lessons

Casey Henry

I continue to slowly add to my list of custom lessons that are available to order. There is a wide range in this batch--from Earl to Bela! These can be ordered directly from my website.

  • Birds and Ships (A) Watch clip. - This is a slow, pretty song, in the key of D.
  • Catfish John (in C) (I) Watch clip. - This is a bluegrass standard, not sure where it came from originally, though. In the key of C (where girls sing it!)
  • Foggy Mountain Chimes (A) Watch clip. - One of Earl's classic tunes.
  • Out In The Rain (I) Watch clip. - A song from the band the Duhks.
  • Sunshine On My Shoulders (I) Watch clip. - A feel-good John Denver classic.
  • Take Me In A Lifeboat (Earl's Break) (A) Watch clip. - This is Earl's kickoff break from Flatt and Scruggs original recording.
  • The Wind That Shakes The Barley (RA) Watch clip. - This is a somewhat simplified arrangement of a single-string Irish tune, taken from Bela Fleck's playing.

And here are three new clips. The lessons have been around for a while (as you can see from the background, they were recorded at my Nashville house several years ago). When I started doing these lessons I wasn't pulling out clips. Now I'm going back and trying to get all the old lessons on YouTube as well.

Bugle Call Rag (A) Watch clip. - Another Earl tune.

Eight More Miles To Louisville (I) Watch clip. - My own arrangement.

Blue Ridge Cabin Home (I) Watch clip. - Earl's first break from the F&S recording.

Casey Henry

I have a whole bunch of new additions to the list to share with you (that's the upside of not updating the list very often!) Some really fun, cool songs this time:

  • Banks of the Ohio (B) Watch clip. I love the tune to this song, but I hate the words. This is a nice easy arrangement of it.
  • Better Dig Two (A) Watch clip. This is a modern country hit. Catchy and has a cool banjo part on the recording.
  • Big Spike Hammer (I) Watch clip. The Osborne Brothers' classic. This is actually Steve Dilling's break from the IIIrd Tyme Out recording of it.
  • Blue Train (I) Watch clip. This is the Linda Ronstadt song, NOT the bluegrass "Blue Train."
  • Cindy (B) Watch clip. A fun, easy arrangement of this old folk song.
  • Happy Birthday (I) Watch clip. Played in the key of C.
  • I'll Fly Away (High Break) (I) Watch clip. There is already one high break for this song on the list, but this one is MUCH easier!
  • I'm Wilder Than Her (I) Watch clip. This one comes from Ralph Stanley II.
  • Old Log Cabin For Sale (I) Watch clip. An old country song recorded by Porter Wagoner, among others.
  • Orange Blossom Special (A) Watch clip. Really awesome version of this. It is the one that J. D. Crowe recorded on his Bluegrass Holiday album.
  • Pass It On (A) Watch Clip. In the key of F (open!). This is a recent Grascals recording.
  • Red Wing (B-I) Watch clip. An old song that makes a great banjo tune.
  • Scotland The Brave (I) Watch clip. Never would have thought of putting this on the banjo, but it lays out pretty well!
  •  Steamboat Whistle Blues (A) Watch clip. From the great John Hartford.

Casey Henry

So, it's been forever since I've posted the recent additions to my custom lesson list. There are a bunch! These, as always, can be ordered straight from my website.

 

  • Blackjack (A) Watch clip. - A JD Crowe classic!
  • Cold Frosty Morning (I) Watch clip. - An old-time tune.
  • Doin' My Time (I) Watch clip. - Earl's break, of course!
  • Endings (I) (Watch full lesson on YouTube.) This lesson has the ending I use on "Roanoke" on the Blackberry Blossom DVD, the ending Murphy uses on "Cripple Creek" on the Slow Jam DVD, and an extra bonus melodic ending.
  • How Great Thou Art (Alternate Version) (A) Watch clip. This is a somewhat modified version of Jim Mills's arrangement.
  • I'm Using My Bible for A Roadmap (Backup) (I) Watch clip. Some rolling/vamping backup to this bluegrass classic.
  • I Still Write Your Name in the Snow (A) Watch clip. This is a funny Chet Atkins song.
  • Mountain Dew (Lead plus Backup) (I) Watch clip. This is an alternate break. The song is on the Jam Session Standards DVD, but this is a little harder break, and also some rolling backup.
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (I) Watch clip. An intermediate arrangement of this Christmas tune. The full lesson was up for a while after Christmas. This is just the clip and I hope to collect it onto another Christmas Collection DVD at the end of the year.
  • Sledd Ridin' (A) Watch clip. Sonny Osborne recorded this first, but this is Jim Mills's arrangement.
  • Sunny Side of Life (I) Watch clip. A nice straightforward arrangement of this popular number.
  • Take Five (RA) Watch clip. This was one of the most challenging songs I've ever learned. 5/4 time!!
  • Wandering Boy (I) Watch clip. Bluegrass class in the key of G.

 

Murphy Henry

Well, I’ve just had the pleasure of recording my first custom guitar lesson, courtesy of Casey and her fancy MacIntosh Computer. (Not quite like Earl and his “fancy banjo” but close!) And what did I teach? “Wildwood Flower,” of course! It’s sort of the “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” of guitar picking. Except that “Wildwood Flower” is a much easier beginning-level tune.

 

As you may know, Casey has been offering “custom banjo lessons” for a few years now. She will teach just about any song you can think of on banjo including her latest offering, J.D. Crowe’s “Bear Tracks.” (AWESOME tune!) So, thinks I, why not offer some tunes on guitar? Especially since I currently have three excellent guitar students (Janet, Bob A., and Bob V.) who are learning to pick out the melodies for a number of songs on their own. Just hearing them do that is inspiring to me as a teacher. And gratifying, too. (And it’s made me hone my own guitar-playing skills!)

 

Teaching them made me realize that simple, melody- oriented guitar breaks are absolutely wonderful. They sound great and—honest to Pete—are not that hard. So, I thought, “Why not make these tunes available to other folks?” With Casey’s excellent help we are making it happen. (She pushes all the buttons on the computer and says “Go” and “Good job!” and then does the editing.) “Wildwood Flower” and “Amazing Grace” are both now available. And we are open for suggestions for other songs or tunes you want to learn to play on guitar.
Just to give you an idea, here are some of the songs Janet and Bob A. have learned and are playing:

 

You Are My Sunshine

Will the Circle Be Unbroken

I’ll Fly Away

I Saw the Light

This Land is Your Land

Life’s Railway to Heaven

Bury Me Beneath the Willow

When the Roll Is Called up Yonder

Two Dollar Bill

Boogie Woogie

 

You might notice that these selections are gospel-heavy. Well, that’s because the gospel tunes are so easy to play on guitar and sound so good. And are so well known to many of us.

 

Bob V., who has always done his own thing, has a slightly different list of tunes and is currently working on some of the D fiddle tunes: “Liberty,” “Soldier’s Joy,” and “Arkansas Traveler.” These make great guitar tunes (the arrangements are still simple) but are quite a bit harder than the three-chord songs in the Key of G or C. We can record those for you, too.

 

So, Casey and I are excited about this new venture into six-string land. Just let us know what you want to learn!

 

ORDER LINK: Go HERE to order them. This is a link that is only available to our blog readers (for now). It will go live to the rest of the world in a few days.

 

Casey Henry

Here's what's new lately on the custom lesson front. Some really interesting tunes I think. These can be ordered from my website, of course.

  • City of New Orleans (I) - Steve Goodman song recorded by many, many people. Watch clip.
  • Daddy's Dream (A) - One of Sammy Shelor's banjo tunes. Watch clip.
  • Double Banjo Blues (A) - the Don Reno classic. These breaks can also be used on "Foggy Mountain Special." Watch clip.
  • Fox on the Run (Alternate Version) (I) - Two breaks here (verse and chorus). This is DIFFERENT from the Bill Emerson version I taught earlier. Simpler. From a recording sent to my by a student. Watch clip.
  • Grandfather's Clock (I) - My own arrangement of this. It's a fun one to play. Watch clip.
  • I Know You're Married (Kickoff only) (A) - Another Reno classic. This kickoff is legendary. Hard, but legendary! Watch clip.
  • I'll Be There for You (Bon Jovi song) (A) - Backup for the entire song. Watch clip.
  • Imagine (A) - My own solo-banjo arrangement of this John Lennon song. Watch clip.
  • Lonesome Fiddle Blues (A)- A rather Scruggsy break to this fiddle tune, which most people play melodically. It's easier this way, though you don't get as much of the melody. Watch clip.
  • Never Say Goodbye (Bon Jovi song) (A) - Again, backup for the entire song. Watch clip.
  • Northern White Clouds (A) - Scruggsy break to this Bill Monroe tune, recently popularized by Michael Cleveland. Watch clip.
  • Spanish Pipedream (I) - John Prine! I love John Prine and I love this tune, which I always think of as "Blow up your T.V." Watch clip.
  • Sunny Side of the Mountain (I) - A Jimmy Martin classic. This break is from JD Crowe playing it with the Grascals on YouTube. Watch clip.
  • Walk the Way the Wind Blows Backup in D (I) - Good, solid 1-4-5 backup in the key of D. Watch clip.
  • Why You Been Gone So Long (A) Watch clip.

Casey Henry

My pace for getting these custom lessons done has slowed to two a week. As a consequence my waiting list is at least three and a half months long!! Sorry everyone! I'm going as fast as I can...

But still, only two a week does add up over time, so here are my most recent additions to the list. As always these can be ordered off of my website.

 

  • Ashoken Farewell (A) Watch clip. - This version is based on Tom Adams's playing, but it's simplified.
  • Black Muddy River (I) Watch clip. - a Grateful Dead tune.
  • Cryin' Holy (I) Watch clip. - Most people play J. D. Crowe's break to this, but this is based on Earl's earlier version, played on a Martha White television show.
  • Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane (Backup) (I) Watch clip. - This is just the backup!
  • Hard Times (By Gillian Welch - clawhammer) (A) Watch clip. - My first attempt at a clawhammer custom lesson. It was a real challenge.
  • Jambalaya (B) Watch clip. - A nice beginner version of this Hank Williams classic.
  • Nashville Blues (I) Watch clip. - I've always loved this tune but had never sat down and learned it. This is Earl's version.
  • Nashville Skyline Rag (A) Watch clip. - A Bob Dylan tune that Flatt and Scruggs recorded. This break is the one that Earl recorded later with the Scruggs Revue.
  • St. Anne's Reel (I) Watch clip. - A solid intermediate break for this popular fiddle tune.
  • Sweet Appalachia (I) Watch clip. - A Del McCoury Band song from one of their recent albums.

Casey Henry

I was looking back at past blog posts and I realized it has been seven months since I updated you on what new custom lesson I've done lately. (Coincidentally, my son is now seven months old. Hmmm....) The rate I can get these done has decreased dramatically--to about one lesson per week, good grief! But I am working my way down my list very slowly. Here's what's new since the beginning of the year:

Of course, all these can be ordered straight from my website.

Casey Henry

Apparently my list has now grown so long that the blog refuses to update it. So instead of putting the entire list here, I will link you to the list on my website. This has two up-sides: 1) I no longer have to update this list as well as the one on my site, and 2) You will conveniently already be on the page where you can place an order. So click the link below:

See The Complete List on My Website.

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

So, Cody, who is now taking banjo, comes in for his lesson last night. I ask Bob Van to stay and play some guitar, so I can play banjo and Cody and I can trade breaks. Well, Bob and I haven’t been in tune for the whole hour of his lesson. My fault, not his. His tuner is off from mine, and I was just too lazy to ask him to retune. And it wasn’t off that much.

But by the time Cody came in, I was ready to be in tune. And since Cody’s banjo wasn’t quite in tune, I asked him to tune it. He didn’t have his tuner with him so I handed him mine. Then, I asked Bob to go ahead and use that tuner to tune, so we’d all be in tune together. No big deal, right? All I wanted (for Christmas) was for them to get in tune...

So Cody looks at Bob and says, “ I think I’m gonna buy her a T-shirt that says, ‘Please be in tune WITH ME.’ ”

And Bob says, “Yeah. And the operative words are WITH ME.”

Hmmm....somehow I never thought of it like that!

Murphy