Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jan. 7, 2011 - Fiddle & Banjo Contest Rules

Yes, it's that time once again. The 29th Annual MABC Fiddle and Banjo contest will be held on Friday, January 7, 2011, at 7:00 p.m. Please note that you must be registered by 6:55 p.m. Friday to be eligible to enter the contest. I am posting the rules to the contest on-line so that contestants can read them ahead of time and plan accordingly.  A copy of the flyer is posted at the bottom after the rules.  Click on the picture to make it large enough to read.

Backup musicians are not required, but we will have backup musicians available for anyone who needs them. Entrance into the performance area requires the $10.00 Friday pass/contest entry fee.

There will be Open & Junior (16 & Under) Divisions for Fiddle, and Open & Junior (16 & under) Divisions for Banjo. Junior divisions will play first, and the awards for this division will be given immediately following the final tally of the judges' scores. Open divisions will start immediately following the awards ceremony for the Junior divisions. Trophies will be awarded for the top 5 places in each division, along with money for the top 3 places. All junior contestants receive a medal regardless of placement.

Judging will be blind panel. This means the judges will not see the contestants perform.

1. All contestants should register by 6:55 p.m.

2. Contestants must show their Friday night ticket to be eligible for contest registration.

3. Fiddle contestants must play a waltz, a hoedown and a tune of choice. Please limit your songs to no more than 3 minutes per song. If there are 30 or more contestants total from all divisions, fiddle players will need not play the tune of choice.
a. No trick fiddling allowed (i.e., no Listen to the Mockingbird, Orange, Blossom Special, etc.)
b. Hokum bowing is acceptable
c. No cross tuning allowed
d. No medleys allowed
e. If you are unsure of suitability of your song, please ask BEFORE contest to get judges’ approval

4. Banjo contestants must play two tunes of choice. Please limit your songs to no more than 3 minutes per song.
a. No D-tuner songs allowed
b. No medleys allowed
c. If you are unsure of suitability of your song, please ask BEFORE contest to get judges’ approval

5. Up to two backup musicians allowed.
a. Backup musicians must not play the same instrument as contestant
b. Backup musicians must play accompaniment and not melody or close harmony
c. No amplified or electric instruments allowed

6. Contestants and their backup should not speak into the mic while on stage.
a. If you need to communicate while on stage, please do so away from the mic and in a quiet voice.

7. Contestants will be called by number only.
a. When your contest division is starting, please be ready and waiting for your number to be called.
b. If you are not “on deck” when your number is called to perform, your number will be skipped and you will not be allowed to compete.

8. Contestants 16 years & under must enter the Junior division.

9. Please see score sheet for a complete listing of contest evaluation criteria.
a. Audience response is not figured into scoring

10. Order of appearance will be determined by random number drawing.

11. Decisions of the judges are final.

Here is a copy of the flyer.  Click on the picture to make it large enough to read.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Your Musical New Year

So what is your musical goal this year?  With the beginning of the year coming around, everyone is thinking of their New Year's Resolution.  This year, why not be specific?  Here are some ideas for improving your playing this year.

1.  Play with others at least once a week.  Now here's a goal that will really help you improve your jamming skills!  If you can't meet at your own house, then suggest another place that will work for everyone.  Maybe it's a good idea to take turns playing at each other's houses.  What about a local business?  Someone's basement or garage?  During the months that the temperature will allow, you can simply meet outdoors!

If you can't do once a week, then choose another schedule that will work for you.  Even if it's just for an hour, you will be well on your way to improving your rhythm, backup, and confidence!

2.  Improve your backup skills.  Start listening to recordings of others that play the same instrument you do.  Start learning a few different fill-in licks.  If your ear isn't good enough to do that yet, then look through some books, or ask another musician for a lick.  If you have a cell phone that has video or audio recording capabilities, you can even record the person playing the lick for you so that they only have to play it once for you and you'll have it to look at as many times as you'd like!

3.  Learn how to make up your own breaks to songs.  If you have never learned how to play a song without a tab, try learning to write your own tabs this year.  If you can already play without tabs, then try coming up with some new variations to songs that you already know.

4.  Learn how to sing one new song a month.  In a year's time, you'll have a dozen new songs to sing!  If you already know a lot of songs but don't have them memorized, then make your goal to actually memorize a song each month.  Be sure to play your new songs at the next jam session!

5.  Learn how to sing harmony.  Not sure where to start on this one?  Try listening to some older Country Gentlemen or Seldom Scene recordings.  John Duffy did some great tenor harmony that is fairly easy to pick out because it's loud in the overall mix.  If you can't hear harmony naturally, and most people can't if they've never done it before, start trying to listen for it each time you listen to a recording.  If the person next to you in a jam session is singing harmony, try singing it softly along with them.  If it's offered in your area, take a class on it!

6.  Improve a specific technique in your playing.  For fiddle players, this could be improving the looseness in your wrist on your bow arm, learning double stops or vibrato, or even learning to play harmony!  For banjo players, it could be working with a metronome to increase your speed, improving your pull-offs and hammer-ons, or making your playing smoother overall.  Bass players?  Maybe you need to learn some bass runs this year, or even a new technique like slapping.  Guitar and mandolin players - do you know how to cross-pick?  What about moveable chords (barre chords), flatpicking, runs or some new chords?  Maybe you're a rank beginner and you just need to improve the speed of your chord changes.

7.  Maybe one of the things you need to learn this year involves maintenance on your instrument.  Do you already know how to change your strings?  Clean the fingerboard and frets?  When is the last time you cleaned your instrument? 

These are just a few ideas for you.  I'm sure you can think of many more goal-worthy things to add to this list.  Don't overwhelm yourself.  Make your goal(s) manageable and then start working on them!

Here's wishing you a very successful and FUN 2011!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Caps!

We have some new Bluegrass Shack caps for sale that just came in!  A new cap would make a great last minute Christmas gift or something nice for yourself!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Where's it Going?

It's been quite busy around here this past month.  We've had orders from all over the US and more!  Take a look at where we've shipped to in the past month: Twenty-five states and APO to one foreign country!  Texas is our big winner for the most shipped to one state.  We'd like to thank everyone for trusting us with your business!

APO - Afghanistan
Florida x 3
Georgia x 3
Illinois x 4
Kentucky x 2
Missouri x 3
New Jersey
New York x 2
North Carolina x 2
Oklahoma x 2
Pennsylvania x 3
Tennessee x 4
Texas x 6
Virginia x 3
Washington x 2
West Virginia x 2

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Focal Dystonia Part 2

If you haven't read my first blog entry about this, you might want to take a look at it now before you go any further:

What have I done since my last blog about this?
1)  I've continued reading about it.
2)  I've continued correspondence with another person who has a similar problem.
3)  I've been trying out different things to see if any of them work for me.
4)  I've been praying for a healing (as have many of my friends).

Now it's time for the update.  It seems I have found something that is working out for me.  I suppose only time will tell, but for now I am playing better than I have for several years.

First of all, the biggest impedence to my playing has been my index finger, which locks up and refuses to move, or only moves a tiny bit.  My middle finger shoots out across the banjo head, but for whatever reason, I am able to get it back in time to pick the next note regardless of how fast I am playing, so that doesn't really affect my playing.

What have I tried up to this point?  I tried playing the piano some thinking that it might rewire my brain and fingers since it is a little bit different from banjo, but still uses all my fingers.  I also tried changing my hand position, but until now, was unable to find a position that really worked any better.  I tried anchoring my pinky on the bridge instead of on the banjo head, and then I tried anchoring just one finger instead of two.  I even switched between the pinky and ring finger anchor to see if one was better than the other.  I tried putting more bend into my wrist in hopes that it would make my fingers come in at a different angle.  I tried making my hand farther away from the strings so that my index finger would have to reach out more, but then I just didn't hit any strings at all!

Now, all of a sudden, I am having success with a combination of changes.  Since it is a lockup that is happening to my index finger, I have been thinking very hard about keeping my hand relaxed when I play.  That only works to a certain extent since this is a nerve issue and is out of my control.  (But it does help a little.)  Next, I started anchoring only my ring finger, and sometimes (gasp!!!!) I don't anchor at all.  It was hard for me to decide to try this because it violates the #1 rule of banjo playing, which is you always have to anchor at least one finger.  (And I believe everyone should unless there is a good reason not to.)

Next, when I feel my index finger start to cramp up, I not only stop anchoring, but I also use my arm to help my index finger play the string.  Even to me, it seems like an impossible thing to think about fast enough, but I can do it.  I can also anticipate the problem to a certain extent because forward rolls are the hardest for me to perform, especially if there is more than one in a row.  Pinches on the 1st and 2nd string before or after forward rolls have been very hard, but now I can just dis-anchor and am able to perform them well and quickly.

In a nutshell, these are the changes I made:
1)  Very purposeful thought about right hand looseness.
2)  Anchor only the ring finger, and anchor it loosely or sometimes not at all.
3)  Move my hand and arm as necessary.

Right now, I get a cramp in my hand when I first start playing, but that goes away pretty quickly if I keep playing.  My playing is now faster and better than it has been in years.  I don't know if this is something that my nerve will re-adapt to and cause me problems again, or if this will be a long-term solution.  I'll have to get back to you on that one!

For now, all I know is that God has answered my prayers and I am able to play!  If this helps just one person, it will be worth it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 2010 Bluegrass Shack Christmas Tree!

Oh what fun it is to ride in a ***wait a minute*** I mean, oh what fun it is to decorate the Christmas tree!  Especially when you have help!

Santa has some new reindeer this year!
Okay now -- who broke the garland????

Have I Got a Proposal for You!!!!

Okay.  It finally happened.  It was only a matter of time.

Congratulations to Chelsea and Zak!    Chelsea is a teacher here at The Bluegrass Shack and tonight was the big night.  Zak came for his guitar lesson while Chelsea was busy teaching her own students.  When she was done, Zak popped the question right here in The Bluegrass Shack...and Chelsea said yes!  We are so happy for the two of them!

I didn't have much notice, but we did get the camera going in time.  It's hard to look inconspicuous when you are standing there looking at the two of them with the camera "for no reason at all"!  Here are the pictures we took.

*I think she's happy!*

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why Hide?

So what's the big deal about hide glue?  Why is it so important in instrument repair?  It's an old glue.  Isn't super glue or gorilla glue or epoxy stronger and/or better?  These are really important questions, and they deserve a good answer.

First of all, what is hide glue?  Hide glue is an animal glue.  It is actually made from the hide of an animal.  There are two different forms that one can buy it in.  It comes in a liquid form in a bottle, and it comes in granules that can be mixed in a pot with water and heated.  Is there a difference?  Yes!  A BIG difference! 

The bottled hide glue seems so convenient and is easier to find.  The problem with it is that the ingredient that keeps it in a liquid form also weakens the bond, so this type of glue is not good for most instrument repairs.  It simply isn't strong enough. 

When it comes to the granulized hide glue, there are also several different types you can get.  International Violin sells to the general public at very good prices, and they have several different types available with descriptions of them.  For instance, you can get fast tack, slow tack, and even rabbit hide glue, which is actually the strongest of the hide glues they offer.  It is excellent for violin neck repairs because of its high strength.

What about epoxy, super glue, gorilla glue, wood carpenter's glue, or any other of the super strong glues out there?  What's wrong with using them?  When it comes to instrument repair, especially violins, these instruments are made to come apart so that repairs can be made to the inside of the instrument.  Usually, hide glue is actually stronger and holds better than these other glues.  The main reason why is that it does not shrink or expand as it dries.  Even better than that is if you heat it, you can break the bond.  That is really important because it allows the luthier to take the instrument apart to make repairs to it without harming the instrument itself.  So if you do get that epoxy or other strong glue to hold tight, and a repair is needed that requires the instrument or part of the instrument to be disassembled, it's really a problem!  Damage to the instrument is possible because the instrument ends up being weaker than the glue bond.  With hide glue, the opposite is true when it is heated. 

This is also why you don't want to leave your instrument in a hot car.  Imagine what could happen to a violin when it is stored in the trunk or back seat of a hot car, or in a hot attic for years!  The good news?  It CAN be put back together again.  So don't throw away that old violin that's been in your attic for years and is now in pieces.   And if you decide to put it back together again yourself, imagine how everyone will look up to you when you tell them why you used hide glue!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I'm Thankful For

In just less than an hour, it will officially be Thanksgiving Day.  I've spent some time this past week thinking about all the things I'm thankful for here at The Bluegrass Shack.

I'm thankful that it's been almost 5 years since we opened our doors here in New Athens and that each year has been a better year for us.  We've made so many friends, and I feel like many of our customers are family.

I'm thankful that we have such good teachers here.  Teachers that really care about how their students do.  Teachers that are honest, hardworking and super talented musicians themselves.

I'm thankful that we are in such a small community where we can make a difference in the lives of the people here in this community. 

I'm thankful that we have volunteers that give their time here to help us out in so many different ways:  shovelling snow (we still don't know who does this for us early in the morning); changing light bulbs; repairs and maintenance; cleaning; answering the phones; helping us load and unload equipment for various events; helping us at vendor events and contests; and so much more I'll never remember it all!

I'm thankful for the food and various goodies that students bring here for us and for others!  Yum yum!

I'm thankful for the people who come and jam with us every week, either in our beginning jams or our open public jam session every other week.

I'm thankful for our 24' banjo sign, made by student and New Athens resident Terry Hill.

Special thanks go out to our teachers:  Emily, Charlie, Katarina, Jennine, John, and especially Chelsea.  Chelsea has been with us the entire time we have been here.  She helps us out at all our vendor and special events, and volunteers her time for anything else we need.

Special thanks to our weekly volunteer, Dennis, who comes without fail five days a week to help repair instruments, answer the phone, dust & vacuum, gofer, pack instruments, and just about anything else we need around here!

Earl and I want to wish you all a very heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A New Banjo for Lucas

If you know the Lord, you know He works in mysterious and wonderful ways...and in His own timing.  What an interesting weekend this has turned out to be.  But I'm getting ahead of myself!

First of all, we have a scholarship fund here at The Bluegrass Shack.  We are very careful about who receives anything from our scholarship fund because we want to be good stewards, especially of what is not ours!  For some time now, I have been needing a good banjo for student Lucas.  Lucas didn't know it, but his dad and mom knew that I was waiting for the right banjo for him.  We had actually discussed this several times in the past several months, and my last word to them was just to wait a little bit longer.

Earlier this week, a funeral was held for a man who has 10 children, nine of whom are still living at home.  This was a local man, and several of the families that take lessons here knew the family.  It was sudden and unexpected, and even for those of us who didn't know the family, it feels devastating just thinking about 10 children and their mother without Daddy around anymore.  It would have been very normal for the funeral to be held today (Saturday), but none of the funeral homes were available, so the burial was yesterday.

Why did that matter?  Because three of the bands that performed today in St. Charles would not have been able to attend, including Lucas' family band The Worthing10s.

As it turned out, all the scheduled bands played in St. Charles today, and everything was done in the Lord's timing.  The Worthing10s were the first band to play today.  While they were playing, Mom Worthington (Susan) was standing in the back watching and listening.  After a while, a woman came up to Susan and asked her if she was the mother.  This woman told Susan about how she had a banjo from her son who had passed away.  She then proceeded to tell Susan that she felt like God was telling her to give this banjo to Lucas.  She got in her car, drove back home, and then returned to the Convention Center with the banjo and gave it to Lucas!  Lucas then played the banjo for her and she recognized tunes that her son had played.  How special is that?

If you want to hear Lucas playing the banjo for the lady at the convention center today, go to the Worthing10s Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Closed Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Bluegrass Shack will be closed on Saturday, November 13, 2010.  We will be setup in the vendor's room (Guitar Show) in Springfield, IL at the Crowne Plaza Hotel for the Greater Downstate Illinois Bluegrass Festival.  We hope you'll come and visit us there!  Click here for a .pdf flyer.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 2010 Contest Results!

If there was ever such thing as Olympic Bluegrass Contests, this one would certainly qualify!  We had our largest contest ever by almost double.  There were 26 flattop guitar contestants, 43 fiddle contestants and 24 banjo contestants, for a grand total of 93 contestants.  I am glad that I didn't know that when we started or I probably would have panicked!

This was our first year ever to have flattop guitar.  To say the least, it was a huge success!  We added this contest in memory of the late Bill Barttelbort who was with The Chris Talley Trio.  Bill judged many a contest for us and loved to teach and play.  Probably just about every guitar contestant from Saturday had never competed in a flattop guitar contest before.  There just aren't any around here.  It was good to see guitar students from St. Agatha School competing.

It was also good to see so many people that I have never met before.  Every year, the talent just seems to get better and better.

There are SO MANY people to which I owe a debt of gratitude!  I will try to remember you all, because you are all important to me.  First of all, thanks to our judges who spent six hard hours listening intently to all the contestants.  Igg Tiemann and John Bell play all the instruments they are judging quite well, and believe me, it's hard to find experienced judges who are competent musicians on even ONE instrument, much less three!  Thank you to my mom, Carla, who added all the scores...again...and again...and again...making sure the totals are correct.  I had lots of help setting up the hall.  Thanks to Mallory, Lucas, Nathanael, Matthew, Dennis, Chelsea, Zak and Diane.  Thanks to the Pickin' Chicks and their parents for providing food & beverages.  This was actually a fund raiser to help the Pickin' Chicks pay for their upcoming thanks to YOU for supporting them!  Thanks to Gary and Dick for making the fiddle & banjo trophies.  Thanks to Charlie for helping with the guitar trophies.  Thanks to Chelsea for an untold amount of help with just about anything I could ask for or forget to ask for!  Thanks to my husband, Earl, for taking pictures (which will be posted on Facebook), helping with the awards, and keeping me straight on everything!  Thanks to Zak, Carla, Nikki, Verlan and several others who helped at the door and at registration.  Thanks to everyone who came and attended the event, and to all the contestants who braved their fears and entertained us so well!  There were also too many people to mention individually that stayed afterwards to help clean the hall.  Thank you all so much!

Here are the results of the contest:

 Flattop Guitar - Junior (16 & Under)
1st - Rosemary Hall
2nd - Paige Johnson
3rd - Madison Wilderman
4th - Mallory Warnecke
5th - Matthew Worthington
JC Davis (Most Entertaining)
Hope Kapelski (Youngest Guitar Player)

Flattop Guitar - Open (17 & Up)
1st - Mike Wall (Most Entertaining)
2nd - Charlie Hall
3rd - Zane Prosser (Oldest Guitar Player)
4th - Don Willi
5th - Katarina Worthington

Junior Banjo (16 & Under)
1st - Nikki Warnecke
2nd - Emily Hall (Most Entertaining)
3rd - Lucas Worthington
4th - Curtis Lewis
5th - Paige Johnson
Andy Eisenhauer (Youngest Banjo Player)

Open Banjo (17 & Up)
1st - Chelsea Perkinson
2nd - Fred Pringle
3rd - Don Willi
4th - Holly Salvatore
5th - Amelia Price

Adult Beginner Banjo (21 & Up, Played < 4 Years)
1st - Julia Ziltz (Most Entertaining) & Kevin Martin
2nd - Larry Reuss
3rd - Dennis Huebner
4th - Doug Farney
5th - Steve McDonnell

Senior Banjo (60 & Up)
1st - Fred Pringle (Most Entertaining)
2nd - Larry Maxwell
3rd - Ralph White (Oldest Banjo Player)
4th - Nick Hughes

Junior II Fiddle (12 & Under)
1st - Rosemary Hall
2nd - Amelia Eisenhauer
3rd - Colton Dever
4th - Regan Farney
5th - Mylie Farney (Most Entertaining)
Isabella Worthington (Youngest Fiddle Player)

Junior I Fiddle (13-17 Years)
1st - Paige Johnson
2nd - Angela Winkeler
3rd - Emily Worthington
4th - Kat Dierksen
5th - Mallory Warnecke (Most Entertaining)

Adult Beginner (21 & Up, Played < 4 Years)
1st - John Oaks
2nd - Rhonda Eisenhauer (Most Entertaining)

Open Fiddle (18 & Up)
1st - Ben Smith
2nd - Chelsea Perkinson
3rd - Ron Dailey
4th - Don Willi
5th - Charlie Hall
Ann White (Most Entertaining)

Senior Fiddle (60 & Up)
1st - Zane Prosser
2nd - Fred Pringle
3rd - Junior Hobson
4th - Andy Talley (Oldest Fiddle Player)
5th - John Barnett

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday's Hours - October 30th

Since we are hosting our 9th Annual Fiddle, Banjo & Flattop Guitar Contest on Saturday, October 30, 2010, our hours will be reduced for this day.  Please note that we will only be open from 10:00 a.m. - Noon on Saturday, October 30th.  Come on over to the New Athens Community Center (underneath the water tower) at the corner of Chester & North Johnson Streets.  The contest starts at 1:00 p.m.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hair Explosion in my Fiddle Case!

If you've ever had carpet weevils in your fiddle case, you know what I'm talking about.  These tiny critters wreak havoc on horsehair and wool (felt).  Maybe you didn't know you had them, but you know the scenario:  You open your fiddle case after a short while of not playing to find a bunch of hair from your bow neatly "cut" at one or the other end of the bow.  If you look closely, you'll also find the tell-tale carcasses (or even perhaps a "live" one) in the case.  The shells are very tiny brown things that look like miniature cicada sheddings.  You might even see something like white powder, which would be the eggs.  To be more specific, you are actually seeing the eggs or shedded skin of the larvae of the carpet beetle.  You will also hear these referred to as bow bugs.

I happened to go through this scenario with a customer recently and we caught a live one at work.  Here are two pictures.  I put the inkpen in one of the pictures so you could see how tiny they really are.  I didn't realize these things were so hairy until I took the closeup picture of it and was Photoshopping it.  If you want to enlarge either of the pictures, just click on the picture.

How to you stop attracting these things?  How do you get rid of them if you have them?  Well, first of all, they are everywhere.  It has nothing to do with your housekeeping skills (or lack thereof).  It has nothing to do with how clean you are, or whether you live in the city or the woods.  They generally show up inside a case after it has been closed for at least a couple of weeks with the bow inside.  They also show up if you have a case that is lined in felt.  If you notice ANY loose hairs at all when you open the fiddle case, even one, you should inspect the case carefully.  Look for white powder or brown carcasses.  If you see any, or even if you don't but you suspect them, vacuum the case thoroughly.

Next, you need to put something in the case that will ward them off.  I like to use mothballs.  I know they smell, but if you can stomach them, they work the best.  I actually buy lavender scented mothballs (yeah, right!) that are wrapped in paper packages so you can touch them.  (You should still wash your hands after touching mothballs because they are poisonous.)   WARNING: IF YOU HAVE YOUNG CHILDREN, THESE LOOK LIKE CANDY!!!  You need to take the proper safety measures.  Fresh cedar also wards them off.  Both of these lose their effectiveness over time, so you need to check on them from time to time. 

Another thing you can do with your bow is to put it in an air-tight plastic bow container, or put it into a plastic bag.  The plastic bag won't keep them out entirely unless it is air-tight.  Zippers don't keep them out, either!

Now you, too, can be carpet weevil-free!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Busy Friday at The Shack!

What a nice day we had today!  It was just as busy as ever, but we sure had fun.

Susan and several of her children came by first thing after opening.  Her daughter, Katarina, teaches piano here, but Lucas and Nathanael came along as well so that they could go throught their contest tunes for next Saturday.  We hadn't even gotten around to practicing yet when Michelle and her husband, Ken, came in from O'Fallon, MO.  Then two more folks walked through the doors for guitar strings.  Next in?  Chelsea and Zak with their "baby" Chief (the basset hound).  Four piano lessons later, in comes Charlie and two of his students.

Boy, did we have fun!  Dennis and Nathanael went through Flop Eared Mule on the fiddle while I installed some spikes on Michelle's banjo, changed the strings, and did some basic setup work.  Lucas was in the main showroom talking banjo with Michelle and Ken and picking up a storm on his own banjo.  Katarina was having her own personal Christmas in her teaching room looking through all her new piano books that had just arrived.  And then???  MY Christmas arrived -- the UPS man with lots of big boxes!

I really enjoyed talking to Ken and Michelle.  They are both new players.  Michelle has played banjo for one year and has an excellent start!  I didn't get to hear Ken play, but that didn't stop us from talking guitar!  Guess who's coming to our contest next Saturday?

When Chelsea and Zak came through the door with Chief, it was immediate love between Chief and every girl in the shop!  Katarina's phone camera came out and she was busy snapping pictures.  Every single wrinkle and expression was followed by "awwww."  Chief's favorite position?  All stretched out with this nose pointed forward, front legs pointed back, back legs pointed back with his feet crossed!

Chelsea had business here today, though.  She was picking up her own personal Stelling banjo.  The Sunflower, to be exact.  I am quite sure that there is no silence in the house tonight!

About 5:30, Susan's husband Dale came by to pick up the three children.  We had to do a little picking before they left, though.  Katarina played guitar, Dale played the bass, Nathanael played fiddle, and Lucas and I played banjo.  We went through their contest tunes, and then we just played a little bit.

It was another day full of great people and fun!  We hope you'll come by soon and join us at The Bluegrass Shack!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How I Practice for a Fiddle Contest

I have learned through teaching that many students have no idea what practicing is.  They confuse it with playing.  Although practice does require playing, it should focus on what you DON'T know well rather than what you are already proficient at.  In general, the majority of my practice time is spent working on new songs and techniques.  When I have finished working on those things, or if I just want to "have fun," then I start playing the tunes I already know or my favorites.  I may also take a look at a list of songs I play and make sure that I haven't forgotten any of them. 

When I'm preparing for a contest, I get really particular with my practice time.  It will be spent almost exclusively on the songs I think I might play in the contest for 2-4 weeks prior to the contest.  I analyze everything I do in the songs.  I make sure I can play them excessively slow.  If I can't, then I don't know the song well enough.  I don't want to be on stage feeling really nervous, start to think about what I'm doing, and then realize I have no clue what I'm doing and that I've been playing on "automatic pilot" for the past several weeks.  Take my advice on this one.  If you can't play the song slowly, go back and relearn it.

Next, I analyze any areas of the song that aren't perfect.  Do I have notes that are out of tune?  At this point in MY playing, out of tune notes would not be an overall problem, but limited to just certain notes in certain areas of a song.  It's usually related to how difficult the fingering is and how much I have to contort my left hand to get my little fingers in the proper position.  I have a perfect example.  I've been working on Cotton Patch Rag.  In one section of the song, my 1st finger on the A string is supposed to be low (B flat).  Invariably, I was playing somewhere between B and B flat.  When I slowed the song down so that I could focus on making this the correct pitch, I couldn't remember the rest of the notes in that particular section.  I had to work really hard again to get this down just because I moved my finger 1/16"!  So don't think you are the only one.

I can also think of a good example in Sally Goodin.  This particular song was what I played as my hoedown in the first round of competition last weekend.  When transitioning from the high part of the song (3rd position) back to the low part (1st position), my notes weren't clear.  I remember it USED to be clean, but now something had changed and it was not longer clean.  I slowed it way down, made sure I knew all the notes, and played through it a bunch of times.  When I sped it up, it was inconsistant.  Then I started analyzing my bowing and which direction I was going when it worked and when it didn't work.  I determined the problem was actually with my bowing.  I figured out that my bow was going backwards when I started the 3rd variation of the high part, and that made it almost impossible for me to play the transition cleanly.

If I am lucky, I will be able to play my songs regularly with a guitar player for the weeks prior to the contest.  Since my husband plays guitar, and my band has a good rhythm guitar player, and I own a music store with guitar teachers, this one is covered!  Having a guitar player is more than just having rhythm.  It allows me to make sure I am playing in tune.  It also helps me know how well I know a song.  If I don't know it well enough, I find the guitar is a distraction to me and I won't play the song as well.  When I know the song really well, the guitar is a bonus for me and actually helps me to play better.

In addition to playing with a guitar player, I spend time with a metronome.  I use the metronome to play songs slowly so that I won't speed them up and so that I can get really good at all the correct pitches, fingerings and bowings.  I also use the metronome to practice the songs at the speeds I want to play them in the contest.  It is easy to become nervous and play too fast.  I want to really FEEL the speeds I will be playing my contest songs.

I also spend time practicing just by myself.  I don't want to get dependent on any one thing.  Practicing by myself also allows me to work on specific areas that aren't up to speed.

Another thing I listen for when practicing for a fiddle contest is my tone quality and FEEL for the song.  I think they are related.  If you play a song with feeling, it is like the smile that you can't see over the phone, but you know is there (or isn't there!).  I make sure my bowing is smooth and consistant.  I listen for bad notes, distorted notes that are caused by too much or too little bow pressure.  I make sure I am using the right amount of bow.  If I'm using tiny little bow strokes for a waltz, I will not get a smooth sound.  I listen for dynamics (loud and soft) and make sure that they fit with what I'm feeling.  If I can't feel the song, I keep playing it until I can.  That's very important to me.  It also gives me a lot of personal enjoyment to play something that I can really feel.  That doesn't matter whether it's a contest or not!

I make sure that my beginnings and endings are smooth and fit the song.  Since these will be the first and last things anyone hears, they'd better be good.

If you have another musician (especially a fiddle player) that is willing to listen to you and give you advice, that can be a big bonus to you.  Another person may think of things that you did not.  They may hear things that you don't hear.  They may have experience that you don't have.  John Bell helped me out for the last contest.  I played all my songs for him, asked a bunch of questions, and he gave me lots of good advice.  Remember:  No matter how good you are and no matter how much you know, you can't know it all.  I am very grateful to him for his help.

One final thing that I do is to make sure I play the song the same way every time.  I don't do this for normal performances, but I do for contest preparation.  I know which variation I'll play when, and exactly how I'll play it.  I know how many times I will play each variation.  I practice the song the same way every time so that it will come naturally to me even when I get really nervous.

As the weeks progress, my songs should be getting much better.  In fact, my overall playing should be getting better, even on the songs I am not working on.  That's what's so neat about entering a fiddle contest.  When you prepare, you are improving everything you do, not just specific songs.  That means that even if I totally bomb out in the contest, my practice was not for nothing.  I am better for the work I put in and no one can take that away from me!

Song Selection for a Fiddle Contest

I thought with the Illinois State Old Time Fiddle Contest behind me, and The Bluegrass Shack Fiddle, Banjo & Flattop Contest ahead of me, this would be a good time to write about what I personally do to prepare myself for a fiddle contest.  In particular, I thought I would focus on the IOTFA contest that I just competed in.

The first thing I do is decide how many songs to prepare.  This is based on how many songs the competition requires.  I always try to have more than what is required.  This allows me some freedom of choice in case I hear my selection played several times before I reach the stage.  It also allows me flexibility in the case that I don't seem to be playing up to par on the contest day.  Most contests require, at a minimum, a waltz and a hoedown.  Many also require a tune of choice.  If there are multiple rounds in the competition, you will probably have to prepare different songs for each round. 

Next, I narrow down the songs that I think I want to use in the competition.  This can be hard to do, but it is based on a number of things, not necessarily in this order: 

1) How well do I know the songs?
If I am starting my preparation several weeks ahead of time, and I really SHOULD, I take into account how well I currently know the song(s).  If it is something that I haven't done in a while, I will need to brush up on the song.  I might even want to learn a few new variations.  If it's a new song, I will have to try to make the determination as to whether I will know the song well enough and be confident enough to perform it in a contest.

2) How much time do I have to prepare?
If I've waited until the last minute to decide to enter, or if I didn't know about the contest early on, my selection will be limited to what I already have up to speed.

3) Who are the judges and what will they be listening for? 
If you know who your judges are, this may help you with your selection.  Many big contests publish the list of judges.  If it is a local contest, you still can probably find out ahead of time who your judges are.  If you have played in a contest with this judge before and you were able to view your scoresheets, this will give you an idea on what to work on.  If you know past winners of this competition, and if you know what they played, this will also give you a good idea of which songs to prepare, or at least what style of songs you should prepare.

4) What are the rules of the contest and which songs will fit best into this scenario?
Is this an old-time fiddle contest?  Texas swing?  Is hokum bow allowed?  Are you allowed to play in different tunings?  These are all things that you need to know ahead of time.  If you are entering a strict "old time" fiddle contest, the songs have to be a danceable speed!  That means not too fast!  Texas swing?  Then you will need something in that style.  You get the idea...

5) How well will I be able to perform this song under pressure?
This is actually a very important question to ask yourself.  When preparing for the IOTFA contest last week, I was thinking of playing Leather Britches.  It was a good song selection all around.  It fit all the criteria I listed above.  I even play it remarkably well.  The problem with it?  I am not comfortable playing it.  I don't know why, but I simply am not.  I continued practicing it all the way up until the contest day because it seemed to fit so well.  In the end, I still chose not to play it because I could just picture myself up on stage feeling nervous and uncomfortable.  If I didn't have many choices, I would still probably have to play it.  Thank goodness, I had other options.

6) Is it a tough enough song?
One thing about fiddle contests is that there is no "standard."  You are really at the mercy of what impresses the judges.  This can be a difficult question to answer because it really depends upon how you play the song.  In other words, how difficult is your variation?  Some songs, no matter what you do to them, are not good for a competition; e.g., Bile Them Cabbage is many times the first song a fiddler learns.  No matter how hard you make it, it is not a good choice for a more advanced fiddler.  It is fine for beginner.  If the song you choose is too easy, or if your variation(s) are too easy, then a perfect performance might not give you enough points to win.  If your competition is not too great, then it MAY be enough.  You probably won't know this until the day of the competition, though.  Generally, the harder the song is to play, the more points you'll score IF YOU PLAY IT WELL.  If your judges aren't fiddle players (and shame on the contest if they aren't), they simply won't know how hard a song is to play on fiddle.  You might as well pick something that SOUNDS hard...

7) Is my goal to win, or do I have a different goal in mind?
Maybe this sounds like a funny thing to ask, but it is actually very important.  Not everyone who enters contests, and not every contest that a person enters, does it to win.  Maybe you just want to support an up and coming local contest.  Perhaps you have friends that are entering and they want you to enter as well.  Do you just want to get on stage to play and have fun?  Maybe you want to get some experience.  Particularly if you are a new player, your goal may just be to make it through your songs.  If you are so nervous that you can't perform well, this may especially be true for you.  When I first started entering contests, I was an experienced musician, but was surprised to find out that I could not perform on the fiddle well in contests.  I was just too nervous.  I was king of the fiddle in the livingroom, and it was king of me on stage.  Very frustrating to say the least!  My goal, early on, was simply to get through my songs and do them well.  I chose songs that were easy for me.  This allowed me to not be so nervous about making mistakes and forgetting on stage.  I did this for a while so that I could gain some experience and confidence.  I gradually increased the toughness of my songs.  I also decided that I would not enter any song into a competition that I had not previously played on stage.  Playing a song in front of others really shows you if you have any weak areas in the song.  It gives you a second chance, so to speak.  If you find you are making mistakes on the song when you are nervous, you know what to work on.

8) Will I have competent accompaniment, or do I need to pick something with very minimal chord changes?
I am very lucky with this one.  The guitar player for my band, Zane, almost always accompanies me in contests.  We are able to practice ahead of time, and Zane has played backup for fiddle players for years, so he knows (or can quickly learn) all the chords to just about any song.  He is also a fiddle player himself.  If you are not so fortunate, you may have to pick up a guitar player at the competition.  My advice?  Ask the guitar player just to warm up with you first.  Don't ask him/her to perform on stage with you immediately.  Why?  Because if it's not a good match and they aren't what you expect or need, you won't be stuck with them.  If the warmup goes well, then you can ask them to back you up in the contest.  If you find a good rhythm guitar player, but they don't know too many fiddle tunes, you may have to stick with songs that don't have too many chord changes in them.

This is just one aspect of playing in a contest.  I plan on writing more.  Hopefully, this will be helpful (or at least interesting)!  Good luck!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Illinois State Fiddle Contest

The Illinois Old Time Fiddler's Association held its Annual Illinois State Fiddle Championship on Sunday, October 17, 2010.  This was the first year I've been able to attend due to a date and venue change for the competition.  It was a wonderful event and I met many new fiddlers!

First of all, Ann White and her family did a wonderful job for IOTFA in promoting the contest.  It was certainly agreed upon by all in the organization as well, for the White family received an award for their hard work for the organization.  I know first-hand how difficult it is to put on a fiddle contest of this magnitude.  The Bluegrass Shack does this several times every year, and even though we are not a state-certified contest,
I can attest to the fact that there is a lot to do!

They have four divisions for their competition:  Over 70, Beginners (11 & Under), Junior (12-19 years), and Open.  They compete in that order, and the first place winner of the first three divisions can also enter the Open Competition.  The winners of the Junior competition and the Open competition receive what is termed a "travelling trophy."  This is such a neat idea!  The winners keep the trophy for one year and then return with the trophy for the competition the following year.  Every winner has his or her name added to the trophy, along with the year and the city they live in.  It is really fun to read all the names.  Did you know Alison Krauss won this competition three years in a row?  Not only did she win it three years in a row, she actually had the trophy at her house for those three years...and so did all the other winners!  How cool is that?

Now that I've told you a little about the competition, I'm going to tell you how our day went there.  We had quite a showing from The Bluegrass Shack.  I initially wasn't going to go, but decided several weeks ahead of time that I could make it and would indeed go ahead and do it.  From our shop, Chelsea and Dennis decided to compete.  Earl and I also practiced every night to prepare for the competition.  We had students Tim, Colton, Andy and Millie who competed.  Additionally, a good friend of ours, Ron, and Zane, from my band, also competed.

Personally, it was a really rough day.  I have been sick with a cold-type illness for almost two weeks now.  Just when I thought I was getting better, it all went to my chest and I had to start on asthma medications.  If you've ever taken them, you know how shaky they make you.  Not so good for a competition!  I was the most nervous that I can recall for many years.  Chelsea was also sick, and we shared a box of Kleenex pretty much all day. 

The contest was held in Effingham at the Hilton Garden Inn.  This was a new location for the contest, which has in the past been held in Arcola over Labor Day weekend.  The venue was beautiful and suited the competition well, though I think it will need to be larger next year to fit all the listeners into the room!

We started by registering and putting a star sticker on the city we lived in on a map of Illinois.  (You have to be a resident of Illinois to win the Illinois State Contest.)  Then we went up to Ron & Lorraine's room to warm up.  Zane, Ron, Earl, Chelsea, Dennis and I all took turns playing through our songs and picking guitar for each other.

After we warmed up, we went back downstairs to the registration area to draw our numbers for the order of performance.  Shortly thereafter, most of the fiddle players met on stage to play several songs all together.  We went through Ragtime Annie, Red Wing and Golden Slippers.  It really sounds nice to hear so many fiddles playing together!

We found an empty stairwell near the competition room that served as a fantastic practice area.  We used this area to tune up and warm-up before our various divisions played.

The Over 70 Division played first.  Zane was in that division.  Ron and I both played guitar for Zane and he ended up winning 2nd place!  Zane played the Kiss Me Waltz and Chinquapin.

Two students of The Bluegrass Shack placed in the Beginner's and the Junior Divisions.  Andy got 2nd place in the Beginner Division, and his sister Millie won the Junior Division and the Junior Travelling Trophy.  Millie also competed in the Open Division after winning the Junior Division.  She played great, but did not place in the Open Division.

The rest of us all competed against each other in the Open Division.  There were 22 contestants in the Open Division.  I was especially proud of Chelsea, who played incredibly well despite feeling really bad.  She had two near-flawless performances that would have made anyone proud, though she did not make it to the final round.  I was very proud to be on stage with her!  Ron, Earl and Dennis also did a good job on their songs.  (We put in LOTS of practice over the past several weeks, including daily practices together for the past week or two.)  I ended up winning the Open Competition much to my surprise!  It was the kind of competition that you can't really feel bad about losing because the competition was all so good!  I would not have wanted to be a judge, that's for sure.

I have several people to thank for helping make this win possible.  First of all, Zane did a great job accompanying me on guitar.  That's a must-have for a successful contest!  Also, several days prior to the contest, John Bell played through my songs with me and gave me advice on entering my first Old Time competition.  And how could I forget all my friends and my husband for their support and encouragement?!  Thank you all so much!

So now I have possession of the actual trophy that so many others before me have won!  It's right here on display at The Bluegrass Shack if you want to come take a look at all the names and years on it.  It's like a little piece of Illinois fiddle history.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Put on Your Little (Dancing) Shoes!

Here's an opportunity to have a very fun Saturday night (October 16th), and help the Thresherman's Association, too!  Three local bands are going to be playing dancing music for you from 6:30 - 11:00 p.m., and dinner will be served as well!  Come on out to Pinckneyville and join us for the fun!  It is my understanding that Bill Timpner will be there to call some squares.  Now you're talking!

6:30 - 7:30 The Pickin' Chicks
7:30 - 9:00 The Chris Talley Trio
9:00 - 11:00 Beaucoup Bottom Band

Want to join in the Chili Cook-off?  It starts at 5:30 p.m.
Dinner will be served from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Come one, come all to the Illinois Rural Heritage Museum
187 Fairground Road (just north of the fairgrounds)
Pinckneyville, IL

Need more information?  Contact Mary Greer at 618-357-3241 or

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Even Steven

Anyone with more than one child knows what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about keeping everyone happy.  Making sure each child has the same number of presents under the tree at Christmas time.  Making sure that each child gets the same amount of new clothes when school starts, or for Easter, or for whatever happens to be upcoming.

Enter a band.  Now multiply the happiness or un-happiness by the number of people in the band.  (If there are kids involved, multiply it by the number of parents as well.)  The more members, the harder it is to keep everyone happy. 

The problem with equality in a band is that it is not truly measurable.  And a feeling of inequality of some sort is one of the main reasons a band splits up.  Although talent is certainly important to have a good band, a better measure of band success is actually in the personalities of the members rather than their sheer talent. 

Imagine trying to make sure every single person in the band gets to do the same number of things as another.  That would mean the bass player should take a break on every song.  Not really tasteful for a bluegrass band.  What about the emcee?  Does that account for anything?  You can't have everyone in the band doing the emcee work.  But does that equal singing a song?  Or taking a break?  How do you quantify that?  If one person plays more than one instrument, should all the members be allowed to play more than one instrument?  What about singing lead?  Do you split that equally among all the band members for every performance?  You are probably starting to get the picture.

Most everyone knows by now that The Chris Talley Trio lost its lead guitar player last year due to a brain tumor.  In fact, it will be one year from the end of this very month!  I held back on booking any gigs for 2010.  Although we all knew it would be a while before Bill was ready to play again, we thought he WOULD get better.  He passed away the day before he was to leave the hospital and go home.

Trying to replace Bill was out of the question.  Not only is it distasteful, it's not even possible!  After I decided I actually wanted to keep playing, I was faced with the decision of finding another band member.  Do you know what my main concern was?  It was finding someone with the right personality that could get along with the rest of us.  Finding talent was not my main goal.  There are lots of talented people.  I also did not want to have to TEACH someone.  I spend all day, every week, teaching.  My band is my fun time. 

I am very proud of the fact that the members of my band have always gotten along.  Always.  Despite the fact that the band has my own name in it, I am not the star.  No one is.  I took the lead from Hot Rize, one of my all-time favorite bands.  (Take a look at the excellent article about Hot Rize in the September 2010 Bluegrass Unlimited.  This very fact I'm talking about is prominantely mentioned in the article.)  Everyone in my band is good at what they do.   I make sure they all get to do what they are good at.  If we don't agree on something, we vote.  It's not like an "official" vote or anything.  I usually just ask what everyone thinks about something.  That means I have to play songs I don't like, in keys I don't want to play them in, for who knows how many times.  But that's okay.  So does everyone else!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bluegrass & Friends!

This was an especially nice day, due to the fact that we got to meet with several of our good bluegrass friends.  My oldest banjo student and his wife (Al & Jan), came to New Athens today to join us for lunch at Gary's Restaurant.  It's been a while since we've seen both of them because Al hasn't had a lesson recently.  (Don't worry...he's still practicing that dobro!)  We spent about an hour together eating and talking, and just had a wonderful visit.

After the shop opened, Ron & Lorraine stopped by.  Ron was eager to show off his new D-18.  It was very nice, too!  The figured mahogany back and sides were the prettiest I've ever seen.  It sounds as good as it looks.  Of course, we HAD to play a little bit of music!  Earl, Ron & Lorraine went out to dinner while I "took care of some business" (explained in the next paragraph).

And now, on to "taking care of business."  Last week, my mouse was stuck to my mousepad.  This week, I'm even...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hectic As Usual

We've been very, very busy in August, and things haven't slowed down one bit so far in September.  First off, The Pickin' Chicks have had gigs every weekend.  Secondly, The Chris Talley Trio had two full weekend gigs in a row, with a lot of planning and a lot of hours spent each weekend and the time preceeding the weekends.  I'm not saying I'm not loving it.  I'm just stating the facts.  I've got a boat load of band instruments waiting for repair.  I have a few fiddles in front of the band instruments, but I think I can get to everything this coming week.  Sales have increased both online and in-store, and the number of folks requesting lessons has also increased.  I need more teachers!

My dad and a friend of his visited this weekend.  It was wonderful to see Daddy again.  He's 84 years old and is still playing the fiddle.  Chelsea came over to the shop, and we all played music together.  Daddy played guitar and fiddle.  Chelsea played banjo, fiddle and guitar, and I played fiddle and guitar.  Zoey (Daddy's friend) enjoyed it all!  She doesn't play, but she sure had a nice time listening. 

Daddy is planning on coming to our October 30th Fiddle, Banjo & Flattop Guitar Contest.  If you haven't made plans yet, you should!  I'll be posting information soon, along with a flyer.  It's always a good time, with lots of music, food, friends and seasonal decorations.  This is the one contest we hold that you can dress for!  We don't really celebrate Halloween, but we do encourage everyone (adults and kids) to dress up for this particular contest -- even if you aren't going to play in the contest.  We suggest themes such as cowboy, western, hillbilly, Grand Ol' Opry, etc.

Our Monday night instructional jams have taken on a new twist.  I have been dividing everyone up into smaller groups and having them work out two songs to play in front of the other groups.  It has been working out very well, and the feedback I've gotten has been very positive.  If you are learning to play an instrument and you haven't started playing with others yet, I encourage you to do so right away!  It's the fastest way to get better and it's lots of fun!  The camaraderie and knowledge you gain from it is worth its weight in gold.

We are still holding our every other week Tuesday night jam sessions.  They are all acoustic and they start at 7:30 p.m.  Everyone is invited.  You don't even have to play an instrument to come!  Some folks come just to listen, some just to sing, and some to play and sing.

This week somehow turned into dobro week for Earl.  He worked on several dobros, and we sold another dobro as well.  Earl completely overhauled an old Regal dobro.  Someone had taken out the original "guts" and replaced them with some pretty inferior parts.  Earl took out the old replacement parts and put in a new quarterman cone and new spider and I really don't know what all!  Wow!  Talk about a great sounding dobro!  It was really amazing when he was done.

We got a call from Roland White today, too.  It's always nice to talk to him.  We stock his mandolin and guitar books and they are good sellers for us.  He has some great mandolin tabs! 

Christmas books will be arriving soon.  I don't usually put them out until later, as will be the case again this year.  I like to actually enjoy Thanksgiving first. 

We have a piano teacher on Fridays now.  Katarina is an excellent teacher and has several spots still available on Friday.  If you or your kids have been wanting to learn piano, here is your chance!  Katarina is able to teach by ear and by music.

We hope you'll come and visit us soon!  It's always nice to see old friends and meet new ones, too!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hours of Operation August 27 & 28, 2010

We will be closing on Friday, August 27, 2010, at 6:00 p.m.  We will be closed all day on Saturday, August 28, 2010.  We will be open again with our normal business hours on Monday, August 30, 2010.  Come join us at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp in Pinckneyville, IL for our First Annual Bluegrass Retreat!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yesterday's Workshops & Concert

I had an extremely full day yesterday at Our Lady of the Snow Shrine.  I taught three fiddle workshops and one guitar workshop, and then The Chris Talley Trio played in the evening concert.

The workshops were full and went extremely well!  I had a great group of people for all four of the classes.  The three fiddle workshops were set up as progressive classes, starting with beginning fiddle in the first class.  Some students attended all three of the classes.  We talked about everything from the very basics (like how to hold the fiddle and bow) all the way to topics like instrument setup, exercises for double stops and vibrato, and left-hand flexibility.  Everyone got to ask questions, and there were some really good ones asked, too!

The guitar workshop was also a success.  I had students ranging from never played before to proficient with chords for years.  We started with basic left-hand positions and talked about several ways to make the G chord.  We learned G, C, D and an alternate A7.  We talked about why to use certain chord fingerings, but that none of them were "wrong."  We learned basic three note run patterns for G, C and D, and then we put them in a song.  We also learned a very simple flat-pick version of Bile Them Cabbage Down.  After that, we talked about the capo and transposition.  It's actually hard to believe we covered so many topics!

The evening concert was unbelievably awesome!  Since this was a dulcimer festival, all of the groups had dulcimers in them except my group.  That's because I'm the only one who is hired for something other than dulcimer.  There were both hammer dulcimers and mountain dulcimers.  One thing that is really cool about mountain dulcimers is that they can be played in way that makes them incredibly easy or incredibly complicated.  This makes them good for kids, and also good for adults of all levels of musical experience or inexperience!  The hammer dulcimer is simply beautiful sounding, especially in the hands of Rick Thum.  The chapel at the Shrine has a sound that is unmatched.  It is all hard surfaces, so it's actually quite complicated to use a sound system there.  Everything is so "live" that feedback is hard to contain.  When it's right, though, the sound is wonderful!  There was a full crowd there, which is probably 200 - 300 capacity, but it sounds like 5,000 people when they clap.  I love playing there.  This was the fourth year for me and I always look forward to it.

After the concert, my husband Earl and also Emily and her family all met at Denny's.  One of my favorite things about having a band is the comraderie.  Zane and Carla weren't able to meet us, but it was nice even having only part of the band.  Emily had never been to Denny's before, so that made it especially fun.

Now that it's over, I'm simply worn out and I have lost my voice!  It's a good thing it's Sunday and a day of rest.  I sure need it.  I wouldn't have traded yesterday for anything in the world, though.  Thank you to everyone who made it so much fun for me!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Update on Bluegrass Retreat Workshops

For those of you wanting to take advantage of some of our workshops at Lake Sallateeska, you should make sure you sign up right away to reserve your spot.  All of the workshops still have space available, but the Knowing Your Banjo Inside & Out workshop is more than half-way full.

Also, The Red Haired Boys will be playing at the Saturday evening concert.  They are not on the flyers unless you pick up the new ones here at The Shack.  You will surely enjoy their music!  You can visit their Facebook page at

If you want to stay at Lake Sallateeska, call and make your reservations soon!  Be sure to ask for the bluegrass rate, which is substantially less than their normal rates and the rates you will see listed on their website.  If you need more information on the retreat or the workshops, take a look at my previous blog entry, which includes links to all the flyers and forms.  If you still have questions, feel free to e-mail or call us!

Monday, August 9, 2010

We're in the Local Newspaper!

This article came out in the Business Section of our local New Athens paper.  Many thanks to Cathy Meggs for her support!  Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Weekend at Grassy Bluegrass Festival

We had a wonderful weekend at Arrowhead Campgrounds in Grassy, MO this weekend.  The Chris Talley Trio played Friday and Saturday for the annual August bluegrass festival.  The weather let up a little bit, so we were actually quite lucky -- no rain, and the heat was tolerable.

I think every kid I saw was soaked from head to toe from the Castor River!  That was always my favorite part of this festival when I was younger.

Emily did a great job playing with The Chris Talley Trio.  She also played with her family band, Charlie & the Girls, so she really got a workout.

There were so many friends there, I can't possibly thank every one of you by name for coming to support us.  Please know that you all are much appreciated!  Here is a link to a couple of videos from The Chris Talley Trio's Friday night performance.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Amazing Rudeness

The Pickin' Chicks played today at the Swanwick Picnic in Swanwick, IL.  They were hired to play for one hour between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m.  About half-way through their set, the guy that was hired to play after The Pickin' Chicks started setting up his equipment during their performance.  He walked in front of them several times, moved one of the girls out of his way to put up one of his monitors, and then proceeded to stand on stage with them for the last 15 minutes of their performance while he messed around with his microphones, stands and other equipment. 

When asked by two different people to stop, he gave the scathing reply that he was being payed to play and the girls were not.  Then he proceeded to brag about how he had been hired for this gig for the past 21 years.  After that, he totally cut down the very people that had hired him by saying they were weird and that they would be angry if he didn't start playing at 5:30 p.m. on the nose.  (Which didn't happen, by the way.)   Since we were both hired by the same person, of course that person would understand there would be a short time where the PAs would be setup and dismantled.

When the lady in charge heard about this, she apologized for him to the girls.  She said she thought he would have been more professional and that she would have put a stop to it if she had been there.  I hope that other musicians and bands can remember to treat each other nicely.  After all, we're all in this together!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Monday's Advanced Instructional Jam

The past several weeks, the banjo players have been working on playing out of C position.  I have not passed out tab on these songs, as my goal is for everyone to learn them by ear.  I decided to go ahead and post a video of two of the songs so that you can at least hear it and play along.  Just a reminder:  playing out of C position allows you to play songs easily in the keys of C, D, E and F.  I am posting I'll Fly Away and Bury Me Beneath the Willow. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fiddle / Violin Setup: What Exactly is it?

As the most important part of your instrument, setup is really something that every player needs to understand!  Especially beginning students!  A good setup can mean a difference as slight as a tone quality adjustment, or as major as a playability issue. 

Just this last week, I corresponded via e-mail regarding the purchase of a fiddle online.  "Austin" wanted to know if the fiddle he was thinking of purchasing was a good fiddle for a beginner.  He sent me a link to the website where the fiddle was for sale, and asked me quite a few questions about it.  Here's what I had to say about it:
Hi Austin -

I think the fiddle is fine, but the setup is probably not going to be fine. You need to make sure that you are buying from a shop that specializes in fiddle setup, not just fiddle sales. An inexpensive instrument can be a fine starter instrument, even if it doesn't have great value or symphonic tone quality. If it is not setup correctly, then it doesn't matter if it costs $1000 or more. It will be hard to play, and that is the last thing anyone needs, especially a beginner. A "factory" setup is not okay. Many online places make you think this is okay, but it's not. You want a person who plays and also specializes in setup/luthier work to set this up for you. You should expect to pay an additional $50-$100 for this, depending upon what needs to be done and where you take it.
Austin then replied with the following:
alright thanks a lot!!, so after buying this you recommend me to go into a music store to get it "set up"? what exactly do you mean buy "set up" though
And this, folks, is the million dollar question!  I reponded with quite a lengthy e-mail, and then decided that I really needed to post this online because too many folks don't know or understand the importance of a good setup.
Hi Austin -

I don't think a regular music store will be able to do this correctly for you. You really need to have this done at a violin shop. A luthier at a violin ship will have the knowledge and EXPERIENCE that is needed to do this correctly. Here is what we typically do when we set up a fiddle:
1) Adjust the curvature of the bridge
2) Adjust the thickness of the bridge
3) Adjust the height of the bridge
4) Adjust the spacing of the bridge
5) "Voice" the bridge, which consists of carving certain parts of the bridge to make it more responsive
6) Put the bridge in the proper place on the fiddle (which affects the tuning of the fiddle)
7) Adjust the spacing of the nut
8) Adjust the height of the nut
9) Set the soundpost in the correct location

Why is this all important? If makes the difference between having an instrument that is easy to play and having one that frustrates you.

When the bridge is shaped correctly, it allows you to be able to play individual strings without hitting other strings. If you are playing bluegrass or folk music and you want to play double stops (two notes at the same time) frequently, then you will want a slightly flatter bridge which makes this easier. The spacing of the strings on the bridge will also affect the same things.

If the bridge is too high, then the strings will be too high off the fingerboard. This causes the fiddle to play out tune and makes it hard to finger the notes. It also increases the amount of the squeaking that you'll get when you play because you'll be more likely to touch strings that you are not playing, and if your bow also touches these strings, all you'll get is a squeak.

If the bridge is too thick, then the tone quality of the instrument is affected. It is more likely to sound tinny because the bridge cannot vibrate as well. Voicing the bridge also helps with the tone quality and vibrations.

Many people do not know this, but fiddle bridges are not glued on the instrument. If the bridge is not in the correct location on the fiddle, then the intonation (playing in tune) is affected. This will also affect where you finger the notes on the fingerboard.

When the nut is too high, then it makes it hard to press the strings down when you play. It will also affect the intonation of the fiddle.

If the string spacing of the nut is too close, then you will have a hard time fingering one string without touching another string. The larger your fingers are, the harder this will be. Fiddle/violin spacing is typically closer than any instrument other than maybe mandolin, so you want this to be correct.

The soundpost is a small wooden dowel that is located inside the fiddle. It is also not glued in. We use special tools to set the location of the soundpost. If a fiddle does not have a soundpost, then the top of the fiddle can cave in due to the amount of pressure from the strings and bridge. If the soundpost is not in the correct location, then it will affect the tone quality of the instrument. In extreme cases, it could affect the soundness of the fiddle, but that is truly rare. This would most likely occur if the soundpost was not the correct height. Too tall of a soundpost can crack the top of the fiddle. Too low of a soundpost will cause it to fall or move on its own.

If you want to find out if your music store has the knowledge, talk to whoever will do the work and find out exactly what they do when set up a fiddle. Ask questions. Most regular music stores simply cannot afford to hire a violin specialist unless they sell and repair lots of fiddles.

You are better off to pay a little bit more and order from a reputable shop that will do all this for you before they even ship out the fiddle. That way if there is a problem, they will spot it before you even get the fiddle. You won't have to make a special trip to have the instrument setup. A reputable shop will also back up the instruments they sell and the work they do.

Please note that I don't personally know the music store you are ordering from, so I can't tell you anything about them. I'm not saying they are bad or are not reputable. I also don't know where you're from, so obviously won't know what music stores are in your area. If you can purchase locally, you are better off. It's always better to be able to talk to a person LIVE rather than on the phone or in e-mail.

If you have a teacher lined up to help you learn, then your teacher should also be able to help you with all of this. A good teacher will know where to buy and get instruments repaired.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

October Contests - Flattop Guitar Added!

Our Annual Fiddle & Banjo Contest has been expanded this year to add a Flattop Guitar Picking contest!  The contests will be held in our new location at the New Athens Community Hall in New Athens, IL.  (The flyer has directions.)  There will be five fiddle divisions, four banjo divisions, and just one flattop guitar division for this first year.  If we have enough contestants, we will add divisions to the guitar contest.  Date of the event is Saturday, October 30, 2010.  Registration starts at Noon and the contest starts at 1:00 p.m.  Take a look at the flyer for all the details.  If you still have questions, feel free to contact Chris or Earl at The Bluegrass Shack.

CLICK HERE to view a .pdf version of the flyer.

We hope you'll come out and join us!

The Chris Talley Trio at Bellerive Park!

The Chris Talley Trio will be playing at Bellerive Park (in St. Louis, MO) on Monday, July 26, from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.  If you haven't seen them this year, this is a good opportunity to get out!  Bellerive Park is located in the Carondelet area of St. Louis (off Broadway) right on the riverfront.  You can watch the barges float by while the music is playing!

Many of you have asked about Carla, our bass player, and we are happy to say that she will be back with us for this performance.  Carla had two surgeries this year and is finally well enough to join us again!  Many thanks to Kabbie for playing with us while Carla has been out.  We sure appreciate your talent, willingness and skill!

You won't want to miss hearing Miss Emily either!  She is a fine musician and singer, and at 15 years of age, will knock your socks off with her talent!  We are so happy to have her with us as a member of The Chris Talley Trio.  We've got lots of new songs to share with you!

Miscellaneous Stuff

Wow!  It's been a while since I last blogged.  Things have been pretty busy around here and a lot has been happening.  We've sold about a zillion fiddles online in the past month.  You'd think it would be an influx of purchases for kids starting school, but it has actually been adults who have decided that they want to finally fulfill the dream of learning to play an instrument!  Congratulations!  I always say that one of the nice things about music is that it is never too late!  We have a great policy on fiddles here at The Bluegrass Shack, too.  We offer a 100% trade-in policy for all fiddles, whether they are new, used or vintage, as long as they are still in good condition.  That is fiddle for fiddle, and fiddles are the only instrument for which we offer this policy.

The past month has seen many birthdays around here as well.  The last couple of jam sessions have been filled with food and other goodies to help us celebrate.  What fun!

We had a float in the New Athens Homecoming Parade again this year.  This makes the 5th year in a row for us.  Pictures of our float and the Pickin' Chicks float were both printed in full color in the Freeburg Tribune this past week.

The Pickin' Chicks won first place in the Four Fountains Talent Contest held yesterday.  They auditioned last month just for a spot in the contest, and they played wonderfully!

We had our 7th Annual Bluegrass Shack Summer Fiddle Contest on Sunday.  We had 30 contestants and a packed house at our new location -- the New Athens Community Center.  Many thanks to Dick and Gary for making all the fiddle trophies; to The Pickin' Chicks and their families for providing all the food and beverages, and for helping with the door and numerous other things that were needed; to Dawn for her help with scoring; to Janice and Marc for judging; to Kabbie for help with the raffles; to Zane and Ron for performing for the crowd between divisions while the scores were tallied; to Eric and Brad for help with the equipment, chairs, tables and setup; to Earl for taking all the pictures; and to all the rest whom I might have forgotten to mention by name for everything else!  I hope I haven't forgotten anyone!  The crowd was wonderful!  The music was wonderful!  The food was nothing short of amazing (especially the homemade desserts!!!!)!

I think 4-year old London stole the show with her performance on fiddle.  Anyone who saw her will agree!  She was simply adorable.  Our contestant from the farthest location was Tim, from California, who played in the Junior II Division.  In fact, Tim won 1st place in his division!  John B., our oldest contestant, won the top prize of $100 in the Open/Senior Division.  If you haven't been out to our Facebook page, you really need to take a look there.  I have posted pictures from this event and many other events and/or happenings here.  You might just see yourself!