Peg had her best week of practice ever. She didn’t set a schedule, which she knew she wouldn’t follow, but instead picked up her banjo every day and played as long as she felt like it. She only managed 15 or 20 minutes the first couple of days because she quickly got bored playing the only part of Banjo In The Hollow that she knew. But she’d promised Jill that she’d stick with that. Then she thought about the DVD. “It might be more fun to play along with Jill. At least it’d be different.”
When she first tried it, however, she realized immediately that her playing didn’t sound like Jill’s and that puzzled her. She knew she had all the notes right. Still, Jill’s playing sounded like music and hers sounded like old piano exercises. Something wasn’t right. “I gotta figure this out,” she said to herself. She set her DVD player to loop the song then sat on the couch and with her eyes closed began playing along with Jill. Soon the rest of the world fell away and it was just her and the banjo. And the ever-present Jill.
Before long her fingers were automatically finding the notes, giving her mind the freedom to wander. She remembered the time she learned to buck dance at 4-H camp. She saw the large outdoor pavilion where a group of sweaty 14-year-olds shuffling awkwardly in a big circle to music coming from a portable record player. Some of the girls were buck dancing—clogging. Jill wanted to buck dance, too. She’d asked her friend Athena to teach her and Athena had demonstrated, explaining, “It’s just toe, foot, toe, heel.” Peg had dutifully followed those instructions which did not lead to buck dancing, but only made her mad at Athena for not explaining it better. Then, that night, while circling left with buck-dancing Athena, her feet caught the cadence and she realized with a start that she was buck dancing too! Yee haw! It was exhilarating! She even remembered the song: Alabama Jubilee. “You oughta see Deacon Jones when he rattles them bones…”
Then, like a bubble, her reverie popped and she was surprised to find herself sitting on the couch playing the banjo. How long had she been daydreaming, she wondered. She tuned in to what she was playing and realized with amazement that she and Jill were in perfect synch. She could hear it now, could feel it, that particular rhythm. Jill had told her to “keep the notes even” but that wasn’t exactly right. There was a nuance to the sound and that’s where the music came from. Finally she had to quit. Her fingers were killing her. She paused the DVD, catching Jill with her mouth wide open, which she thought was hysterical.
She wondered if she could recreate the sound without Jill. She was scared to try but she was more scared not to. She stretched her fingers and started playing again. Lo and behold, the sound was still there. “I’m doing it!” thought Peg. She felt like she was going to burst with excitement. She wanted to run through the streets like Archimedes shouting “Eureka, eureka! I have found it!” But not naked.
When she got up the next morning she grabbed her banjo and played Banjo In The Hollow. Hallelujah! Joy! Rapture! She could still play it and it sounded like music. She wanted her lesson to be today so she could show Jill. Alas, she had two more days to wait.
Jill amused herself during those two long days by watching YouTube videos of other people playing Banjo In The Hollow. Later, she wished she hadn’t because it made her own progress look paltry. There was one guy, Doug Dillard, who played the song so fast that Jill couldn’t believe it was the same song. “I will not feel bad about my playing,” became her mantra. “I’ve just started and I’m going to enjoy this damn journey if it kills me.”
When her lesson rolled around Peg was so excited it felt like Christmas. Sitting in her chair and waiting for Jill, she hoped she could play the song well. She was already nervous. She took off her picks and wiped her hands on her pants.
Jill walked in and, nudging aside capos, picks, and tuners with her cup, put her coffee down on the small table beside her chair. As she sat down and picked up her banjo she said, “How’d it go this week?”
“I think it went okay,” said Peg, tamping down her excitement. “I didn’t do anything but play what you showed me. And I can even put down my whole C chord without stopping.”
“Okay, let’s hear it,” said Jill.
Peg played the part of the Banjo In The Hollow that she now knew forwards and backwards, sailing right past the troublesome C chord.
Jill didn’t say a word about the C chord. What she did say was, “Wow! You’ve got the bounce! Not many beginners get that. That’s really good.”
“Bounce,” thought Peg, “that’s what they call it.” She wanted to tell Jill all about her practice and how she found the “bounce” but Jill was moving on.
“Okay now that you’ve got that, let’s look at that last lick. Once you learn that, you’ll know whole song. The B part is just these same licks, only rearranged.”
Jill played the lick slowly several times and then said, “Alright, let’s see about this thing called a pull-off.”
She showed Peg where to put the index finger of her left hand and how she was supposed to make the sound by “pulling off.”
“Pick it with your thumb,” she said.
Peg did exactly what Jill told her to do and got nothing. Nada. No sound at all. She felt frustrated that she couldn’t duplicate Jill’s sound. It looked so easy!
“Don’t just lift your finger off the string. You’ve got to pull it off the string, down toward the floor. Earl Scruggs called it picking with the left hand.”
Peg tried again and there was a sound! Victory!
“Good,” said Jill. “Do it again.”
“I think you’ve got it,” Jill said. “Now let’s add the rest of the roll.”
She walked Peg through the notes one at a time and then said, “Now you try it.”
Peg tried it and the sound pleased her. She was anxious to find out how this “lick” fit into the song. Could she really play the whole song now, like Jill had said? How was that possible?
“Alright, Peg, now watch me play this. This is the whole A part. I’m going to play it slow.”
Peg could hardly stand to watch, because she wanted so badly to play it herself.
“Now you try it,” Jill said.
Peg did try it, remembering to play slow, and she managed to get all the parts in. She had to play the new lick slower, of course, but having heard that sound so many times on the DVD made it easier for her to get the timing right.
“That’s great,” said Jill. “That’s the A part. Now play it again.”
So Peg did.
“Now the B part uses the same licks as the A part only slightly rearranged. Watch me play it. This time you start in the C chord.”
Peg watched Jill play and was sure she could do it herself.
“Alright, I’m going to play a lick from the B part and you play it right after me, okay?”
“Okay,” said Peg.
Jill played the first two rolls and Peg echoed her.
“Good,” said Jill, “now the next one’s trickier.”
She played the next phrase. Peg could hear it wasn’t the same as the first phrase.
“Can you play it again?”
“Sure,” said Jill, playing it again. She was looking at Peg and grinning as if she was daring Peg to figure it out.
“One more time,” said Peg, who was watching Jill’s hands like a hawk and listening closely.
After hearing it again, Peg said, “I think I’ve got it. It’s a first string and then a pinch, isn’t it?”
“Yes!” said Jill. “Way to go. Now play it!”
Peg played the phrase and felt proud of herself.
“Now the third phrase is exactly the same as the first,” said Jill, sitting back and watching now.
Peg played that correctly and earned a smile from Jill.
“Then the ending lick that you just learned.”
Peg’s pull-off wasn’t clean, which pissed her off, but the lick was in time.
“Good,” said Jill. “That’s the whole B part. Want to try it yourself? Or want to hear it again?”
“I’d like to try it,” said Peg, feeling like she was on Wheel Of Fortune, telling Pat she wanted to solve the puzzle. Wheel of Fortune was one of her guilty pleasures.
“Go for it,” said Jill.
Peg played the whole B part through slowly and nailed it, except for the pull-off which was going to take some work.
“Great!” said Jill. “I wish we had time to put it with the guitar. We’ll do that next week.” She put her banjo in the case which Peg knew signaled that the lesson was over.
“So keep playing Banjo In The Hollow. The whole song, both parts twice, over and over. Don’t stop when you’ve played it once, just go right back into it. Play it 3 or 4 times, without stopping. And keep it slow. You did good today. You really picked up on that B part fast. You’ve got a good ear. Next time we’ll start on Boil Them Cabbage Down. It’s the next song on the DVD. You can go ahead and listen to it, but don’t start on it.”
Peg had so many questions she wanted to ask but Jill’s next student was already walking into the room. “Hi Fred,” Jill was saying, “we’re just finishing up.”
Peg packed up quickly and hurried out of the teaching room, but then set her banjo down in the hall. She needed to pee. When she returned she could hear Fred playing Banjo In The Hollow very slowly. Peg thought she detected some mistakes. “Wow,” she thought. “I can hear missing banjo notes!” Peg wondered how long Fred been taking. She wondered how many hundreds of times Jill had listened to students play Banjo in the Hollow. How did she stand it? What had kept her teaching banjo all these years? She made a mental note to ask her at the next lesson.
Right now Peg was anxious to get home and play Banjo In The Hollow herself. She was going to rip through it as fast as she could. (She would never tell Jill, of course.) She wondered if she’d ever be able to keep up with the fast version on the DVD. Maybe by next year? She hoped so. She floated down the front steps, walking on air. This was so much fun! She just wished she had someone to share the experience with.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @12:29:19 PM
Is this an advert???
Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @1:26:31 PM
Ok on second look it is. It's in no way related to a blog and is the sort of thing that is a complete put off. (Well, to me anyway).
Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @1:36:43 PM
Edit... I've moved my blog to banjo lessons.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 @5:00:13 AM
This continuing story makes me wish I lived in Winchester, when I started, so I could take lessons.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 @1:59:01 PM
Advert or not, I enjoyed the story. I remember that same moment when I discovered how to make the "bounce." It was just like that, except I didn't have a teacher to show it off to.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 @8:07:34 PM
Well, I tried to teach myself using Janet Davis' book "You Can Teach Yourself Bluegrass Banjo" and when I saw that Murphy taught almost the same songs--and not having a banjo instructor in Chico, CA--I tried the Murphy Method. I learn songs best when I learn them by seeing someone play it and hearing it at the same time. This is really not an advert, it is just Murphy telling her story, as she did in her book, Pretty Good for a Girl, Women in Bluegrass. I, too, wish I lived in Winchester and could attend your tip-jar jams. I have so enjoyed your blogs and your CDs. Your daughter, Casey, has been invaluable, too. When the mandolin player in my fiddle group wanted to play Lonesome Fiddle Blues, and then Bela Fleck's ,Big Country (really?), Casey's lesson on those songs bailed me out and let me keep up with the group. So, thanks, Murphy. The first tune I learned from you: Banjo in the Hollow--it was a good memory. Playing Salt Creek at lightning speed today with my fiddle tunes group...easy...heck, it was the 7th song I learned. A shout out to Tom Adams and Tony Trischka for their guidance, as well as Dan Borschelt for all the tab he has shared on BanjoHangout.org.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 @8:11:18 PM
I forgot to thank Nick Hornbuckle, who has also been so generous with advice (and if he sees, this, Thanks!)
Thursday, October 5, 2017 @9:55:40 AM
I love the mention of "making it sound like music." I think that's such an overlooked concept among both teachers and jam leaders. What's the difference between getting the notes in the right order and with the right timing and making music? A big one, and one that's rarely discussed. Yay, Murphy! Thanks for focusing on that one.
Sunday, October 8, 2017 @5:08:12 PM
I bought the book "Pretty Good for a Girl Women in Bluegrass" by Murphy Henry Publication, and it is well worth the read. I am quite astonished at times, when I enter in a current prominent female banjo player in to the "Add Videos" and I find that they have not been previously been submitted. The only time that hasn't happened with with singer and banjo player "Mean Mary," and that was this morning. Each other time the videos, of women banjo player that members tell me that they also love haven't been in the jukebox. So what she writes about is still happening today!
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