Well, Marty and I just finished two days of marathon banjo lessons--four hours on Saturday and another three hours on Sunday. And I am happy and proud to report that on Saturday, during our last hour, Marty tried improvising for the first time and he could do it! Honestly, I was stunned. He just got it. He improvised good breaks to “East Virginia Blues,” “Nobody’s Love Is Like Mine,” “My Dixie Home,” and “Somebody Touched Me.” I was sitting there, open-mouthed, going, “Wow!”
This is a guy who has been playing banjo for a mere 13 months, who had no previous musical background, and who, not long ago, could not reliably vamp on the off beat, as he often mentioned in blog comments.
So, the question is: What did he do right?
The short answer is that he used the Murphy Method DVDs and practiced his butt off. At this point he has learned all the songs on Beginning Banjo Vol. 1 except “John Hardy,” all the Misfits songs, all the Improvising songs except “Roll On Buddy,” plus “Old Joe Clark.”
In addition to this, for the last year he has totally immersed himself in all things banjo. He went to every banjo camp and clinic he could, took a number of marathon lessons with me while regularly taking lessons from Julie Elkins down in N.C., sought out jams in his area and went to them, persuaded friends to play with him even when he was a rank beginner, bought his wife a bass guitar so she could play with him, listened to lots and lots of bluegrass music, kept a notebook of bluegrass lyrics that he himself copied down, and attended lots of live shows.
Plus that, he bought a good beginner banjo early on (after I told him the one he brought to his first lesson was the worst banjo I had ever seen) and after about six months he upgraded to a Stelling MurphyFlower. Hey, a quality instrument helps!
So, folks, I hope Marty’s story will inspire you. You can learn to play, you can learn to improvise. You don’t even have to do it in 13 months. Slow and steady also wins the race. Practice, practice, practice; play with others, play with others, play with others; listen, listen, listen.
BTW, Marty told me that the Flatt and Scruggs’ album “Foggy Mountain Banjo” has been re-released. Put it on your Christmas List NOW. (I just Googled it to make sure. It is available at the “Flatt and Scruggs Store” on Amazon! Wow! While you’re there, might as well get “Foggy Mountain Jamboree” for $6.99. These two CDs are the bible of Scruggs style playing. And if you want a third one, get the Mercury Recordings. Those are truly the Big Three!)
PS: I can’t believe that I saved this blog on my computer under the date “December 7, 1941.” I knew I had Pearl Harbor on my mind when I typed December 7, but finding I’d also typed “1941” was a shock. Let’s take a minute to remember the horror of that day, and the brave men and women who died, and those who lived to continue fighting in that sad, calamitous second World War.