and she did an amazing job of teaching a class of 30 adults to sing three-part harmony to Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky. (All Bill and I had to do was sing what she told us to!) It was her ability to talk about bluegrass harmony singing in simple terms—and sing all three parts herself with ease (although not at the same time!)—that made me want to record this DVD and open up the sometimes mysterious world of harmony singing to everyone.

So, stay tuned for more info on the release date. (And the title!) We’re hoping to have the DVD out in a couple of months. And, believe me, you’ll be the first to know!

PS: And what did we do after our long days of recording? Sunday night we watched the PBS Masterpiece Classic Downton Abby (two blissful hours!) and Monday night we watched the screamingly funny (and extremely risqué) movie Hall Pass. (Not recommended for kids! Or grandkids! I might consider letting Dalton see it when he gets to be 21...or 30! Oh! I guess that would be Casey’s decision! Or, by that time, his! Hey, this grandmothering is harder than you think!)

PPS: And speaking of mothering, happy birthday to son Chris whose birthday is tomorrow, Feb. 15th!!! As Mr. Spock would say, Live long and prosper!

Murphy Henry

As many of you know, breaking away from tab and starting to learn by ear is not easy. It’s scary (Can I really do this?) and it feels like you no longer have a safety net (What will I do if I mess up?). But, the payoff is BIG! You will actually learn to play the banjo. Your tunes will sound like tunes, and eventually, with lots of hard work on your part, you can learn to play with other people.

It thrills me when someone who is new to the Murphy Method takes that “leap of faith” and starts learning by ear. The series of emails below that I exchanged with Tom after our Beginning Banjo Camp in October seems to capture the start of that experience in a nutshell. With his kind permission, I am sharing them with you. As he said, “Hopefully the message will help others who have struggled with tab. As I say, if I can learn with your method and make some nice music with my banjo, anyone can!” Thank you, Tom!

November 10:

Dear Murphy:

Thanks again for the excellent camp. It was a great experience. I wanted to email you a question about the sequence of learning songs. I have always wanted to play Will The Circle Be Unbroken. I have tried to learn to play it for a number of years by using tab without any success. I do have your Gospel Songs DVD. I know you recommend doing the first two DVDs and Misfits DVD first. Over the past couple of days, I have begun using the Gospel DVD and starting to work on Will The Circle Be Unbroken. I know this song is out of the sequence you recommend for learning and it seems to have some more challenging licks and it will take more time to learn. I wanted to see if you had any recommendations about trying to learn this song. It appears to be a more challenging song but it is perhaps my favorite song on the banjo and a song I really like to sing. Since I have tried to learn it by tab for some time, it is also a personal challenge for me to learn the song by your method. For these reasons, I would like to learn this song and I wanted to see what your thoughts were about working on it. I would appreciate any suggestions or ideas you have. Thank you for your time and response.

Hi Tom,

Glad you enjoyed the camp. So did I! I appreciate your asking for my advice about learning Circle. I can understand why it's a favorite of yours--it's also a favorite of mine! And it's a great song. Now, although this may seem counter-intuitive, I believe you can learn the song faster--in the long run--if you learn a few other basic tunes first. In spite of its seemingly simple roll pattern, it's really pretty complicated. You don't have to go thru Vol 1 Vol 2 and Misfits, but would you be willing to learn at least a couple of songs before tackling Circle? They will help you internalize some of the basics you will need to know so you can more easily tackle the specifics of Circle. If so, let me know what you already play from these DVDs and I'll pick two others that will help you specifically with Circle. Hoping this will appeal to you!

Murphy:

Thanks for your response. I feel I play Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage Down fairly well as far as the banjo solos go, but not necessarily the vamping at this point since that was very new to me. Your method really helped me with Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage Down since I had struggled with those songs for a few years with tab and now I am doing fairly well with the melody and timing. So here's a banjo salute to you and your method. It does work, even with an older musical misfit like myself. I would appreciate any suggestions you have about two additional songs to learn from the Volume 1 or Misfits. As I said, I really enjoy Circle and have been very frustrated with trying to learn it from tab. Truthfully, I was about ready to smash my banjo over my head (just joking). Let me know what you think about some additional songs.

November 11:

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your thoughtful, detailed reply. I believe if you learn I Saw The Light and Worried Man (from the Misfits DVD), those will GREATLY help your learning Circle. There is an important lick (slightly hard) taught in those--the Tag Lick--which will need some practice to get it down smooth before you go on to Circle. As I said, learning these will make learning Circle MUCH EASIER. No need to learn the vamping to these right now, altho in the future you would need to learn that. Each of these songs should take a least two weeks to get down smoothly, it not more. Good luck, Tom, and let me know how you are doing!

Murphy:

Thanks for your time and response. I really appreciate your help. I will plan on learning I Saw the Light and Worried Man before I take up Will the Circle Be Unbroken. After all of that, I will plan on resuming your recommended learning sequence from the Volume 1 and 2. Thanks again for your advice and time.

December 15:

Murphy:

I just hope you don't mind updates on my experience/progress with the Murphy method. I just wanted to let you know that the lights started to come on. I had been progressing slowly with I Saw The Light as you had recommended but was having some difficulty bringing out the melody when all at once last night it seemed to click and the lights came on and the melody was there. It is still not quite where I would like it, but I am clearly getting there with this song. I plan to polish the song very well and then move on to Worried Man. I just want to thank you for your method. I don't know if you realize how much frustration a person can have with tab and not being able to play a song and have it sound like the song if you know what I mean. It is a real pleasure to hear real music coming out of my banjo and not just a slew of notes. Thanks again for all of your advice, suggestions and the camp. I will keep you updated from time to time as I continue to make progress. I hope that you and Red, and Chris, Casey and Dalton have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Again, I thank YOU, Tom! Hearing your story will definitely help make my Christmas a Merry one!

Now, over to Casey’s house to see Dalton! Whoopee!

Murphy

Mark and Susan had lessons back-to-back today, so they jammed a little where their times overlapped. In the lull between songs we started talking about how no one ever seems to be satisfied with their performance. I told them about being at the Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Camp and how those amazing instructors would walk off stage after the faculty concert bemoaning the “fact” that they had played so poorly and had missed so many notes. These were performances that I—an instructor myself—had thought were flawless and wonderful. Mandolin whiz Butch Baldassari (God rest his soul) said, “Well, I hit more notes than I missed, so I count that a good performance!” (On the other hand, fiddling Fletcher Bright was always happy with his performance and was never happier than when he was stealing the show from someone else! I was always happy with him stealing the show too—as long as he wasn’t stealing it from me!)

Anyhow, the gist of our conversation was, as you have gathered, that no one ever seems satisfied with how they play. And does that dissatisfaction ever end? Perhaps when you are in the grave, Susan suggested.

Then Mark said, “I try to be happy with where I am while trying to get better.” Which Susan and I both acknowledged was an excellent way to look at things.

Then Susan said, “I like to hear a man saying things like that!”

To which Mark quickly replied, “I only apply that to banjo!”

And Susan and I just howled and rolled our eyes. Too funny.
And that, friends, is my short blog for today. Hope you have a wonderful last weekend before Christmas! I’m square dancing tonight so I am happy! “Oh, promenade that ring, take your girl home and swing, because, just because!”

Murphy

Red Henry

This last weekend was the Murphy Method Banjo Camp, run and taught by Murphy and Casey. This particular camp was just for beginning players. The campers were all real good folks, and everybody had a fine time.

And so, what did Red, the aged, tottering, grizzled patriarch of the family, do for the weekend? As previously noted, he took care of Casey's baby, namely Dalton Henry, who is two months old and mighty cute. Even if he couldn't stay awake for Halloween.

I mentioned before that Dalton is a beginning banjo player, because he can't help it. But there's more he can't help doing too, over the next few years, which includes learning to talk. And how children learn that is HIGHLY relevant to learning to play music.

How does a child learn to talk? By listening and imitating people whom he hears. When you see the slogan "Talk to your baby!" it's important, because babies have to hear words before they can say them. A baby listens and listens before it learns to talk.

And would anyone say that a baby should learn to READ before it starts to talk? Of course not. That'd be ridiculous.

So what does this have to do with bluegrass? Only everything. If you're learning to make sounds (play music, that is), learn those sounds-- the notes-- BY EAR. Then practice. A lot. As Murphy says, "Listen, listen, listen, and play, play, play."

Don't try to learn to play bluegrass music from a piece of paper. Do you want to know what the notes should sound like? Yes. Can paper show you that? No.

Casey won't make little Dalton read before he can talk. That's not how people learn!

Take a hint.

Red.

Red Henry

For those who haven't seen the announcements on various music lists, the great bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker died yesterday in Nashville. Kenny was probably the most influential bluegrass fiddler of our time, having played with Bill Monroe for over 15 years (in itself a record for Bill's sidemen). He played fiddle on all of Bill's classic albums from the late 1960s to the mid-'80s, a nearly-indescribable wealth of bluegrass music which included Bill's great "Uncle Pen" and "Master of Bluegrass" LPs. Kenny's tone, timing, and note choice were the best anywhere, proven not only on his performances and recordings with Bill, but also by the six or seven LPs he recorded on the County label.

Kenny was a grand gentleman, and he loved to pick. He said he learned from other musicians all the time. During his tenure with Bill Monroe's band, he often got out in the parking lot at festivals and played for hours with people like you and me. He said that sometimes people gave him trouble for that, saying "That's not professional!" -- and that got his dander up. He would reply to them, "Who's tellin' WHO here, what's professional?"

The first time I picked with Kenny was at the Lavonia, Georgia festival in July, 1970. I've forgotten just how the session started, but suddenly Mike and Polly Johnson and I were picking in a circle with Kenny. I think we'd just played Bill Cheatham when Kenny, always encouraging to young players, said his first words to me: "That's good mandolin pickin', buddy."

Top: me, Polly Johnson, Mike Johnson. Lower left: Kenny Baker.

I often picked with Kenny after that. I lived on the East Coast from 1972-74, attending as many festivals as I could, and during that time Kenny and I often closed out festivals on Sunday night by picking for hours at my campsite. He was a terrific inspiration for this young picker, and I learned a great deal from him. His talent was amazingly diversified--he could play jazz as well as bluegrass and old time tunes, and occasionally groused in private about being restricted to playing "this MON-roe stuff" for a living. On one occasion, Mike Johnson and I and some friends got Kenny away from a festival at Brasstown Bald, Georgia, and brought him to Mike's cabin nearby to pick. We played for a long time that night, and away from the bluegrass crowd Kenny played some real hot fiddle before we had to take him back to the show.

Kenny Baker left a huge legacy of music both on record albums and in our memories. Thanks, Kenny! Keep on fiddling.

Red