I will be conducting an Irish Tenor banjo lab at the St. Louis, Missouri Tionol on April 11, 2014. Mandolins and GDAE tenor guitars are welcome too as I will bring those instruments along if anyone is interested in playing them.
This will not be a typical banjo class. For one thing, I will have students prepare to play three well known tunes: Kesh Jig, Boys of Bluehill hornpipe, and The Maid Behind The Bar reel. The reason for this is that the lab will focus more on technical and transitional issues rather than learning new tunes. Since this class will be focusing on intermediate and advanced level players, I am assuming that if you want to learn a new tune, you will go ahead and learn it. What I want to teach is how to make Irish tenor banjo playing easier and more fun and to help develop a style for each student.
The Tionol is one of the best short weekend workshops around. It started out for pipers but has expanded to other instruments. It is where I first met John Carty, Pauline Conneely, and Darren Moloney and where I first learned to listen to banjo playing. There are morning and afternoon classes on Saturday, but the weekend is full of other events including two great concerts, a dance, and what seems like non-stop sessioning that starts on Friday night and ends sometime Sunday. Since Joyce and I never last that long, I don't know when it ends on Sunday. It's a fun time even if you don't take a class.
I want to help students look at different ways to learn tunes and develop style. I will have an initial session looking at everyone's instrument and setting them up as needed while teaching setup principals in order to make then easier to play and maybe sound better. Second we will look at how people go about playing well known tunes and do some cross pollination about style and technique. In this period I will also give some training on relaxation and the importance of consistent technique. Lastly we will look at and use modern technology to help improve our playing. These days there is no reason to be isolated as a player, but you can't just throw up a youtube video and expect to have people help you learn from it. You have to learn to have a critical eye and there are plenty of apps and other electronics that help you to learn and improve from mistakes. We will compare styles with each other and on video to see how they fit in with our own vision of playing.
Emphasis will be on development of style. Technique is great, but it can't be learned to perfection in a short weekend. Style, however, can be spotted early on and encouraged as you put in the time developing your technique. I'll talk a little bit about how the brain changes as musicians train and learn and we will look at ways to encourage that growth in an efficient manner.
Because this class was added late, you will have to contact the registration desk and tell them you want the banjo class. If you have any ideas or want to focus on something specific, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Here are the tunes. I am deliberately showing my friend Ryan G. Duns, S.J. playing these tunes because I don't want students to be thinking that there is one banjo way of playing the music. Instead you should listen to other instruments to get ideas and not be locked into strictly technical ways of playing the music. The tunes presented are well known and often solicit groans at sessions, but they are great music and each one deserves a new look whenever you play them.
One thing these tunes have in common is that they all hit the dreaded high B note. If you play Irish Tenor banjo (or GDAE tenor guitar) you have to learn how to hit this note. It doesn't make a difference which of the left hand techniques you use, it is still something you can do without thinking too much about it if you follow a few simple ideas. We will be discussing this in class.
Next is the reel The Maid Behind The Bar. This is a reel that Barney McKenna played a lot so I thought that in his honor (or honour) we would look at it.
Last is the very well known hornpipe, The Boys of Bluehill. This tune has a number of variations including a very nice one with the high B note.
What i want everyone to do is to bring their versions of these tunes so we can compare and contrast. If you don't know the tunes, then shame on you. These are tunes played everywhere.
You will notice that Ryan plays these tunes with a lot of variation and with an obvious style. We will not be trying to emulate him, rather we will look at the elements that make up a style and try and develop them ourselves using as many influences (including others in the class) as we can.