Tag Archives: vamping

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

In a recent email Marty made a reference to my “rules” for finding the I, IV, and V chords on the banjo. I frequently share these “rules” in workshops, but don’t think I’ve ever put them on paper. (Although I do think I talked about them—and a lot of other stuff like this—in our Capos, Chords, and Theory DVD.) So, let’s see if this translates to the printed page. Or even the virtual page!

What you need to know for this to make sense:

The “D” shape vamp chord

The “F” shape vamp chord

What I (one), IV (four), and V (five) chords mean

(If you don’t know this, it’s all explained in Capos, Chords, and Theory. With pictures!)

Okay. You’re vamping in the key of G and G, C, and D are your I, IV, and V chords. Make your G vamp chord in the “D” shape. (Ring and little fingers at 9th fret.) To make the IV chord (which is C) move up ONE FRET and flip your fingers to the “F” shape (ring and little fingers at 10th fret). The V chord (which is D) is two frets higher than C, still in the F shape (ring and little fingers at 12th fret).

So the “rule” is: when the I chord is in the “D” shape, the IV and V are always in the “F” shape and are always higher on the neck. (How many frets depends on how you count. I count the IV chord as being ONE FRET higher than the I chord, and the V chord as being THREE FRETS higher than the I chord. But you may think of it differently.)

Now. You’re vamping in the key of C and C, F, and G are your I, IV, and V chords. Make your C vamp chord in the “F” shape. (This is the same old C chord we’ve always used with ring and little fingers at the 10th fret.) Your IV chord (F) is BEHIND or LOWER than the I and is in the “D” shape (ring and little fingers on the 7th fret). [Confused yet? I hate paper!] And your V chord (G) is also in the “D” shape, two frets higher than the F chord. Notice that’s our regular G vamp which we use in the key of G.

So the “rule” is: when the I chord is in the “F” shape, the IV and V are always in the “D” shape and are LOWER on the neck or BEHIND the I chord. (Again, how many frets depends on how you count. I’ll let you figure it out!)

The neat thing is that this works everywhere on the neck. And the other neat thing is that you don’t even have to know the names of the chords. You can just play using the shapes. [Excuse me. My cell phone alarm is ringing. Have to take the clothes out of the dryer!] {I’m back! Shirts successfully hung up; other stuff piled on the bed—with the other stuff that was already piled on the bed!}

For practice: Grab a chord in the “D” position anywhere on the neck. Find the IV and V chords that are HIGHER than it in the “F” shape. You’ll know you are right by the SOUND. Then grab a chord in the “F” position. Find the IV and V chords that are LOWER than it in the “D” shape.

I hope this makes sense. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it will only make sense if you ALREADY KNOW IT! If you are totally confused, come to Kaufman Kamp (Tennessee) or Mid-West Banjo Camp (Michigan) and I’ll explain it BY EAR!!!!

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

Ask and you shall receive! The new backup DVD we filmed last weekend is now up on the site and available for pre-order. The title will be Beyond Vamping: Fancy Banjo Backup. The cover isn't done yet (I'm having the pictures taken tomorrow), so on the order page you'll see a still from the video rather than the cover design.

This DVD covers fancy, mostly up-the-neck, Scruggs-style backup. I've been thinking about how to teach it for at least a couple of years, and several of my students have been guinea pigs for these lessons, as have some workshop participants and camp attendees. I know for a fact that they were able to learn it in their face-to-face lessons, so I hope the same thing holds true for our DVD students.

The key to teaching this is to put the licks into songs. Many other DVDs out there are full of licks, and I'm sure they all show versions of these same licks. But they don't show you how to use them in patterns, within actual songs. Over the course of this DVD we build four different backup patterns, a lick at a time and if you make it all the way through the lessons (in order!) you will have a LOT of practice using these licks. Then it's up to you to take them and use them in your own playing and jamming.

A great way get some practice on this is to play along with the Slow Jam DVDs. Sure the songs seem too slow for many people once they get a certain number of playing hours under their belts, but this backup is a whole new ballgame! You can use the video in a new way and practice backing up a variety of songs.

But all this info is just academic until you actually have the DVD in your hands, which will be in about six weeks. So to tide you over, here's another picture from the shoot:

Casey and Murphy Henry, filming the new backup DVD.

Casey and Murphy Henry, filming the new backup DVD.

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

I’ve had a couple little students jams in the last month. After each jam I resolve to hold jams more often, but somehow I never do. This time, though, I really mean it. (Ha! How often has that been said?) Part of the problem is that at the moment I don’t have a group of students who are at the same level. I do, however, have two who are roughly compatible level-wise, and it only takes two people to have a jam, so I decided to go with it.

Ginny (the one who is now flatpicking the banjo) and Jean have enough material in common that we can jam for a good hour. Last night was an all-instrumental jam because my lingering cold prevents me from singing. We didn’t avoid the singing songs (Two Dollar Bill, Worried Man, Mountain Dew), we just played them as instrumentals.

I had a small revelation last night while I was watching them trade breaks back and forth. I’ve been thinking a lot about backup lately because I’m getting ready to film a new DVD teaching backup. Students are often impatient to learn backup because they find vamping boring. What I realized last night was that when someone else is taking a break, you shouldn’t be paying attention to your own vamping — that should just happen by rote (i.e. you should know the chords so well that you don’t have to think about them). You should be paying attention to, and watching, what the lead player is doing. The only reason students get bored vamping is that that’s all they’re thinking about. If you’re bored, then you’re not doing the right thing.

To use a sports metaphor (which I hardly ever do, but this one seems particularly appropriate): keep your eye on the ball. Keep your eye on the melody.

When I was in eighth grade, I played basketball for our middle school team. One particular game sticks in my memory. I played forward; I was never much of a ball handler. We were down at our end of the court, trying to score. One of my teammates had the ball and I was between her and the basket. She was dribbling, dribbling, then she shot. The moment the ball left her hand I turned and looked toward the basket, hoping for the rebound. Unfortunately, her shot was considerably short and instead of hitting the basket, it hit me in the head. Yes. Hit me in the head. Why? Because I took my eye off the ball.

If you’re playing lead, you’ve got the ball. If you are vamping, you should always be looking at the person with the lead, ready to take it at a second’s notice, or with no notice. When you hand off the lead, you need to follow it to its destination (the other player) and make sure it gets there. Once it’s there, what do you do? Keep watching! You don’t want it to come back and hit you in the head.

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.