Tag Archives: Camps

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!


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!


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:


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!


Casey Henry

Casey Henry

Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey about banjo workshops that was included with this month’s newsletter. I thought you might be interested in what the results looked like.

111 people responded.

88% would be interested in attending a Murphy Method banjo workshop.

Here’s how the playing levels broke down:

Beginner: 27%
Beginner/Intermediate: 38%
Intermediate: 24%
Intermediate/Advanced: 9%
Advanced: one very confident person.

Mostly y’all just seem to be interested in banjo, but 27% might attend a workshop for guitar, with mandolin, fiddle, and bass coming in behind at around 13% each.

But the best part was that fully fifty people gave us comments in the comments box. It is clear that we will not be able to satisfy everyone (not that we ever thought we could…) since we had an equal number of requests for a weekend workshop and a week-long workshop. Also numerous were requests for workshops in other areas of the country. That may be a long time coming, but a workshop in Winchester is in the planning stages, likely for early next year sometime, once the danger of snow has passed. Details will be forthcoming as soon as I get off my butt and plan the thing, but I can tell you at this point it will likely be a weekend (three day) camp with a small number of students, and it will definitely focus a LOT on jamming and playing with other people. As soon as we know more you will all be the first to know!

If you missed the survey in the newsletter but would like to add your opinion, just fill it out right here.

Casey HenryYesterday I got back from an extended weekend trip up to Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland, primarily to teach a workshop at the Wilmington Winter Bluegrass Festival. It was a three-hour-long session on Saturday. Since anybody at the festival could come, we had a wide range of abilities---from beginner to advanced intermediate. That's always a hard split to negotiate. Almost by default you have to teach to the middle, so the material is going to be too fast for the beginners (something I always feel terribly about), but the more advanced players may already know it (something I also feel bad for).

But I think (I hope!) most of the attendees went home with something that they can use, something that stuck in their brains. I mostly used material that is found on our new Easy Songs for Banjo DVD, showing the students the high break to "Blue Ridge Cabin Home," and a back-up roll to go with the same song. Then we took that break and moved it to the key of C (without a capo). Then, in the last hour, we worked with "Amazing Grace." I showed them the two breaks on the DVD and then, in an inspired moment, I realized that you can take those breaks and move them around to almost any key, since they are based on the four-finger vamp chords and use no open strings. So we moved the break to A, B, and F, and people mostly got it.

I got some positive feedback about the workshop afterwards, but one beginner did come and tell me he was lost after the fist five minutes. Hopefully he'll get the DVD and be able to go through the material more slowly.

This is just the first workshop of the season, and it got me excited for the next one, which is Banjo Camp North, with Kaufman Kamp to follow. They'll be here before you know it!