Here are a few items I learned this weekend at NashCamp. Some for me, others for my students.
1) Lighten up. No, not in terms of relationships; here, I mean lightening up with my right hand. I pick pretty hard compared to most folks, and especially with this Stelling Red Fox, which is about the loudest banjo I’ve ever heard, it is pretty plain that I can slack off on the volume and thereby improve my right hand technique. Watching Bill Evans and Ned Luberecki glide along the fretboard was incentive enough to work more towards a lighter right hand touch.
2) Think about the melody. It’s obvious to me that I’m more a technician than an artist, and this shows up in how I think about playing a song. Alan Munde explained this pretty well at NashCamp when he said what he is thinking about as he plays is simply the melody; no tricks or techniques, no finger placements or fretboard logic. And as you practice simple melody lines on the banjo, you’ll get better at thinking along the lines of the melody.
3) Play it till it’s perfect; then and only then, speed it up. The instructors there played at only a moderate speed all the time, even for the evening concerts. Bill Emerson made this point clear.
4) Singers rule. I feel a little angst as I say that. I’m skilled at playing the banjo, but not much so at singing. Nevertheless, singing is such an important part of bluegrass. True, you wouldn’t have bluegrass without a banjo, fiddle, mandolin, etc. But the plain truth is singing adds so much to the song; it’s like adding another dimension to do. So learn to sing!
5) Use the capo. Bill Emerson and Tom Adams ate my lunch Friday night at one of the advanced jam sessions (no, that would be dinner, come to think of it). I’ve simply gotten away from capoing up, and so improvising in B was a limiting experience. It shouldn’t have been.
6) Use those 3rds and 6ths. Alan Munde gave a great class on these impressive-sounding techniques and I’m looking forward to using them more.
I’ll be incorporating these points into my practice, as well as for my students.