Murphy Method Banjo Camp–the best banjo camp in a strong field–starts today in Winchester, Virginia. Banjo camps are like dogs: everyone has a favorite and you love your own dog, of course. But Murphy Method Banjo Camp is a pretty good dog.
The Murphy Method is a way of learning the banjo that rejects, eschews, and does not use tab (written banjo music). Everything is learned as a series of mostly standardized licks (short, internalized sets of notes) and put together strictly by ear to make songs.
That may sound very complicated, but it’s much easier and natural in practice than it might seem in the abstract, especially if you don’t have any experience playing the banjo. The Murphy approach is intuitive, efficient, and to be perfectly frank, makes you sound like a heck of a banjo player when you are generally just starting out.
The method was invented by Murphy Henry, one of the best pickers in the country who also happens to be an excellent communicator and teacher, and I speak as a trained educator myself. She and her daughter Casey, also a great picker, run the weekend-long camp in Winchester, Virginia.
Murphy and Casey and everyone uses the word ‘camp,’ but we won’t be sitting around a fire and sleeping in tents! Murphy camp takes place at the Winchester Marriott, and every ‘camper’has a comfortable, private room. The sessions–classes, jams, concerts, equipment demos and adjustments, and schmooze time–all take place in the hotel conference rooms. The accommodations are very comfortable and they greatly facilitate the camp activities.
Beside Murphy and Casey, some other great musicians who are also great people (these qualities don’t always go together!) will be on hand to engage, answer questions, talk about issues, lead jams, and provide that personal attention that you need to become a better banjoist. Kathy Hanson, in particular, has gone the extra mile late into the evening and after-midnight hours leading the late-night jam and staying up longer than I could to maximize the experience for the nightowls. Kathy also put spikes in my Recording King Madison at no charge and as expertly as my $200-an-hour luthier. Having access to Kathy and her level of knowledge and musicianship is by itself worth the price of the camp.
‘But wait,’ as they say, ‘there’s more!’ Let’s talk about Murphy Henry for a moment.
At Murphy Method camp, Murphy Henry is the headline act. Recipient of the IBMA Lifetime Achievement Award, author of what is a major academic work on women in bluegrass music past and present (‘Pretty Good for a Girl; Women in Bluegrass’), longtime professional banjo player,and originator of the Murphy Method, Murphy is one of a very few musicians and teachers who has influenced generations of banjo players and especially banjo player wannabes like me. Some of her students have become professional pickers (perhaps most recently Gina Clowes, now playing banjo with Chris Jones and the Night Drivers) but Murphy’s effort to deliver a simple, logical,understandable way for ordinary, not-very-musical, not-very-talented folks like me to have fun playing the banjo has widened her influence on banjo playing at the grassroots level. This is what makes that tiny group of banjo visionaries, of which Murphy is a leading member, so valuable to the present and especially the future world of bluegrass banjo players.
Watch this space for updates and photos as the camp proceeds.