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!*