got it ready for classes in our local style claw hammer banjo and basic Old-time fiddle class while in the farmhouse we set up for a small group of beginner OT country back-up guitar players. So, we were ready on Saturday AM March 1 when our students began arriving mostly from the New River Valley.
Because there are just two of us, we called on expert banjoist, professional educator and great friend, Andy Buckman, from Franklin County to help us out by leading the banjo class so Mac could lead the fiddle class. Jenny would lead the guitar class. Andy has been Mac's main banjo sidekick on many occasions including his 2005 CD 'I'm Going That Way' as well as numerous dances and jams over the years. He has a deep knowledge of the banjo traditions of our area of Southwest Virginia.
The early morning air was rather cool as we gathered in the slowly warming shop to meet and greet at 9 AM. Before getting separated into classes, we instructors gave an over view of the classes and demonstrated our individual playing styles. Our intent was to show the beginners the sound of a basic string band and to give everyone a sense of how fiddle, banjo, and guitar work as a team to create a sound that is focused on keeping the 'beat' moving steadily through the music.
We broke up into classes to begin working on the basic techniques to get started 'making' music once
tuned up. No one was a raw beginner but some of the different musical back grounds made mastering the 'basics' more challenging for some than others. For example: Bluegrass style banjo pickers can have a hard time with right the claw hammer attack that involves a radical change in the use of the right hand and forearm. With our group of students new to playing generally, lots of individual attention was given while practicing in small groups occurred.
Our midday meal was centered around a tasty stew of local venison provided by ceramic artist extraordanaire Ellen Shankin who was one of the banjo students. Another local banjo person, Heather Krantz, provided homemade bread and fruit to balance the diet and refuel everyone for more work.
The sun had warmed up the outside air nice enough that several of us took a walk up on our land to view Mac's cow-calf pairs and see how rotational grazing is working to improve the quality of the
grassland acreage we have here.
The afternoon class began with Mac playing a few excerpts from his collection of recordings of claw hammer banjo styles of certain old-timers from the region playing and talking about the music and its importance to the community of dancers as it was in their youth circa 1920's & 30's.
Before splitting back up, Mac brought out his iPad with its metronome app to show students how
to use it and see if they could keep up with some of the slower speeds like 80 BPMs. We recommend
practicing with one to develop one's sense of keeping time and incorporating a beat into one's sound
as they play. We wonder how many took the advice. Metronomes never seem to work right or do they ????
In the remaining time, we split back into our instrument specific individual classes for more practice on the simple tunes and basic techniques that had been introduced earlier. Details of melody and rhythm were worked on and practiced both individually and in small groups until the last 30 minutes when everyone came together to jam on the tunes in a medium slow speed.
We finally let the weary and tired students go about 5 PM hoping that we helped them move closer to their goal to be good players of 'good ol mountain music'. We were tired too...