Saturday, August 24, 2013

Lesson Seven: Triplets

I've written about triplets before, in fact my other web site has a very good article.  But I will talk about them again because trying to produce triplets is an obsession for all beginners. (I've given up on trying to use the other site,  the NSA will have more luck getting in and changing it.)

My first lesson on the Irish tenor banjo was with Gerry O'Connor (his web site seems to be gone) who is, by any reckoning, the triplet king.  He was not that eager to teach our group of beginners how to do triplets but we hounded him until he showed them to us.  Gerry was reluctant for a reason, he doesn't think that beginners should worry about what is, after all, only an ornament.  The fact that he makes his living with triplets aside, he wants people to play the music and you can do so without the triplet, especially in sessions where they are lost in the mix of instruments.

Triplets are there to emphasize rhythm and "lift" which is a unique quality of Irish music.  They are not part of the tune and in fact need to be placed in different places if you are going to play the tune more than one time if you don't want to be boring.  Some musician's styles use the triplet a lot while others don't.  At some point when you are experienced enough to have a style, you will discover which end of the triplet scale you belong.

Another ontological issue has to do with naming triplets.  For classical musicians a triplet is a written series of three notes in the period of time that two notes should be played.  In Irish music such musical triplets exist, usually in hornpipes, but mostly they are ornamental.  Enda Scahill defines a triplet as different notes played in the ornament while the term "treble" is used for three notes that are the same.  Since we are going to look at mechanical technique, which for the right hand is the same no matter which notes you play,  I will continue to confuse you and call them triplets.

When I first started to play Irish music in our local session, I played my mandolin.  It became clear that I was not going to be heard very well with my mandolin so I found a B&D Silver Bell in a local music shop and went to the dark side.  I struggled with the music and especially struggled with triplets during this period.  Now I realize that the culprit was not my technique (which sucked, a lot) so much as my inability to hear where triplets should go and my anxiety every time I tried to produce one in the session.  I could barely produce them at home where I was safely away from my friends scrutiny.

Gerry showed us what he did.  He didn't use the McTwist, a technique taught by Roger Landes and others, instead he used a wrist triplet which involves only using his wrist stroke.

Here is my take:

I made this video a number of years ago and I still use the wrist triplet with some of the McTwist features.  Often I think I am using one of the techniques and am really using both.

Learning to  play triplets is hard work for such a simple action.  Anxiety resulting in muscle tension is the reason most of us have a hard time getting triplets to work.  When you watch really good players make triplets you can hardly see what they are doing.  Look at the video of Enda Scahill playing the "relaxed hand" and you will see him barely move yet the sound comes out.

I don't recommend trying to make triplets at the start of your banjo career,  but most of the time that advice is ignored, so  when you do try, relax and sing the music in your head.  If you miss, you miss, if you get it, great, but the music comes first.

Here is a compilation of experts playing triplets I (I can't get it to come up on this blog.)

Mike Keyes
Building Your Own Banjo

I like to buy banjos (when I can afford them), fix them up as well as I can  and then sell them to young musicians for my purchase price and let them pay me off over a very long period of time.  I do this because I have found wonderful young musicians who are playing banjos that are crap, to say the least, and they need a better instrument.

Lately it has been harder to find good instrument for less than $600 or so. Usually I look at auctions, Mandolincafe and for instruments I know will probably be good from dealers I trust.  I have stopped using ebay and most of the stores I trust sell at retail which is fine for my instruments but out of bounds for a struggling musician.

I was at Banjothon, a private showing of pre-war Gibson five string banjos, this year when it was suggested that I either build a good tenor banjo or have others do so.  Greg Earnest, who is an unquestioned authority on these banjos, mentioned that First Quality Music in Louisville had a large number of tenor banjo necks for sale and that they could be mated to the Recording King PB-680 Banjo Pot Assembly and with a few added parts a professional level banjo could be had for about $600.

These pots (and the other parts needed) can be bought at two sources, and Janet Davis Acoustic Music  and they are considered to be very good for making the Gibson style banjo by the five string makers.  First Quality has the parts you need too but not the pots.

Banjos are an assembly of parts but that assembly has to be precise and you have to setup each banjo for it to be playable.  Nonetheless, putting together a banjo from parts is a lot easier than building a guitar from a kit.  The most crucial part is fitting the neck to the pot and drilling the holes for the various bits to go through.

Here is a list of what you need:

Banjo pot assembly        $250-$260 (includes rim, flange and flathead tone ring)
Banjo tension hoop         $60
Hooks and nuts                $25-27
Resonator                         $60
Coordinating Rods           $15-$35  (remember to ask for the one that fits the pot.)
Resonator hardware         $25-$30
Tailpiece                           $15
Tailpiece bracket               $3
Tuners                                $70 (for Gotoh, the best, from Bob Smakula.  You can find cheaper but not better.
Armrest not needed but     $23

Total                                   $500-$550 (you may be able to get free shipping) not including the armrest.

The expensive part of building a banjo is the neck - most of the time.  If you had a tenor neck made by one of the better banjo makers it would cost you $600-$1200 depending on the maker.  Because no one seemed to want the lower end Gibson one piece flange necks that fit this pot assembly, I was able to get 15 of them at $70 apiece.  So if you are interested in a project such as this, I'll sell one to you for that price.  Some of the necks are in mint condition, some need refretting and a new nut, some need a truss rod cover (or all the above) but they all fit the pot and they are all straight.  Because Gibson used the same blanks for all their pots and necks, these necks are good feeling but don't have the bling of the higher end necks such as binding or inlays.  They come from TB-0, TB-00 and TB-100 banjos.  The latter necks are mahogany while the others are maple.  All the necks are over 50 years old and have the original cut for the pot.

So you can add another $70 dollars and come to a $570-$620 total, a great price for a professional level banjo.

So what is the catch?  There are two.  First the banjo you end up with will be a Gibson style banjo.  It will have a flathead tone ring which some Irish tenor banjo players don't want.  I find that these banjos are powerful and have great bass response depending on the head (another $15, by the way) or the bridge (from free - I make my own - to $30 or so) and especially the setup.  If you hate Gibson, you are SOL for this project. 

Second, you have to make this banjo.  As I said before, it is not that hard.  I think that for an extra fee  you can get the lag bolt holes drilled (about $30) and the accuracy of these holes is probably the most crucial aspect of putting the parts together.  Adjusting the neck is also a little difficult, but I use .010 brass to shim the neck and get the proper angle.  I'm pretty sure that both vendors will cut the neck with their tools - again for a fee which should be reasonable. Constructing the Five String Banjo by Roger Simminoff is a great book to have on hand when you build.

In the end you will have a very good banjo.  It may not look the greatest - you will have to dye and finish the banjo as you see fit - but it will sound great.  In the mean time you will learn a lot about your banjo and will break down those barriers that make it hard for you to tweak the banjo as needed.

Here is video showing one of my banjos made from parts.  Later on I will have a video showing how to take parts and make a banjo.  If you look at the last blog entry, you will see another banjo I made with a TB-00 neck. 

Mike Keyes
Lesson Six: Bad Banjo Habits

No matter what you do, you will develop bad habits when you play.  Maybe I should say "bad habits" because there are plenty of fine Irish tenor banjo players out there who don't play in a classical manner but still have wonderful music to share. Not every thing that is wrong is "wrong."

But there are a few things that will help you advance your style and technique faster, especially if you are beginner. 

Of course there are a lot of things you can do wrong while playing the banjo.  Wrong posture, wrong grip, weird hand position, the list goes on and on.  Most of these are readily corrected either by a teacher or by checking your technique against the many videos of experts out there.  But two things stand out that are not readily seen and they effect crucial parts of your playing.

My last banjo lesson with Enda Scahill brought this out.  Enda has been studying a relaxation method called the Alexander Technique which is a system of body presentation originally devised by an Australian actor, Frederick Alexander, to help him speak and sing better.  It incorporates a number of relaxation and posture techniques that make a person perform more effectively and more efficiently by making sure that the body is relaxed and that unnecessary levels of muscular tension don't interfere with the performance.

I'm not advocating this technique, like all systems of this sort it takes a long time an much dedication to get it right, but Enda specifically pointed out two places where this idea benefits banjo players.

This is not the first time I have heard these ideas, but it was the first time they came with an explanation.

First the Right Hand.

Speed and right hand ornaments (read triplets) depend on a single motion of the wrist and lack of interfering muscular tension.  Tight grip is the  thing that most interferes with both speed and good tone.  This may sound counter-intuitive, after all a loose grip should result in a lost pick, but time and time again I have observed the best players not only use a soft grip in which the pick moves back and forth, but they have all told me that they try to use as relaxed a grip as possible.  Videos show this happening - just look at the previous blog entry of Enda playing a relaxed grip - and while the pick moves, it moves in the direction of the stroke and is not lost.

On the other hand if you use a gorilla grip on the pick, you not only activate all the muscles in your forearm, but those of the hand too.  In other words all the muscles present are working and the result is both a slowing of the stroke (because you have to fight off the resistance of the opposing muscle) and a loss of control and strength  since the final product of all this muscular activity is the net force of the opposing muscles which is quite weak.

So as relaxed a grip as you can stand is the best grip on the pick.

Next we will look at the Left Hand

The fingers of  left hand are used to press the string to the fret in order to change the note on the banjo.  When you are excited or stressed the natural tendency is to press harder  on the string because you want to emphasize the note.  This is a normal reaction but one that is of no practical value.  Because it is a natural reaction to your music, it becomes harder to change when you need to be more light fingered such as during a fast tempo or fast left hand ornaments.

There is an easy way to find out if you are pressing too hard, your fingers and perhaps your finger joints will hurt after a session of doing so.  I play the mandolin and I tend to use the same force with the banjo that I use on the mandolin.  It is not necessary to do so so I have been trying to  change this and play the banjo more like an electric guitar.  Part of the problem has been solved by lowering the action of my banjos but the rest is a matter of learning the right technique and relaxing.

I have to deliberately  tell myself to "relax" when I play and I have to remind myself often to do so.  Eventually this will become second nature, but it is a matter of practice and work.  You may ask yourself "what's the harm in more pressure than needed?"  The answer lies in what it does to the rest of your body as you play.  I found that I was leaning forward looking at my hand, that my right shoulder was raised and tense, and that I was not breathing during the most difficult passages.  All of these factors worsen when I am playing in session or on stage.  (a lot of this has been discussed in a previous blog.)  The simple thing to do was to practice a light fingered approach.  Martin Howley showed our mandolin class what he does.  He pressed down on the strings until he has a clear note and then tries to keep it at that pressure.

Here is a video showing some of the things that I try to do when I play.  I'm the first to admit It doesn't always happen that way, but I am still a work in progress and will be forever.

Mike Keyes
Lesson Five: Humours of Tulla

I picked another easy tune for you to learn, this time the Humours of Tulla.  this is not only an easy tune, but it is well known and can be played a lot of ways depending on how you want to ornament it.  It sounds good played slowly or fast - but unless you are in a beginner's session, it will be played fast.

Here are the ABCs which you can plug into the Concertina site converter:

X: 1
T:The Humours of Tulla
C:Arranged by Michael Keyes
fe|d2 Ad BdAB|d2 fd edBc|d2 Ad BdAd|cdef g2 :|
fg| af f2 df f2|af f2 ge e2|af f2 dfed|(3Bcd ef g3 ^g|
af f2 dfef|af f2 ge e2 af f2 dfed cdef g2 |>|

This tune is in the key of D and is only played on the A and E strings.  I use a four finger guitar style when I play and this tune fits well with this paradigm.  You can use any left hand style that suits you and it will still sound good.

Start out slowly until you learn the tune.  Don't be afraid to make mistakes, you'll get it eventually, and remember that much of this and any tune is either ornamentation or variation.  Below is a video that will try and show the basic skeleton of the tune and how it can be played.  I never play this tune the same way each time and will substitute different passing notes.  The important thing is to play those notes that make the tune, primarily the D, G, and A notes at the right time and the other notes, while required in some form only emphasize the main ones.

I like to sing the tunes either in my head or out loud.  This enables me to use another way to learn the tune and it lets me learn the feel of the tune since I have been a singer all my life.  I'll play new tunes on the whistle at times before I play them on the banjo.  Mostly I just listen to the music on youtube or CDs if I happen to have them

If you listen to other sources you will find that there are many versions of a tune.  I usually pick the one I like and put it in The Amazing Slowdowner in order to learn it note for note.  Once I have the tune, I try other ways to play it.  I'll take it to our weekly session where it will crash and burn most of the time but that is all part of learning to play the tune, especially in the stress environment of a session.

Here is a video of me playing the tune slowly, etc.

Mike Keyes

Sunday, August 18, 2013

More Vacation Stuff: Learning by Ear

My last class at Irishfest Summerschool was given by Martin Howley on learning tunes by ear.  I was not there for the class initially, Martin had to give me something to take home, but I stayed anyway and glad I did.

I have been learning tunes by ear for over fifty years.  There was a period in school when I learned notation (for the trumpet) but I preferred to learn by ear mostly because I enjoyed the music more.  Over that period I have gotten better at learning a tune on the fly, but I still struggle at times when a tune doesn't fit my idea of what should come next.  Some Irish music such as Paddy Fahey or Ed Reavey tunes have that quality and I have to really listen to them for a long time before I get them.

Martin's class was small - the festival had already started so most students had moved on - but it was clearly a highlight of the term.  He began by talking about the difference between learning by notation (which most of the class did) and by ear.  Interestingly his first thought was about ear training which is a classical skill all music majors learn.  But instead of focusing on how to "sing" notes on the paper, he started by having us recognize intervals and naming them.  The purpose of this exercise was to point out a crucial aspect of ear training, learning to listen to the tune.

I know that sounds odd, after all learning by ear is supposed to be about the tune, but Martin pointed out the many musicians from this tradition stop listening to the tune after the first six bars.  Most trad music is patterned and predictable so once you hear a few thousand tunes, a new one is not that different.  The main differences occur in the last few bars of each part of the tune.Since that is where the most original parts occur, they often vary depending on whether it is the first iteration or the second of each part.

The most common way Irish tunes are taught is by sections and by rote.  In other words you learn a clump of notes, usually a bar or  two at a time and then repeat and repeat.  Eventually the tune takes form in your head and you learn it.  I have a hard time learning a tune this way since I prefer to hear the tune in its entirety and absorb it over a period of time.  When I learn a tune in a workshop the traditional way, I may or may not retain it so I find that it is very important to record everything.

Another aspect of learning by rote is that the use of notation is frowned upon for some reason.  Possibly this is a continuation of an older method from a time when neither teachers or students had notation skills.  I know that a number of the famous older teachers often used their own letter notation  similar to the ABC system.  Martin handed out the score of his tunes in his mandolin class but wanted us to only use it for reference.

The reasons for this is complex, learning by ear is a skill that should be learned by all trad musicians.  Trad music can't be quantified on paper very well.  It is music meant to be heard or danced to so there are aspects such as whether or not it is played on the beat that would make precise notation incomprehensible.  Besides, no trad musician plays the tune exactly the same each time.

Instead, learning by ear allows you to  learn the music, not just the notes.  Classical music allows for interpretation too, but most of the time it is the purview of the conductor, not the musician.  So classical training is all about discipline and perfection to the page while trad music is less concerned about exact tune and more about the individual interpretation.

This is not to say that you can do anything you want with the music.  One of the purposes of learning by ear is to learn the cultural and stylistic aspects of the music.  I watched an interesting experiment a few years ago at a folk festival in Madison, Wisconsin in which fiddlers of different styles played the one tune they all had in common, Miss McLeods Reel (Hop High Ladies, etc.)  They had very different stylistic interpretations of the same notes.  They also had a great time playing it together.

That last aspect is very important.   A good tune can be played an a lot of different ways and the reason for this is that music is not a logical and linear  endeavor.  Music is clearly an emotional experience.  You can learn the tune and play it back note for note and in the process lose the value of the music.  Every piece of music was composed at some time by an individual and then passed on by others.  Every time it was played it was also heard and it affected the listener in some way.  If that listener was you, it probably affected the way you played it the next time. 

A tune heard indifferently will be played indifferently the next time possibly with notes wrong and timing off or just plain dull.  On the other hand if a tune  evokes an emotion, it can be learned in a way that makes it music when played again.

For me and a lot of other musicians, learning a tune by ear involves a series of steps.  First I have to hear the tune and sometimes it takes a long time and many repetitions to get it into my head.  One of my favorite ways to do this is to start singing the tune (silently or out loud) and just get the feel for the tune.  Martin likes to do this and he doesn't mind making mistakes in the tune as eventually the tune will find itself after a few thousand repetitions. 

Those repetitions are important.  A lot of musicians can hear a tune and play it on the fly and then not know the tune a day later.  If you like a tune but forget it, you can find it on line or have recorded it for later.  Once you "get" that tune and start lilting or singing it, you will find that you'll probably become obsessed with the  tune and you can't get it out of your head.  Don't worry, this is part of the assimilation process.  After a while you will  find that the emotions engendered by the music will help you play it better and will allow you to automatically interpret the tune with ornaments, dynamics, timing and "feel."

Learning by ear is a process that can take days.  Nowadays we have a lot of technology that will help us with the process.  In the past you had to be exposed to the music over and over by hearing others play it in  person.  Now we have youtube, mp3, Skype, the Amazing Slowdowner, smart phones and a host of other gadgets and software/apps that let us record, dissect, and communicate the music to one another.  It has never been easier to find and learn tunes or to find out if we know the tune as well as we should.

Still, it comes down to memory, assimilation, and loving the tune if you want to learn by ear.  Notation is very helpful if you use it as a resource and reminder but notation is not the  tune, your playing and interpretation is where the tune really lives and in order to make sure you have the tune you have to listen and love it.

Mike Keyes

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Another Extra: What I Learned On My Vacation

I don't have a lot of time off from my job, but when I take it it is usually to a music festival or family visits.  This week I am at the Milwaukee Irishfest , the largest Irish cultural event in the world (because it is run by Germans), and I attended the Irishfest summer school learning from the best..

If you have ever taken lessons at these weekend offerings, you know that there is a lot of information offered in each class.  Because the classes are so concentrated, the amount of information can't be assimilated very well, in fact if you don't record them you will lose a lot of what was given to you.

This week I took classes from Martin Howley and Enda Scahill.  Each class was small, a good thing, and each class was aimed at the intermediate to advanced student which meant that there were concepts that I had never considered before and they seemed to pass by me at lightning speed.  I video a lot of these classes so I can review them later (and often I do) but I also look for a unifying theme which in this case was learning the value of relaxation.

Both Martin and Enda talked about how important relaxation was to their playing and how they actively searched out methods of relaxation in order to not only enhance their playing, but to preserve their health.  Their new band, WeBanjo3, is a show band.  In other words, they stand and move around expending a lot of energy on stage all while carrying a heavy banjo.  Any extra tension ends up as back, shoulder, and arm pain.  Enda has been using the Alexander Technique which focuses on (among other things) posture and relaxation. Martin has been exploring various methods of relaxation and he finds that he can invoke a relaxation response before playing that helps him be more productive and imaginative in his playing because he doesn't worry about his technique.

"Well", you might say, "these are the professionals, what do they have to worry about?"

The answer is "everything."  They are professionals because they consider every factor in their playing and have found that in order to play well, or in this case fantastically, they have to have the ability to be efficient, accurate and precise.  If you are tense, it means that not only are the muscles that you use to play are activated, but that the opposing flexor muscles are too.  As a result there is a tug of war going on in your body that results in slower weaker movement that is imprecise and inaccurate.  Triplets suffer and you start sounding harsh and have poor timing.

I've been involved in a mental training effort for sports shooters for the past thirty plus years and write extensively on the subject.  The same principles of relaxation apply to shooting and other sports, the more you are able to relax, the more efficient and precise you are.  Just look at world class sprinters, when they are  at their best they relax every muscle that is not in use for running (you can see their jaws flapping, for example) and as a result there is no tension opposing those muscles used for running so they go faster.  This is a trained response and is one that you can use too.

In my banjo class, Enda pointed out that I was raising my shoulder, tensing my neck and otherwise squinching down while I played.  Classes like this are anxiety provoking, especially when you are called on to perform, but they also give you an opportunity to see how you do under pressure.  Enda  suggested I lower the shoulder, sit straighter, relax my elbow and grip, all while trying to enjoy the music.  He also pointed out that if you  play in front of a mirror and/or video yourself while playing, you can see when you tense up.

This is the same advice that coaches give world class athletes.  No matter who you are, you will have a tendency to tense up in performance situations so you have to train to relax until it becomes part of your system.  If you don't, then those little tense moments will sneak up on you when you need them the least.  Martin composes himself before going on stage with a deliberate relaxation ritual that keeps him going throughout the gig.  If he starts to get tense, his little alarms go off and the automatically relaxes.   This takes practice, practice, practice, just like any other aspect of learning to play an instrument.

So the main thing I learned was to start a program of relaxation. I've done it in the past for other things so I am confident I can do it for the banjo.  Knowing and doing something are two different things, however, so I will have to come back to this column every so often just to remind myself what to do. 

I'll put a  video here later when I get home showing Enda lecturing on the subject.  In the mean time you can find it on my youtube channel michaelkeyes12.

Mike Keyes

Friday, August 16, 2013

An Extra: Irish Mandolin

The other class I am taking at the Irishfest Summer School is with Martin Howley who also plays with WeBanjo3.  Martin is a great  banjo player and teacher, but he really shines with the mandolin.  I come from a bluegrass mandolin background so I am  familiar with great mandolin players so when I say he is good, I really mean it.

In Ireland the mandolin was a little banjo at best even though the instrument has been in the music as long as the banjo.  Mick Moloney, for example, played mandolin with the Johnsons back in the 60s but you never saw mandolins in sessions.  Now there is a resurgence of interest in the instrument with players like Martin and Marla Fibish (I will take lessons from her in October, so keep tuned) who have made the instrument a force of its own well worth listening to and hearing.

Here is Martin playing a jig called The One That Was Lost showing the possibilities for ornamentation and emphasis:

Here are the ABCs for this tune.  You can plug these into the converter to get sheet music:

X: 1
T: The One That Was Lost
C: Paddy O'Brien
R: jig
M: 6/8
L: 1/8
K: Edor
|: f | edB BAF | E2 D EFA | BAF D2 F |AFA def |
edB BAF | E2 D EFA | dfb afd | efe e2 :|
d | Bee efa | baf edB | ~d3 Bdd |AFA dcd |
Bee efa | baf edB | dfb afd |efe e2 d |
Bee efa | baf edB | ~d3 Bdd |AFA def |
{f}g2 e fed | BeB dBA | dfb afd |efe e2 ||

Mike Keyes
Lesson Four:  How to Hold The Pick

I am currently in the Milwaukee Irishfest Summer School taking the banjo class with Enda Scahill of WeBanjo3.  If you are not familiar with him, he is the author of two terrific tutorials and co-author of a third tune book with Martin Howley that I think serves as a third upper level tutorial.

Enda has very specific ideas about how you hold the pick and gives what I think are logical reasons for using the "natural" hold which uses the least amount of tension of all the styles of hold.  For beginners, this is the best way to start because it  promotes efficiency and accuracy, two qualities you will treasure later on.  While there are other ways to hold the pick (and you may eventually migrate to one of them), this is the one that is promoted by more teachers in my experience.

Here is a video of Enda showing the how and whys of  this pick hold:

 Here is a video I took several years ago showing Enda playing an incredible passage with this grip:

Here is Enda talking about posture and relaxation from The O'Flaherty Retreat in 2009:

Next Lesson: Another Tune, (this time easier.)

Mike Keyes

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lesson Three: Your First Tune

It's always hard to start a new instrument, even if you have been playing music for years, because everyone wants to start out playing like the best but to get there is a lot of hard work is ahead.  One of the reasons why there are so many guitars in closets is that the need to play an instrument is often overwhelmed by the amount of effort needed to learn it.

One of the ways to help a beginner to persist is to teach a simple tune right off the bat.  Very few are talented enough to be able to play an instrument well immediately, but it helps if you enjoy playing  and think you are doing very well.  Taking pleasure in producing a simple tune is often the key to having the will to persist.

Once you are in the process of learning, you learn that the process is never ending and that you want more and more.  It's this drive that helps you develop your style and to make sure that technique is efficient and consistent.  By learning a tune you start yourself on the way to learning technique and to learn to play music.  They are not always the same.

Our first tune is a reel called Mountain Road.  It is a very nice tune that can be played slowly or fast and still retain the qualities of the tune that make it pleasant and fun.  This is ideal for beginners because playing fast is not on the menu right now and you need a pleasant tune.

I don't expect you to play this tune well right away, so try and find other versions  and learn to hear the tune in your head.  I'm including the music for the simple version I am playing.  I urge you to learn to read music if you are interested in Irish music, TAB is limited and there are literally tens of thousands of tunes written in music notation.   You don't have to be an expert in reading music and most of the time the music serves as a repository of the basics of each tune.  Irish music, like all folk music, can't be exactly replicated with notation, but it does give you the basic notes and variations to start.

The notation above is an approximation (at best) of a simple version of Mountain Road.  It's there for you to learn the skeleton of the tune and later on you will be able to add the lift and drive to the music.  There is a video showing how Gerry O'Connor teaches the tune in Lesson Two.

Here is my contribution to learning the tune:

What about technique you ask?  A good question, but almost every beginner who doesn't have a teacher has to struggle to find the best technique for them. I don't want to emphasize this aspect in this lesson.  The reason is that if you check the right hands of different expert players, you'll find that they have hand position all over the place.  If you check out grip, it varies considerably too.  Left hand position is usually the same, but there is a question of whether or not a mandolin style or guitar style should be used.  I will show a basic technique that I urge you to learn, but you will find the way that suits you best sometime in the future.

Here is Gerry O'Connor on right hand position.  He was the one who taught me my first lesson and I have used a lot of his method in my own way.

So learn and enjoy this tune.  The hard stuff will come next including how to hold your pick, holding the banjo, and left hand techniques.  I have left the comments open for those of you who wish to comment (in a constructive way, I'll ban trolling, etc.) or show alternatives. 

Next Lesson:  Holding the pick.

Mike Keyes