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!


Casey Henry

As I count the days past my due date (just two days overdue at this point...) I'm keeping busy doing the custom lessons that I warned people I may not have time to do if the baby arrived early or on time. Lucky for these people the baby seems like he's pretty comfortable right where he is, so I might have time to get those last five songs on my list finished...

  • Beautiful Star of Bethlehem (I) Watch clip. - This is one of my favorite bluegrass Christmas tunes and very possibly the first one of a second volume of Christmas custom lessons.
  • Fox on The Run (I) Watch clip. - I'm pretty surprised it took so long for someone to ask me to do this popular song. In the lesson I give you what Bill Emerson played on the Country Gentlemen's recoding of it.
  • Glendale Train (Backup in D) (A) Watch clip. - People are always wanting more backup stuff. So here's some backup in the key of D. It's not easy, but if you're ready for it, it's really useful.
  • Long Skinny Lanky Sarah Jane (I) Watch clip. - This is such a funny song that Ralph Stanley recorded. The break is very straightforward Stanley style.
  • Lorena (A) Watch clip. - One of John Hartford's signature songs. He didn't write it, he just played it a lot. This is what he played on the "Gum Tree Canoe" album.
  • Love is A Rose (I) Watch clip. - The second Linda Ronstadt song to be added to the list. There's a banjo on her recording of it and this is what he plays.
  • Mole in The Gound (I) Watch clip. - This is an old-time tune I was only passingly familiar with until Marty Bacon asked for this lesson. Played in drop-C tuning it has a nice drive to it.
  • These Thousand Hills (I) Watch clip. - This is from a Christian band called Third Day. Goes quite well on the banjo, even though their recording is all electric guitars and drums and stuff.

All these can be ordered from my website. $30 each.

Casey Henry

Here is my periodic update of the new additions to the custom lessons list. These are the ones I've gotten done in the last two or three weeks. Some interesting songs here. "Gentle On My Mind" is a challenge because the melody mostly consists of only two notes. "Ring of Fire" is Earl's break from when he recorded it not too many years back on that CD called "Earl Scruggs and Friends." Billy Bob Thornton is singing lead on this cut. Not one of my favorite versions of the song, but Earl's break is dead-on and it was fun for me to sit down and figure it out because I haven't studied that much of his later period stuff. Very syncopated.

These lessons can be ordered from my website here.

The complete list of all the lessons available is here.

Also, I added guitar practice tracks for the following tunes:

Dear Old Dixie
Wabash Cannonball in G
Bells of St. Mary's
Clinch Mountain Backstep in A

And if you don't know what the deal is with these guitar tracks you can read about it here.

Casey Henry

It has been so long since I've posted a Custom Lesson update that I have a TON of new songs to add to the list. It's much harder for me to find the time to record these lessons during the summer since I'm away from home so much, but I still think this is a pretty respectable list for two months of work. All of these can be ordered from my website.

(The complete list can be seen here.)

Here's a funny custom lesson story. The wife of one of my semi-regular students ordered him a couple of custom lessons for his birthday. One of these lessons was "Jerusalem Ridge," which is a really hard, really long tune. I burned the lessons to a disc, sent them off and thought no more about it. A couple weeks later Clay emails me to say:

"You must have sent me an unedited version because about 2 minutes into the lesson you lost your place, muttered something evil sounding, and ....well, you should watch it for yourself!  I'm still laughing hysterically - even made Cindy come upstairs to see this."

So I went back and watched the lesson and when I was playing the song through slowly I mess up and practically growl at the camera, then give myself a countdown and start over. Whoops! That certainly wasn't supposed to end up in the final version!

I wrote Clay back and said "Oh My Gosh!! I can't believe that I let that slip in there. And furthermore I can't believe that the person I recorded it for didn't tell me about that!! I'm just glad it wasn't a long string of profanity, which I'm sure it would have been by the end of that particular very long lesson."

I think over all the lessons I've recorded that's the only outtake that has made it in by mistake...at least the only one that I know of at the moment! (I've edited it out now, so don't be thinking you can order the lesson and see it!)

Casey Henry

I'm busy this morning updating the complete list of custom lessons that I have available with the ones that I've done in the last couple of weeks and I realized that I haven't done a separate post announcing additions since March--and there have been a bunch of them. On the list now is my fiddle-backup lesson for "Sally Goodwin." (That's banjo backup to play behind fiddle tunes a la Earl Scruggs and Paul Warren.) Also Earl's backup for the song "Blue Ridge Cabin Home." There are three modern country songs now ("Without You" from Keith Urban, "If I Die Young" from The Band Perry, and "Landslide" from the Dixie Chicks). They're not exactly my taste, but they sure are getting a lot of comments over on YouTube.

Completely new are some guitar rhythm tracks someone requested that I do. Info and ordering for those is over at my website.

As always, to order, just email me what you want. Or now you can order directly from my website.

So, here's what's new:

Murphy Henry

Remember that kids’ song/fiddle tune Old Dan Tucker? With the chorus Get out of the way for Old Dan Tucker / He’s too late to eat his supper?

Well, this blog only reminds me of that. It’s not about the song, nor is it about anyone named Dan Tucker, old or young. Nor is it about fiddling. (Your sighs of relief are audible!)

It’s about the banjo lesson Bob Mc had yesterday and how well he played Old Joe Clark. Bob has been playing Old Joe for three or four years now. And, as you know, that’s not an easy song. If you make a mistake while playing, it’s hard to get back into the flow, and it’s particularly difficult to come into the lead after the vamping. I think it’s fair to say that Bob has struggled with these issues. For years.

Well, Bob has got an Apple Blossom Festival jam session on the horizon and we’ve been working on tunes that are likely to be played there. Old Joe is one of them. So we were practicing it, me on guitar, Bob on banjo. He misfired a couple of times, and couldn’t get it off the ground. Then—miraculously it seemed to me—he found the groove and played it through several times without losing it.

So when I asked him what happened and why he was able to play so well he said, “I just got out of the way. I just stopped thinking about what I was doing and got out of the way.”


I’ve been trying to get Bob to do this for years, but I never thought of expressing it as eloquently as he did. The best I could do was to tell him to stop thinking so much. And while that is true, it’s not quite the same as saying “Get out of the way!”

So, I’m not exactly sure how he did it. (Maybe you could elaborate in a response, Bob.) He said that closing his eyes helped. But I do know that that’s the way it’s done. At some point—after much practice (and I stress that!)—you just have to let go and get out of the way.

Yes, it has to do with muscle memory, relaxing, hearing where you are in the song, and being able to keep steady time. But after all that, as Bob said, just get out of the way!

Casey Henry

I've been kind of slow at getting my custom lessons taped in the last month due to a lot a factors, but, slowly, surely I've been chipping away at the huge list. I've started posting clips of me playing the arrangements on You Tube so that people can listen before buying. Don't know why I didn't think of doing that before...

Also, I finally got it set up so that you can order these lessons directly from my website: caseyhenry.net/lessons.html. (Just scroll down the page a little.) All you have to do is type in the title of the song you want and click "Add to Cart" and, voila!

Here are the ones I've gotten done in the last month or so:

Country Roads - yes, the John Denver song. This is a beginner version that consists mostly of rolling through the (many) chords.

I Run For Life - Melissa Etheridge's inspirational song about living with breast cancer. All profits from the sale of this break will be donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Watch clip.

Red-Haired Boy - This fiddle tune is notoriously hard to play on the banjo, but I've come up with a nice Scruggs-style arrangement. Watch clip.

Welcome to New York - One of Bill Emerson's banjo tunes. This made me finally break down and get the Amazing Slow-Downer because I'm a stickler for playing every note exactly like it is on the recording, especially if I'm teaching it to someone else.  Watch clip.

Sally Ann - One of Earl's classic tunes. I teach it just like he played it. Watch clip.

Molly and Tenbrooks - A straightforward break to this popular singing song. Watch clip.

Roadrunner Theme song - This is maybe the quirkiest lesson request I've ever gotten. The Roadrunner cartoons had a theme song and the student sent it to me, wanting a break to it. Unless you already know the song, I'm not sure it sounds like the song, but many banjo breaks are like that!  Watch clip.

You'll see that in this batch are a couple lessons I recorded in my den instead of in my office. I'm getting my house re-wired so I had to temporarily re-locate so as to be out of the way. You still might hear a few stray hammering and drilling noises on those two lessons!

Casey Henry

I'm happy to announce that I'm finally set up and ready to go for webcam banjo lessons. I've done a few for a couple different students and, although I don't have ALL the kinks worked out yet, I'm ready to offer them to a wider audience.

Webcam lessons are not as good as in-person lessons, but they are useful if you don't have a teacher anywhere near you. They're perfect if you've been working with the Murphy Method DVDs and want a progress check-up to see how you're doing, or if you are stuck and need help, or if you just have no idea what's wrong and are at the end of your rope.

Skype, iChat, or AIM all work for these lessons. Any type of high-speed internet connection seems to do alright, although don't even think about it if you're still on dial-up.

Further details and ordering can be found on my website: caseyhenry.net.

Chris Henry also offers webcam lessons. He teaches either guitar or mandolin, in the tried-and-true Murphy Method fashion. All questions and scheduling inquiries should go to him at cbhenry@visuallink.com.

Casey Henry

In December I always give my students the option of learning a Christmas tune or two. Some people like them, some don’t, so I never force the Christmas tunes on anyone. We start with “Jingle Bells,” because that fits really well on the banjo. It’s also a tune that I can teach very simply, or more elaborately, depending on the level of the student.

This year I taught it to John, who has been taking from me for about a year. We did the whole song (verse and chorus) and he picked it up easily. My arrangement is very melody oriented (you can hear it in the clip here). In the first three lines of the verse the tune is played in eight notes (“Dashing through the snow / One horse open sleigh / O’er the fields we go”). He pointed out that at the speed he was playing it (slow) there was an awful lot of time between those notes.

The following week when he came to his lesson he had made some additions to the arrangement to fill out the sound at that speed. Instead of just playing eighth notes, he alternated the melody notes with the first string, which gave it a more rolly feel and made it sound like there was more going on. The best thing about it was that it was all right! He didn’t add any awkward fingering or commit any double-thumbs. It was an absolutely legitimate arrangement and he came up with it all on his own!

I love it when students take initiative and start trying out new things. It shows a creative spirit and ambition that will turn them from banjo students into banjo players!

Murphy Henry

(Thanks to students Ruth and Mark for practically writing this one for me!)

Ruth first.

Ruth, if you will remember, is already a really good banjo player, has been playing for years. She is an Original Misfit and our friendship dates back to Barber Shop Days. So we’re sitting at the lesson playing Groundspeed together, her on banjo, me on guitar. (Bluegrass grammar!)

I think the song is going well, sounding good, and am willing to carry on till the finish. But as we start our second pass through Ruth stops. She says, “One of us is off and it’s probably you.

I started laughing so hard I practically fell out of my chair.

So, since I thought she was speeding up just a tiny bit, I said, “Let’s both play banjo and see if we can figure out what’s happening.”

When we played together, the song came out perfectly. So Ruth says, “You see? Just as soon as you got off the guitar we did it right.”

Too funny! Love it, love it, love it!

Mark next.

Last Saturday I was seeing Mark for only the second time. [Note: As I was copying down the stuff he said and requesting his permission to use it, I asked him if he even knew about The Blog. Oh yes, he said. “I read it every day. One of my goals is to be Blogged About.” Glad to oblige, Mark. You can cross it off your Bucket List!]

Anyhow, Mark had taken some lessons back in the ‘80s (he put his banjo together from a Stewart-McDonald kit), but had set the banjo down for years. He’s just now getting back into it and at Casey’s suggestion, he started with Beginning Banjo Vol. 2. So by the time I saw him, he’d already learned Salt Creek, Old Joe Clark, and the high break to Foggy Mt. BD. There were some minor glitches but nothing big.

Frankly, I was amazed at how well he played. (Now don’t go getting a big head, Mark!) His songs sound like songs. I figured he had some deep musical background, but he said no. No band, no choir, no rock and roll guitar. Still, somehow he has the ability to hear the song in his head. And if he can hear it, as he says, he can play it. I guess you’d just have to call it a gift.

Of course, as he’s learning the song he doesn’t necessarily hear it then. That’s why there are still mistakes—missed notes, small timing errors. But once he hears it, he’s off and running.

Which brings us to the song he was learning last week, Lonesome Road Blues. He’d not heard the song before and was working strictly from the DVD. And, again, he was doing a fantastic job. (I fear you will need a larger hat there, Markie...) It sounded to me like he was understanding the song, but the ending lick gave him away. When he tried to put it in, I could tell he was not actually hearing the song. (He was playing the last D lick and the ending lick. The ending lick replaces that D lick.)

When I asked him what was going on he said, “It’s like a big continuous loop and it never stops. It’s like the subway. I don’t know where to get off.”

I understood totally what he meant. The opening G lick and the ending D lick start the same way, with that long slide and two first-string notes. If you’ve never heard the song, how could you possibly figure out the beginning and end of the song, especially as you go into if for the second time?

And then there’s that alternate up-the-neck tag lick Earl uses (the one that starts with the backward roll) which obscures where the last note of the song really is. (Like you’d normally hear a last note, then a normal tag lick, like we do in Foggy Mt. BD. I realize this is gibberish to most of you, but it’s interesting to me. And possibly to Casey. And maybe Bill Evans....Okay, forget I even wrote this paragraph....)

So, once Mark got the song in his head and understood where it started and ended, he could play it fine. He could put the ending lick on properly, vamp to it and come in for his break at the proper time. His goal is to be able to jam and to play on stage. No problem, Mark. You keep doing exactly what you are doing. I just need to hook you up with some Misfits for some jamming. The only thing you need now is that new Stelling Masterflower you were looking at! “Christmas time’s a-coming....”

Possible topic for Next Blog courtesy of Bob Van: Is playing out of time a mental error or a mechanical error? We almost came to blows over this one. Me: “Bobby, just shut up and play it in time....” Bobby: “There’s not enough duct tape in the world....” Stay tuned!