Tag Archives: chords

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Okay, just a short blog about last night's jam. We started out with five guitar players and two banjo players. The balance might not have been so skewed but, Kathy, who normally plays banjo, was practicing her guitar chops for our upcoming Intermediate Banjo Camp where she will be one of our accompanists. Bobby, ever the team player, noticing the plethora of guitars volunteered to get out Kenney's bass (which Kenney leaves there for anyone to play). To me, that's like "taking one for the team" so I thank you for that, Bobby. However, you know that good deeds never go unpunished!

So, we're playing Old Joe Clark. I was giving Tammie, a new guitar student and jammer, a quick review of the chords. Since we were playing it in the key of A and were capoed up two frets, I was telling her the chord positions, as if we were playing in the key of G. I said the A part had two chords, G and D, and the B part had three chords, G, F, and D. Tammie totally got it and started practicing her F chord. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

As the White Rabbit said as he ran by Alice, looking at his watch, "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date!" (From memory, so not verbatim!) I do believe he prefaced it with "Oh, my ears and whiskers" but I, having no whiskers, didn't readily remember that part!


Anyhow, I'm sure you all are as busy as I am all the time, so I'll just say "better late than never."
Today's quote comes, not from the jam, but from a lesson before the jam. In an on-the-spot effort to help Kathy hear the chords in John Hardy, I had her play guitar (which she does well) while I played banjo. To me, that's one of the best ways to learn to hear chord changes. That's what helps me the most. When I am hearing a new song for the first time, I often think, "How would I chord this on the guitar?"


In fact, in one of my early articles for Banjo Newsletter I wrote that, if I had my way, everyone who wanted to play banjo would start with guitar first. Of course, that won't happen! But it's a great way to get a handle on hearing chord changes.


So Kathy was rhythm playing guitar and I was playing banjo. She was kinda hunting and pecking for the chords to begin with and it took her a few tries to stay in D long enough but soon she had it down. And she kept excellent time. So, although I had started off playing the banjo in a simple fashion, using the same arrangement as on the DVD, after she had a good grip on the chords, I started ratcheting it up a notch. I played up the neck. When she followed that, I went further up the neck. Then I threw in some off-beat fancy stuff like I used on the Stelling Banjo Anthology CD. And Kathy kept hanging in there. She understood that after you get the basic chord pattern down, it doesn't make any difference what anybody plays, all you have to do is keep playing those same G, C, and D chords in that same order. Once you get the pattern down, it's a piece of cake. (Of course, there is that whole "how to play really good bluegrass rhythm" thing but that's another story!)

When I finally stopped playing and ended the song Kathy said, "Do you want to pay me? Because you're having so much fun!"


And it's true. I was! And I wrote it down for the blog!


The jam was fun, too, although it's been so long now that my mind is a blank!
Here are the things I remember:


Ben came in shorts. So did Bob A.


Kasey was wearing hot pink capris. (What we used to call "pedal-pushers.") She later told me that these were her pink pants with the legs partially rolled up!


Bob Van Metre had on a nice short-sleeved shirt.


Bob Mc came in late, and the only chair left was right in the middle of the semi-circle. Bob Van told him that the middle was a "safe" spot because he wouldn't have to start any tunes or end any tunes. So naturally, I made Bob Mc start a tune or two, just to rag on Bob Van and prove that I still run the show.


Barbara took her first lead solo on the guitar, playing Old Joe Clark. Like everyone else who has ever played that tune in a jam for the first time she said, "I played it better at home!" Don't we all???


Scott is really hammering I'm Riding on That Midnight Train now--both the picking and the singing. And he picks standing up!


Zac is hammering everything! I gave him a special thanks for changing his work schedule to come play banjo at my book signing. Thanks again, Zac! He was joined by David McLaughlin on two-finger, David-style, open-back banjo, and Chris Lovelace and me on guitars. We rocked! The singing went great and so did the signing--they ran out of books! (Don't you love that juxtaposition: singing and signing??)


And that's all you get for a nickel, as they say here in the Shenandoah Valley!


Don't forget The Longest Day Jam this Friday, June 21, 9 am- 9pm. Actually, we'll stopping jamming a little before 8 (but will keep some sort of music going....) so the Gooseneck Rockers can play a set from 8-9. The address for the jam is 23 South Stewart Street in Winchester, VA.


See you real soon!

Murphy Henry

I don’t blog much about bass players. Mostly that’s because I don’t teach many bass players. But perhaps it’s also because they tend (as a general rule with Missy Raines the notable exception) to be a bit quieter than banjo students. A bit more subdued. More likely to just quietly roll with the flow.

Bill Morrison, the subject of today’s blog, is all of the above. At least on the occasions I have to interact with him, which is at the lessons. (He did, however, show a surprising flair at the square dance classes! And he has a droll sense of humor.)

Anyhow, he and his banjo-picking wife Susan along with Bob Van on guitar, Nancy on mandolin, and the Fabulous Ruth Steelman, also on banjo, have been playing together regularly now for some time and have started performing occasionally at nursing homes. (I keep trying to get Bob to blog about that.....hint, hint, Bob.)

So, at Bill’s lesson this week we were talking about their latest nursing home gig. He said it went fine, that the only confusing part for him was the addition of How Mountain Girls Can Love to the show—played in C—when it wasn’t on the set list. (That, of course, is the bluegrass way!) Bill is learning to play in C and we’d actually been over Mountain Girls in that key, but having the song thrown at him unexpectedly (so to speak) was a little disconcerting.

And unlike banjo and guitar players, bass players don’t have the luxury of throwing on a capo. They can’t just slap that thing on at the fifth fret and play out of G position. They have to learn to play in all the keys. So, on the spot, Bill was having to transpose from the comfortable key of G to the harder key of C. Under pressure. While he was on stage.

I was asking him how that went when he uttered the priceless line which became the title for this blog. He said, “I got a little confused. But I just kept playing. F is the C, isn’t it?”

Oh, yes it is, Bill! I understood exactly what he meant. And was proud of him for the mental peregrinations that brought him to that conclusion. Can you follow his meaning? Think about it. In high-faluting technical language he was saying that F is the “four” (IV) chord in the Key of C. Just like C is the “four” chord in the Key of G. In other words, F is the C!

The moral of this story (if there is one) is that everyone has their own way of thinking about this stuff. You go, Bill!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

In a recent email Marty made a reference to my “rules” for finding the I, IV, and V chords on the banjo. I frequently share these “rules” in workshops, but don’t think I’ve ever put them on paper. (Although I do think I talked about them—and a lot of other stuff like this—in our Capos, Chords, and Theory DVD.) So, let’s see if this translates to the printed page. Or even the virtual page!

What you need to know for this to make sense:

The “D” shape vamp chord

The “F” shape vamp chord

What I (one), IV (four), and V (five) chords mean

(If you don’t know this, it’s all explained in Capos, Chords, and Theory. With pictures!)

Okay. You’re vamping in the key of G and G, C, and D are your I, IV, and V chords. Make your G vamp chord in the “D” shape. (Ring and little fingers at 9th fret.) To make the IV chord (which is C) move up ONE FRET and flip your fingers to the “F” shape (ring and little fingers at 10th fret). The V chord (which is D) is two frets higher than C, still in the F shape (ring and little fingers at 12th fret).

So the “rule” is: when the I chord is in the “D” shape, the IV and V are always in the “F” shape and are always higher on the neck. (How many frets depends on how you count. I count the IV chord as being ONE FRET higher than the I chord, and the V chord as being THREE FRETS higher than the I chord. But you may think of it differently.)

Now. You’re vamping in the key of C and C, F, and G are your I, IV, and V chords. Make your C vamp chord in the “F” shape. (This is the same old C chord we’ve always used with ring and little fingers at the 10th fret.) Your IV chord (F) is BEHIND or LOWER than the I and is in the “D” shape (ring and little fingers on the 7th fret). [Confused yet? I hate paper!] And your V chord (G) is also in the “D” shape, two frets higher than the F chord. Notice that’s our regular G vamp which we use in the key of G.

So the “rule” is: when the I chord is in the “F” shape, the IV and V are always in the “D” shape and are LOWER on the neck or BEHIND the I chord. (Again, how many frets depends on how you count. I’ll let you figure it out!)

The neat thing is that this works everywhere on the neck. And the other neat thing is that you don’t even have to know the names of the chords. You can just play using the shapes. [Excuse me. My cell phone alarm is ringing. Have to take the clothes out of the dryer!] {I’m back! Shirts successfully hung up; other stuff piled on the bed—with the other stuff that was already piled on the bed!}

For practice: Grab a chord in the “D” position anywhere on the neck. Find the IV and V chords that are HIGHER than it in the “F” shape. You’ll know you are right by the SOUND. Then grab a chord in the “F” position. Find the IV and V chords that are LOWER than it in the “D” shape.

I hope this makes sense. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it will only make sense if you ALREADY KNOW IT! If you are totally confused, come to Kaufman Kamp (Tennessee) or Mid-West Banjo Camp (Michigan) and I’ll explain it BY EAR!!!!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Portland Patty asked me to elaborate a little bit on those troublesome chords in the bridge of "Rawhide". I will try, but it’s so hard on paper!

"Rawhide" is played in the Key of C. So, let’s take a look at the “bridge” of the song. (For info on what a “bridge” is, see below.)

The chords for the bridge are: 8 beats of E, 8 beats of A, 8 beats of D, and finally 8 beats of G. Then you go back into C chord and the regular part of the song.

Aside: (If you were doing it by the numbers—which are not useful to me in this case—it would be—I’ve got to stop and figure this out now—III, VI, II, V—or in regular numbers: 3, 6, 2, 5.)

I suggest you get your banjo out and find these as vamp chords on the neck. Just get a feel for them. It definitely helps if you’ve heard the song before!

Now, if this is all you had to do, we could stop here. But the banjo normally capoes up to the fifth fret to play Rawhide (unless you are Craig Smith or Casey Henry), playing out the G, C, and D positions. (Five G, as we say in Virginia.) So if you continue to think in “positions” and not “real” chords, the bridge chords will now be: B, E, A, D. (The numbers, of course, stay the same, 3, 6, 2, 5, which is why they can be useful.) These four-finger chords are for vamping. When you take the lead, the chord positions shift slightly so you can get a “seventh chord” sound, just like Rudy Lyle did on the original recording. But for that, I’ll have to refer you to the video!


WHAT IS A BRIDGE? To me, it’s just a part of a song that has a totally different chord pattern than the main or regular part of the song. The dictionary says: “A transitional modulatory passage connecting sections of a musical composition.” My definition is easier!

WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF "RAWHIDE"? The first part (the A part) is played through twice, usually once low and once high, and then comes the “bridge.” After the “bridge” another instrument takes over and plays the same thing, A part twice, then the bridge. When it’s time to end the song, usually the mandolin will take a final A part after the bridge and put an ending on.

WHAT ARE THE CHORDS IN THE A PART?  In the key of C, they are C, F, and G. If you capo up five and play out of G, the positions are G, C, and D. Note: the A part has the same chords as "Lonesome Road Blues" and you can actually use the "Lonesome Road Blues" breaks—low and high—for the A parts of "Rawhide".

But please: check out the Rawhide DVD and listen to the original recording by Bill Monroe! Also, Red has two versions of this song (with moi playing banjo)—live and studio—on his CD Bluegrass Mandolin and Other Trouble. Logan said my break to "Rawhide" was “awesome”!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Just a few isolated incidents I wanted to share:

I’ve been urging my Misfits to learn the words to their improvising songs, so Susan took this to heart and came in for her lesson with lots of words learnt. She started in on “Foggy Mountain Top”: “If I were on some foggy mountain top....”

“Stop, Susan, stop!” I cried.

“What?” she replied.

“The words are ‘If I WAS on some foggy mountain top...” This is, after all, bluegrass.”


I started a young rock and rock guitar player on banjo the other day. Robbie, 16, came to his second lesson, eyes all aglow, wanting to know what this particular chord was that he’d found on his new Gibson. He placed his fingers in a regular first-position C chord, then added his little finger on the third fret of the second string. It made a way cool sound, but I had NO IDEA what the chord was called. (Where is Janet Davis when you need her? Where is Dennis Caplinger? Where is Bill Keith?) Robbie said, “I think it’s a C add 9.” (I don’t even know if that’s how you’d write it, but that’s what he said.)

I examined the chord more closely and I could see where he came up with the terminology. It was a C chord with a D note in it. And D is the ninth note in the C scale. That made sense to me. So I said, “I think you’re right about that, Robbie, but don’t EVER mention that chord around any bluegrass players. We don’t use “C add 9’s” and someone might kick your butt.”

Things you don’t want to hear about Robbie: He learned “Banjo in the Hollow” and the vamping in two lessons. We were able to trade breaks. Point of consolation: Remember, he already plays rock guitar, and he’s 16.


I was at a party last night and there was a band and I’m out there dancing with my old Jazzercise pals and of course the band is so loud that I can’t really understand the words but then a few phrases become clearer because, guess what, they are familiar, being something about a mule kicking in my stall with the repeated refrain “tear it down, tear it down” and I realize with a shock that they are singing an Old Crow Medicine Show song! (And can I write a run-on sentence or what?) And then later on they did—TAH DAH—“Wagon Wheel” but that’s not much of a dance song so I just listened. It’s really cool when a band’s songs start filtering down to other groups.

And speaking of Old Crow, I am heading off to see them in one short hour, when Mark and Ellen and I head out on our two-hour trek to Maryland. We thought Old Crow started playing at 2:30, but then we found out that’s when the warm-up bands started, and that Old Crow didn’t start till 9:15 p.m. So, we did some serious soul searching, to see if we really wanted to stay out that late and then, after failing to sell our tickets on Craig’s list, we decided that we did want to go after all! We just decided to conserve our energy and skip the warm-up bands. Although I do want to see Levon Helm, who sang that great song “Up On Cripple Creek” with The Band. We also promised ourselves that if we got too tired, even in the middle of Old Crow, that we’d leave. This being middle aged has its disadvantages. But, as Minnie Pearl would say, “I’m just so proud to be there!”

Casey HenryOne of my students and I just had a very productive conversation about minor chords. Minor chords can be hard, but they're really neat once you get the hang of them. As I was telling my student, there is a simple way to get to the minor chord from each chord shape (bar, F shape, D shape---you have to know those shapes already for this to make any sense to you. We have an excellent video on vamping if you haven't branched out into that area yet.  🙂  ).

In the bar chord shape, you lower the note on the second string one fret. (I finger it with my little finger on the 1st string, index on 2nd, ring on 3rd, middle on 4th.)

In the D shape you lower the first and fourth strings one fret. (Little on 1st, ring on 2nd, index on 3rd, middle on 4th.)

In the F shape you lower the third string note one fret. (I flatten out my index to cover the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings and don't use my middle at all, leaving little on 1st and ring on 4th.)

Chord stuff often doesn't make any sense until you're ready for it, or unless you have a need to use it right away. But at the right time, it will suddenly start to click, and it's really cool when it does.

CaseyThis week one of my students ventured out to her first public jam session. She had previously jammed only at group lessons and at the FiddleStar/Murphy Method camp that we held last month. She has been playing just about a year and went to this jam with the intention of just vamping---not taking any leads. She was pleased to find that on most songs she could figure out what the chords were, by paying attention to the guitar player's hands, and keep up pretty well.

She ran into a stumbling block on "Old Joe Clark." They were playing it in A (that's where it is always played), but because we banjos play it in G when there are no fiddles around, she wasn't sure of the chords. She knew that when she played OJC in G the "off chord" is F. So when she tried to use that chord, only in the key of A, it sounded wrong. Someone leaned over to her and told her she needed a capo for OJC.

She wasn't using a capo since she wasn't playing lead, and a capo doesn't make any difference to your vamping anyway, but it confused her. So here was the simple solution: when you're vamping in A, you move everything up two frets from where it is in G. She had moved her regular chords up, but she forgot to move the off chord up, too! Problem solved.