Friday, March 28, 2008

Mark your calendars: Midwest Banjo Camp on June 6-8 in Olivet, Michigan

Midwest Banjo CampMidwest Banjo Camp will be held at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan on June 6-8, 2008. I'm trying to talk the redhead into coming along on the "non-playing spouses, companions and chaperones" option. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 12

Banjo 94 hrs, TV 63 hours
A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.

No banjo lesson this last week, which was a week dominated by non-banjo activities.

I used my little bit of practice time effectively, I think, concentrating on two songs from my Hal Leonard book: Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane and Hard Ain't It Hard. Man, those songs are easier to play when you syncopate 'em.

Also in the last week:

  • I played around with some plastic picks, following some instructions I found for shaping them with hot water. I dunno; they just feel funny. Maybe I'll come back to them at a future date.
  • Man, I am such a newbie. That bad job I did stringing my banjo last week? It sounds like things would have gone much better if I'd had a string winder. I didn't know such an item existed until I saw one on eBay on Thursday.
  • Spent some time on music theory this week, watching the DVD Understanding the Formula of Music. I really liked it. The narrator, Dan Huckabee of Musician's Workshop, has put together two tightly-packed hours of information and has made the subjects very clear and approachable. I came away from this DVD understanding a bunch of concepts that I'd been struggling with, such as diminished and augmented chords. I like Huckabee. I can see where some of the reviewers are coming from regarding his flat delivery style, but those folks should get over it and learn from a man who has an impressive bio. He's got some other DVDs that are available from his web site (and from Amazon and via NetFlix). His more recent DVD How to Figure Out Music from Recordings seems to cover much of the same material; perhaps it's the replacement for The Formula of Music. But if you want to see that newer DVD via NetFlix you'll have to get in line behind me; I've already added it to my queue.
  • One thing about that video, though: The logo for Musician's Workshop has been bugging me.

    What's with the lute-playing turtles? Are they supposed to remind us to take a slow and steady approach to learning music? Are they a response to critics' statements about Dan Huckabee's slow delivery style? Are they some oblique reference to the myth of Hermes and his creation of the first stringed instrument from a butchered turtle?
  • I was Googling up information on proper banjo posture when I came across this article about using the banjo as a weapon. An excerpt:
    You can cut your reaction time considerably by having a quick-release harness or wearing it on one shoulder like Earl Scruggs who claims he does it to avoid taking off his hat but you can tell by the way he holds the banjo that he's ready for action.
  • I watched my NetFlix copy of Best of the Flatt & Scruggs TV Show: Vol. 4 and it was every bit as much fun as the first three volumes. That brings me up-to-date with the series so far. Amazon says that volumes five and six should be out on April 1, 2008.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 11

Banjo 88 hrs, TV 61 hours
A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.

Remember, from last week, how proud I was of my new practice regimen? The one where I enter songs from my practice books into TablEdit, play them back with my practice part turned off so I can play along?


Mike, my instructor, really hated it. I asked him his opinion and he gave it: big thumb-down.

The problem is with my song selection. Mike can understand that I want to play along with music and he doesn't object to that, per se. In fact, he recommended that I look for some band-minus-one CDs. But Mike says that practicing the songs as I was practicing them would make me a boring, soulless player. The songs, as TablEdit played them, were robotic and dull.

Back to the drawing board.

Also in the last week:

  • First time I've ever installed new strings! It took me more than an hour to put five new strings (D'Addario J60 Nickel 9-20 Light
  • ) on the no-name banjo. How did I do? Well, it sounds much better. But I did a terrible job of wire wrapping. I think I'll buy some more new strings and have the shop install them. Still, it was a learning experience. I'll keep trying until I get good at it.
  • Dropped the Oscar Schmidt banjo off at Hogeye Music in Evanston to have a Shubb fifth string capo installed. Jim, the luthier, was having a busy time of it and said it could take as long as a week for him to install it. I'm glad I've got my spare banjo so I don't have to go banjo-less.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Toastmasters progress tracking

I'm working my way through the Toastmasters Competent Communication Award. I'll use this sticky post to track my progress.

9 of 10 speeches required for Competent Communication Award:

  1. Icebreaker
    Status: Presented "Organized" on 4/16/2007.
  2. Organize your Speech
    Status: Presented "The Ultimate Speech" on 4/16/2007.
  3. Get to the Point
    Status: Presented "Harry Potter and the Pirates of Penzance" on 7/16/2007.
  4. How to Say It
    Status: Not done yet.
  5. Your Body Speaks
    Status: Presented "Dress for the Job You Want" on 10/20/2008.
  6. Vocal Variety
    Status: Presented "Let me tell you the story of a man named Charlie" on 3/17/2008.
  7. Research Your Topic
    Status: Presented "Joy and the Mayflower" on 11/19/2008.
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids
    Status: Presented "Banjo versus TV" on 1/21/2008. (Blogged about it, too.)
  9. Persuade with Power
    Status: "Roast Us With The Most Us"l on 5/18/2009.
  10. Inspire your Audience
    Status: Presented "Someday Maybe" on 8/18/2009.

Other speeches:

  1. The Entertaining Speaker
    Status: Presented "50 Degrees Below Windchill" on 9/17/2007.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bought me a spare banjo

Auction tracking during J.R.'s quest for a spare banjo

I'm really happy with the banjo that the redhead got me for my birthday last June. It's an Oscar Schmidt OB5. It's a really good beginner banjo and I'll have to put in a lot of practice before my quality of play warrants a better banjo.

Nonetheless, I'd been wanting another banjo; a spare banjo. A banjo that I could leave at work so I could squeeze in a little practice in the morning and over the occasional lunch hour. One that I didn't care much about so I'd feel free to experiment on it a little.

So last month I set upon the task of finding a cheap spare banjo on eBay.

Here are the rules I set for myself:

  • I want another 5-string banjo, 22 fret banjo.
  • I'll spend no more than $100 for a banjo without a case or $125 for a banjo with a case. That amount includes cost and shipping, but not tax.
  • The banjo must be playable and not require repair.
  • I'll watch as many auctions as I need to, but I'll only cast a winning bid for one auction at a time. (I don't want to end up winning several auctions and having to purchase several banjos.)

Over the course of four days I followed auctions. There were dozens of banjos for sale on eBay during those four days, but only nine of them met my criteria. I watched as eight of those nine auctions exceeded my willing-to-pay price.

Here's the one that I won:

Bluegrass 5 String Acoustic Banjo MIJ by gravitygear
Sold for $116 ($81 + $35 S&H)

Basically, it's a no-name made-in-Japan banjo. It's got a resonator and no tone ring. The fifth string tuner isn't geared but the other four are. The fret board is straight; all the notes sound cleanly. It came with a case; albeit a rickety one.

It's not as nice as my Oscar Schmidt, but it's OK.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sleezy Chickendunkin

Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants Name Generator

I'm Sleezy Chickendunkin. And you are?

Thanks for the link, Tina Sloopy Dottypan!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 10

Banjo 82 hrs, TV 56 hours
A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.

I told Mike how much fun I had jamming at Shorty's. He suggested that I Internet up a list of common jam session songs and practice them.

My fellow Player's Union member biggamefish must have had the same idea; he asked people for their advice on jam songs to study.

Mike gave me some advice on that popping thing. He suggests that I start with my left-hand fingers resting on the strings and that I press down as I pluck; basically the reverse of the sequence I learned at Shorty's.

This was the week I finally got my TablEdit plan together. I completed SteveMcBill's TablEdit tutorial (which is excellent) and I got my MIDI keyboard set up. Now that these are in place, here's my practice regimen:

  • Pick a song in one of my practice books.
  • Create a TablEdit tablature file for the song.
    Books/Hal Leonard Banjo Method Book 1/Page 36 Boil Them Cabbage Down.tef v1.3
  • Change the MIDI options so it will play back all of the parts except the part I'm practicing.
  • Change the relative speed options so it will start slow and gradually get faster as it repeats.
  • Play my banjo as I listen to the MIDI sequence of the other parts.
  • Repeat that last step over and over.

Also in the last week:

  • I ordered up a Fielding-Cutler Banjo Mute. I'd read some positive reviews.
  • I ordered up a Banjo Board. I saw it on the "Travel Instrument Guide" at and it looks like a good way to get in some right-hand practice.

    (Mike warns me that it would be insane to try to do what the creator suggests: play this while driving.)
  • Guess I was in a spendin' mood. Through Flatts & Sharpe I purchased a Souldier banjo strap. I knew from the banjo workshop at Shorty's that I didn't want my metal clip, gouge-up-the-banjo style of strap any more. The Souldier strap wraps entirely under the banjo. It has plastic quick-release connectors. It's pretty. And it's made of recycled, non-animal materials. I love it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

When did Emil Ascher die?

Can anyone help me with a copyright-related question? I've got some sheet music from 1914 by Emil Escher and I'm trying to determine when it passed (or will pass) into the public domain.

I know it's in the public domain in the United States because the work was published before 1923. But many other countries grant a copyright until the death of the creator, plus 70 years. (Plus 80 years in Spain.) So I need to know when Emil Ascher died.

IMDB lists an Emil Ascher who died on 22 October 1922, but it also says that he joined ASCAP in 1936. One of those dates has got to be wrong.

I also find some references to an Emil Ascher who published music into the late 1940s.

(Bad movie alert: Some of Ascher's stock music was used in Plan 9 from Outer Space.)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Battlestar Galactica - Series Recap

Let's get ready for next month's (4/4/2008) return of Battlestar Galactica by watching the previous three seasons in 8.5 minutes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 9

Banjo 73 hrs, TV 52 hours
A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project – J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.

I really tipped the scale in the banjo's favor with a trip to Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival in East Peoria, Illinois. Thursday night through Sunday morning I attended, jammed, studied and basically soaked it all in.

I logged nearly 21 hours of banjo time. Best. Week. Ever.

Also in the last week:

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Jenks Shack is a little old place where we can get together

Want to see what my employees did while I was away, honing my banjo skills at Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival? Sure you do.

Jenks Shack

Yes, it's a hillbilly shack, built out of office materials. (Specifically, the shipping box from a new whiteboard and the board from an old whiteboard. AgileTek has a whiteboard-in-every-office policy and we're in the process of upgrading all of our employees to higher quality boards.)

It totally enclosed my desk:

Office without the Jenks Shack

WroteASongAboutIt. LikeToHearItHereItComes:

(Sung to the tune of Mountain Dew)

AgileTek’s CTO
Coming home from the show
To work for an hour or two
Was surprised to come back
To a hillbilly shack.
Had he drunk too much mountain dew?

Add that to your list of Mountain Dew verses. Some detail shots:

Jenks Shack left detail Jenks Shack center detail Jenks Shack right detail

I assume that's the redhead in the right window. (It had better be!)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mark your calendars: Various Illinois bluegrass festivals

Illinois state banjo

I try to be a good community member, so I picked up all of the Illinois festival flyers at Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival and added them to the list of Illinois events at The Banjo Hangout.

March 28-29-30: 14th Annual Naperville Bluegrass Music Festival
Naperville, IL

June 6-7-8: 8th Annual Three Sisters Park Bluegrass Festival
Chillicothe, IL

July 11-12-13: Crazy Horse Campground Bluegrass Festival
Ashland, IL

August 23-24: 14th Annual Bluegrass in the Gardens Festival
Rockhome Gardens, Arcola, IL

August 29-30-31: 36th Annual Barnes Bluegrass Festival
Aledo, IL

September 26-27-28: 16th Annual Threshermen's Bluegrass Festival
Threshermen's Park, Pontiac, IL (But note that the site currently shows the 2007 [15th annual] festival.)

November 7-8-9: 22nd Annual Greater Downstate Indoor Bluegrass Festival
Springfield, IL