Sunday, August 31, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 32

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. J.R.'s a few weeks behind, so he's furiously getting caught up in order to concentrate on the Four Corners Folk Festival.
Banjo 215 hrs, TV 182 hours

Things I took away from this week's banjo lesson:

  • I really need to set aside the time to warm up before my lesson. My Mountain Dew solo was much, much worse than it was when I was working it up this week.
  • Still, I'm really pleased at having created my first solo without so much as a glance at tablature.
  • We talked a lot about wrong notes. (Go figure!)
    • A music prof of Dave's (from his Washington College days) told his singers, "If you hit something wrong, never let your face show it."
    • Joe Pass wrote (possibly in a book called The Zen of Guitar) that if you hit a wrong note, hit it again. Hit it again. Hit it again! Make something out of it.
  • My left-hand position is troubled.
    • My thumb should be lined up with the index finger like a pair of pliers. Instead, my thumb is currently about three inches down the neck from my index finger. I'll work on it.
    • I should get used to using my left index finger for barre chords. (I keep wanting to use my middle finger.) Dave says I'll thank him for this later when it's time to switch rapidly from chord to chord.
    • The second string is difficult to barre due to the crease in your phalanges that hits just above that string. Practice.
  • We played along with a great Sam Bush recording of Old Joe Clark.
    • This is a great version for me to play along with at this stage in my chord control. It's in the key of D, which if this was a I-IV-V song would mean D-G-A. That would be bad, since I'm not good on the A chord. But it's a I-IV-flatVII, so it's D-G-C. And I know a couple of C chords! (Another song like this: The Rolling Stone's Great Expectations.)
    • I had a "hot damn, this is fun" moment about 20 minutes in to that. (The first 19 were a little rough.)
    • We also listened to version of Old Joseph by the The Dillards.
  • I told Dave (proudly) that it's been a struggle not to crack a book these last two weeks. Dave says the point of this is not struggling, so he gives me the OK to crack a book if there's one particular tune in one particular book that I want to work on. He says that learning from the book is a valid way of learning, although I'm also now ready to learn in other ways, too.
  • We talked about muted banjo.
    • I told Dave that I've been practicing about half of the time with a muted banjo, as recommended by James McFinney at Midwest Banjo Camp. McFinney says it really lets you hear what your right hand is doing.
    • I showed Dave the mute I made from a foam paint brush.
    • Dave played a version of Richland Woman Blues with Maria Muldaur (of Midnight At The Oasis fame) on vocals and uke, with Bill Keith on muted banjo.
    • I told him the redhead loves the sound of the muted banjo.
  • What's next in my lessons? More playing along with recordings. That's the prelude to being able to play well with other people.

Also in the last week:

  • I watched a bunch of banjo-related YouTube videos:
    • Clifftop, Appalachian String Band Festival
    • Cathy Fink, Clifftop Banjo Contest finals. I met Cathy at Midwest Banjo Camp and videoed her most wonderful banjo puppets. It's a shame that the camera angle doesn't show you Cathy's excellent fingerwork.

    • Tony Trischka @ Floydfest 7 Hill Holler 7-27-08
    • The Best Of Bluegrass - Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms

Banjo versus TV: Week 31

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. J.R.'s a few weeks behind, so he's furiously getting caught up in order to concentrate on the Four Corners Folk Festival.
Banjo 210 hrs, TV 179 hours

I was at a medical device conference in Washington DC this last week. I got a little banjo practice in at a park near my hotel...

...but it was a pretty slow week, banjo-wise. One of the booths at the show had some cool medical swabs...

...which are great for cleaning those hard-to-reach banjo surfaces... I've got that going for me.

Also in the last week:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Andy's Music

The other day I went past a cool-looking music store in Chicago: Andy's Music. It sure looked great through the window.

Looks like a fun place. I'm going to have to get back there during store hours.

On the road to the Four Corners Folk Festival

Hello to the friends, new and old, I met along the way to the Four Corners Folk Festival in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Hello to my high school friend Samir and his wife, Kshama, who just happened to be riding the same plane to New Mexico. It was nice catching up with you.

Hello to Bridget, my seatmate who let me talk her arm off about my Banjo versus TV project. Bridget, the web site I recommended to you is Flatpicker Hangout, the companion site to the Banjo Hangout. Enjoy the wedding and keep up the guitar practice!

Hello to Maggie, who works the counter at Avis and who once had Steve Martin stay over at her house, back when he was a banjo-and-balloon-animal comedian. Yes, Steve Martin knows how to handle a heckler. "I remember my first beer" is brilliant.

And hello to the kitteh in the window of the room downstairs from mine at the Days Inn.

Hello Kitty

Let's hear it for pets-allowed hotels!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bear who turns on a video camera by accident while trying to eat it

Yes, I'm supposed to be catching up on my blogging backlog, but I came across a movie review that's just so deliciously mean I had to point it out. In his review of Meet the Spartans, Slate's Josh Levin says:

Isn't it massive consumer fraud to charge $10.50 for a barely hour-long movie? Perhaps, but it would've been unforgivable to make Meet the Spartans any longer than an hour. This was the worst movie I've ever seen, so bad that I hesitate to label it a "movie" and thus reflect shame upon the entire medium of film. Friedberg and Seltzer do not practice the same craft as P.T. Anderson, David Cronenberg, Michael Bay, Kevin Costner, the Zucker Brothers, the Wayans Brothers, Uwe Boll, any dad who takes shaky home movies on a camping trip, or a bear who turns on a video camera by accident while trying to eat it. They are not filmmakers. They are evildoers, charlatans, symbols of Western civilization's decline under the weight of too many pop culture references.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm going to see Earl!

I'm behind on my Banjo versus TV blogging by (count them: 31, 32, 33, 34) four weeks. Life's been busy. But I've got to get all caught up so I can blog about my upcoming weekend in which...

...I GET TO SEE EARL SCRUGGS PERFORM!!!... the Four Corners Folk Festival in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

So expect to see some fast-and-furious catch-up blogging in the next couple of days. Then? Earl.

Friday, August 8, 2008

BARcamp starts in a week

I'm one of the organizers for...

What?BARcamp Chicago 2008
When?20:00 (8pm) Friday Aug 15 - 20:00 (8:00pm) Sunday Aug 17
Where?A University of Illinois at Chicago commercial space at 1240 W. Harrison St, Chicago, IL 60607 (pictures)
Who?You and lots of others (

Also, bring your instruments for a jam! (Yes, I'll be there with the banjo.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 30

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.
Banjo 208 hrs, TV 176 hours

I really enjoyed my first lesson with Dave.

I'd asked Dave if I could record my lessons with him so I could review them later. The answer was not just yes, but hell yes, because Dave really thinks it helps. I listened to the recording from that first lesson and here's what jumped out at me:

  • I want to play and sing. Dave says these are four separate skills: (1) playing, (2) playing for a singer, (3) singing and (4) playing while you sing.
  • My F form and D form are really weak. We'll work on these, since they are two of the three important movable chord forms. (The barre is the third.)
  • Dave recommends a three-fingered approach to playing backup:

    This is a little tricky for me because I keep wanting to play "The Pinch" that I learned from my Hal Leonard book:

  • At this point, Dave wants me to keep my nose out of books. He says we'll be doing a lot of playing along with recordings and playing by ear. We might look at lick books a little: Janet Davis' Splitting the Licks, for example. Dave also mentioned an out-of-print lick book by Bill Knopf that he says is really good. (Update a couple days later: Out-of-print shmout-of-print -- I found a copy online and ordered it.)

My homework is simple: Work on Good Old Mountain Dew, the simplest of the half-dozen songs Dave asked me to choose. Here are the ground rules:

  • Find a lot of recordings of Good Old Mountain Dew and listen to them.
  • I'm supposed to figure out my own solo without looking at any books.
  • I should use these chords: Open G, 3-finger G, 2-finger D7, G as F-form between 3 & 5, C as barre at 5 and D as barre at 7

Due to schedule conflicts, I'll have two weeks to work on this before my next lesson.

The Sneeze is back!

Why are you reading my blog when you could be reading Steve's brilliant blog, The Sneeze?

Yes, Steve went bye-bye for a while, but he's back now.