Tag Archives: capos

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We resumed shooting our new DVD, Kickstart Your Jamming, on Friday after a two-day hiatus. On one of those days Casey and I took her son Dalton to the Shenadoah County Fair. I could write a whole blog about that but will settle for letting you see a picture of our lunch, since I seem to be really into food pictures right now:

Schaffer's BBQ!

Schaffer's BBQ!

Friday morning we were back in the saddle again with me playing the Roly Poly versions of the songs I'd previously taught, but this time with Casey accompanying me on guitar. On this DVD, for the first time ever, we are including some songs that I don't teach breaks to. These songs (Worried Gal, I'll Fly Away, Foggy Mountain Top, to mention three) are so similar to the songs I DID teach that I decided to let you, the students, make up your own Roly Poly breaks. To aid and abet, I vamp and sing the song while Casey plays guitar. Then we leave a space for you to play (with me still vamping, but not singing) and at the end I play my version of the Roly Poly break. I think you'll really like this and it's all done super-slow. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Okay, just a short blog about last night's jam. We started out with five guitar players and two banjo players. The balance might not have been so skewed but, Kathy, who normally plays banjo, was practicing her guitar chops for our upcoming Intermediate Banjo Camp where she will be one of our accompanists. Bobby, ever the team player, noticing the plethora of guitars volunteered to get out Kenney's bass (which Kenney leaves there for anyone to play). To me, that's like "taking one for the team" so I thank you for that, Bobby. However, you know that good deeds never go unpunished!

So, we're playing Old Joe Clark. I was giving Tammie, a new guitar student and jammer, a quick review of the chords. Since we were playing it in the key of A and were capoed up two frets, I was telling her the chord positions, as if we were playing in the key of G. I said the A part had two chords, G and D, and the B part had three chords, G, F, and D. Tammie totally got it and started practicing her F chord. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Here is one thing that I have learned in these jams:

Learning how to put on a banjo capo and re-tune quickly is important!

I was inspired to write this blog by watching Betty use her capo for the first time to play last night to play in the Key of C (capo five) and the Key of A (capo two). She played I Saw The Light in C and Cripple Creek in A. Watching her put the capo on and go through the tuning process--which she did with great poise and determination--made me realize how many little tips I was giving her as she did this. So I thought I'd share some of these with you.

I hadn't realized how much jam energy gets lost by banjo players putting on capos. If you go to the Key of C so the women can sing, as we always do, the mass capoing by the multitudes takes an inordinate amount of time! So, here are some...

Helpful Hints For Using A Banjo Capo

Any time you put on a banjo capo, you have to re-tune the banjo. Sometimes it's a lot, sometimes it's just a little bit. A capo makes all the notes on the banjo slightly sharp--that is, slightly higher in pitch. As a rule, better banjos (and better capos) have fewer tuning problems.

But, I hear you saying, what notes do I use to tune to? Good question. Since most people nowadays are using those tuners that clip on your headstock (my favorite is the Snark), after you get your capo on and start tuning, look at the letter that is coming up on the tuner. Whatever that letter is, the tuner will indicate (in its own way) if the pitch of that note is sharp (too high) or flat (too low). It will probably be too high (sharp) so you will need to tune that note down just a hair to the proper pitch. Do not tune the string WAY DOWN and then bring it back up to pitch. I don't know whose idea that was, but on the banjo, it sucks! Tuning a string way down throws the whole banjo further out of tune. Tune the string slightly down till the tuner shows you that the note is in tune. It does not matter what the actual note is--the tuner will indicate the correct note, all you have to do it get it in tune.

Start your tuning with the third string. When you are a beginner using a capo (and playing in G position), that third string will be the name of the key you are playing in. (Capo up five to C and the third string is a C note.) It's good to get the "Key" note tuned first. Then tune the fifth string, since it's the same note (an octave higher) as the third string. (Capoed five, the fifth string note is also C. DO NOT BE WRITING THIS STUFF DOWN!)

Then tune the fourth string, then the first string, which is the same pitch (same note) as fourth string, an octave higher.

Tune the second string LAST. It's the hardest to tune. It also needs to be tuned a little flat to the tuner. When you fret your second string at the third fret (or third fret from the capo) it should sound the same as the open first string ("open" meaning "not fretted other than with the capo.")

Now that you think you've got your banjo in tune, CHECK THE TUNING AGAIN with the tuner. It will almost certainly need to be tweaked a little. Changing the pitch of one string affects the other strings. Sometimes you might need to re-check the tuning three times. And you need to do all this as fast as possible, so the jam can get on with the next tune!

And here's a hard one: Once you have finished tuning, STOP PLAYING so everyone else who is still tuning can hear better! (I am lousy at this, as Casey will tell you!)

These are the basics of capoing. I'll tell you what I tell my students: DO TRY THIS AT HOME. Lots. Play all your tunes at various capoed spots. If nothing else, it helps with the tedium of playing everything in G. If you are bored, get out the capo and use it!

When I was learning banjo, I LOVED to capo. I thought it was way easier to play capoed than it was open. I didn't even like the sound of open G much.

Also, remember this: when you take the capo off, you have to go through the whole tuning process again. Only this time you will probably find the notes a little flat. Pull them up to pitch gently. And then check your tuning again. And again. And then, stop playing till everyone is in tune.

Now you can see why we like to stay in one key for a bunch of songs! All this retuning is a pain in the butt. But, it's a fact of banjo life. So you might as well learn to do it and do it as fast as possible. In this instance, speed is very important!

CaseyThis week one of my students ventured out to her first public jam session. She had previously jammed only at group lessons and at the FiddleStar/Murphy Method camp that we held last month. She has been playing just about a year and went to this jam with the intention of just vamping---not taking any leads. She was pleased to find that on most songs she could figure out what the chords were, by paying attention to the guitar player's hands, and keep up pretty well.

She ran into a stumbling block on "Old Joe Clark." They were playing it in A (that's where it is always played), but because we banjos play it in G when there are no fiddles around, she wasn't sure of the chords. She knew that when she played OJC in G the "off chord" is F. So when she tried to use that chord, only in the key of A, it sounded wrong. Someone leaned over to her and told her she needed a capo for OJC.

She wasn't using a capo since she wasn't playing lead, and a capo doesn't make any difference to your vamping anyway, but it confused her. So here was the simple solution: when you're vamping in A, you move everything up two frets from where it is in G. She had moved her regular chords up, but she forgot to move the off chord up, too! Problem solved.

Murphy Henry

Question: I have been a Murphy Method Student for 19 years. I have a Kyser capo. When playing in C it tends to get in the way of my fingering. Could you tell me what kind you are using in Slow Jam 1 playing "Bury me Beneath the Willow" in the key of C, and where it can be gotten? Thanks. Calvin

Hey Calvin,

First of all, many thanks for hanging in there with The Murphy Method. That's always nice to hear!

Now about capos:

After trying many capos down through the years including the Scruggs Capo, the Tom McKinney Capo, the Sabine Capo, and the Kyser, I have finally landed on the Shubb Capo, with which I am well pleased. I'm pretty sure that's what I am using in the first Slow Jam DVD. (Unless I was having a Bad Capo day and lost mine!)

The Shubb Capos are small enough to not get in the way of my left hand, they snap on and off the banjo with no trouble, can easily be carried in my pants' pocket, and don't seem to cause too many tuning problems. (Although when you use any capo you almost always have to retouch your tuning.) Also, when I'm on stage and am not using the capo at the moment, I can keep it handy by sticking the end of it into one of the holes in my Stelling flange.

And even with long term use, I've not ever had the rubber part deteriorate. (Of course that MIGHT be because I often lose my capo and have to buy a new one...That sometimes comes from lending capos at a jam session! I did have a lawyer friend who absconded---accidentally of course---with my capo replace it with a brand new one!)

And for those of us with arched fingerboards (which for some strange reason we are now called "radiused" fingerboards) on our banjos, the Shubb comes in a slightly curved version, which makes for fewer tuning problems.

I think you can find the Shubb Capo at many music stores, locally and online. I'll shout out to three of my faves: First Quality Music, Janet Davis Music, and Elderly Instruments.

Hope this helps!!!!

[Casey here...I use a Showcase capo, which handily slides up above my nut when not in use, so I never have to take it off the neck, thereby greatly reducing the chances of it being lost!]