Well, here it is, December 31, the last day of 2014. And as Lester Flatt sang, "I've been sitting here thinking back over my life..." And what I was thinking this morning as I drank my coffee and read my favorite new author Louise Penny on my Kindle was, in fact, Roly Polys.
For me, this was the year that all my attempts to teach improvising on the banjo finally came to fruition in the form of the Roly Polys. In addition to 40 years of teaching (and thank you Tim for that constant reminder!), several things fell into place to coax the Roly Polys into being: My wonderful teaching place in town, the Tip Jar Jams, and an amazing group of courageous banjo students.
The Teaching Place (TP) finally offered a room big enough for a jam session and plenty of parking right in front. I'd tried Misfit jam sessions before---twice in the Barber Shop and once at our house out in the country---but, frankly, I didn't have the skills or experience to make these really work. (And there was no parking at our house. In fact one of the students backed into a tree coming out of our driveway which is how I met Ben Smelser when I called him to come cut it down, but that's an entirely different story!) ...continue reading
I just realized I should have taken a picture of the three Bobs: Bob Mc, Bob A, and Bob V! In lieu of that, I will paraphrase a nursery rhyme:
Murphy, merry, quite contrary
How does your jamming go?
With Silver Bells and three-ply shells
And three Bobs all in a row.
Not my best effort, to be sure, and no one in the jam plays a Silver Bell banjo, but I'm guessing there are some three-ply rims!
We welcomed back banjo-picking Bob Mc who now lives in Florida but still makes the occasional foray back to God's country! With Bob A and Bob Van on guitars, that was quite a collection of Bobs. And, for a time, they were all sitting in a row. And then they were sitting in a row with Kathy G in the middle, a rose among the thorns, as we say here. ...continue reading
And thanks to Diane for the lovely blog title! It's one of those sayings that makes sense, only you're not quite sure WHY it makes sense. She said it to Gregg toward the end of the jam after he'd been valiantly trying to do the Roly Polys all night long. She called it "jamming by fire hose" and I wrote it down. We all knew exactly what she meant.
Gregg, you might recall, started taking lessons from me and coming to the jams in July, right after Kaufman Kamp. At that time he sorta knew two songs: Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage Down. I let him keep his version of Cripple Creek, but finally told him I never wanted to hear him Boil the Cabbage like that again. It was confusing his hands.
Anyhow, I was telling you all that to tell you this: Since he was coming to the jams, I had to give him a crash course in Roly Polys so he could play on more songs. So he didn't get the slow, let's-ease-into-it-one-song-at-a-time version. He got: "Here's a G Roly Poly, here's a C Roly Poly, here's a D Roly Poly. Let's play Bury Me Beneath The Willow!" Which is a song that Chuck was learning to sing. ...continue reading
Again, a quick blog about our recording today. I got through all of the upgrades to the Roly Polys! Hooray! Red may have a time with the editing, but the footage is there. For upgrades (meaning harder licks) I included the Tag Lick, the Foggy Mountain Breakdown Lick, the D lick first taught in Do Lord, the Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms lick, the 8th-note walk-down C lick (which does NOT have a good name!), a hammer-on to the fourth string for the C Roly Poly, the D lick from Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and finally, that cool Ralph Stanley lick that I first teach in When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder. WHEW!
So these are all substitute licks for the basic Roly Poly Breaks which I recorded yesterday. I can only HOPE that the students (this means you!) will not move too fast through the DVD or skip around too much.
When we got done about noon, I didn't even have time to MAKE a sandwich to take with me to my teaching place. So, alas, I had to stop by McDonald's which was on the way. Here is a picture of my lunch:
I don't know why I'm suddenly compelled to tell you what I have been eating! Maybe because recording takes so much focused energy that I stay hungry all the time!
We still need Casey to add the guitar parts and I am getting Red to play the mandolin on Daybreak in Dixie so you banjo folks can hear what the song sounds like. Much better than me HUMMING through the chords! But we are closing in on being done! Except for that all-important cover shot!
Stay tuned. And thanks for all the positive comments about looking forward to this DVD.
John, one of my North Carolina students, made the long trek to Winchester for some Marathon lessons and jamming this week. John, who has attended both our Beginning and Intermediate Camps, was so convinced of the power of the Tip Jar Jam that he took the bull by the horns and rounded up a teacher to lead a jam for him and some of his picking friends in North Carolina. Jamming has done wonders for John's playing. As I told him, he is more confident and he knows the jam ropes: how to listen for the chord changes, how to vamp quietly, how to alternate breaks, how to come in on time for his breaks, and how to use the capo (at least in A; C was a challenge!). These are the things you just can't learn in a lesson setting.
Trying to maximize his picking time, John had set up lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday so he could stay for both jams. Tuesday was the smaller jam with Janet, Kenney, and Doug. We had a good time alternating between the songs John played and the more advanced songs that Doug played (Theme Time, Cheyenne, Lonesome Road Blues). Janet made her jam debut with Arkansas Traveler, picking it in open D on the guitar. It was so good, she even amazed herself! Naturally, I got out the fiddle and played along. ...continue reading
One of the comments prompted by my last blog: "Can you give me a quick explanation of the Roly Polys?"
Well, you know me. I can definitely give you an explanation, I'm just not sure it will be quick! (We will have a DVD that demonstrates everything you want to know about Roly Polys coming out this fall.)
Short explanation: The Roly Polys are a series of banjo rolls I developed to give beginning banjo players (specifically adults) the ability to play banjo breaks to three-chord singing songs ASAP.
Using the Roly Polys, a student can join in a jam and play breaks almost immediately. In order to use the Roly Polys, you have to either be able to hear your chords changes (G, C, D) or else be really good at "reading" the chords from the guitar player's hands. Either way will work!
So, without using tab (!!!), let me try to tell you more specifically about the Roly Polys. They are really the very first level of improvising--"Entry Level Improvising." ...continue reading
Last night we welcomed Kristina and her mandolin back to the jam. It's been a while since we've had heard her steady chop which is always a nice addition to the rhythm section. Ben, on bass, supplied the downbeat, Kathy G, Dan, and Kasey (looking Pretty in Pink) tickled the fives, and Bob and Diane played lead guitars.
With this combination of players we were able to stretch out and play Soldier's Joy in D since Kasey and Dan play it on banjo, Kristina plays it on mandolin, and Bob plays it on guitar. To play Earl Scruggs' version of Soldier's Joy, which is what we teach, you have to tune the fourth string of the banjo down two frets AND capo all the strings up two frets, which of course causes major retuning problems. Therefore it's always a good idea to play other D tunes once you've gone to all that trouble! So Kasey and Dan also played Liberty. (Kasey can also play Arkansas Traveler, so better start working on that, Dan!) Then, in the interest of minimizing tuning problems we went to A, which meant we were still capoed two, but were now playing in G position. All the banjo players had to do was pull the fourth string up to the correct note which was E. I'm sure that is clear as mud! ...continue reading