By Mark Panfil

Murphy Henry

Today comes the tale of two students who are going the extra mile with their playing. No, they are not playing faster, practicing longer, or moving rapidly through new tunes. As the title of the blog clearly states, they are backtracking. And what do I mean by this? They are putting in the time to fix some things about their playing that, as we say here in the Valley, “need fixed.” Things that I’ve turned a more-or-less-but-not-quite blind eye to in the past. Partly I thought these things would fix themselves (it does happen) and partly I thought the things we were working on were more important.

One of the things Judy is working on is trying not to watch her right hand when she is picking. (She’s been taking about 15 months now.) This is one of the things that usually fades away on its own as students feel more comfortable with playing. After all, there is no need to watch your right hand. The strings don’t move and the spacing stays the same. The thumb always picks the fifth and the middle always picks the first. After a few months, your hand actually does know where it is going. Muscle memory and all. But it can be a hard habit to break. [Note to Total Beginners: It’s OKAY to watch your right hand when you’re starting out. In fact, it’s essential. You’ve got to become accustomed to the spacing before you can look away. Don’t be putting the cart before the horse!]

Judy can play "Banjo in the Hollow" without looking at her right hand (I do encourage her to look at her left hand), but the others...well.....not so much. So we’ve decided to take it one tune at a time, backing off on speed and playing really slowly until she can focus instead on her left hand. (I look at my left hand all the time.)

The other thing she is working on is the C lick in "I Saw The Light." (I wouldn’t let my dear Savior...) She calls it the “pretzel” lick. It never has been quite a clean as she or I would like, but again, I thought it would clear up in time. After all, her Cumberland Gap up-the-neck G chord fixed itself eventually. So we are, again, s-l-o-w-i-n-g the lick down and basically re-learning it. Cleanly and clearly this time. I told her just to work on it two notes at time if necessary. Then add two more notes. Then play those four notes. And so on down the line.

This actually echoes an article in this month’s Banjo Newsletter with the Brobdinagian title “Lessons in Neuroplasticity.” I probably would have skipped it but my eye landed on the phrase “The Sad Tale of Hasty Hank” which was much more interesting to me. (I am so Reader’s Digest! And saying that so dates me!) Anyhow, short version, Hank never slows anything down to practice problems in his playing, while “Prodigious and Patient Pete” (that Good Boy!) “decides he must get those two measures right, whatever it takes.” And “each time he does so, he plays them slow enough to play them mistake free.” The point is, he is retraining his brain. And the article provides scientific evidence—with monkeys, even—to back it up. (They were not, however, playing banjo!)

So I showed the article to Judy. Hey, if it’s in print, written by an M.D., it has to be true, right? Mainly, I agreed with it, with or without monkey evidence.

So now I’m out of space to tell you about Bob. Lucky you, Bob. Don’t worry. I’ll spill the beans next week. Keep practicing "Old Joe Clark." Stay tuned, folks.

I just found this while I was searching around on YouTube. Mark Panfil is our is the instructor on our Beginning Dobro DVD. He posted this lesson on YouTube back in January for one of our signature Murphy Method songs: "Banjo in the Hollow." As you know it's the first tune we teach on the Beginning Banjo DVD, but it's not on the Dobro DVD. It's also on the Slow Jam DVD, so Mark has considerately made a Dobro lesson for it so that any Dobroists who have that Slow Jam disc can learn it and play along with it.

Mark PanfilWell, it’s getting a little cold up here in Buffalo this December but time spent with loved ones shopping and singing carols is making it “the most wonderful time of the year”.  My days are full of Christmas concerts and first grade plays at my little elementary school on the shores of Lake Erie. Most mornings, I stand at the door of my classroom with my dobro playing Christmas songs like “Joy to the World” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or whatever they request as they enter the building on their way to their classrooms. The young kids that I teach know my Dobro as “the Sponge Bob guitar” because of the smooth Hawaiian flavored sounds they recognize from the sound track of the popular cartoon.

If you’re shopping for a Dobro player on your list, maybe I can make some suggestions. Andy Hall has a new CD on Sugar Hill Records, The Sound of the Slide Guitar which has been in constant rotation for me since I bought it this year IBMA convention. [Note: it won Instrumental Album of the Year]  It is a very simply produced elegant project that really does present the Dobro in the forefront without a lot of studio bells and whistles.

The new Jerry Douglas CD, Glide is also a must have for all Dobro players. His compositions are some of the most significant modern music across all genres of instrumental composition. Listen to it at Jerry's MySpace page. [Also worthy of mention is that Earl Scruggs makes an appearance on a lovely version of his classic "Home Sweet Home."]

I happened upon a very cool CD at the local bookstore last month, Charlie Haden, Family and Friends, Ramblin’ Boy. Of course, Jerry Douglas’s playing drew me right in and I sure enjoyed the place I ended up in. Needless to say, this is one of my new favorites. Listen to a sample at Charlie Haden's website.

If you are looking for a real lasting gift for that special Dobro player, how about the stainless steel Scheerhorn Dobro slide. It is a bit more than other slides, but it lasts much longer. They sell for about $80 at Elderly Instruments.

If your favorite Dobro player is just a beginner, remember the Beginning Dobro DVD that I did for the Murphy Method gets you started on the right foot. I have made some supplemental DVD lessons that you can find at my website.

Hope your Holiday Season is full of music, love and joy.


Mark PanfilToday, for the first time, we offer a post from one of our Murphy Method instructors, Mark Panfil. He teaches our Dobro DVD. Mark is a great teacher of all things music and we'll be hearing more from him in the future. He'll be at the upcoming IBMA convention starting on Thursday and you can probably catch him at the Murphy Method booth.

Hello to the happy, hungry readers that may be looking for some ways to cope with practice. I’d love to offer some tips that I’ve collected over the last forty years of banjo, dobro, piano and harmonica playing.

Find the learning style that makes you most comfortable. You can’t put in hours if you’re not comfortable.

When I was young, I played harmonica every time I walked somewhere. To school, back home, around the neighborhood. I never tired of it. As I got older, I began to practice piano. I had to sit and stare at paper. Soon my neck hurt, my back too. 45 minutes really hurt. As time went on, I played gigs. Two or three even four hours never hurt and I figured out it was because I played without paper and moved often.

For years, I walked around my house practicing dobro. I still find it to be one of the most relaxing ways to spend and evening. One thing even makes it better. I wear ear phones with a CD on to play along with. Get used to one CD at a time. I wore out each of the Bluegrass Album Band CD’s. I changed from one to the next every couple years.

If you’re watching a DVD, Memorize the parts of the songs so you can walk away from the TV. Use one of these neat MP3 players that has a voice recorder. Place it near the TV when the song is being demonstrated then listen on headphones as you stand or walk.

You know, your TV can be your best practice friend even when it’s not on a Murphy lesson. If you are watching a show, you can practice a dobro or banjo pattern. Play it on your leg with your finger picks on or better yet, on the dobro or the banjo with a cloth under the strings. As the show becomes slow in parts, you will practice the picking pattern. As commercials come up, again you can practice. You will need to play these patterns without thinking about them eventually anyways. Research shows, short practice times that occur often are more effective than long periods where fatigue sets in.

Add a comment about a learning style that works for you.

Thanks, Mark