Tag Archives: Slow Jam 2

Picking up the PaceYou asked for it and we delivered! More slow jamming fun in your living room can be had for only $29.95! Murphy and Casey are joined by David McLaughlin and Malia Furdado for two hours of play-along goodness. Order Picking Up The Pace: More Slow Jamming with Murphy and Casey now!

Murphy HenryHi all. Just walked back in the door from a lightning fast trip to Nashville which I made right after we shot most of the Slow Jam DVD. I rode over with Casey on Sunday (we did crosswords and listened to books on tape) and flew back today (Tuesday). Red picked me up at Baltimore’s BWI airport and after a quick two-hour ride home, here I am once more in front of the computer. Casey indicated in her blog today that I’d be telling you about some equipment problems during the shoot (read: banjo developed buzzing string necessitating a bridge replacement), but that will have to wait for another day.

I will tell you that one of the unexpected joys of recording the Slow Jam DVD was the three-part harmony singing that magically came together during the run through of the first number “I Saw The Light.” I hadn’t really figured on any harmony singing but when Casey and David McLaughlin added tenor and baritone to my lead the sound was so good that we ended up using the trio on almost all of the singing numbers. And while Casey and David and I have played together before in numerous configurations at parties and on stage I’m not sure we’d ever sung a trio together before. So having our voices blend so well together was a welcome surprise and a real treat. And it made recording the DVD even more fun than we had anticipated. I think you’ll really enjoy it. And I hope when we start the editing process that we’ll be able to include some outtakes and bloopers so you can see that things aren’t always as serious as they may seem on screen. And on that note, I will retire to vegetative form on front of the TV!

Oh, but speaking of TV, just one more thing. While Casey was here for the weekend we tuned in to a new TV program on CMT, Outsider's Inn, that featured our friends Leroy Troy and Mike Armistead. What a thrill to see people you really know and have talked to and played music with actually acting in a sit-com! They both did a great job and I’m looking forward to seeing future episodes! Check it out! [It comes on Friday evenings.]

Murphy HenryAs you know from my last blog on improvising, my approach is licks not melody. Especially for beginning improvisers. This is a way different approach than many banjo teachers take. Their idea is to first find the melody notes of the song and then build a break around those. To try to work those melody notes into banjo rolls.

The problem with this approach is two-fold. When it works at all, most of the songs end up being played with forward rolls. Then the songs tend to have a sameness about them. There is none of the pizzazz and variation that you hear in, say, Earl’s banjo playing. That’s because Earl uses a variety of rolls, including the all-important backward roll.

But the bigger problem is that each song has to be worked out individually. Not only do you have to find the specific melody notes but then you have to work out a roll that uses these notes. It’s like you’re having to create banjo playing from scratch. It’s like reinventing the wheel. But there’s no need for that! We’ve got Earl! He’s already given us a ton of great licks. Licks that are tried and true. Licks that work well in practically every bluegrass song that’s ever been sung. The “Cripple Creek Lick.” The “Foggy Mountain Breakdown Lick.” The “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arm” lick. The “Tag Lick.” The “Choke Lick.”  And a whole bunch of other great licks that don’t have names! These are our tools. We just have to learn to use them. And with a few simple licks at your fingertips (pun intended!), you can play most of the three-chord bluegrass songs that have ever been sung.

It’s only when you have a fairly decent grasp of improvising at this basic level that you will be ready to move on to the next level where you DO try to incorporate more melody into your playing. And even at this level your improvising is more about phrasing than it is about playing an exact melody. It’s about developing “banjo ears” that allow you to hear words in terms of banjo licks.

When you catch on to this idea of licks not melody, it’s often like a light bulb going off in your head. Can it really be this easy? Yes, it can. I hope you’ll give it a try!

By the way, this Friday we start shooting a new DVD, “Picking Up the Pace: More Slow Jamming with Murphy and Casey.” Our friend David McLaughlin, mandolin player for the Johnson Mountain Boys, will be uncasing his 1923 Lloyd Loar (serial number 73481) for the taping. And Malia Furtado, who appeared on our first Slow Jam DVD, will be reprising her role on fiddle. Red will be in his familiar role behind the camera, capturing it all for posterity and making sure all our screwups remain on the cutting room floor, metaphorically speaking. We might, however, keep a few for a blooper reel! We’ll see. We’re looking forward to some good picking and a fine time. I love my job!