Beginning Banjo Camp: A Rousing Success!

Murphy Henry

Our second Beginning Banjo Camp, held this past weekend (October 26-28, 2012) was, indeed, a rousing success! Sixteen students gathered together in Winchester to pick and pick and pick. And vamp and vamp and vamp. And ask questions. Our motto, “Less taking, more picking,” was in full force as students played the Big Three—Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Boil Them Cabbage Down—more times than they ever thought possible!

At the start of camp on Friday, I shared something that Student Gary had told me during his one-on-one lessons with me before the camp. He said, “You know, all my life I’ve been pretty good at whatever I tried to do. But this banjo is kicking my ass!” The resounding laughter and head nodding from all the students indicated that they, too, knew what Gary was talking about!

The biggest desire of almost all the students was to learn to play with other people. Student Steve put it so well when he said he had realized “What is the point of me continuing to learn break after break after break when I can’t play any of my songs with other people?”

Beginning Banjo Campers

Beginning Banjo campers playing with other people! (Photo by Janet)

So, Casey and I went to work to try to pull together the pieces necessary and provide the tools for playing with other people. You have to be able to:

Play your break in time, without stopping
Vamp to the break (hear your chord changes!)
Come into your break on time after the vamping

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, of course, it’s not simple. Or as Student Tim said, “If it was simple, everybody would be doing it.” And Casey and I would be out of jobs!

In addition to playing the Big Three, on Saturday we did a lot of work on basic improvising using the song Bury Me Beneath the Willow in the Key of G. (Heads up Portland students! You’ll probably be playing this in January!) After learning the chord changes, we added a simple forward/backward roll in all the chords. Then, piece-by-piece we began to add “flourishes.” Scruggs-style flourishes. I mean, if you’re going to go to all the trouble to add flourishes, they might as well be excellent ones! We worked these in one by one. In the G chord, we added a slide in the forward roll, Then we added a pull-off in the backward roll. We completed the G measure by adding pinches. By this time, the students’ eyes were beginning to glaze over, but we did mention using the tag lick at the end of the break. We reviewed this all again on Sunday, and I think some of it was starting to stick! Perhaps some of you students could chime in here and let me know.

I could go on and I will go on, but it will be in another blog! Next time a rundown of the camp concerts! Stay tuned!

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