Tag Archives: MMBC

Murphy Henry

I will now shamelessly appropriate Casey’s blog title and tell you what I learned at our first Murphy Method Banjo Camp. Well, it will really be a combination of what I learned and what I enjoyed.

I learned that the students really enjoyed learning a whole new tune from scratch. I (again) shamelessly appropriated the idea of teaching "Theme Time" to a group from my bud Bill Evans. Not every song is teachable to a large group. You need one that breaks into similar, repetitive licks which "Theme Time" does. Zac and Susan even remembered it. (I have them for “live” lessons.) So I was happy with that.

Marty really liked the ¾ time lesson, as did Martha. Zac found it hard, but realized it will be useful. What we did was learn a simple, ¾ time roll pattern to "Amazing Grace". (I could show you but I don’t do tab!) [It’s on our Easy Songs DVD.] And then we played the whole song using this pattern. It can be used for a simple lead or for backup (done quietly). And the pattern can be used for any ¾ time song including waltzes. Pretty cool! This was the first time I’d taught this pattern to anyone (it’s Casey’s idea—again I steal!) and I found it worked well for a group.

Campers hard at work.

Campers hard at work.

But what I really enjoyed was teaching "Do Lord" in the key of C. I’d never taught this to a group before (it’s on our Wildwood Flower DVD) and wasn’t sure how it would work. But because these were intermediate Murphy Method students—who are used to learning by ear—the teaching (and the learning) went very well. Playing in C, without a capo and without retuning the banjo, is almost always an eye-opener for folks. The rolls are, in a way, the same but in another way totally different because they are used in a different context. (The one chord, which was G, is now the five chord [in the key of C] and the four chord, which was C, is now the one chord, and you have the F chord...so it’s a mess when you write it down! Disregard! Please!)

And all this learning and all this playing was done as a group which has many, many advantages. No one can hear your mistakes (and sometimes you can’t either!), you get to hear it played over and over—in correct time--by the group, and you get lots and lots of repetitions. The students also learned the vamp chords to each song and got to practice moving between lead and vamp in two groups.

This is what I always thought banjo camp should be about: playing, playing, and playing. And I mean the students playing, not the teacher. You learn by playing and we did plenty of it.

As Casey has probably mentioned, we are planning another Murphy Method Camp—this time for beginners—in the fall. We are so looking forward to it. We will let you know all the details as soon as we get them ironed out!

And a great big THANK YOU to all 15 of the Murphy Method students who attended our first camp. Your enthusiasm, your patience (when things were either too difficult or too easy), and your willingness to sit for hours on those hard chairs without complaining made for a great camp! If I may steal again (from Lester Flatt and the Ballad of Jed Clampett): “You’re all invited back next year to this locality/To have heaping helping of our hospitality!” Y’all come back, now, you hear? Shave and a hair cut banjo ending lick!

Casey Henry

We've had lots of great comments from the students who came to our inaugural Murphy Method Banjo Camp. I thought I'd chime in with some of what I learned while putting on our first banjo camp venture.

1. Banjo players drink a LOT of coffee. I got a little behind on the coffee making, especially when the class went on a break earlier than I thought they were going to. I learned I needed to have both the coffeepot full of a fresh batch as well as the thermos pitcher full of the steaming black brew in order to stay ahead of the caffeinated masses.

2. Think about the chairs! Chairs were honestly one thing that we did not think for one second about, yet they were the one thing that every single person commented on. The chairs at the Nancy Shepherd House were of the hard, straight-back variety and not a soul found them to be comfortable. At all. We could have said that we were just trying to make sure students didn't doze off in the afternoon sessions, but the truth is it just didn't occur to us. Next time we'll have better chairs!

3. Students didn't seem to mind driving from their hotel to the class location every day. I was worried that they wouldn't like being lodged in a different place from where we taught, but everyone seemed totally okay with that.

4. Fifteen students is the absolute maximum number that we can fit into the basement room at the NSH. It turned out to be a good thing that we had a couple cancellations that brought the number down from seventeen. Still and yet, more than one person commented on the crowdedness (though I prefer to think of it as "coziness"!). So, for our next camps we're going to move the instruction to a larger room a few blocks away, both to make everyone more comfortable, and so that we can take more students.

5. Many students asked that we split the group in two to better deal with the range of levels. To some extent, this is a problem that every camp and workshop has. No matter how you advertise or explain what the level of the teaching is going to be, students come who are at all different playing levels. I was much occupied with preparing lunches and afternoon snacks, so I couldn't teach very much (although I did do one workshop on playing fiddle backup and everyone seemed to enjoy that). Next time we'll hire someone to serve the meals so that I can take some of the students. This will also enable us to accept more attendees and offer even more individualized instruction.

Overall, I think the camp went as smoothly as it possibly could have. We'll make some improvements for next time but I think it's safe to call MMBC#1 a success!

More posts about the camp are coming, but for now, here's the group shot. (You campers, I'll email you the high res version of the shot, as well as the individual shots in the next couple days.) (Click on picture for larger version.)


Murphy Method Banjo Camp Campers (Not pictured: Jim Chambliss)

Murphy Henry

Well, as it turned out I did NOT get my strings changed. Good thing, too, as I found out Casey had advised the students not the change their strings before the camp!

We had a wonderfully fabulous time Friday afternoon doing three separate sessions. 1:30 till 6:00 (when I left to go dance!) The first session was a “meet and greet” and “let’s play and vamp some easy tunes.” So all 15 students introduced themselves and said a few words about what they wanted to learn. Our furthest students came from England (Roy) and Alaska (George). We weren’t sure which was further in actual miles, but since there was no prize, it didn’t really matter. I image someone will Google it and tell us today.

I was so happy to see my old friend and student Wes Edwards there! I’d met Wes at a workshop in Louisiana back in 1992 and had written about that workshop and Wes in my book, And There You Have It. (“The Murphy Method Goes Cajun” in case you want to look it up.) I read the section about Wes aloud to the class, since it had to do with hand position. That was an off-the-cuff idea but made the point, I hope, that everyone has a different hand position and no one needs to position their hand like J.D. Crowe just because J.D. does it that way!

After introductions, we played three tunes: Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Foggy Mountain Breakdown. We’d start out playing all together slow, then we split the class into “Marty’s Side” and “Wes’s Side” and had vamping and playing. We then worked up our speed to medium and then to “Zac speed” which is fast as greased lightening! It was really fun to play that much.

At our second session we jumped right into improvising, working on Blue Ridge Cabin Home and Bury Me Beneath the Willow. Of course I was preaching the gospel of “licks, not melody” and everyone seemed to get the idea. Jason, from Maine, who is one of our teenagers, didn’t much like the idea of no melody so I gave him—and him alone!—permission to look for the melody. I am learning to roll with the flow!

For our last hour Casey and I had a delightful time playing the students’ banjos and demonstrating the different sounds and how the same player sounds pretty much the same no matter what instrument is in her hands. Our good friend and Inn owner, David McLaughlin, joined us on guitar and he and I had exchanged some pointed banter in our friendly fashion.

Okay, the old clock on the wall tells me to get my butt in gear and get a shower and get into town. Looking forward to another fun day at camp. Geoff Stelling is arriving today to tell us how to set up a banjo. And Casey is giving a workshop on banjo backup for fiddle. Fun, fun, fun!! Wish you were here!

We'd like to have a place where our campers can share their experiences at camp, so we invite all fifteen of you attendees (plus companions) to write in the comments section below about what you're doing, the good or bad jams you've had, and just what it's like being at a camp with ALL Murphy Method students. Murphy and I are having a great time, we hope y'all are, too!  ---Casey

Murphy Henry

It is now 11:00 a.m. on Friday March 25. Banjo camp officially starts at 1:30. I thought I’d tell you quickly what’s going on at our house as we prepare.

Have I practiced my banjo today? No way! I’ve been too busy! What I have done this morning since getting up at 7 a.m.?

Driven into town to get new tires for my car. Waited there an hour and a half. (Shout out to Pep Boys. They did a good job. I did have an appointment.)
Did some last minute grocery shopping for Casey who is busy preparing meals for the camp.

Bought water softener salt and lugged that 50 pound bag into the house and deposited it, a scoop at a time, into the water softener.

Unclogged a toilet.
And blogged! I now will shower, eat lunch, and possibly change my banjo strings. Oh, just remembered I have to gather up product (DVDs, CDs,) to take to camp. The strings may remain unchanged! We’ll see.

Hope to report back more as things unfold. Wish you were here!

Update 2:00 p.m. - Camp is officially underway! Murphy is teaching downstairs at the Nancy Shepherd House Inn in the room known as the Tater Hill Tavern (which is not technically a tavern since there is no liquor license) and I can hear laughter wafting up the stairs. Innkeeper David McLaughlin is practicing his own style of clawhammer banjo playing in one of the parlors, and I'm at the dining room table checking email for the first time today while water for iced tea is on the stove in the kitchen. Here's my guess: the banjo strings remained unchanged. I know mine didn't get changed! ---Casey

Casey Henry

Y’all may or may not know that our Murphy Method Banjo Camp is coming up this weekend. It starts Friday afternoon and runs ‘til Sunday at lunch, but a few students are filtering into Winchester, Va., on Thursday so that they’ll be settled and ready to go on Friday. Murphy is doing most of the teaching. I’m cooking lunch for everyone on Saturday and Sunday and doing a lot of jam-leading and general organizing.

We’re happy to have Geoff Stelling coming to do a banjo set-up workshop on Saturday afternoon, and he’s sticking around to play bass with us on our Saturday night concert for the students.

I’m about to start getting ready to drive to Virginia for camp, carrying a lot of cooking stuff, in addition to my instruments, camera (to capture the momentous occasion of our first camp!), souveniers for the students, and a sense of adventure for doing this job that I’ve never done before (being in charge of a camp, that is!).

As I’m preparing I thought I’d write about how you students might be/should be preparaing to come to this camp, or any camp really.

  1. Change your strings. Do it now, in plenty of time to let them stretch out and settle in.
  2. Make sure you have your tuner, strap, picks, spare battery for the tuner (or a spare tuner), spare strings, and a capo (and a spare capo) all in your case.
  3. Make sure you have a recorder and spare batteries. You don’t want all the brillant stuff Murphy says to disappear into the ether. You want to capture it so you can go back and practice it later!
  4. Perhaps make a list of the songs that you play. You’re going to be jamming and when jamming you need to be able to think up songs that you play. If you take a long time to remember what you know, all the momentum of the jam goes away. Be ready to contribute!
  5. Make sure you know how to kick off all your songs and know what key your songs are in. Especially if you sing. Having to stop a song and start over in a different key is always awkward.
  6. Dust off your own sense of adventure and decide to jump in and gamely try whatever Murphy asks of you, whether it be improvising, playing in the keys of C or D, or playing while standing up!

Just four days ‘til camp kicks off. I can’t wait!!

If you procrastinated and didn't get your reservation in when we announced this camp, you're in luck. We've had cancellations and can now offer spots to TWO deserving students (first come, first served). Camp dates: March 24-27 in Winchester, VA. Price $650. All details HERE (it says "sold out" but pay no attention to that). To register email themurphymethod (at) gmail (dot) com or call 615-513-8620.