Sunday, August 17, 2008

Audio for Clawhammer Banjo Tunes Book

As you probably remember I finished up a couple of Tab Books back in June. I've finally scratched together some sound files for the Clawhammer book. I apologize for the delay. However, for those that have already purchased the book I hope by now you've worked through the tabs and your getting your fingers around some of the licks and tunes. If you've not purchased a book yet feel free to download these tunes - if you would like a tab of any of them, they're in the book. I've a limited number left, so don't put it off too long if you want one.

I hope these audio files serve as a reference for you. Remember what I said in class. "It's easier to make one alike than two alike." That still applies. I tried to play the tunes exactly as I have them tabbed in the book - and I realize you expect that. However, I know from my own experience that each time I play something I take a different path - no matter how hard I try. I think that I got "close enough" on most of these to give you an idea of the feel and tune of the song. After all it's the song that matters - not just playing what I have in the book. I sincerely hope that none of you are spending your time memorizing these things note for note.

Here's a couple more disclaimers before I post links. These files were created sitting here in front of my computer using an inexpensive computer mic and Audacity. Audacity is great, the mic isn't. It does, however, serve the purpose of getting the tunes in a format that I can easily share. The tunes may also vary a bit in tuning. Sorry about that. I discovered that after everything was recorded. I suppose I could have gone back and fixed those errant tracks, but they're not that far off, and I'm guessing you may drop these files into some sort of software that allows you to slow things down. (Audacity does this, as does Best Practice - both are free.) I played some of the tunes at a slower pace than normal, and others I just played them at a regular speed.

So, without further excuses or stalling here are the tunes:

Zip File of the Tunes

Thanks again for buying my book!


Friday, August 15, 2008

Learning from DVDs

Jack Baker posed a question on the Banjo Hangout recently. He asked. "Can you learn from DVDs?" It's a good question. Is an instructional DVD or Youtube video instruction enough, or does one, at some point, really need to seek out an instructor?

I pondered a bit. Here's my response:

Thinking back to the way I learned...

In some respect I learned without any teachers - at least ones I paid. My parents got me the Earl Scruggs Instruction Record - no book, just the record - and I learned Cripple Creek and everything else I could put to quick use off that record. Then I daily spent hours on end with LPs trying to figure out what the banjo player was doing. I picked up some of it... made up what I couldn't figure out by using the things I learned off the Earl Scruggs Record. I also had a book by Lee Elliot that was very helpful in mapping out how to put things together.

I spent about 8 months or so playing along with records before I ever encountered any real players. However, by that time the woodshedding really paid off and I could actually participate in some jams. I was able to finally watch other players and get new ideas. Seeing the lick wasn't as important to me as hearing the idea in context. I knew at that point that playing with others was a great way to get new tunes, licks and ideas.

So, as I consider how I learned, in many ways I envy those starting today. The volume material available is almost unfathomable. DVD's should be incredibly helpful. I've encouraged my students to play along with records and not worry about messing up because those guys on the recording really don't care; they'll play that song again and gladly stop for you in the middle and let you take your break over and over until you get it right. :) Same applies with the DVD instructor. True, he/she can't tell you what you're doing wrong, but they can show you the right way as many times as you need it - and they never tire of doing it.

I realize the DVD or even Book methods of learning aren't for everyone, but for the observant and non-self-delusional student they can be a suitable substitute for a live teacher.

So, do I think I'd have progressed more quickly with an instructor? Maybe. I'd have perhaps learned more tunes, techniques and licks in a shorter amount of time, but would I have gained the sort of confidence to just go ahead and figure stuff out without having to be shown? Not sure. I'm pretty stubborn, and I like to figure out things my own way... so maybe so. But I also know that I'm pretty lazy, and if I can find a shortcut I'll often take it - and that lack of virtue on my part might have held me back.

Regrets? None. I still think the way I learned was the most beneficial in the long run - at least for me.

Can I learn from DVD's? Yes, but it probably took getting to where I am now first.

So, how do you feel about the current state of instruction material available?


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Steve Kaufman's Acoustic Kamp

Wow... did I say wow? Yeah, well, wow.

Acoustic Kamp was an incredible experience. Teaching banjo is something I enjoy, but teaching banjo to players that have enough interest to travel across the country and pay for a week long session is incredible!

I had 2 classes - beginner and intermediate/advanced. I spent 2 hours a day with each group, and we covered everything from the very basic stroke to the ever elusive cluck. And while I covered a lot of material I think I learned as much or more than my students. There's probably nothing better for me than to have a student or students that ask tough questions that make me think.

Remember, I'm that guy that just plays. I've never really analyzed everything that I do; I just do it. So this Kamp was not just motivation for me to take a closer look at how I approach the banjo, but it forced me to look at how to explain those things that I "just do." There's a silly little quote that came to mind while I was teaching: "It is easier to make one alike than two alike." Meaning that I often find it difficult to do things exactly the same way twice.

I met a lot of great folks - students and teachers alike. I made some friends, reunited with old friends and I look forward to seeing them/you all again. Laura Boosinger was my other teammate for Clawhammer banjo, and it was a real treat working with her.

Evening concerts...

Each night instructors at the Kamp provided entertainment. I was not excluded. I call Roy Curry and pleaded with him to come and accompany me for my section. Roy, being the champion he is, showed up and we ran through my setlist and all was ready. Our set went without any significant problems - at least nothing that couldn't be handled with humor. We had a good time, and I think everyone enjoyed that show. No one threw anything at us, so we count that as a positive.

One afternoon a few of us were standing around and someone asks if I had a yo-yo handy. I happened to have one in my banjo case, so I did the obligatory couple of tricks when Barbara Lamb spotted me. She had just been in Chico and bought a yo-yo at the museum, so she was excited to meet someone that she could mooch a yo-yo lesson off of. We talked a bit and I helped her get her started with just the basics.

(In bluegrass & old-time music the fiddle and the banjo represent a very common duet. It wasn't uncommon for just the pair to perform without other instruments.)

So, she gets the huge grin and tells me that I'd be yo-yoing on her portion of the concert. Her portion wasn't until Thursday of that week, so each time we saw each other we chuckled about the concept of a Fiddle/Yo-Yo duet. Yeah, it's one of those things where you'd have had to be there, but we chuckled. We did. Really.

There were a couple of evenings that I got to participate in the "Open Mic." One time I just soloed alone with my "Early Banjo". The next evening I got to play with "Just Us" as a guest along with Gary Davis. It was a blast!

The pictures you're seeing here (with the exception of the group photos) were taken by R. Brian Porter. His shots are great. Makes me wish I had a better camera, but I'm not so silly to think that a camera will make the difference for me. He's spent as much time behind the lens as I have behind a banjo. It's obvious from his shots that he's spent a lifetime honing his craft. I'm glad he was so willing to share these photos with me - and allowing me to share them with you.

There are a couple of folks I really look forward to seeing again. Hopefully sooner than later. Tony McManus - you know what you did - I'll always remember it. Mark McCluney - not only did you touch my heart, I saw you do the same with others.