Sunday, January 29, 2012

What Makes a Good Band Practice?

I love having a good band practice!  It is so wonderful to do something that I enjoy with people that I like.  It's even better when I feel like we have accomplished something.  So, what has to happen to make a "good" band practice?

Several words come to mind:  fun, creativity, flexibility, improvement.

For starters, not all band practices are for the same purpose.  So, what is the purpose of your practice?  Is it to practice for a specific gig?  Is it to make decisions about upcoming gigs, recordings (CDs) or other important issues?  Is it to work on several specific songs?  Is it to decide on new songs that the band will work up?  These are important questions to ask, because otherwise you will not get much accomplished.

I would say the thing I love the most about practicing with The Chris Talley Trio is that we have lots of fun!  The best part of this fun is that it doesn't keep us from accomplishing what we need to get done.  If there are mistakes, they are funny.  If someone needs helps getting a harmony part down, or figuring out chords, or whatever, we do it together as many times as it takes to get it.  No one complains.  In fact, many times we just blame everything on Zane...or Carla...or Emily...or me!  There's plenty to go around.  We tell stories, listen to Zane's stories, and make stuff up as we go.

If we have a specific gig to prepare for, we start by putting together a setlist.  We decide if we need to learn new songs, or if we know enough already for what we need to do.  Some of our gigs require special songs, like playing specific songs for a wedding, or playing fiddle tunes for a dance, or playing for the Victorian Fest and doing Civil War era songs.  We are very fortunate in this area because Zane knows more than 400 songs by memory!  (By the way, we don't allow Zane to get sick.  We need him too much!)  We usually prepare this setlist during practice.

Once we have a setlist put together, we start working on all the songs.  We decide who is singing lead and who is going to sing what specific harmony part.  We also decide on instrumentation.  Since Emily and I both play multiple instruments, we can choose what instruments we think will sound the best or that we can play the best for each particular song.  The first practice for something like this doesn't usually yield the "End Product."  It does get us started, though!  Sometimes during these practices, I will record harmony parts and either e-mail them or put them on a disk for us.  This allows us to remember what we worked up and also allows each member to practice the specific parts we worked out.  I also e-mail or make a copy of the proposed list with the keys that we are doing everything in and all of our practice notes.

Practice notes -- this leads me to another very important part of practice!  With four reasonably normal people, you would think we would be able to remember what we talked about and decided on for a list of songs, wouldn't you?  It's really pathetic how quickly we forget our decisions.  Sometimes even I can't make heads or tails out of my own practice notes!  I have learned to take very good practice notes and not abbreviate too much.  What do I put in my practice notes?  I put just about everything we decided on about a song in the practice notes:

* Who kicks off the song, on what instrument, and how (e.g., turnaound, full break)
* Who is singing lead and who is singing what harmony part(s)
* What word do we start singing harmony on if it is not the first word of the chorus
* How to pronounce certain words, if this is an issue
* Phrasing and breathing
* Key changes, if there are any
* Instrument changes during the song, if there are any
* Anything special that we did with rhythm or chords
* A Capella parts (vocal-only parts)
* Split breaks
* Endings (tags? A Capella? instrumental?)
* Did we decide to do only specific verses of a song and not the whole song?
* Notes that should make it to the final setlist for our actual performance
* Anything else that we decided about the setlist

I usually don't worry about the order of the setlist until it gets closer to the gig.  It is very important to create a setlist ahead of time and to go through the songs in the setlist in the order in which you intend to play them.  Why?  Because sometimes you get two songs back to back that you or someone else in the group is unable to play back to back.  For example, Red Haired Boy and Salt Creek are probably not tunes you want to play back to back.  They have such a similar chord structure that this can cause some musicians a problem.  You might not even know why you can't play certain songs back to back -- you just find that you can't!  Much better to find out before your gig than DURING your gig!

If we are working on songs for a CD that we are going to record, it is VERY important that we have a list from which to work!  We usually go to the studio between two and four times, depending upon how many songs we are recording, how many hours we have the studio for, and how well-prepared we are.  We talk about which songs we should record first.  These are the ones that we feel the most comfortable with.  You want to have a good start in the studio, plus you don't want to waste time practicing in the studio.  Studio time costs too much to do any practicing there!  We make sure everything is in its finest form before we take it to the studio.  Notes allow each one of us to practice what we need to practice.  It keeps us from forgetting to work on something that we need to work on.

Now to the more fun part of actually practicing.  When we are working on arrangements, we all tend to come up with ideas.  Some of the ideas come from making mistakes that we all decide we like.  Some come from listening to other groups.  Sometimes we just simply think that something might sound good, so we try it!  Not all the ideas we come up with are good, but they are all worth trying.  No one complains about having to try the ideas.  Ever.  We just do it!  We have a lot of good-natured humor going around about each one of us.  We do a lot of laughing, making faces, purposely playing stuff terribly, and eating.  It's an event.  Our practices usually last about four hours.  We try to practice at least twice a month or even every week.  It just depends upon how many gigs we have and what we need to accomplish.

Once we get everything down, we try to practice for overall improvement.  This is when we work on things like cutting off words together, pronouncing words the same, equalizing harmony volumes, equalizing tone qualities of voices, and actually singing all the words with the same rhythm and inflection.  We also work on instrumental background fill-ins.  Sometimes we even change some of the things we decided on earlier.  These are all things that I will put on our practice notes, too.  We will also do practices where we stand up and work the mic just like we would do in a show.

I think the better you know someone, the more likely you are to know what they are going to do.  This is so important for a band.  We use so much eye contact and body language to tell each other what to do or not to do.  It is important that we all like each other and can have fun with each other.  If I give someone the "eye," they know something important is coming up.  If I need Emily to take a break, I give her the eye and nod my head.  She knows exactly what I mean.  When Zane is getting ready to end a song that doesn't have a tag (or if he wants to end something early), he lifts the headstock of his guitar slightly and then we all know what to do.  If one of us is too far from the microphone, a simple look and nod takes care of it.  Things like staying directly in front of the mic or moving immediately away from the mic all give clues as to what needs to be done. 

One of the best things you can do yourself to make band practices go better is to come prepared.  Make sure you know what you are supposed to know.  If you are singing lead, get your words memorized quickly so you can practice without the words.  Make sure you know your instrumental break.  It is very frustrating for others in the band if you always come unprepared.  The rest of the band members don't want to hear your excuse.  We all have busy lives.

The second best thing you can do for yourself is to be forgiving and forbearing.  We all have bad days where it seems nothing we play comes out right.  Or we can't remember the words to save our life.  Or it was extra stressful at work, at home, or whatever!  My band members are like family to me.  We love and forgive each other.  None of us are even close to being perfect!  Making fun of yourself can really release tension.  Take the blame for something that obviously wasn't your fault.  It will make everyone else laugh and it will relieve any stress!

Playing together in a band is one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done.  If you haven't tried it yet, do it!  Get some friends together and play for nursing homes or private parties!  You'll become a better musician and you'll have so much fun!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another UPS Blunder

I posted a link to my blog about UPS on my own Facebook site, The Bluegrass Shack's FB site, and also UPS' FB site. I finally got a response from someone named Moe. Moe works for UPS and apparently monitors the UPS FB page. Here is his response to why our package was claimed as being insufficient. Once again, UPS has it wrong and doesn't know what it's talking about!

January 28, 2012 - Moe's e-mail to me:

Thank you for sending your concerns to us via e-mail. In reviewing the details of your claim, it appears as though it was denied based on the burst strength of the exterior packaging. The packaging that housed your materials was a corrugated box with 199 pounds per inch burst strength. To accommodate our shipping systems and conveyor belts, we require corrugated boxes to be of at least a 200 pounds per inch burst strength. I absolutely understand how such a miniscule oversight would upset you and have escalated a Corporate Concerns case regarding this issue. A dedicated Case Manager will contact you on Monday; 1/30/2012 in order to further research this situation and work on your case. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Here is my reply to Moe:

Thank you for your reply. Once again, UPS doesn't know what it's talking about. Our boxes are rated at 200 Pounds per inch. I have attached a picture of the bottom of the box that even states that right on the box. These are the only boxes we buy and have been buying since we opened here. Even if that was the case, the instrument was housed inside a hardshell case which was WAY more than 200 pounds per inch. The box was simply a place to put a label and a double-layer of protection. So please, I would LOVE to hear what the Case Manager has to say now. I'm sure it will be another excuse.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The End of UPS

It's easy to see in this current world how businesses are not able to make it. Small companies, large all seems to come down to really poor business decisions, bad personnel, lack of communication, lack of follow-up, and lack of care for customers.

Take, for example, our most recent issue with UPS. We had a fiddle damaged in shipment in July of 2011. When I first received a call from Crawford, the company that handles all of UPS' claims, I was told they wouldn't even file a claim because I hadn't packaged the item correctly. They hadn't even seen the item yet! First of all, we buy special boxes for our fiddles and we only ship fiddles in cases. This particular fiddle was shipped in a wooden case with bubble wrap both inside and outside the case. The boxes are 36" x 12" x 10", and they are brand new -- shipped to us via diesel truck on a pallet.

I argued with the lady, who I didn't even realize wasn't with UPS at that point, until I finally got her to agree to file a claim. I was then told that the instrument sustained damage due to the heat, and that UPS was not responsible for any heat damage. They claimed that the neck had come loose from the fiddle at the glue joint. For those of you who don't know, fiddles are put together with heat-sensitive glue called hide glue. If this hide glue gets very, very hot, it might come loose. UPS claimed that this is what happened to the fiddle. I explained to the claims rep (Tamyra) that we had mailed a whole bunch of fiddles out during the heat and that none of them had sustained any damage. I did not think it was heat damage, but I had yet to see pictures or the instrument itself. I told her I didn't know if I wanted to continue using UPS. She told me she didn't care because she didn't work for UPS! This is when I found out that I was talking to someone at Crawford instead of UPS. I didn't know that UPS outsourced their claims.

I eventually got the fiddle back (October 2011) and was able to look at it myself. At that point, I saw that the damage to the neck of the fiddle was not at the glue joint. The heel itself was cracked in half where there wasn't a joint.

I called UPS back to see what I could do. At that point, I was originally told by UPS that this claim had already been denied twice, which was news to me, and that there was no overturning the decision at this point. I tried to call my Sales Support Representative, but found out that she no longer worked for UPS. When I tried to find out who my new rep was, no one seemed to be able to tell me. I eventually got the name of Jessica W. and spent quite a bit of time trying to resolve the issue with her. It all started with a phone call and then an e-mail to Jessica.

October 13, 2011 - Phone message and e-mail to Jessica. I attached pictures of the fiddle to the message.

This fiddle neck did not separate at a glue seam. It is broken at the heel. There is NO SEAM in this spot so it is impossible for it to have been caused by the glue getting hot as there is no glue in this spot. I just got this back from the customer today.

I will be contacting you again regarding this. Thank you.

October 20, 2011 - Finally received a response from Jessica.

When it comes to claims, all I can do is gather information. Crawford is the company that makes the decisions on the claims. I can not overturn these decisions. I did send the information on and explained what was explained to me. I will send this information to the Account Executive for your account to see if they can do anything. However, they must follow the same lines, we can only gather information, Crawford makes the decisions.

October 20, 2011 - My reply to Jessica.

Thank you for getting back to me. Who is the Account Executive for our account, and who do I need to talk to at Crawford? Also, how do I get in contact with these two people? Thanks!

October 26, 2011 - Haven't heard anything from anyone. I sent another e-mail to Jessica.

I am still waiting for your answer. Who is the Account Executive for our account, and who do I need to talk to at Crawford? Also, how do I get in contact with these two people? Thank you.

October 27, 2011 - Response from Jessica.

I have reached out to the AE for your account and am waiting on a reply. I will see if I can find a contact for Crawford, contact information should be on the information you received on the denied claim. How much was the product insured for?

October 27, 2011 - My reply to Jessica.

I believe I insured it for $800, but I am unable to access the history on the UPS website so I don't know for sure. Is there some other way I can look this up? Thanks.

November 14, 2011 - Still haven't heard from anyone. I sent another e-mail to Jessica.

It has been several weeks since I have heard from you again. No one has contacted me from the insurance company or from UPS. I asked on October 20, who is the Account Executive for our account, and who do I need to talk to at Crawford? Also, how do I get in contact with these two people?

November 15, 2011 - Response from Jessica.

I spoke with the Account Executive, she is only able to go to $200.00. The contact at Crawford would be on your claim information that it was denied and the contact information should be there as well.

November 15, 2011 - My reply to Jessica.

You still haven't answered my question. Who is my Account Executive and how do I get in touch with that person? Thank you.

November 16, 2011 - Response from Jessica

Your Account Executive is Alice D. and I reach out to her yesterday, she will be contacting you.

November 18, 2011 - I guessed at Alice's e-mail address since Jessica didn't provide it, and sent the following message.

As you can see from the accompanying messages, I have been corresponding with Jessica since October 13 and still do not have any answers to this UPS claim. I even spoke with Jessica prior to this and sent pictures, but did not get the violin back until the beginning of October to be able to send actual pictures of the damage to Jessica.

Jessica does not answer my questions and has been completely ineffective in helping me solve this problem. She did finally tell me you were my Account Executive. What can you do to help me with this issue? I think everything is explained in this e-mail if you read from the bottom up. If you need more pictures and/or information, please let me know. I will do whatever I can to help you out.

November 28, 2011 - Sent another message to Jessica.

I still haven't heard from anyone.

December 9, 2011 - Jessica's reply (finally).

I have sent another message to the AE to get in contact with you.

December 12, 2011 - Alice finally responds to my e-mail of November 18th.

My name is Alice Duncan and I am the account manager for Southwestern Illinois.

I received your message from our support team on Thursday, December 8th as well as from Jessica asking me to get in touch with you regarding this damage from July of 2011.

According to what I see in our records, the violin got too hot in transit and therefore separated from the base and there was no damage to the exterior carton. Due to this being a heat related damage, Crawford has stated the claim will not be paid according to our tariff terms and conditions noted below.

If you feel the need to pursue this further, then you will need to pursue this through legal action and I can no longer be involved. I am happy to send you further information on packaging guidelines and suggestions to help avoid this situation in the future. I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused both you and your customer.

UPS Tariff Terms & Conditions: Perishable or Temperature Sensitive Items:

49.3 Exclusions from Liability

UPS shall not be liable or responsible for:

– loss or damage to articles of unusual value (as defined in these Terms);

– loss or damage to Prepaid Letters;

– loss or damage to any package resulting from insects, moths, vermin, inherent vice, deterioration, dampness of atmosphere, extreme of temperature, ordinary wear and tear, or that which occurred or arose prior to or after the course of transportation by UPS;

– loss or damage to any package resulting from improper, inadequate or unsafe packaging or wrapping that fails to meet UPS's published standards related thereto set forth in the Terms or at;

– loss or damage to Perishable Commodities to the extent the loss or damage results from exposure to heat or cold or the perishable nature of the item; – loss or damage to human remains, fetal remains, human body parts, or components thereof;

– loss or damage to fluorescent tubes or bulbs;

– loss or damage due to war risks, acts of God, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, nuclear damage, acts of public authorities acting with actual or apparent authority, acts or omissions of customs or similar authorities, authority of law, the application of security regulations imposed by the government or otherwise applicable to the shipment, riots, strikes or other labor disputes, civil unrest, disruptions in air or ground transportation networks, disruption or failure of communication and information systems, or natural disasters;

– loss or damage to any package for which UPS has no record reflecting that the package was tendered to UPS by the shipper; or

– loss or damage to any package containing articles that shippers are prohibited from shipping, that UPS does not or is not authorized to accept for transportation, that UPS states that it will not accept, or that UPS has a right to refuse.

Thank you for you time.

December 13, 2011 - My response to Alice.

I was wanting to talk with you on the phone. The fiddle DID NOT sustain heat damage. I have the instrument here and the neck is broken in half and it is not on a glue joint, therefore it cannot be heat related. The instrument was well packed, in a box that is purchased especially for violins, and it was in a suspension case surrounded by bubble wrap. Please call me. Thank you.

December 27, 2011 - Posted on UPS' Facebook page in response to another person's complaint that UPS was not honoring its damage claims.

Join the club! I'm a business and they won't honor claims here either, even though we've only had 2 claims in 5 years! In fact, no one at UPS can tell me who is my account rep or the boss. Wow! What a bunch of people who don't seem to know anything!

Within 18 minutes, a UPS Facebook Rep responded with the following message.

Chris, if you are the shipper of record we can research your claim. Send in your tracking number and contact phone number to Thanks, Seini

I then responded with the following e-mail.

I hardly know where to start. I have been dealing with a claims issue since July. I was originally told my account rep was Jessica Wiggins. After dealing with her for many months, I was then told it was not her but was Alice Duncan. Alice will not return my calls, and all I get is her voicemail when I call. I sent her e-mail messages and asked her to call me, but she told me she couldn't help me and to just hire an attorney if I wanted to dispute the claim. I told her to please call me anyway because I really don't understand what is going on and why the claim isn't being covered. I was originally told it was improper packing. Then it was changed to hot temperatures making the glue come loose. When I got the violin back here at the shop, it was not broken on a seam, so it could not be hot temperatures making the glue come loose. This is what I was trying to get across to Alice, but since she won't even talk to me... I ended up getting in touch with your claims company again and was then told the claim was denied because there was no damage! I really don't get it? Do these reasons just keep changing and changing until a person just gives up?

I filed a complaint that my account manager would not call me. I did this several times actually. I was told I would get a call back with 24 hours. I never did.

Eventually, I got in touch with Louis at xxxx. He seemed very responsive at first. Told me to call him back when I got in touch with the claims company and that he would help me. I did that, and now Louis won't call me back. I asked to have my account manager changed from Alice to someone else. Apparently, that hasn't happened either.

on 12/8 - I talked to an unknown person at UPS
on 12/12 - I talked to Sandra
then Derrick
on 12/13 - I talked to Gabe
on 12/21 - I left a message for Louis to call me
on 12/22 - I left another message for Louis to call me
on 12/27 - I filed another complaint with Sheila

These are not the only calls or e-mails that I have sent. I have yet to hear from my account rep. I thought the account rep was supposed to be the one to help me with this. We have had our business account for several years now, and we've only had two claims. It's not like we're milking UPS. I have kept most of my e-mail correspondence with Jessica Wiggins and Alice Duncan. I can provide you with that as well, if needed.

How can a company this large not have a person that can call me back and help me with this issue?

December 27, 2011 - Response from Seini.

Thank you for sending in your e-mail. I was able to confirm that the Account Manager assigned to your account is Alice D. However, claims issues are handled through our claims department as the local reps are out in the field. If there is a claim that you would like researched, please send in your tracking number for review.

My reply to Seini.

The tracking number is xxx. The package went to Scott A. It is now back here at our shop. I had the customer mail it back in October after waiting and waiting to try to get this taken care of. Do you need pictures? I kept the original box and packing material, and they have been sitting in our showroom with the violin since October.

The only other claim we had was taken care of immediately. That time, I dealt with Dawn S., who is a Sales Support Representative for the Illinois District. The number I have for her is no longer good, so I assume she is no longer with the company?? When she helped us, she actually came to our shop and looked at everything personally. We buy specific boxes for our violins, they are oversized, and the instruments are packed in suspension cases and also bubble wrapped. The cases are then bubble wrapped in the box. Dawn took one look at everything and then took care of it. Why can't I get anyone to do that this time? Why won't anyone call me back or give me the name and phone number of who I need to call?

Late December - Somewhere along the line, I was given the name of Jeff S., who apparently works for Crawford. I called him on the phone and was told that my claim was denied because there was no damage to the item. Are you kidding!!! I told him I had the item here and was looking at the damage. He said it was *new* damage...

December 28, 2011 - Response from Seini.

Thank you for sending in the requested information. Through further research I was able to find a note made on December 23 indicating that re-inspection arrangements would need to be made regarding your dispute of the denied claim. Please advise if you have not heard from anyone to make inspection arrangements and I will follow up with the claims group for an updated status.

My reply to Seini.

No one has contacted me regarding reinspection. The last person I spoke to was Jeff S. who said that I needed to talk to someone from UPS because the violin had not been damaged according to them. Someone was supposed to call me again today by 5:00 p.m., but still no one did. This is how it has been for months.

Response from Seini.

Thank you for the update. I have reached out to a district representative for an update regarding the noted re-inspection. I will keep you updated as soon as I have any additional details to provide.

December 29, 2011 - Received an e-mail from Seini.

I have received notification that the district office will be contacting you today to setup re-inspection arrangements for your package. The inspection arrangement should be for noon tomorrow.

December 29, 2011 - I was contacted by Trish S. who is the District Security Manager of UPS. We made arrangements for Marianne B. to come take new pictures of the fiddle and contents of the box.

December 30, 2011 - Marianne came and took the pictures. She was very nice and professional. She gave me her card and told me to contact her if I didn't hear from anyone within a couple of weeks.

January 23, 2012 - Haven't heard from anyone again. I sent an e-mail to Marianne.

January 24, 2012 - My husband, Earl, decided to get involved because I'm too nice. I have no idea how many people he "spoke" to. He even contacted UPS headquarters in Atlanta. He was also lied to the same way I was. We always get the line that someone will call us back within 24 hours or within one hour, or whatever. It never happens!

I spoke to Kurt H. and also to Ken L. Told the story all over again making it as short as I could. Kind of hard to do at this point! Ken is the Sales Operations Supervisor. He told me that our file got sent to the wrong office. He also said Jessica and Marianne were no longer working for UPS. Hmmmm.

Eventually, Ken told me that UPS doesn't *insure* packages. Something about a lawsuit filed some years ago and that it was determined that UPS couldn't send and insure its own packages. Not sure what the extra fee is we pay then... Also, if you notice the exact wording of Jessica's October 27th e-mail, she asks me how much I insured the package for. If UPS doesn't insure packages, then why would one of UPS's agents be asking me how much I insured a package for?

Ken was always nice and also called me back and kept me informed about things.

January 26, 2012 - Ken called to tell me that UPS had denied our claim because the item wasn't packaged properly. When I asked what was improper about the packing, he couldn't tell me. After all, as I stated earlier, we buy boxes especially for shipping our fiddles, we ship the fiddles in cases, and we also pack around the fiddles and cases.

Guess what FedEx will insure??? We had a customer ship a fiddle to us that wasn't even IN a box. It was shipped in its case only. The fiddle was basically DESTROYED. FedEx took care of our customer.

This is the end of UPS. Hello FedEx.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Calling All Youth Musicians & Singers!

Missouri Area Bluegrass Committee (MABC), aka Bluegrass America, is sponsoring its annual Youth Contests this year on Friday, March 16, 2012.  This is a very unique competition because it includes the Talent Contest in addition to the Banjo & Fiddle Competitions.  This is definitely my favorite of all the contests!  This provides the opportunity for all musicians 16 years of age and younger to perform on any number of bluegrass instruments, sing, or even compete as a youth band!  Friday night tickets are only $10.00, and Youth 16 & under are free with a paying adult. I guarantee you'll be entertained!

The contests are part of the 12th Annual Gene Roberts Memorial bluegrass festival held at the Holiday Inn Six Flags in Eureka, MO.  Rooms are only $69 when you ask for the bluegrass rate. Jamming throughout the hotel, Saturday morning matinee, and live bluegrass music shows Saturday afternoon and evening!

The Bluegrass Shack will be set up in the vendor room throughout the weekend, and Chris will be managing the Friday night youth competitions.  Click HERE for a direct link to the .pdf flyer.  If you have any questions on the competition, please contact Chris Talley Armstrong at The Bluegrass Shack via e-mail at or at 618-475-3678.  We hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm Left-Handed: Should I Learn to Play Right- or Left-Handed?

This is actually a repost from 2010, but it is one of the most common questions I get, so I thought I should repost it.

Now there's a loaded question if I've ever heard one! Especially since I'm right-handed!

My advice to left-handers is this: If you don't already play an instrument left-handed, DON'T START! Why? Well, there are several very good reasons why.

1) Once you start left-handed, you'll want to play all instruments left-handed...

2) Since most instruments are made right-handed, you won't get the same selection of left-handed instruments that you'll get right-handed. They cost more and many have to be special-ordered.

3) If you want a vintage left-handed instrument, it's much harder to find.

4) You won't be able to play other people's instruments and they won't be able to play yours.

5) If you want to play violin in an orchestra, you WON'T BE ALLOWED to play left-handed.

6) Many instruments don't even come in left-handed models (e.g., the trumpet, the flute, the cello, etc.)

Now, onto some other information for you if you still aren't convinced. Both hands have to learn to do something, so what difference does it make? As a teacher, I have taught many left-handers to play right-handed. I've not had ONE single student come back and tell me they wish they would have done it the other way around. I've not had one single student not able to do it.

As far as teaching goes, I have had several left-handers that seemed less coordinated at first, but this went away after several weeks of practice. My left-handed students that learn right-handed generally thought that any problems they were having were related to the fact that they weren't playing left-handed. This is quickly dispelled when they have a chance to talk to others who are learning and they see that practically everyone faces the same challenges. When they realize the difficulties they are having are not limited to themselves, they get over it quickly because they stop making excuses.

If you MUST play left-handed, for whatever reason, I suggest the upside-down backwards method. In the St. Louis area, we are lucky to have one of the finest left-handed upside-down backwards players I know of. He played with the Over the Hill Gang for 17 years and his name is Harry. Harry plays the guitar, mandolin and fiddle all upside-down and backwards. He is simply incredible! Now what does that mean? It means he takes any ordinary instrument and simply flips it over. He doesn't restring it (which would not work well for several reasons that I'm not going to go into right now). When everyone else is strumming down, Harry strums upwards.

How about switch-hitting? It's common in baseball, so why not make it a standard in music?

One more insteresting fact. When I was in college, we used to do these informal polls on the blackboard in the music majors' student lounge. More than half of all the music majors were left-handed. How many played left-handed instruments???? None!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

MABC's Contest Results

This past weekend was the Fiddle & Banjo Contest held in Eureka, MO as part of Bluegrass America's (MABC) 30th Annual Winter Bluegrass Festival.  Once again, there were a lot of new players and plenty of long-time friends as well!  It was a great contest with a total of 24 contestants. 

I want to thank Walter & Willa for their wonderful job as emcees of the contest, Zane for his help backing up the contestants, Carla who took care of the scorekeeping, and our three judges Ron, Dan & Chelsea.  I also want to thank all of the people with MABC for putting on the contest and allowing me to manage it for the past 5 years or so (I've lost track!).  Here are the results:

Junior Banjo (16 & Under)
1st - Luke Currey (Most Entertaining)
2nd - Lucas Worthington
3rd - Lindsey Martin (Youngest Banjo Player)

Junior Fiddle (16 & Under)
1st - Emily Worthington
2nd - Nathanael Worthington
3rd - Tyler Rainey
4th - Harrison Heselbarth
5th - Audrey Neel (Youngest Fiddle Player & Most Entertaining)

Open Banjo
1st - Zach Hardesty
2nd - Dave Macon
3rd - Chelsea Perkinson (Most Entertaining)
4th - Kevin Martin
5th - Dennis Huebner (Oldest Banjo Player)

Open Fiddle
1st - Sadie Currey
2nd - Howard Marshall
3rd - Richard Shewmaker (Most Entertaining)
4th - Stephen Hall
5th - Ben Smith
Zane Prosser - Oldest Fiddle Player

Come on over to the festival in March, held at the same location -- Holiday Inn Six Flags, Eureka, MO.  Click here for a link to the March festival. We hope to see you there!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Early Closing This Weekend

The Bluegrass Shack will be set up in the vendor room this weekend at the Bluegrass Festival in Eureka, MO.  We will be closing at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, January 6, 2012.  We will be closed all day on Saturday, January 7, 2012.  Come see us at the festival!