Tag Archives: Easy Songs for Banjo

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I was browsing around the Bluegrass Unlimited site today and ran across a couple of reviews they did of our DVDs. (BU is the premier bluegrass magazine. If you don't subscribe already, you should.) I'll post the links as well as the complete text, just in case the link stops working at some point in the future.

141Easy Songs for Banjo
The Murphy Method is the common sense method of learning, used by many folks who don’t want to be hindered by learning too much music theory, but want to be able to play an instrument. In days gone by, young people watched their elders play and imitated them, often when no one was around. In this case, we are looking at banjo. Casey Henry is an accomplished banjo player and, as it turns out, a very good teacher. There is no tablature used here. Learning is by example and, so, we are patiently shown how each tune is played at speed and then painstakingly slowed down, lick by lick.

Murphy Henry, whom the method is named after, supports her daughter on guitar and vocals, so both leads and backup playing can be demonstrated. The lessons are well-organized and well thoughtout, providing clear shots of both hands and an empirical example of how the banjo interacts with the guitar and vocals. This meshing of banjo and guitar lines is at the heart of traditional bluegrass music.

The focus is on five songs, all of them standards: “Old Home Place,” “NinePound Hammer,” “Salty Dog,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Ballad Of Jed Clampett.” Not only will you learn to play clean, concise versions of these tunes, you will be given patient examples that you can return to, until you get each lick. There is an assumption made that the viewer can already play the basic rolls, knows most of the basic licks, and can string them together. There is a chapter, “CGD Songs” that will help with all of this.

If you want to learn to play banjo, but tablature makes you break out in cold sweats, this DVD will open a lot of doors for you, especially, if you don’t want to get bogged down in that labyrinth called music theory. The Henrys will teach you what you need to know without burying you in gobbledygook. RCB (Nov. 2009) (View original. The review is at the bottom of the page.)

15Rawhide and Other Banjo Favorites

You can’t beat experience, especially when it comes to teaching. Murphy Henry is everything I like in a teacher: knowledgeable, thorough, patient, but most of all experienced. She’s confronted just about every problem and question a student might have, and she puts that experience to use in this addition to her extensive DVD banjo instruction series.

The Blistering Banjo Favorites that Murphy teaches on this two-hour DVD are “Rawhide,” “Bluegrass Breakdown,” “Theme Time,” and “Hazel Creek.” All are accessible from several levels of easily navigable menus.

Much has been made of the fact that Murphy doesn’t use tablature, preferring to teach by sight and ear. Proponents and opponents of this method can sometimes overstate their cases. What’s important is the end product and many people have learned banjo (and learned it well) by using The Murphy Method. The benefit of not using tablature is that the lesson goes straight into the cerebellum and you don’t have to wean yourself away from the written page. Frankly, the only downside I see is that you can’t quickly refer to measures on a page and might have to watch the DVD to isolate a particular passage. In the age of instant digital access, this is not a problem.

Murphy is one of the cleanest, most straightforward players around. She teaches more than notes and chords here; she teaches tone, timing, and touch.

Each lesson is divided into an uptempo version of the song, a slowed-down version, followed by a patient teaching of each measure through the song, and then a version played with guitar so the student can get used to following a rhythm instrument. This is an often overlooked aspect of banjo playing that Murphy rightly emphasizes. Recommended for anyone in need of adding some high-octane barnburners to their banjo repertoire. CVS (June 2010) (View original. Review is at the bottom of the page.)

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Murphy HenryI want to answer a question I got about the song “Ballad of Jed Clampett” which Casey taught on our new DVD Easy Songs for Banjo. The inquirer wanted to know if we taught it exactly like it is tabbed out in the Earl Scruggs Book. (Actual title of the book: Earl Scruggs and The 5-String Banjo.) The answer to that would be “no.” But it is very, very close. Except for those darn D licks. Let me ‘splain.

Just because I abhor tab doesn’t mean I didn’t dabble in it myself while learning banjo. (That’s why I know it doesn’t work!) You should see my Earl Scruggs Book! Even the tape holding together the first layer of tape on the spine has now pulled away.

I was totally incapable of learning the “Ballad of Jed” out of the book. And it was those darn D licks that got me. Specifically the phrases “poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed” and “up through the ground came a bubb-a-ling crude.” The rest of the song, even from tab, is a piece of cake. Of course, those darn D licks comprise a “right smart” of the whole song.

As was often the case what was easy for Earl and came naturally to him was hard for me. So when I got good enough on banjo, I just substituted some different Scruggs licks into those two spots, and bingo! I had a perfectly good break, albeit not note-for-note like Earl done it. I finally realized that, when people asked for “Jed Clampett” or “The Beverly Hillbillies” they didn’t know and didn’t care if I was playing it exactly like Earl. They just wanted something that sorta sounded like what they heard on TV. Which, when you get right down to it, could just be as simple as a few banjo rolls and someone singing the lyrics.

We’ve given you a lot more than that. We’ve given you a banjo break that is actually learnable and playable. And one that sounds a whole lot like Earl’s. I can’t say that it’s actually beginner level, but it shouldn’t be too hard if you’ve gotten “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” under your belt and can hold down a 4-finger D chord. We put it on Easy Songs for Banjo because so many people had been asking for it, and we wanted to get it out there ASAP. Even if it is a leetle harder than strictly-speaking-easy.

So, have fun with Jed!