Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Gone fishin’

Hi everyone, I’m leaving this blog up as an archive, but I’m focusing on my business now and can no longer respond to requests for help with playing or buying banjos. If you’re looking for banjo-istic help, please head over to the Banjo Hangout, where you’ll find a big, friendly group of people. Thanks!

Where am I?

You may have noticed the thick layer of dust on this blog. I’ve been focusing more on my business than my banjo, and I’ve been traveling a lot.

Hurrican Alex wanders by for a visit

I’ve spent the last several months in Mérida, Mexico, where I’m likely to stay for awhile. It’s a peaceful city on the Yucatán peninsula with Mayan and Cuban cultural influences. My banjo isn’t here but it plans to join me, so maybe I’ll find some (very!) open-minded local musicians and see how salsa or trova rhythms work on the banjo.

I have some ideas for more lessons, so once I’m more settled, I hope to make some more videos.

Thanks for your patience and for the messages I’ve received personally and through your blogs!

Sydney players: Could I borrow your banjo Dec. 8?

I’m on a speaking tour of Australia, and my client would like me to play banjo for a final event. Would anyone in Sydney be willing to lend me a 5-string banjo for the night of Tuesday, Dec. 8? I’ll be happy to swap a clawhammer lesson or tunes for the use of your banjo! At this point it looks like I’ll be in Sydney only briefly – arriving the afternoon of Dec. 6, leaving Dec. 9 or possibly the 10th. I’ll be staying in the CBD near Wynyard station.


Brisbane workshop and Australian banjo sightings

I’m in Australia at the moment, and here’s the scoop on the Brisbane workshop:

Saturday, Nov. 28, 1 PM in New Farm Park, near the rotunda

If it’s raining, we’ll find another spot. If you’d like to get notified of any changes, please send me an email with your mobile number and I’ll be sure to let you know if we move the location. Please see the About tab for my email address.

I did an informal workshop in Hobart on Nov. 16 with about 8 enthusiastic players who patiently endured my onslaught of information. I also enjoyed some tunes with Fred Pribac and saw what I suspect was just a small portion of his extensive instrument collection. Thanks to everyone in Hobart for your hospitality!

I’ve been in Australia since Nov. 4 and saw my first Australian banjo on that first day, near my lodging at Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney.

If they had an extra banjo, I would have joined in. Ten days later, I had my second banjo sighting in the Adelaide Christmas Parade:

So far my itinerary has included Sydney, Darwin, Adelaide, Hobart, and Perth. Brisbane, Melbourne, and another trip to Sydney are coming up.

Source of Indiana songs

People interested in old music of the Midwest might like The Play-Party in Indiana, which describes many of the songs and party dances enjoyed in rural Indiana at the turn of the 20th century and earlier. You can read the book online or download it from Google Books.

You’ll recognize several song names (Polly Put the Kettle On, Golden Slippers, …). The melodies aren’t always what we associate with the names, and it’s clear that thrifty Hoosiers got a lot of use out of the melody that we know now as “Buffalo Gals.”

Here’s a song that’s now played as “Hawks and Eagles” at old-time sessions:

Old Brass Wagon

I like the lyrics in the next one. Unfortunately, the dance notes don’t describe what happens when the dancers are supposed to “all chaw hay on the corner”: Continue reading ‘Source of Indiana songs’

Hey Australia! Want a workshop or jam?

I’m happy to report that I’ll be visiting Australia from mid-November to mid-December on a business speaking tour, and so far it looks like I’ll have time for a banjo workshop or jam at these points:

Nov. 15 or 16: Adelaide or Tasmania
Nov. 22: Perth or Darwin
Nov. 28-29: Brisbane or Sydney
Dec. 6: Melbourne

I don’t want to book all these dates (even if it were possible) but if the date for your area looks good and you’d like to organize something, please let me know at the email address listed under the “About” tab.

Workshop topics could include syncopation/beyond bum-ditty, learning by ear, making a tune your own, or similar ideas. Or we could just jam–whatever works for you.

I’m also hoping to go to a bush dance or two and otherwise check out the music & dance scene, so if you know of anything I shouldn’t miss, please pass it along.

Nylguts + light bridge = great pop!

When I first put nylon strings on my Stewart, I kept using my usual Grover bridge with the ebony inset. I liked the strings but they seemed quiet.

Then the banjo’s neck needed a repair, which lowered the action, so I wanted a taller bridge. Luckily I found this page, where Joel Hooks describes the type of bridges that work best with nylon strings.

I ended up getting a tall maple “minstrel style” bridge by Bill Morris. It has no ebony inset.

minstrel bridgeNow the Nyguts have a surprising amount of volume and “pop”—more than the steel strings ever had. After hearing the minstrel bridge, a banjo buddy made a similar light bridge for his Nylgutted banjo and also got the boost in volume.

So if you try nylon strings, you might try a lighter bridge, too!

See how Aquila owners make gut strings

Here’s a video visit to the small Italian workshop where the Aquila folks (of Nylgut fame) show you how they make gut strings. At the end you’ll see a garage full of Nylgut.

The video is part of the Ukulele Safari, in which uke players Bosko and Honey film ukulele players around the world. I want to be Bosko & Honey.

Beginners: What do you need?

Several people have asked me to make some videos for beginners, so I guess I will. I’ll start with the very basics, like how I hold the banjo and how I tune it. I’ll also cover how I approach the basic clawhammer stroke.

A bit of a caveat: I’ll assume that beginners plan to play all sorts of music, so I won’t focus exclusively on what’s considered correct in the old-time community. I’ll just show what has worked for me.

Are any beginners reading this? If so, what do you want to see that isn’t already covered by other YouTube videos? Please leave a comment.

In Europe? Make your Banjoree plans!

Want to break out of the “bum-ditty” box? I’ll teach “Progressive clawhammer banjo rhythms” on May 2 at the Banjoree near Hagen Germany. We’ll play several non-“bum-ditty” rhythms, including Balkan ones like 7/8, that you can use to expand your clawhammering creativity.

The rhythm workshop is just one of several at the weekend. You can build your expertise in many styles, including:

  • Scruggs technique: Juergen Biller
  • Classic and minstrel: Clarke Buehling
  • 3-finger single string: Andreas David
  • Progressive clawhammer banjo: Udo Weihrauch

There are also workshops in three-finger bluegrass guitar (Wayne Henderson) and bluegrass mandolin (Ulli Sieker).

Of course, we’ll also have jams. If you’re usually focused on melody but want to connect more with rhythm, then find me and we’ll organize a “trance jam” that will help you dig down into the groove.

I may also visit the UK, the Netherlands, and France near the time of the workshop. My plans aren’t firm yet. If you know of any festivals in the region, or if you’d just like to jam, let me know!

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