Tag Archives: sally goodwin

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Zac, with his dad Todd in tow, came by the Tip Jar Jam last night to say goodbye. This coming Sunday, after he gets off of work at 3 pm, he will head for Nashville where, for the next 13 months, he will be going to Diesel Mechanic School. He will, of course, be taking his banjo! But if I know Zac, he won't let his banjo playing get in the way of his school. He has been Raised Right and I'm sure he will Go Far. (To quote from Ferrol Sams!)


Zac couldn't even play his banjo last night because he'd just had some sort of vaccination (required for school) and his shoulder was sore and his fingers wouldn't work right. So he just sat and listened and read back issues of Bluegrass Unlimited. He did pick up my guitar for one number, Daybreak in Dixie, while I was playing banjo. Thanks, Zac! We're gonna miss you when you're gone!


We had 7 students at the Wednesday jam. Regulars Scott, Bob A, Bob Mc, and Barbara welcomed Gary, on guitar, who comes occasionally and Jon, on banjo, who had gone missing for quite a few months due to his work schedule. He's off now on Tuesday and Wednesday so we hope he will become a regular again. We also were happy to have one of Casey's beginning students, Mark, who was attending his first-ever jam. (And probably had no idea he would end up in this blog!)


It's gotta be scary--and intimidating--to attend your first jam (even a friendly student jam!) and Mark was content to sit and listen for a while. He does know his vamp chords (G, C, and D in the "F" shape) but, as you all know, it's one thing to know them and another thing to be able to actually MOVE them! He seemed to be doing well, catching on the the fact that most of our songs start in G chord and then change to C and back to G and then on to D! I tried to point out the one that didn't follow this pattern: John Hardy, Lonesome Road Blues, and even Blue Ridge Cabin Home. Since I control the jam with an Iron Fist (as I told him!) I made sure we stayed in the Key of G for a long time, so he could get familiar with this one key.


Finally, we capoed to A. Mark also did well here. He didn't need to use a capo since he wasn't going to be playing lead so I showed him how to move his G chord up two frets to make the A chord, and to move his D chord up two frets to make the E chord. Our first song in the key of A was John Henry (not John Hardy!) which Bob A has just learned to sing and it only uses those two chords--which is why I called for it! Mark really did seem to understand the concept, so now I'm thinking that when I teach chording in A, maybe I should FIRST have the students chord without the capo and call the chords by their real names (A, D, E) which is something I've always shied away from. Food for thought.....


Our C song singers (lovely alliteration!) weren't present so we didn't do anything in the key of C.


After Mark got a tiny bit more comfortable, I asked him if he would play a tune if the other banjos played lead with him. Doing that is an easy way to break into playing in a group. He was willing and chose Cumberland Gap. He set the pace and then we all sorta jumped in with him. Before we started, I reminded him that if he made a mistake he had to keep going because that's what the rest of us would be doing. He did very well. We did two other numbers that way, I Saw The Light (as an instrumental) and Cripple Creek, and it seemed like the more we played, the better and more comfortable Mark got. I hope you come back, Mark. You done good!


There was an interesting Gary moment when Bob A was singing Wreck of the Old 97. Gary can take a guitar lead on any song whether he knows the song or not. Naturally, if he has never heard the melody, his breaks tend to be "free form"--in perfect rhythm but with little melody. However, when he was taking his break on Wreck of the Old 97, all of a sudden I heard all this melody coming out. I looked up at him, and he said (while playing), "MTA!" I knew exactly what he meant: The melody of Wreck of the Old 97 is the same melody of Charlie and the MTA!


Gary also helped Scott and me out when we were playing Sally Goodwin. Scott has been working hard on Sally Goodwin, which, IMHO, is one of Earl's hardest tunes. It's hard to play and it's hard to HEAR, and few people can play it like Earl. (I get close, but no cigar, especially on that down-the-neck entrance to the B part. I can't "hear" it--but Casey can and plays it beautifully!) Scott is making great strides but he is having trouble coming back in for his break. So I told him we would play it in the jam and I would coach Gary how to play the rhythm on the guitar. The pattern is simple: G,G,G,G / G,G,D,G. Over and over and over. But if you lose your place--and don't know the song--it's really really hard to get back in. Gary was very receptive to being coached (especially after I let him borrow my Martin!) and he came through like a champ. Scott did really well, also, even though he was almost "banjoed out" from a two-hour lesson before the jam! We'll get 'er next time, Scott!


So this pretty much concludes my jam about the blog. What follows is some overly-detailed stuff about Sally Goodwin, a gross indulgence on my part. I'm not going to delete it because it took a lot of thinking to remember all this! And it was a pleasurable trip down memory lane, to the days of when I was first learning the banjo!


Sally Goodwin Stuff 


Front cover of my Earl Scruggs Book

Front cover of my Earl Scruggs Book

I have a special spot in my heart for Sally Goodwin since I first learned to play it "wrong." I was using the Earl Scruggs BOOK (!) and the timing written on the page never made any sense to me. (I can read music just enough to hurt my playing, to mis-quote the old saying.) And the playing of Earl and the Foggy Mountain Boys on the record is SO confusing, with the bass playing "backwards" through much of the song. (Instead of "1, 5" it's "5, 1".) I could play the A part just fine, but not understanding the song or the rhythm, I altered my playing of the B part to make it fit with where I heard beat "1" on the record. (It's complicated!) My timing came out fine in the end, but I wasn't playing it like Earl, which eventually came to bother me, so I relearned it. But in order to relearn it, I pretty much had to count out the B part note by note: one-e-and-uh, two-e-and-uh.


I wasn't even aware I was playing it "wrong" until the Flint Hill Flash mentioned it to me. He said he had heard me play Sally Goodwin on stage and that when I started into the up-the-neck B part--which was "wrong" to his Earl-trained ear--he had wondered at the time how I was going to make up for those notes I left out! He said, "I don't know how you did it, but you were never out of time!" His comment led me back to some serious Sally Goodwin study! I can now play Earl's up-the-neck B part pretty much like he played it, but, truth to tell, I still can't "hear" Earl's first four notes in the up-the-neck B part!  And I reckon I never will! I'll leave that to Casey.


My marked up copy of Sally Goodwin from my Earl Scruggs Book.

My marked up copy of Sally Goodwin from my Earl Scruggs Book.

IN CASE YOU CARE (serious navel gazing here!): In the up-the-neck B part, I had left out Earl's first three notes--the "one-e-and-uh"--and had started my B part on Earl's beat "2." I can still hear in my head how I played it. That meant I had to make up those notes at the end of my B part--which I did-- but without consciously thinking about it. I have since heard many excellent Scruggs-style banjo players play it the same "wrong" way that I did. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who has had trouble with Sally Goodwin! So, all this to say that I feel your pain, Scott! Been there done that! In spades!


Okay, I got WAY too carried away and am including pictures! ARRRGGGHH.....What is wrong with me????

Original copy of Bill Keith's tab to Sally Goodwin! (I asked him to send me this!)

Original copy of Bill Keith's tab to Sally Goodwin! (I asked him to send me this!)

Inside front cover!

Inside front cover!

Murphy Henry

As you probably know, playing banjo is not always fun. What keeps me—and most of us professional players—going are those few shining moments when we are IN THE ZONE.

Being in the zone means you are firing on all cylinders, you are tight with the band. When you’re in the zone the music seems to flow from your fingers and you can’t play a wrong note. It doesn’t happen often.

One of these shining moments happened to me at Mid-West Banjo Camp a couple of weeks ago when I was playing at the faculty concert. Ken Perlman, co-director of the camp with Stan Werbin (of Elderly Instruments), encourages the teachers to ask other musicians to perform with them and this year I asked the great fiddler Byron Berline to play "Sally Goodwin" with me. His first response was that he thought he might play "Sally Goodwin" himself. Okay, says I, just let me know. (In the meantime, I’m feeling a little embarrassed at having been so bold to ask him to play "Sally Goodwin", a tune he recorded with Bill Monroe!)

I decided to do a couple of singing songs instead. So, the next day at lunch I asked Byron if he’d feel comfortable playing on a couple of easy vocals, 1, 4, 5 progression, no rehearsal. And, much to my surprise, he said, “We can do "Sally Goodwin" if you like.” I said, “You didn’t decide not to do it yourself on account of me, did you?” [Like he would! Duh!] He said, “No, I’m gonna do something else.” I said, “Great! Key of A? No minor chord?” (I was teasing him a little there, as well as indicating I was doing it straight. Just like Earl.) He asked if I was going to have any other players and I immediately dropped the idea of us doing it as a duet and said, “Yes, I’m gonna ask David Grier to play guitar and Tom T. Ball [that’s his name, seriously!] to play bass.” I’d never played with either of them, but I know David and know how good he is and I had been impressed with Tom’s bass playing on stage the night before. They both said yes.

I hadn’t planned on doing any rehearsing since it didn’t seem right to ask Byron to rehearse a tune he’d played 50 million times AND recorded with Monroe. But as it turned out, when I arrived in the “green room,” David Grier was sitting there with his guitar so I asked him if he’d warm me up on Sally Goodwin. And, oh my gosh! I knew what a great lead player he was (IBMA Guitar Player of the Year three times) but I had no idea how wonderful his rhythm playing was. We fit each other like a glove. And then Byron and his fiddle showed up, along with Alan Munde, Bill Evans, and Tom T. Ball. They were going to rehearse their numbers. But before they started I asked Byron if he’d mind going over "Sally Goodwin". He graciously said yes and asked if I was going to kick it off or did I want him to. I said I would. (Just like Earl, of course!) He wanted to know the arrangement. I said, “I play, you play, David plays, I play, you play, David plays, I play and end it.” He said, “So David and I take two breaks and you take three.” I said, “If you want to think about it that way, yes.” He laughed. That’s one thing that made playing with these incredible musicians so delightful. Everyone was so loose.

So I did Earl’s two introductory pinches and away we went. Tom T. held back on the bass for some reason so I leaned over, while playing, and said, “You can come in any time now.” I was that relaxed. When Byron added a little bit of Bill Monroe’s tune Scotland to his break, I was grinning from ear to ear. I’m sure he’d done that many times before, but it was totally unexpected to me and I loved it! Our playing sounded great, I had hit a good rhythm, and Byron even commented on it after we finished. “That was a good speed,” he said. Yes!

We played the tune through one time and quit. We all knew what we were supposed to do. (We also ran through my singing song "East Virginia Blues", which I sang with Janet Beazley and Kathy Barton Para but that’s another story.)

Then I had the great fortune to sit and watch Bill Evans rehearse "Deputy Dalton" (an Alan Munde tune) with Alan Munde and Byron. Bill’s and Alan’s twin banjo break was in perfect sync. And both of those guys are such great players, it was a pleasure to hear them play. Then Byron ran through his tunes, the instrumental "Oklahoma Stomp" and "Fiddle Faddle", which, to my surprise, he sang. (It was a funny song about playing the fiddle and how easy it is! Not! He did some intentional squeaking.) I suppose I could have become unnerved by all this incredible music and talent, but for some reason I didn't.

After they were done Byron said, “Now if we can only do half that well on stage.” How true, how true.

We then walked over to the performance hall, and waited in the wings (we could see the stage) for our times to play. Bill played first, then Byron, then someone else, and then I was on. Bill, who also doubled as emcee, gave me a lovely intro, saying “The first thing you need to know about Murphy is, she is always right!” Thank you, Bill, for admitting that publicly! (I later told my class that even though I am always right, Bill Evans knows everything!)

Byron Berline, Tom T. Ball, Murphy Henry, and David Grier

Byron Berline, Tom T. Ball, Murphy Henry, and David Grier (Photo from midwestbanjocamp.com)

I had decided to do "East Virginia Blues" first, to sort of warm up. It is also in the Key of A, so I wouldn’t have to move my capo. (And neither would Byron.) I noticed then that I was playing pretty well, hitting the licks I was going for, and getting good, solid tone. Then Kathy and Janet left the stage and I introduced "Sally Goodwin". “Here’s an old-time fiddle tune that Earl Scruggs played, 'Sally Goodwin'!” I did my two Earl pinches and we were off. Once again, I hit that perfect speed, and David Grier was playing perfect rhythm guitar and Tom was right there with him on bass, so all I had to do was sit on top of all that steady rhythm and play the banjo. And, buddy, I flat-out played it! I was sitting on top of the rhythm and sitting on top of the world!

I didn’t try anything fancy, just played the same "Sally Goodwin" break I’ve been playing for years, the same one I’ve been teaching Zac, the one I worked my butt off to learn, the one I learned wrong to begin with because I didn’t understand Earl’s timing in the high B part, the one I had to give up playing “just like Earl” because my hands never instinctively understood those notes he used to connect the high A part with the low B part. That’s something I never learned to “hear.” Casey, on the other hand, heard it and played it easily when she was learning the tune. So I had to get okay with the way I played the tune. And that night I was totally okay with it. I was so okay with it that I was able to sit back and let my hands do the playing leaving room for my brain could think a little more about pulling good tone and staying in perfect time with my great rhythm section. I could sit back and enjoy my own playing! Wow!

And of course having Byron over there on the fiddle was simply awesome and I’m sure my good playing was pretty much in direct response to how excellent and smooth his playing was. He also brought a lot of energy to the stage but it was supportive energy, not spotlight stealing energy. He was supporting me, and boy did that feel good. David Grier was the same way. Each time he finished his guitar break he looked over and gave me the nod to start my break, making that little connection that means so much. There was no “hot-dogging” by either Byron or David. They played good, solid versions of "Sally Goodwin", which complemented my no-nonsense version of the tune. I’m sure if I had played a wilder version, they would have stretched out and played wilder, too.

I believe we played it as well on stage as we’d played in rehearsal. Maybe even better! (I only hope no one puts a video of us playing up on YouTube because I don’t want to have my illusions shattered.) I received some extremely nice compliments from two other banjo players when I came down from the stage. Both said, “I’d like to play some tunes with you!” High praise!

I’ve been floating on this high for a couple of weeks now. I suppose the euphoria will wear off in time, but the memory of playing "Sally Goodwin" with Byron Berline and being in the zone will remain. And I am so grateful for that experience and for those three minutes of pretty-much-perfect music. To paraphrase slightly: “Don’t let it be forgot / I once stood in a spot / For one brief shining moment / And it felt like Camelot!” Thank you, Byron, thank you, David, thank you, Tom T. Ball, and thank you Earl!

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!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Okay, this is so funny I have to tell it first before I forget how it went.

So in the middle of “Old Joe Clark” I catch Logan yawning. After the song is over, I say something to him about being tired. Before he can even respond Bob Van barks, “What time did you get up this morning, boy?”

I immediately say to Logan, “Don’t answer that!” Because I know where Bob is going.

Logan, ignoring my advice (!), boldly says, “Four o’clock.”

I’m going like, “Way to go, Logan!” And everybody is laughing.

Then, Logan takes it a step further and says to Bob, just as brassy as can be, “What time did YOU get up?”

The rest of us are holding our sides with laughter. What happened to the quiet young man who usually shows up at the jam?

Bob says, “Quarter till four.”

More laughter. I figure Bob is just one-upping Logan in that oh-so-masculine way. Then Bob says, “My alarm didn’t go off.”

Susan, Ellen, Mark, and I are now hysterical with laughter. I’m thinking, “This jam is SO worth it!”

But Logan wasn’t done for the evening. Before our last song, “Wagon Wheel,” I was looking around for my piece of paper with the words on it. I asked Logan to look in a stack of papers that was near him. He came up with several pages of sheet music which he was looking at. Bob, standing nearby with the bass, could see them too.

“What kind of music is that?” Bob asks. (Like Logan would know.)

Logan answers, man-style, “Ukulele music.”

I’m thinking, “Huh?” (I actually thought it was music to “Loveliest Night of the Year” that a fiddle student had brought in.)

Bob goes, “How do you know that?”

Logan says, “Because I’m the Bluegrass Master!”

The rest of us burst out laughing.

Then Bob, obviously consumed with curiosity, says, “Now really. How did you know that?”

(And frankly I was wondering that too. I thought maybe it had some 4-string chord shapes in little boxes over the words and notes.)

Logan replies, “It says so right here on the music. For ukulele.”

So, the unusual tunes we played tonight were “Sally Goodwin” and “Old Home Place” (from the Easy Songs DVD—might as well get in a plug!)

Logan had learned the high and low breaks to “Sally Goodwin” (off Advanced Earl) and he did a great job. Susan (who was the inspiration for Logan’s learning it) and Logan haven’t gotten to where they can switch breaks yet—which is hard—so they just played everything they knew to play (AABB high, AABB low) and then we quit!

Interestingly enough, Logan was “hearing” the B part the same wrong way I first heard it, but we got that straightened out. I hope to blog further about my own trials and tribulations with “Sally Goodwin” when I find a good long stretch of time. (Which I used today to go Christmas shopping!) Right now Logan hates the tune (even after listening to Earl! Sacrilege!). I told him that I believe over time he’ll just learn to love it. And told him to listen to J.D. Crowe’s version. His next challenge is “Ground Speed.” He’s making noises about wanting to play professionally so we are Seriously Studying Earl. I’ll keep you posted! (He’s definitely getting the humor thing down! Which is essential for going on the road....)

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I’m happy to have a couple of emails from students to share with you today, along with my replies.

The first is from a brand new student:

I learned about the Murphy Method while visiting with Casey after the concert at the Dosey Doe Coffee House in Houston, Texas. I ordered the Beginning Banjo DVD that night. I have been taking banjo lessons for two months and not seeing a lot of improvement (maybe I'm impatient). While waiting for the DVD to arrive I have been playing along with instructional sample on the website. I have accomplished  more with this method in one hour than I have in two months of lessons. Thanks....

Dear New Student:

You are not impatient. A student should expect to see some improvement over two months. My guess is that your teacher was using tablature and that you weren’t getting anywhere on account of that, although there could have been other reasons. I continue to be amazed that more teachers don’t at least try the “learn by ear” method, although I have been preaching the gospel of learning by ear for over two decades. (I often feel like John the Baptist, a “voice crying in the wilderness.”) So, welcome to the Murphy Method family. Follow the DVDs, do what I tell you, and you’ll begin to see improvement right away.

Good luck!

And now, from an old student, Patty:

Hi Murphy,

I may have mentioned I'm working on Sally Goodin. Your version is really great. I've gotten compliments in jams and its so fun to play. I'm just amazed at how you figured all this out and mastered the art of teaching it. [Flattery will get your everywhere, Patty!]

This is a hard song to play in jams, unless of course, everyone is familiar with it! The timing is so critical... and hard to get! So, the pool of people who can play it is pretty small! And this is a song that really needs to be played with others!!

I've found that keeping the words in my head helps a lot. But I've also found that coming into a break from backup is really, really hard! I've recently begun to add two pickup notes (1st and 5th strings) before playing the 2nd string (lyric = "had"). It's working well when I play with a recording. Haven't tried it with real people yet!

So, I'm wondering if you've learned anything new since you made the video that may be helpful to me.

Hi Patty,

Glad you're working on Sally! Yes, coming into the break from backup IS hard, especially if you're not sure when the other person is going to throw it to you! And that never seems to be clear in a jam, so you have to be on the alert all the time!

The fill in notes are a good idea. You also might practice coming in off a tag lick, and leaving off the last pinch of the tag to give yourself time to set up for the second string. That would also give you time to put in the pickup notes that actually start the song (5, 2) and you could play it just like you do to start with.

But, as always, WHATEVER WORKS! The more you play it in a jam and try to come in, the more your hand will work something out! Also, in a pinch, you can start with the LOW break and work yourself up to the high break.

Good luck!


Hey, thanks Murphy. Great ideas here. I used the low break to come in, as it is so much easier! I hadn't thought about using the tag. I'll give that a shot to see how it feels. I love your "whatever works" attitude! It holds a greater weight coming from "The Teacher"! It frees up "The Student" to be creative and experiment with their own ideas. I'm sure your students appreciate that, as I certainly have:)