From The Archives: Who Will Teach the Teachers

murphybook_smallThis is the second entry in a new series of posts called "From the Archives." They will be pulled from Murphy's many years of monthly Banjo Newsletter columns. Some of these are collected in her book ...and there you have it! This excerpt is from her August 1983 article, in which she talks about her approach to teaching banjo.

I know exactly why I teach. One: to make money. I'll be the first to admit that it's great to make money doing something you enjoy. Two: to keep the banjo in my hands five hours a day, twice a week. If I didn't teach, I seriously don't think I would take my banjo out of the case between gigs. Three: to keep me learning. I learn so much by teaching. Just last week I finally learned Earl's last "D" lick in The Ballad of Jed Clampett---the one with all those backward rolls. I was so excited. I played if for Red. He was unexcited but appreciative. Can you imagine how wonderful it is to say to your spouse, "Listen to this D lick out of Jed Clampett!" and have him not only understand what you are talking about, but also say, "You missed a note." I love it.

I started teaching banjo in 1974, which means I have been teaching for nine years. I started out with the Earl Scruggs book and one student. I had only been playing banjo for a year but I knew more than she did, so we went at it.

I had the makings of a good teacher. I loved playing the banjo. I loved teaching, and I had a lot of patience, but, with hindsight, I can see that I was not yet a good teacher. I had to teach myself how to teach. I am still learning how to teach. [...]

When I started teaching I was concerned only with teaching lead breaks. I was (and still am) a firm believer in three aspects of teaching banjo. One: students want to learn to play something immediately, so show them hand position, three rolls, and start them on a song! Two: students should learn the basic Scruggs style first, and learn it right. Three: students need to hear how the songs sound so record them on a cassette, both fast and slow.

My philosophy of teaching was summed up beautifully in the June 6, 1983 issue of Sports Illustrated. It was in an article about Warren Bosworth, a U.S. Professional Tennis Association teaching pro. The article said: He believes the standard teaching methods are so wrongheaded that they scare off thousands of beginners each year. "Generally," he said, "the attitude of teaching pros is, 'If you don't learn what I teach you, you're a dummy.' My approach is, if you don't learn, I'm the dummy."

I approach teaching from the standpoint that I can teach almost anyone to play the banjo if they have a reasonable amount of intelligence, dexterity, and dedication. (I only ask for thirty minutes a day---every day. I know my people have jobs and families.)

Then, if a student is having trouble learning, I must assume I am doing something wrong. And that is generally one of two things: the arrangement of the song is too hard, or I am trying to make him learn too fast.

There is more to this column, and if you have Murphy's book you can find it on page 4. If you don't have Murphy's book then, well...why don't you have Murphy's book!?