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.
Janet is also stepping up her harmony singing. When I sang I Saw The Light in C, the tenor was too high, so she sang the low baritone part! Janet and I have always had a good rapport with our singing--she can "read" my facial expressions and my raised eyebrows as we sing, as I can read hers! So, with a series of facial tics we were able to communicate that some of the baritone notes were too low for her. So during the banjo break I said that I would try to sing a higher note so she could sing the lead note in those spots. The idea didn't work perfectly, but we made a stab at it. And it will get better!
Eight students showed up for Wednesday's jam: Gregg (whom I kept calling "Jasonn"!), Chuck, Ben, Diane, Kathy G, Dan, John, and Bat Girl (Betty). Five of these were banjo players! John says he is usually the only banjo player in his jam (oh, joy!), so this was way different for him. At his lesson beforehand, I had started explaining the Roly Polys, so I told him to be sure and watch Kathy G because she has turned the Roly Polys into an art form! In fact, last night she outdid herself, taking Roly Poly breaks to Katy Daley (with that long, long D section), Lonesome Road Blues, and John Hardy and a multitude of other songs. John Hardy was a new one for her and John was watching her like a hawk. Since she had played her Roly Poly licks perfectly in the first half of the tune (four beats each of C, G, C, G, C, G) I suggested that she try "tag licks" for the G's. She said, "I thought of that and was wondering if that would work." "Oh, yeah," I said.
So, right there on the spot, with everyone watching her (no pressure!), she substituted the tag lick for the G's and voila! She had upgraded her John Hardy break significantly! (I'm guessing you're gonna see that on the upcoming Roly Poly DVD!) BTW, Kathy also continues to learn the Scruggs breaks. She's finished Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms (and can now use that whole first phrase as an improv lick), the low break to Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and she has learned all the notes to the high break to FMB and is working on making that flow.
Gregg, a new Murphy Method student since Kaufman Kamp in June, is absolutely on fire to play the banjo! He is currently playing Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, Cumberland Gap, Boil Them Cabbage Down, and his next assignment is Foggy Mountain Breakdown. He, too, was watching Kathy closely and I expect to see him taking some Roly Poly breaks soon.
And if you think I'm talking too much about the Roly Polys, it only because I'm SO EXCITED about this entry-level improvising! (Maybe I should call it Improvising For Baby Boomers....!) It is making it possible for beginning students to play "jam" breaks on so many songs without having to learn even a Murphy Method break note for note.
Well, Casey and Dalton have just entered my office, where Dalton is using my markers to draw with! I am on call to fix lunch as soon as he finishes. And then we are taking him to the Clarke County Fair!
So, I guess I'm done!
We are jamming next week, Tuesday and Wednesday, August 19 and 20, from 7-9. All Murphy Method students are welcome. Suggested contribution is $20.
And a huge shout out to Bob Van. We missed you, Bobby! Hurry back. I need someone to pick on! Ben was too tired to even respond when I suggested he needed some "tab" for the bass!