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Lesson with Keith Baumann

Posted by Mr. Disco on Thursday, March 1, 2007

I was lucky to find Keith Baumann for a lesson less than 10 minutes from my office. He's toured with the Special Consensus Bluegrass Band and gives lessons in Elmhurst. He's a terrific banjo player and plays mandolin, guitar, dobro, national steel, and pedal steel.

The lesson was an eye-opener for me.  Timingwise, I think I'm glad I waited until now, but truly, now it's back to the drawing board.

I had done a pretty good job of working cleanly through Janet Davis. I got a couple pages left on it. By the way, on the disc she has with the book, her "Two Little Boys" recording just sounds great. She smokes the strings on it. I've just started working on it. I can play steady and my right hand and left hand are pretty well coordinated, but …

– What I learned from Keith Baumann:

· I'm really lacking in the rolling speed and bluegrass feel department. I have to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes every day on just playing rolls, and primarily on the 1, 3, and 5 strings to get that "bluegrass sound."  With all my work in books I've been so careful about only notching up the metronome when I'm clean where I'm at. – Problem is, I've often walked away from a 30- or 60-minute practice session without ever having really worked my right-hand into a speed and a sound. -- Like Dick Brown says you gotta warm up with rolls. Now I understand.

· My X-position needs to be much closer to the bridge than it had been. The difference in sound is night and day once my ring-finger is about even with the bridge. Plus, since the strings are tighter against the bridge there, there's more staccato attack and firmness in picking. Doing that really brought the sound from my Iida alive.

· Mr. Baumann told me to buy a new Scorpion or Snuffy Smith and get a geared 5th-string tuner. I'd've done that a while ago but was afraid the banjo needed a lot more than that: new neck, new head, tail piece. He thinks not. My set-up was pretty good on my banjo and I’m happy to hear him say that because my banjo set-up was a mess when I bought it and I did the set-up all myself -- slow and steady trial and error style. – Sounds great when he plays on it. I've not been able to find a wrench to mess with the head, but he thought the head tightness sounded good. Other than that, I've changed the action, loosened the tailpiece and moved the bridge, all goofy cock-eyed to get strings 1 through 4 in tune up and down the neck (5 goes flat up the neck, but he says that's the way it always is if 1 to 4 are good). Hey, it helps me a lot just knowing that my banjo is really in good shape.

So, my immediate plans are to get that new bridge and 5th-string tuner, work daily on my rolls, and concentrate on my sound a great deal more especially when my left hand is between frets one and five. I think I’ll also buy Janet’s back-up book, maybe the Pat Cloud book, and a song book from someone else – Trischka, Munde, Wernick. I think I need to start working out by ear something like “Bear Down Chicago Bears” or “Take me out to the Ball Game” to get my head in gear. When I’m digging my sound and my right hand has made some real progress I’ll definitely look Keith Baumann up again -- also Greg Cahill, Jones Family Music, and Brian Munday.

I don't recall the exact cost of the lesson but it was about $40 for an hour lesson.  Mr. Baumann plays the banjo very well, and turned me onto some real improvements with my right-hand position and getting a good sound with my rollls.  He did not actually assign a lesson.


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