Thursday, August 30, 2007

Some Advice for Banjo Players

I've been corresponding with Stacey from Poplar Bluff for a little over a year. He is learning to play banjo all by himself, and hasn't found anyone to play music with or ask questions. He does quite a bit of researching on the internet, and he always comes up with some good questions. I decided that much of what he is asking is stuff that others ask as well, so I decided to blog my answer to his latest set of questions.

First of all, some background information. Stacey is not happy with how fast he is memorizing songs, but he is hesitant to go on to a new song before he has mastered a song. Here is what I answered:

The most important thing to remember about learning from notation or tab is that you really need to memorize it as you learn it. Don't put the notation in front of you and read it like music from top to bottom. Learn 8-16 notes, get them memorized fairly good, then add another 8-16 notes. Play all of that together, then add more. Do not fall into the trap of being perfect. It is impossible on banjo! Your rhythm is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than playing all the correct notes. (Correct notes ARE important, though.) Keep a consistant rhythm, go on when you miss notes, practice with the CDs so that you can keep going when you make a mistake. You need to be able to figure out where you should be if you get lost. That's why practicing with the CDs and DVDs is so important. They teach you to go on. The more perfectionistic you are, the harder this will be to do. You have the wrong goal in mind. Your goal needs to be to get to the end with good rhythm -- not to play everything perfectly. This is a common trap that banjo players fall into, so at least you're not alone.

Most people do work on more than one song at a time. Get one song down decently, then move on. The hardest or newest song will get most of your attention when you practice. The easier songs, and the ones that you already have down good, will get the least of your attention. When I say get a tune down "decently," I mean have it memorized even if you have to stop to do something or to remember something. When you can play it with good rhythm and can recover after a mistake, then you are doing really good.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tuesday's Jam Session

Our regularly-scheduled Tuesday night jam once again featured several new participants. We are very glad to have had newcomers Jim, Janice, Art, and Nancy! Janice and Nancy are fiddlers, and along with Chelsea and Wayne, we really had some good fiddling! Jim is just starting fiddle, but that didn't keep him from taking his turn and trying out his fiddle tunes with the group. We truly had "double" basses, as both Art and Denny were hitting the strings hard! I think one of the highlights of the evening was Orange Blossom Special, with all the remaining fiddle players taking the lead in turn. It was awesome! Janice sang a very touching song about learning the Bible while sitting on grandma's lap in the rocking chair. I had never heard this song before, but it was really great. Both John B. & John P. stayed for a while and did some singing and picking. Nancy played Dill Pickle Rag, which is a song I recently learned on fiddle. It was neat hearing someone else's take on this song. Mike sang my favorite song of his -- House of Gold -- and Janice and I sang harmony. Now that school has started again, our young players were not able to come. We sure missed them!

More Springfield Winner Pictures!

Just wanted to share pictures of Justin and Jenny Robbins playing at the Springfield Illinois State Fair this year. As I posted earlier, Justin won 1st place in Junior Banjo (3rd year in a row!). I did not know Jenny's placement at that time, but Jenny placed 2nd in the Junior Fiddle contest as well! Congratulations to both of you!

Estate Buyout of Violins & Bows

We had a very exciting day yesterday. Not only were we very busy in the store and shop, but we had the opportunity to purchase 48 violins and probably about that many bows as well. They were from the estate of a fiddle player who had passed away. Thanks to Smoky and Matt, we were able to purchase the entire lot. Some of the instruments are ready to go, some need a little repair and/or basic setup, and some need major work. As the next couple of months go by, we'll be getting them ready to play and sell, and we'll be posting them on The Bluegrass Shack website for sale. In case you want a peek, here goes!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Old Gibson Guitar Repair

I recently finished repairing an old Gibson guitar and thought I'd share a few pictures with you. This is a 1950's LG-1 model. It came to me in very poor condition. All of the top bracing had been removed and they weren't even with the guitar anymore. I don't know if they fell out and someone pitched them, or if they were purposely removed. The top, consequently, had caved in and was badly warped. There was also a small crack in the top next to the fingerboard. Most of the buttons were missing from tuning pegs, but the tuners were still very functional.

To make this instrument playable again, I first had to heat and straighten the top to remove the warping. Then I had to fit and glue in new bracing for the entire top of the guitar. I removed the one white tuning button, then replaced the remainder of the missing buttons with new ebony buttons. A good cleaning and some new strings took care of the rest of the work, and here is the final result:

Friday, August 17, 2007

Chris Talley Trio in Centralia Today!

The Chris Talley Trio will be playing at the Balloonfest in Centralia today. They will be playing from 4:30-7:30 p.m. under the tent, and then from 8:20-8:35 p.m. at the Main Stage. They are the opening act for Grand Ol' Opry performer Elizabeth Cook. If you're looking for some fun, come on out! There are lots of things to do in addition to listening to the music. You can get more information from their website:

Another Winner in Springfield!

I just found out that Colton, another Bluegrass Shack student, won 4th place in the Springfield Illinois State Fair fiddle contest. This is quite an accomplishment for an 8-year old, because he was competing against youth twice his age! Congratulations Colton!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Top Honors for Banjos at Springfield!

Bluegrass Shack student (and teacher) Justin Robbins has won his third consecutive First Place in the Annual Springfield, Illinois State Fair Junior Banjo contest. Second place also went to a Bluegrass Shack student -- 11 year old Austin Grote. Congratulations to Justin and Austin! I wish I could have been there! Here's a picture of Austin playing on stage in Springfield:

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bluegrass Shack Student Ashley Heyen in the News!

One of our very own students, Ashley Heyen, was in the newspaper recently. I just wanted to share the clips with everyone. If you click on the photos, they will enlarge. Ashley won 2nd place in the Macoupin County Fair this year. Way to go, Ashley!!!!

Pictures from Fiddle Contest

The Hall's sent me a few pictures that they took at the fiddle contest on Sunday, July 22nd. If you have pictures that you would like me to post, please send them my way. I was too busy to take any myself, but would love to look at yours!

New Session - Beginning Banjo Backup

Just wanted to let everyone know that we are starting a new session for beginner banjo players. It meets every other Monday at 6:30 for one hour (or a little longer). This is for rank beginners. You need to know how to make the chords G, C, D7 and A. That's it! Here are the things we will cover:

Nashville Number System
Basic right-hand backup pattern
Variations to right-hand backup pattern
Moveable chord forms
Basic music theory as it pertains to bluegrass, folk & country
Tags & turn arounds
Fake breaks
Basic fill-in licks
Your questions and LOTS of playing

This is an entry level class. We practice everything together. It is very low key. Everyone will be making mistakes and learning new things together.

The cost is $10.00. No registration needed, just come. We will be meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, August 20th, and then every other Monday after that. If you would like more information, send me an e-mail or give us a call at The Bluegrass Shack.