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Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This was originally published Monday, December 02, 2013.

I have been writing about playing the banjo for 30 years but I have never written an article about practicing. Why not? Well, probably because I hate anybody telling me what to do and also because most of the practice suggestions I read struck me as bombastic BS--idealistic, ivory-tower imaginings that seemed useless to me or, at best, not practical for adult students with lives and families. I never followed any set pattern when I was learning, I just got up, got a cuppa, and started studying Earl at 16 rpm in my pajamas! I thought my students would figure out what worked best for them and follow their own "rules," which many of them do. But finally I have come to understand that not everybody is self-propelled and that some people desperately want and need guidelines. With that in mind, I will present my own extremely general and hopefully not too bombastic suggestions in hopes that maybe a few of these ideas prove useful.

As I pull these thoughts together I have tried to take into account real adults with real lives so...... ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This was originally published Monday, September 30, 2013.

Now that we've got the "by ear" question out of the way (non-believers notwithstanding!) (it was last months' blog post...), let's look further into the method behind my madness (or vice versa!). It's not enough to simply learn by ear--you've got to have some "method and order" to your learning. And that's where the Murphy Method comes in. I've done your homework for you. I've been teaching banjo for over 40 years now and I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.

First of all, if you're new to the banjo, you need to start simple. And simple does not mean a dumbed-down version of Blackberry Blossom. (Don't get me started on Blackberry Blossom! Okay, I already got me started--we'll talk about that later.) The Big Three in the Murphy Method are Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Boil Them Cabbage Down. Why these three and not three others? Mainly because they are easy to play, sound good slow, and are well known in bluegrass circles. They are also "tried and true." I know they work because I see my students playing them! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout, and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This first one was originally posted Friday, August 23, 2013.

Hi, I'm Murphy Henry! And welcome to my first article for Banjo  Hangout. You might have heard of my method of teaching--The Murphy Method. (I like alliteration!) We teach by ear. We do not use any tablature or written music, ever. We teach all the bluegrass instruments but, because I'm a banjo player, we are perhaps best known for our banjo instruction.

My bona fides? You want bona fides? Oh, ye, of little faith. (Yes, I was raised Baptist! In Georgia.) I am one of three women included in the book Masters of the 5-String Banjo by Trischka and Wernick. (The other two? Lynn Morris and Alison Brown.) I started playing banjo in 1973 and have recorded seven actual vinyl LPs (and numerous cassettes, eight-tracks, and CDs) with my husband Red and our band. I have taught at numerous banjo camps across the country including the Tennessee Banjo Institute and the Maryland Banjo Academy. And for years I wrote the On The Road column for Banjo Newsletter. (I still write the General Store column for Bluegrass Unlimited.) Will that do ya? If not, there's always Google!  ...continue reading

Murphy has an excellent blog post up over on Banjo Hangout. It is titled "How to Practice: Play More Banjo." In all her years of writing she has never addressed this topic, and she really hit a nerve (to judge by all the positive comments). It's got great advice and I recommend giving it a read.

Casey Henry

One of our long-time mail order students, Bill Breen, received a question from a fellow member of Banjo Hangout asking whether he had used The Murphy Method to learn to play. In response Bill wrote a nice long email about how and why the method worked for him. He said that we could share it here, so, even though it's a little like preaching to the choir, here is his excellent testimonial:

Yes, indeed, Murphy Henry IS my banjo hero. She was able to teach me to play banjo using her "Murphy Method" when all other methods and books I tried failed me. I know there have been a number of threads on the BHO wherein some members claim her method doesn't teach by ear. I am living proof that she DOES teach by ear. I am grateful to her for that, because I can sit down and come up with a break for a song without resorting to "tabbing it out."

Her method initially involves learning songs by rote, but then one progresses to recognizing "licks" from songs previously taught by her from HEARING them. Once the student recognizes the sounds, they can apply their previously learned licks to new tunes.

Back when I was learning from her, her lessons were only available on audio cassette tapes. This, too, is further evidence that one is learning by ear. Yes, she did tell me on the tapes, 'put this finger on this string at this fret and pluck it with this finger of the right hand.' A student HAS to begin learning that way. As they learn, they also hear, remember the sound, and apply it in future lessons. Like building a brick wall, it's accomplished with building blocks: a foundation first. :^)

Sorry for being so long winded. But I felt it important to answer your question while responding to what I believe are some inaccurate criticisms of her teaching method. Now that her lessons are on DVD, the learning process is now even easier. :^D

I know different teaching methods work better for different people: some folks learn better with tab. I could not, so her way of teaching was absolutely PERFECT for me. As a result, I am comfortable playing in jams, performing breaks to songs I've never played before. That, to me, is what enjoying music is all about.

Yep, Murphy Henry is my banjo hero!

Thanks, Bill, for the glowing recommendation. We always love to hear student success stories. Happy picking!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Some of you may be following the thread over on Banjo Hangout about learning by tab versus learning by ear. I sent in a post yesterday offering my two cents worth (guess which side I’m on!) and I thought I might expand on some of those ideas here -- although I realize I’m preaching to the choir.

As I said on BHO, when I started teaching banjo, back about 1975, I was using tab! I quit because it didn’t work. My students weren’t learning to play, and frankly, I was having to listen to some really bad music. Students were playing stuff like “Lonesome Road Blues” from the Scruggs Book and leaving out whole portions of the tune without realizing it. It was painful. And it left me nowhere to go as a teacher—do you just keep throwing songs at a student when they can’t play the earlier and easier ones?

So, as I always say, it was in desperation that I talked my first song “Old Joe Clark” onto a cassette. And the student learned it better than she’d ever learned anything before. It sounded like a tune! Eureka! Soon I was talking “Old Joe” onto cassettes for everyone and doing all the other tunes that way as well. The improvement was dramatic. By ear work; tab didn’t. You think that would be “nuff said.”

But no. After a while I realized (a slow process) that even if you were learning by ear, there is a big difference in learning tunes and playing the banjo. My students could learn tunes all day long and play them well—no problem. But this alone did not make them banjo players. As my book And There You Have It chronicles, I realized students had to learn to hear chord changes and they had to play with other people. Thus the Misfits Jam emerged, where, finally “my people” really began to learn to play.

Could they have done this with tab? I don’t think so.

In addition to that, I offer my own experience: while I did use tab (from the Scruggs Book) to learn a few songs, I think my experience with “Sally Goodwin” set me back for years—I couldn’t “hear” the timing, and played it “wrong” (although not out of time) for a long time. I remember playing it in front of the Flint Hill Flash one time and he was completely bewildered as to how I made it come out “right” in the end. I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know! (I guess the silver lining to my "Sally Goodwin" experience is that I can now make it easy for students to learn it “right” on our Advanced Earl DVD. You’re welcome!) Then there were many others that I COULDN’T learn from the tab including “Ballad of Jed Clampett” and “Blue Ridge Cabin Home.” Not to mention those that made such little sense I didn’t even try them: “Careless Love” and “Little Maggie” come to mind.

So you can see I didn’t just dream up this “by ear” Method. I started it because it works! And thanks to all of you who have used the Murphy Method and who are out there spreading the word!

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

We try to keep an eye on what’s going on internet-wise regarding the Murphy Method. At the moment there’s a lively thread over on the Banjo Hangout titled “Why are People so Hyped About The Murphy Method.” I know that some of you readers like to talk about your TMM experiences, so if you haven’t already, that’s a good place to do it.

Also, our dobro instructor Mark Panfil maintains a little blog over on his MySpace page with dobro-istic news and happenings, so check that out if you want to see what he’s up to.

You can never tell what will turn up on the internet. A couple days ago my Google Alert alerted me to a "Beginning Mandolin Video" for sale on Amazon. Two different sellers have it available, used. Also there are a "Texas Style Fiddle Backup for Guitar", and the "Beginning Fiddle Video". When people ask if we still have our old cassette series available we usually direct them to Ebay. But now I may send them to look on Amazon, too. (The videos, of course, you can still get new from us if you’re a VHS holdout.)

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

For the first time ever here at the Murphy Method we're having a half-price sale on all our banjo DVDs and videos. Those of you who get our newsletter found out about it on Monday and boy oh boy, has the response been great. We never could have predicted how many people would want to stock up on DVDs when given the opportunity. If you're not on our emailing list, you probably just happened by our site and saw the notice on the front page. If you'd like to take a look at what we send out on a monthly basis, here's our August newsletter to check out.

If, after seeing our newsletter, you'd like sign up and get in on sales and new products at the earliest opportunity, you may do so here.

I periodically check out Banjo Hangout to see what they are saying about us. Usually I'm please with what I find, like today, for example. I read in this thread how satisfied people have been with our customer service. That is one thing we consider of #1 importance. We want our customers and students to be completely satisfied and we will do everything in our power to make that happen. If you order our products from a different retailer, there is only so much we can do, but if you order from us we'll pretty much bend over backwards for you.

I'm pausing in the middle of editing a lesson I just taped (Is that still a valid verb to use? "Taped" meaning "recorded on my coumputer.") for "Just Because." A couple students wanted to learn the version that Murphy recorded on her M&M Blues CD, so yesterday I sat down and learned it. I made my student Kyle act as a guinea pig and I taught it to him at his lesson yesterday. The lessons always come out better if I've had a chance to practice them on in-person students first. If anyone else wants a copy, just let me know.

One last item to mention, and that's the fact that we now have our Rawhide video available on DVD!! It is the last of our banjo videos to be converted so we now have every single one of the old videos onto DVD. Finally!! We're doing a little happy dance. And it, too, is on sale for half price, until August 31st.

From the fan mail department, here are a couple of threads on the Banjo Hangout where our students have been discussing their progress with our DVDs:




This is from a student who saw Red at the Florida Folk Festival:

I bought your beginning mandolin DVD from Red at his workshop last November but was so frustrated at that time that I didn't really work with it. I pulled it out when I got home from the festival on Monday and learned more than in over a year of mandolin lessons from a local instructor. ... I would have bought your intermediate mandolin DVD from Red last weekend but I thought I had it, so now I plan to buy it online on your website. Thanks for a super instructional method. ~ JKB

Someone sent this testimonial to us through our website:

To those of you who work so hard to produce these videos, THANK YOU. I had reached a brick wall using tab, when somone suggested I give you a try. What a joy! It is exactly what I needed, and I just ordered the next 2. You have made sure learning the banjo remains more fun than frustration. ~AB

We also received this through our website:

Just want to thank you for your slow jam banjo DVD. I just received it a few days ago, and it is the best DVD I have bought. It lets you play along and keeps you in time. I have bought every banjo DVD you sell, but this one is my favorite. Can't wait for Improvising to come out on DVD and hope you make a slow jam vol. 2 someday...thanks again. ~JM

Here's a review of our Slow Jam DVD from Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.

And check this out, here you can actually rent Murphy Method DVDs online. To be clear, I had never heard of these people before a couple days ago, so we know nothing about them and can't necessarily vouch for them, but it's kinda cool that you CAN rent our DVDs.