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The banjo reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

7185 reviews in the archive.

Murphy Method  Beginning Banjo 1 DVD/Video Reviews

Submitted by five-string fever (see all reviews from this person) on 1/28/2015

Where Purchased: online

Overall Comments

   This DVD/digital download (I own both) was my key to Scruggs style banjo. I prefer the digital downloads because they are easier to rewind or replay and as long as I have a computer and my password and login I will have access to them. I had played guitar, harmonica and bass for years before I took up banjo again. The first time I bought a banjo in 1981, unfortunately, I bought a 4 string plectrum not realizing that it was not going to work for Scruggs style. After I realized my mistake I stuck the banjo in a closet and eventually sold it. 25 years later I knew what kind of banjo to get and I picked up a cheap Korean banjo. I started going to a local Saturday night pick at a bookstore because I knew enough about chords and I had been finger-picking guitar enough that thought I could figure things out. Luckily I did learn alternating thumb roll and forward roll from a book which helped. I also took some group classes and bought some other banjo videos that had tab with them. The good news was that I could play something and improvise my own breaks and play along with most bluegrass type songs. The bad news is my breaks never sounded "Scruggs-y". When I tried tab my playing lost musical "flow" and speed it just never sounded right and I usually forgot whatever I had just played.

    Luckily for me I came across this instructional video a few years ago. A big point of Murphy Henry's "Method" that differs from most other teachers video or live "in-person" lessons is "No Tab" (written down tablature). She really doesn't want the student to be dependent on looking at a piece of paper to play music. She also doesn't want you writing down notes or creating your own tab to refer to later. She considers her style "by ear". I would more consider it "by example". She tells you what to do as well as showing you what to play with close-ups of her left "fretting" hand and right "picking" hand. Here's what's amazing to me, if I try to learn something from tab I usually don't remember it and it doesn't sound musical while I'm playing it. With the Murphy Method I feel like I remember it and it sounds "musical" right away even at slow speeds. She goes through tuning the banjo near the start of each song.  This was originally recorded before electronic tuners were affordable or common. You can skip over the tuning segment or actually check your tuning against hers which is actually good ear training. The video has 5 songs "Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, Cumberland Gap, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and John Hardy". It's 1 hour and 50 minutes long. She spends a short amount of time covering 3 rolls; Forward; Backward and Square (alternating) Roll and picking technique. She also briefly covers 3 chords G; D7 and C. Most of the focus for the rest of the video is on the melodic "breaks" on each song, which is really what I needed the most help with, and enough chord information to play along. The majority of time the lessons are focused on notes, licks and timing and executing them with both hands. All the songs are in the key of G. Even though at the time (and since) I have never been to a pick where somebody played "Banjo in the Hollow" or "Cumberland Gap" (a song I have come to love, especially after seeing Earl playing it on the old Martha White videos). I learned them all in order which I would advise everybody to do. They are chosen in this order so that the skills and licks you learn in earlier songs can be used later not only in this DVD but her other DVDs. On her website Murphy actually suggests learning the first two songs from this DVD and then some from "Banjo for Misfits" which is also a great beginner's DVD with these 5 songs on there "Boil Them Cabbage Down, I Saw the Light, Worried Man, Do Lord, and Two-Dollar Bill" and going back and forth. I learned the songs well enough to play them on my own and I would occasionally practice "Cripple Creek" or "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" on my own or play them at a pick. By the way lots of mandolin and fiddle folks will want to do "Cripple Creek" in the key of A, so if you go to open picks that is a good way to practice it. The Murphy Method breaks and kickoffs are real "Scruggs style" material and sound more accurate and "right"  than my own improvised breaks. After I felt like I had learned the songs, since I  could play through them on my own from memory, I did not keep reviewing the material. I went to a few banjo camps and I kept going to picks. I learned a lot more songs but I felt like when I tried to play fast my playing got sloppy and I felt like my progress was slow. 

     How to play banjo faster and cleaner may be common knowledge or obvious to some of you so please forgive me if that is the case. This is what helped me improve. About a year ago I was frustrated with my progress, so I started reviewing the Murphy Method songs I had learned years before, which was all of BB I, "Old Joe Clark" and "Salt Creek" off of BB II. As I was reviewing them and cleaning up my mistakes I realized that I had never played these songs at her fastest speed. The idea came to me that to get faster I should pick out a few songs and just repeat them at the fastest speed which I could pick them clean. Over a period of time I could ramp up the speed on those core songs. Even if I was still learning new songs I had to practice those core songs on a regular basis. I also figured that they may as well be the songs on BB I since they had licks that were building blocks and re-used throughout Scruggs style banjo. I should also compare myself, as in play simultaneously, to a really good example of those songs such as are on the Murphy Henry videos or an audio version of those songs such as a backing track or the original song (double check your tuning ((not always A 440)) and Key) or with a metronome. At first I played the songs slowly note for note along with the DVD at the slowest speed, usually the second example she plays, to make sure they were right. If I made mistakes there I reviewed her instructions. I would play them several times at that slow speed or second slowest speed, usually "slow with guitar" to lock the song in and warm up. Then I increased the speed to play those songs faster by practicing the same songs unaccompanied or with a metronome or a backing track or with the faster speeds on the DVD (remember there are several speeds). I will say that Murphy usually has a big jump in speed between slow and fast, so I spent a lot of time reinforcing my playing at the in between speeds on metronome or more recently "GrassTrax" backing tracks. I also own some of Murphy and Casey's "Slow Jam" and  "Fast Jam" play along videos, which are good to play with as well. If there was a lick or place that caused me to stumble on a repeated basis I made a loop and repeated that. Finally I played with her fastest speed usually after being substantially warmed up and dialed in to that song. Even if I could not keep up with her fastest version all the way through, it was usually clear which parts I was playing slower or poorly that I should work on. The best way I found to make progress on those was not to play the whole song through, but to start playing a little before where the hard part started until a few notes or a measure after the hard part. Now I try to go back and review songs at least once a month from this DVD or BB II or Jam Session Standards. I can play her fastest speed on everything on this DVD except for "John Hardy" (I stumble on the D part) on this DVD with less warm-up time. I can play "Salt Creek" along with her at her fastest speed but not "OJC" yet but I am making progress. I think going to picks and making live music is critical to my musicianship but Murphy has given me an ideal to shoot for and a way to get there if I stay focused and dig in. I will also say that I feel like her instruction helped me get to a point where now I can use tab and it is easier to play and remember without becoming tab dependent. I have also read comments that people thought you if you didn't play along with her DVD you would get lost or have a hard time playing the songs on your own or with other people which has not been my experience at all. I will finally add that since I played guitar so much before I got to banjo, as well as since then, I needed less help and direction on the backup and chordal aspects of banjo playing. If you are entirely new to music I think it is very important to spend time listening to this music especially Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs, etc... and learning your chord shapes, usually open position first then closed position, then playing along by vamping or rolling through chords to get a feel for this music and get t into your head. There are lots of books, DVDs and free online You Tube videos as well as Murphy's Fast and Slow jam DVD's.

 

Overall Rating: 10

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