Tag Archives: workshops

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey about banjo workshops that was included with this month’s newsletter. I thought you might be interested in what the results looked like.

111 people responded.

88% would be interested in attending a Murphy Method banjo workshop.

Here’s how the playing levels broke down:

Beginner: 27%
Beginner/Intermediate: 38%
Intermediate: 24%
Intermediate/Advanced: 9%
Advanced: one very confident person.

Mostly y’all just seem to be interested in banjo, but 27% might attend a workshop for guitar, with mandolin, fiddle, and bass coming in behind at around 13% each.

But the best part was that fully fifty people gave us comments in the comments box. It is clear that we will not be able to satisfy everyone (not that we ever thought we could…) since we had an equal number of requests for a weekend workshop and a week-long workshop. Also numerous were requests for workshops in other areas of the country. That may be a long time coming, but a workshop in Winchester is in the planning stages, likely for early next year sometime, once the danger of snow has passed. Details will be forthcoming as soon as I get off my butt and plan the thing, but I can tell you at this point it will likely be a weekend (three day) camp with a small number of students, and it will definitely focus a LOT on jamming and playing with other people. As soon as we know more you will all be the first to know!

If you missed the survey in the newsletter but would like to add your opinion, just fill it out right here.

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Here is comment that I hear a lot:

“I kind of thought a banjo clinic would incorporate a lot of playing the banjo.”

Well, yes, in my perfect world all banjo clinics would involve lots of playing the banjo! But we don’t live there...at least not yet! So I do my little part (and I am sure Bill Monroe is watching...see below for explanation) by making all my classes "hands on.” My first words are usually, “Get out your banjos.” And my second words are, “Now, the first thing we have to do is tune the banjo...” (!)

But most teachers don’t teach that way, so, when you go to a banjo clinic or a banjo camp, you’ve got to realistically look at what you can expect. And nine times out of ten (by my scientific survey!) you are going to be in a class where an instructor talks to you about banjo playing and hands out tab. Now, you can either rant and rail about this and be all mad about what you’re not getting, or you can listen to what you are getting and try to learn something. No way are you going to be able to absorb everything that is thrown at you, so you might try to latch onto one or two particular ideas that seem important to you. Or just sit back and let it all wash over you and then later on you can figure out what stuck.

Admittedly, it’s especially hard if the teacher is talking way above your level of understanding. (And that’s one thing that still makes me really mad, and I don’t have any helpful suggestions about that.) But just by sitting there you are still immersing yourself in all things banjo and that’s gotta be good. You can also be pro-active in a talking class and ask some of those questions that are burning a hole in your pocket (to mix metaphors).

In defense of all the “talking” teachers, I will say it took me a LONG time to figure out how to teach a whole roomful of students who all play at different levels. But I love teaching and love figuring out stuff like that. Besides, when I am teaching a song note-by-note to ten or twenty people, I am in Complete Control and the Center of Attention and that, of course, is my Happy Place!

Besides if everyone taught “hands on” in the course of a day, your brain would explode. There is no way you could absorb that much information. Usually the one or two songs I teach in a week-long camp are plenty for most students to handle. So grab what you can in the classes and try really hard to involve yourself in the jamming. Even if you’re just vamping. That’s where the real learning happens!

Explanation: Obscure reference to a line in Bill Monroe's "Little Georgia Rose": "I watched her do her little part."

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Greetings once again from the Peach State, home of Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach! I’m down here doing my weekend with the folks and have just finished fixing supper and then cleaning up the kitchen (massively dirty since this afternoon I baked and iced a birthday pound cake for my youngest sister Laurie, who on Wednesday will join the rest of the sisters in having achieved the ripe old age of fifty!). I’d love to spend the rest of the blog telling you about my cake baking experience which included borrowing real vanilla extract from our neighbor and meeting her in the yard, still in my pajamas at 2:30 pm! But my guess is most of you will be way more interested in hearing about the banjo workshop!

The Saturday morning workshop was sponsored by the wonderful folks at banjo.com, John and Mark, and I had agreed to it primarily because I could combine it with my monthly trip home. Seventeen folks had signed up for the four-hour teaching session, which was held in a church sanctuary just a few doors down from banjo.com. (Have I said “banjo.com” enough times yet?)

The tricky thing about doing a workshop is trying to find something to teach that will satisfy all comers. When I realized that we had a number of beginners in the class, I decided to go with the tried and true high break to the ubiquitous I-IV-V-I chord progression which fits numbers such as “The Prisoner’s Song,” “Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes,” and, of course, “Blue Ridge Cabin Home.” The nice thing about the break is that it can be done with basically one roll, the Foggy Mountain Breakdown Roll (2121,5215), and an up-the-neck tag lick, which is the hard part. (And is found on our Easy Songs for Banjo DVD!)

Everyone did really well playing the roll in the G, C, and D chords. But when we moved on to the choke lick, as a substitute for the D lick, people started dropping like flies. Okay, perhaps I’ve overstated that. But it was interesting (and frustrating) to see that even though the roll stayed the same, having to choke that second string (10th fret) made the roll sound SO different that it confused the fingers.

In order to give the students a rest from choking (that does sound weird…) I showed them that the choke lick could be used against a G chord, a C chord, or a D chord. (And large thanks to Mark for playing the guitar throughout the workshop!) This was fascinating to them, and precipitated several questions that I could not answer about why this was so. I told them to take it up with Bill Keith! The only answer I could give was that, yes, the choked note was an “A”. Why does that work in G? I don’t know. Why does that work in C? I don’t know. Why does that work in D? I don’t know. I just know it sounds good. Not one of my more shining moments!

The up-the-neck tag lick gave us trouble, as I knew it would, but we powered on through with many, many repetitions which is how we learned the whole song. For the most part, we played well together especially with Mark bearing down loudly on the guitar when folks got out of time. I reminded them that this was not a race, and that you didn’t get points for finishing ahead of everybody else. I also posed this question: “If I am doing the C lick, and you are doing the choke lick, guess who is wrong?”

After we had the whole break down, we looked at the chords, starting with the simplest (for the beginners) open G, first-position C, and first-position D-7. I was pleasantly surprised that everyone vamped on the off beat from the get-go. Again, having the guitar really helped because all I had to say was, “You vamp when the guitar does the strum.” And Mark was good to provide runs between the chords.

Now that we had the break and the chords, we put the whole song together with the singing. I kicked it off with Earl’s classic intro and half the class took the first break, then the other half took the second break. It sounded wonderful!

So, not only had we learned the break and the vamping, but I also hoped that everyone had seen how easy it is to learn by ear. And, almost paradoxically, how many, many repetitions you have to execute in order to commit a lick to muscle memory. But, unlike tab, even when you are playing only four notes, or eight notes, what you are doing is always musical. So, to me, it’s always fun! Especially when seventeen banjos are playing the FMB roll in perfect time!

I hope to do more workshops for banjo.com in the coming months, since this one worked out so well. We’ll let you know by email, by blog, and on their website—did I mention that was banjo.com?—and ours!

Casey HenryYesterday I got back from an extended weekend trip up to Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland, primarily to teach a workshop at the Wilmington Winter Bluegrass Festival. It was a three-hour-long session on Saturday. Since anybody at the festival could come, we had a wide range of abilities---from beginner to advanced intermediate. That's always a hard split to negotiate. Almost by default you have to teach to the middle, so the material is going to be too fast for the beginners (something I always feel terribly about), but the more advanced players may already know it (something I also feel bad for).

But I think (I hope!) most of the attendees went home with something that they can use, something that stuck in their brains. I mostly used material that is found on our new Easy Songs for Banjo DVD, showing the students the high break to "Blue Ridge Cabin Home," and a back-up roll to go with the same song. Then we took that break and moved it to the key of C (without a capo). Then, in the last hour, we worked with "Amazing Grace." I showed them the two breaks on the DVD and then, in an inspired moment, I realized that you can take those breaks and move them around to almost any key, since they are based on the four-finger vamp chords and use no open strings. So we moved the break to A, B, and F, and people mostly got it.

I got some positive feedback about the workshop afterwards, but one beginner did come and tell me he was lost after the fist five minutes. Hopefully he'll get the DVD and be able to go through the material more slowly.

This is just the first workshop of the season, and it got me excited for the next one, which is Banjo Camp North, with Kaufman Kamp to follow. They'll be here before you know it!

Casey HenryI wanted to draw your attention to the fact that I updated the Workshop page on our website, so all the camps that I'm going to be at this year are listed now. The one coming up soonest is in March, in Delaware.

I also wanted to share this amusing thing that happened in a lesson today. My student was just playing her warm up song, "Banjo In the Hollow," naturally, when we noticed that her fifth string was buzzing. I attributed this to the weather, which has turned quite cold in the last couple of days. Turned out the string was buzzing on the ninth fret spike. I suggested that she just put the string under the spike for the time being and re-tune the string. But she wanted to fix it, so when simply pushing the spike down didn't work she looked in her purse to find something to use. She came up with her mascara. So she used her mascara to hammer the spike down enough that it wouldn't buzz. I love the idea of using mascara as a tool to work on your banjo!

One last note: I leave tomorrow to fly to Tampa to work as a volunteer coordinator on the Super Bowl halftime show. The guy who hired me for the job last year (this is my second Super Bowl), Cap Spence, is a banjo player and Murphy Method student. I'll be sending some updates of what is happening down there in the two weeks leading up to the big game, so stay tuned!