Friday, July 31, 2009

Banjo versus TV week 72: Fretted Instrument Guild of America convention

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 7/12/2009 through 7/18/2009.
Banjo 445 hrs, TV 407 hours

I took a 5-string stroll into the land of 4-string banjos by attending the Fretted Instrument Guild of America's annual convention, held this year in Peoria, Illinois.

2009-07-18 J.R. at FIGA convention

We 5-string banjos were outnumbered by a hundred-to-one-ish, so there wasn't much bluegrass to be heard. But there was lots of Tin Pan Alley. For example, I joined the Off-the-Street Band and played along with:

It was a lot of fun. Big thanks go out to my friend Bill Ihnow for getting me connected to this event.

Also in the last week:

Friday, July 24, 2009

RockyGrass photos

I promise that I'll post more about RockyGrass when time permits. For right now:

  • I'm at the 37th Annual RockyGrass Festival in Lyons, Colorado, staying with my friend Warren and eagerly anticipating seeing Earl Scruggs.
  • I'll post some iPhone pix over the next few days. You can see them at my Flickr photostream.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Set list from Tuesday 7/21/2009 Billy Joel/Elton John concert at Wrigley Field

2009-07-21 Elton John and Billy Joel concert 040

  1. Your Song (1970: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  2. Just the Way You Are (1977: Billy Joel)
  3. Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me (1974: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  4. My Life (1978: Billy Joel)

  5. Elton John
  6. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (1973: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  7. Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting (1973: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  8. Levon (1971: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  9. Madman Across the Water (1971: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  10. Tiny Dancer (1972: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  11. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  12. Daniel (1973: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  13. Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) (1972: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  14. Philadelphia Freedom (1975: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  15. I'm Still Standing (1983: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  16. Crocodile Rock (1972: Elton John, Bernie Taupin), which he introduced with Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1908: Jack Norworth, Albert Von Tilzer)

  17. Billy Joel
  18. Prelude/Angry Young Man (1976: Billy Joel)
  19. Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (1977: Billy Joel)
  20. A brief interlude: One chorus of My Kind of Town (Chicago Is) (1964: Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen)
  21. Allentown (1982: Billy Joel)
  22. Zanzibar (1978: Billy Joel)
  23. A brief improvisational interlude: I'm Going to Chicago (Where They Invented the Blues)
  24. She's Always a Woman (1977: Billy Joel)
  25. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (1977: Billy Joel)
  26. The River of Dreams (1993: Billy Joel)
  27. Band member Chainsaw sang Highway to Hell (1979: Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcolm Young [AC/DC])
  28. We Didn't Start the Fire (1989: Billy Joel)
  29. It's Still Rock & Roll to Me (1980: Billy Joel)
  30. Only the Good Die Young (1977: Billy Joel)

  31. Both
  32. I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues (1983: Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Davey Johnstone)
  33. Uptown Girl (1983: Billy Joel)
  34. The Bitch is Back (1974: Elton John, Bernie Taupi)
  35. You May Be Right (1980: Billy Joel)
  36. Bennie and the Jets (1974: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  37. Candle in the Wind (1974: Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  38. Piano Man (1973: Billy Joel)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Banjo versus TV week 71: Two instruments, one capo

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 7/5/2009 through 7/11/2009.
Banjo 437 hrs, TV 406 hours

My banjo instructor, Dave, was the featured performer at the Old Town School's First Friday this month. It was good to see his performance, in part because it gave me a chance to see him practicing the things he's been preaching.

When Dave played with his partner Marian (of David & Marian), for example, I saw something that Dave had told me about back in week 47. Check this out:

Capo versus no capo

This is a trick that Dave often uses when he's playing the same instrument as another musician: two instruments, one capo. Both musicians are playing in the same key, but the fact that only one of them has a capo forces them to use different fingerings from one another. This means that the instruments sound complimentary, not duplicate-ey.

Also in the last week:

  • I was in Berkeley, California, on business this last week, about 6 minutes away from Bill Evans' place. Bill is one of the instructors at Midwest Banjo Camp (among his other accomplishments). He welcomes drop-in students so I had hoped to be able to set up a session with him. But unfortunately for me, Bill and his fiddle-playin' partner, Megan Lynch , spent the week in Colorado, playing with Steve Smith and Hard Road with Bill Amatneek and teaching workshops at the Big Horn Mountain Festival. I'll try again the next time I'm in the Bay Area.
  • My practice buddy switched from mandolin to guitar this week, on account of he got a spiffy new blue guitar. We found some Foggy Mountain Breakdown guitar tabs online and played it together. And, dang, we sounded good!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Banjo versus TV week 70: Cantata Blaues Gras

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 6/28/2009 through 7/4/2009.
Banjo 431 hrs, TV 404 hours

At the "Twilight Zone" session at Midwest Banjo Camp I heard Bill Keith describe his participation in P.D.Q. Bach: Black Forest Bluegrass. It sounds like a hoot. So, despite the facts that...
   ...the CD does not include the English translation of Cantata Blaues Gras ("Bluegrass Cantata") ...
   ...I don't speak German (which is supposed to be essential)...
   ...and Dave feels he doesn't like it as much as he should (and he's a big P.D.Q. Bach fan!)...
...I ordered a copy. Wünschen mir Glück!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I will create a terrific banjo practice area

I'm working on a building, I'm working on a building...

We're almost to the end of my continued celebration of my 2nd banjoversary. Today I'm continuing my discussion of my next year's plans by thinking through the second of my three new plans for the next year: "I will create a terrific banjo practice area."

I'm drawing a lot of this idea from the sessions at Midwest Banjo Camp.

Janet Beazley had this advice in her "Productive Practice Tools and Tips" session...

Set a locale — a room or corner of a room that stays set up for practicing and nothing else

From James McKinney, who taught the "Developing Speed" session at camp, comes a very good point that I hadn't considered before but which really struck home when I heard it:

The importance of privacy

One of many players’ greatest mental barriers to getting quality practice is the fear of annoying others with my endless repetition of scales, arpeggios and other technical exercises. I have found that the ONLY way for many people to do any extended practice is to ensure that they have complete privacy so that nobody will hear them. Even if the others in your surroundings repeatedly assure you that they don’t mind hearing me practice, it still bothers you. You just can’t relax if someone is listening.

If you also feel inhibited by people listening to you practice, you owe it to yourself to arrange a private space for yourself where you can tap, pluck and roll to your heart’s content without feeling as if you are annoying others.

Which brings me to: "I will create a terrific banjo practice area."

And I shall call my practice area...the Fortress of Banjotude.

The Fortress will have:

  • Banjo that remains in the Fortress permanently
  • Guitar so I can continue to learn guitar chords, which helps me follow the guitarist at jams
  • Instrument stand that will hold both my banjo and the guitar
  • Music stand
  • Sound control
    • Enough distance that I don't worry about how loud I am
    • A pad on the floor so I can tap (stomp, even) my foot without bugging people
    • Sound-dampening barriers (maybe; that's kind of tricky and expensive)
    • Banjo mute
    • Guitar mute
    • Headphones
  • Mirror so I can watch my hands
  • Computer with
    • Internet access
    • TablEdit
    • CD/DVD drive
    • Speakers
  • Video camera on a tripod, connected to the computer
  • Printer/Scanner/Copier with spare print cartridges and paper
  • Chair
  • Enough space that I can
    • stand up while playing
    • have guests play with me
  • Shelf for all of my music books
  • Wall space for posters, stickers and other souvenirs
  • Spare strings
  • Mechanical pencil and spare lead
  • Metronome - a good, loud one
  • Capo
  • Electronic tuner
  • Timer that's easy to ready and which will alert me when certain amounts of time have passed
  • Waste basket and recycle bin
  • Battery charger

Coming up: The last stop on the 2nd banjoversary tour: "I will be deliberate about learning songs."

Banjo versus TV week 69: Ripping to YouTube

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 6/21/2009 through 6/27/2009.
Banjo 429 hrs, TV 400 hours

As part of my 2nd banjoversary blogging I ripped a couple of videos off of some DVDs my friends had made and posted them on YouTube. (The videos are J.R. Jenks at Flatts and Sharpe recital (12/6/2008) and Good Ol' Seder Plate.) It was pretty easy to do this using the free demo of AoA DVD Ripper. In its demo mode this software is limited to extracting 10 minute snippets, but that's the limit on YouTube videos anyway.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I will treat my banjo training like sports training

Why, thank you, I *have* been working out.

What did I mean when I said that one of my looking-ahead-from-my-2nd-banjoversary plans is to "treat my banjo training like sports training"?

It's like this. I'd really like to become an impressive banjo player. At this point, I'm just not.

Oh, I'm having fun. As anyone can tell from my banjo antics over the last year (both halves), I'm having lots of fun.

But I'm not making people go, "Wow!" And I really want to do that. So I'm going to knuckle down and be really purposeful about how I practice.

  • I will observe myself as I play and as I practice. (More on this when I blog about the audio/visual aspects of one of my other plans: "I will create a terrific banjo practice area.")
  • I will identify problems with my technique and will do exercises targeted at these problems. I'm not going to try to correct all of my problems at once; they're too numerous. Some examples:
    • I raise my left fingers way off the fretboard; I need to minimize that movement.
    • I plant only my right pinky and my right ring finger is left flailing about; I need to plant both my ring finger and my pinky for a more stable foundation.
    • My vamping stinks.
    • My D-form and F-form are weak and I'm slow to change into them.
    You get the idea. So I'm going to pick a few targeted exercises and do some every day, rotating the exercises when appropriate.
  • I will track my practice daily. I've been using my weekly posts about the Banjo versus TV project to track my banjo hours at a per-week level. I'm going add a chart to these weekly posts that will look something like this:

    Actual (minutes)
    Forward Rolls, easyish (Trischka)53507333
    Hammer-Ons (Trischka) 33333333
    Étude (backward roll) (Trischka)33333333
    Active listening 10381010101510

    And, see? There are some examples of those targeted exercises I was talking about.
  • I will stay relaxed and I will breathe.
  • I will isolate my movements, then integrate them. This means seperate right-hand and left-hand exercises, then doing them both.
  • I will vary my position when I practice. This means playing while standing up and while sitting down.
  • I will end my practice sessions well. I'll have a cool-down period at the end of my practice session in which I do something well, even if I had a hard time during my practice session. James McKinney stresses the importance of concluding your practice session with a positive feeling so you're more inclined to begin again at your next practice session.

Credit for these ideas goes to Dave, Bill Evans, James McKinney and Janet Beazley.

Coming up next: "I will create a terrific banjo practice area."