Friday, March 27, 2015

Cedar Mountain Banjos now offering custom 17 and 19-fret tenor banjo options

North Carolina's Cedar Mountain Banjos has been building heirloom-quality open back banjos since 1996. They typically make 5-string banjos and banjo ukes for old-time players. The owner, Tim Gardner, has been wanting to build tenor banjos for several years, mainly out of personal interest. Tim is a multi-instrumentalist who enjoys playing around with different types of instruments.
Tim took over ownership of Cedar Mountain in 2013. One of his goals is to be able to offer various options so that someone can order almost any type of instrument or neck that has a banjo head (6-string, 5-string, 4-string, banjo guitars, ukes, mandolins, etc.). He finally had an opportunity to build a tenor banjo for a client in Chicago recently and it turned out so well that he decided to add 4-string tenors to the product line.
“It seems like there are currently not many builders in the US who offer quality customized handmade tenor banjos to order,” said Tim Gardner, “so I thought it might be a good way to expand into new markets and musical genres.”
Cedar Mountain Banjos is now offering highly-customizable 17 and 19-fret tenor neck options on any of its handmade models. You can find more info at The Cedar Mountain tenor banjo pictured here is based on the Bungalow model which uses all domestic woods (cherry and curly maple with a locust fingerboard). Tenor necks can be made for any Cedar Mountain model.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bob Gramann – guitar and banjo luthier, instrument setup and repair

Last year when my banjo was buzzing I took it to someone on the southside of Richmond who looked at it and suggested I get a taller bridge.  Not satisfied with that solution, I researched other instrument setup and repair persons and found Bob Gramann in Fredericksburg, a city about 40 miles north of where I live.  I took the banjo to Bob who removed the neck, made an adjustment to the truss rod and did a few other tweaks while I waited.  The banjo has been great ever since! 

Similarly, my wife recently took her tenor guitar to Bob Gramann to have it setup in the Irish GDAD tuning.  While doing so, Bob noticed some intonation issues and made corrections to those, thus improving the overall sound of the guitar.  During that same visit I brought in a right-handed tenor banjo that had been sent to me as a vintage Gibson neck paired with a Recording King RK-R35 bluegrass rim.  Bob switched it around to lefty by making a new nut, reversing the armrest and making sure that the action and neck angle were properly set.  Now it's a regulation left-handed 19-fret Irish Tenor Banjo with resonator, wink wink!
The Deep Run
Since I’m not much of a tinkerer, I am happy to have found Bob Gramann for our instrument setup needs.  His prices are very reasonable.  It’s also fun to see his shop and check out the guitars and banjos he has made or is currently working on.  Bob makes some fine instruments.  Instead of churning them out one after another, he really puts a lot of care into building each individual guitar or banjo.  I especially like his small body/travel-size Deep Run model which would make an awesome tenor guitar.  He is making a new one of these right now, to be finished this summer.  
The Rappahannock
Bob is also a folksinger and songwriter.  If you are in the Richmond/Fredericksburg/Northern VA general area, I strongly recommend Bob Gramann for instrument setup and repair.  And for those in the market for a handmade guitar, his instruments, which are named after different rivers in Virginia, are well worth considering.  (Gramann sounds like "GRAH-min").  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tenor Guitar Backup Comparison - Ibanez Artwood Vintage AVT1 vs. Blueridge BR-40T

The Ibanez Artwood Vintage AVT1 and the Blueridge BR-40T are both modern tenor guitars modeled after vintage styles.  Below is a video (audio only) comparing the sounds of these two guitars in GDAD tuning in a backup role on the tune The High Reel.  The Ibanez is first and the Blueridge starts at about 01:09.  The same tenor banjo was used for the melody in each case.  Do you hear any differences in the sound between the two guitars?  (Note in the image on the video that's the Blueridge on the left and the Ibanez on the right).

The Ibanez AVT1 sells for about $299.00
The Blueridge sells for about $399.99

The Ibanez has a slightly thin, tinny sound.
The Blueridge has a warmer, fuller, rich sound.

The Ibanez is fairly quiet.
The Blueridge is louder.  Similar in volume to a six-string acoustic.

Neck Shape
The Ibanez's neck is thinner.  Almost too skinny.
The Blueridge's neck is more round, like on a tenor banjo. It feels more ergonomic.

The Ibanez feels smaller (because it is smaller). It's lighter weight.
The Blueridge feels bigger, but not uncomfortably so.  Well balanced.

Overall Quality
The lower cost Ibanez seems more cheaply made.
For approx. $100 more the Blueridge is a much higher quality tenor guitar. More attention to detail.

The Verdict
Hopefully, the richer, more nuanced sound of the Blueridge comes across in the recording.  If you can afford it, the extra $100 for the Blueridge is well worth it.  You get a much nicer tenor guitar.  The next step up from Blueridge would be significantly more expensive.
Blueridge BR-40T left, Ibanez AVT1 right
This seems like a "bad" review of the Ibanez Artwood Vintage, but the truth is that it's a fairly decent tenor guitar that a lot of people would be perfectly content with.  It's just that when compared head to head to the Blueridge BR-40T the differences in quality are more apparent.

The "Blue" and "Orange" Irish Session Tune Books/CDs

I have plenty of other tune-learning play-along books and CDs, so I can't believe I waited this long to get the Blue and Orange Irish Session Tunes books by Sheila Garry and Brid Cranitch.  I wish I had gotten these a long time ago because they are among the best compilations I have found designed for the purposes of learning Irish traditional music.
Between the two books there are over 180 tunes: primarily reels and jigs, but a few slides and polkas and one set of hornpipes are included.  Make sure you get the CD editions of the books (or just order the CDs and not the books) because the whole point is to listen to the tunes to get the feel of them.  The music is done by Sheila Garry who plays fiddle in the Clare style; subtly backed by Brid Cranitch on piano.  Sheet music is included in the books but no chords.  A listing of the chords being chosen by Brid on piano would have been a nice addition.

The tunes are only played once through, which is a minor nuisance that allows them to fit more on a "CD" (these were recorded in 2003).  This also means that as you listen to it a lot more tunes will fill your ears than if they were played multiple times through!  Another upside is the tunes are always put together as sets of two or three that flow together with no interruption, so you get an idea of how to smoothly transition from one tune to the next.  (This is a feature often ignored by other collections).  Just because they put certain tunes together as sets doesn't mean you have to keep them together. Once you have enough of these tunes under your belt you can make up your own sets on the fly!

Be wary of the titles of some of the tunes, or at least don't get too hung up on them.  On the Blue CD I noticed that "Dark Girl In Blue" was what we call "Denis Murphy's Slide", and "Kaiser's" was "Going to the Well for Water", and "Clare Jig" was "Mug of Brown Ale" and "Humours of Ballinafad" was "Geese in the Bog".  This is actually kind of cool because it teaches you that it's more about the tunes than the tune titles.  I suggest listening to tunes with unfamiliar titles to see if you recognize the melodies.  This is great ear training.  Sometimes a new tune is only a mild variation of a tune you already know.

Unlike other play-alongs you'll actually want to listen to these recordings over and over.  Sure, it's still scaled back a bit, but it doesn't feel stilted at all.  It feels like real music.  Sheila's fiddling is endearing and Brid's piano accompaniment is quite lovely in its minimalism.  You could randomly pick tunes to learn from these two books and the odds are pretty good that some folks at the session you are going to would be able to play them with you.

Note: The "Red" and "Green" books in this series do not feature Sheila and Brid and are therefore not as good in my opinion.  In the Red book the fiddle is played too fast and in a less pleasant, more flashy, manner.  In the Green book the tunes are played on tin whistle, which may or may not be a good source instrument for learning tunes if you are a strings player.  Start with the Blue and Orange books, and if you need more check out the Red and Green ones.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Murphy Beds and Corn Potato String Band on the same night

I wish the title of this post meant that these two bands were playing the same gig together.  It doesn't.  It means I have a dilemma coming up on Friday, April 3, 2015.

I've had the Corn Potato String Band's upcoming Ashland Coffee and Tea performance on the calendar for months. I'm a fan of Aaron Jonah Lewis from his days as the fiddler for Special Ed and the Shortbus and was totally planning on checking out this new project with Lindsay McCaw and former band mate Ben Belcher (Ben also happens to be one of my favorite musicians) when they come to town.  I mean I can literally step out the door and walk to the venue within five minutes and I love these guys.  It's just down the street!
The Corn Potato String Band
But then the other day I was glancing at the event page for the Blue Ridge Irish Music School and was psyched to see an announcement that The Murphy Beds (Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O'Leary) were coming to Charlottesville on April 3rd!  I've been hankering to see The Murphy Beds ever since I first heard their 2012 debut album, which is the only LP in recent years to bump someone else out and take up residence in my ALL TIME TOP TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS, close to number one.  I feel like I almost have to go see The Murphy Beds.  It's such a rare opportunity that I can't let it go by.
The Murphy Beds (photo by Ólafur Ólafsson)
It's very disappointing to have these fall on the same night. Ashland Coffee and Tea is a great local venue and they consistently have good live acts, even if I do not get there very often. The fact that they had Corn Potato coming made me think that I would definitely be going there again soon for something that I really would enjoy. But instead I'll be making the hour+ drive to Charlottesville to see the Murphy Beds.

The other bummer in this is that I was already kinda planning on driving to Charlottesville the day before for an Irish session (the same First-Thursday session that was canceled in March due to snow), but now I doubt that I'll want to make that drive two days in a row so I'll probably miss that session for another month.  The good news is The Murphy Beds are going to be awesome!

Music I Like To Listen To vs. Music I Like To Play

They say that variety is the spice of life but I like to simplify and pare down.  For example, things got a lot simpler when I bought 4 of the exact same black polo shirts to wear to work. Now I never have to think about what shirt I'm going to wear. The black polo exceeds minimum standards for acceptable clothing yet doesn't make me feel like I'm going out of my way to conform to any kind of style or expectation. I also have 4 pairs of the same pants to wear with the black polos. Different colors, but the colors all go with black so no problems there.
The point is I have pared down the music I like to play to just Irish music. I don't associate Irish music with any one person or band. I see it as a conglomerate of human ideas that have been washed over with time. It's very personal; not really existing at all until (I) physically pluck the notes on a tenor banjo. There's enough there to keep me occupied for the rest of my life.
Contrarily, I could limit the music I like to listen to to just Phish. Since the 1980's it's been the same four band members - Trey, Mike, Fishman and Page. Virtuosos on guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. Nobody else can make the music that these 4 guys make on stage...literally. For pure listening pleasure I've never found anything better. Phish fills the voids that I have as a music listener.
I'm OK with this distinction between music for playing and music for listening. It took me a while to get comfortable with the idea that they can be unrelated. One is like watching a great movie and one is like hitting a golf ball. Go fishing. #Phirish.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Do I Play Irish Tenor Banjo?

Today is St. Patrick's Day and I'm ready to admit that I play Irish tenor banjo, or am at least on the road toward learning how to do so.

Tenor banjo was my first instrument.  I liked playing Neil Young songs on it initially, before adopting fiddle tunes.  Due to its versatility, mandolin almost took over for a while.  There has also been a little bit of flat-picked guitar, mandola and baritone ukulele competing for instrument time.  As of late I've sidelined those other instruments and returned to tenor banjo almost entirely.

I've also benched the oldtime Appalachian tunes I was playing, as well as any other folk melodies, songs or covers I was trying to play or transcribe (OK maybe I am keeping a couple Neil Young songs around).  It is pretty much 100% Irish tunes at this point.  Oldtime just ended up feeling disingenuous.

Seeing as how I'm only playing tenor banjo and I'm only playing Irish tunes, it's only natural that those two coinciding pursuits should be merged.  If you target each of things two things (tenor banjo + Irish music) long enough then ultimately what you end up doing is playing Irish tenor banjo.  It's inevitable, isn't it?

I suppose taking ownership of that intertwining coherence is one of the more difficult parts in all this.  But, like the Amish youth who return to the fold after Rumspringa, your practice is more devout when you hone in on the optimal form.

As an instrument tenor banjo is the one for me.  No other instrument feels as good when I play it or appeals in the same way.  Similarly, Irish music is what I want to play.  If I were still just a music listener, then I'd still be drawn to Trey Anastasio, Jerry Garcia and John Medeski for my musical fix.  But as someone who sees playing music as a potential hobby, the way others enjoy playing golf, knitting or chess, I've found that Irish music fills this niche in a way no other style of music can.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Liz Carroll STRINGS Interview Transcript

I’ve linked to this Liz Carroll article before but I thought I’d post a full transcript of it below.  The interviewer is a classical music oriented publication and these appear to be stock questions, but a lot can be learned from Liz’s thoughtful responses from the perspective of an Irish traditional fiddler.

Liz Carroll (Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune)
Ask Chicago-based fiddler Liz Carroll to describe what she does and she replies: “I play Irish music, a music made up of mostly short pieces such as jigs, reels, and hornpipes. The first and second parts of tunes are made up of eight measures. Every once in a while you have a three, four, or even five-part tune. It’s simple, lovely music! It’s also a very social music—fiddles, accordions, flutes, pipes, whistles, and an array of backing instruments partake.” You can hear for yourself on the new solo album On the Offbeat. Strings asked Carroll to describe her daily practice regimen.

What do you feel you need to do on a daily basis to maintain your skill level?

I do love to play, so it’s pretty easy to take the fiddle out of the case and have it handy throughout the day in case a thought occurs to me. It’s true that the fingers can get rusty, but it doesn’t take much time to get facility back. Tunes are in the first position, so the tunes themselves are the practice.

Do you have your own daily routine of scales or technical exercises?

No, I have no particular routine as such.

Why not?

I try to feel the music my own way when I play, but then I try to explore what other people (fiddlers) and other instrument players are doing. I feel that anything I choose to work on helps the whole. So, I can take a tune from a recording and sit down to play along with it and learn it by ear. This is an enjoyable exercise—playing along, stopping to check out what the player did, and then turning off the recording to see if I have it. Whatever journey the tune takes you on—you’re playing, you’re listening, you’re adding a new tune to your repertoire, and so you’re improving as a player.

Do you still use études or study guides?

I don’t have any exercise books, but there are some out there for Irish fiddle. I do work out kinks or difficulties within tunes, but it is a self-driven type of exercise.

Do you practice scales and arpeggios?
There are lots of nice runs within tunes, so I feel I get to practice arpeggios there. Irish music employs a lot of keys and a lot of modal scales. There are tons of tunes within keys like A, D, and G.

Any tune one learns can be played in a number of places on the fiddle. Some players don’t worry about shifting tunes to other keys (and you don’t have to have that skill), but I feel that I’m a better player if I can go there.

Was there a particular teacher who was instrumental in developing your practice regimen?

I took classical lessons at school when I was a little girl. I had a wonderful teacher, Sr. Francine, who did two things: She very much encouraged a good bow hand, and she noticed when I did or didn’t practice. I still work at my bowing, although I do love the left hand, too. When I play in front of an audience, there’s no question that the work put into a tune or an ornament within a tune gets noticed. You can get a certain amount of reaction from energetic playing. But you can’t beat that reaction from the audience, and the satisfaction from nailing a note or a variation within a tune, that comes from evident work.

How has your daily practice regimen changed as you’ve advanced as a player?

I’m the very same now, I’d say. I still love to compose tunes, still like to learn a new tune. I’m lucky to live in Chicago where there are lots of Irish sessions, gatherings of musicians playing tunes. When I’m not touring, I like to get to a session. And when I’m on tour I like to have a session with the local musicians, too. You can’t beat sitting down with your cup of tea—or whatever!—at a nice establishment and playing tunes with other musicians for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. You work on your chops (bowing, fingering, variations) at a session—you work to make your music flow.

How do you know when you need to brush up on fundamentals?

You do need to play a lot in order to have a good brain-to-bow/brain-to-fingers connection. You just know when you need to play, I think.

Is there a particular technique that has given you trouble?

Style and the pursuit of a style loom large in Irish fiddling. Again, it’s simple music for the most part. When you see it written, it might not occur to you that there is a challenge there. But there is! There are regional styles in Ireland—Galway style, Kerry style, Donegal style, Sligo style, to name a few. Within those styles, there are excellent players past and present. When you learn a simple jig, from that point there are a myriad of versions from different players that you can and should attempt (long bows/tight, short bows; very ornamented fingering (rolls, cuts)/no ornaments; crans taken from pipers, breaths taken from flute players, unusual note choices from accordions. Then there are various stresses and pushes one can employ to the rhythm. All of these can give you trouble!

What advice can you offer about developing a daily practice regimen?

Well, one is to follow your nose—there’s nothing wrong with learning this music your own way. People are nice (especially fiddlers—ha!) and they’ll play a tune slowly for you on your recording device for you to learn. They’ll also show you a roll or other ornamentation they’re using if you ask them. You can take lessons; you don’t need to take lessons. Sessions are free, and you can do what I did when I was young—go to the session, sit in the back, and try. Try to pick up the tunes and try to pick up the bowing and the ornaments. There are apps now where you can record a few notes of a melody, find out the name of the tune, and then find the tune in a book or online.

And of course there are recordings of new and old masters—with a good ear and patience, the melodies are there for the taking. I always think it’s a good idea to keep your fiddle out of your case, where it’s visible and beckoning.

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. Learn the tunes you like first, and then go from there.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nechville to Start Making Irish Tenor Banjos

In a field where tradition is the norm, Tom Nechville has managed introduce some time-tested innovations over the last three decades. 
Tom Nechville

Proprietary terms like “Heli-Mount” and “Cyclotronics” are not gimmicky buzz-words but are in-fact the foundations of Tom’s successful and functional design (simple, uniform tensioning of the head, easy neck adjustment), directly contributing to Nechville’s characteristic clean, clear sound and comfort.
"Tom's probably the most innovative guy in the world when it comes to building banjos," said David Schenkman, owner of Turtle Hill Banjo Co. in La Plata, MD. 
The fact that all Nechville banjos can be made as 4-string tenors is nothing new, but now Nechville is working on developing an instrument specifically designed with the Irish session player in mind. The phrase “Irish Tenor Banjo” gets used to describe various types of plucked, GDAE tuned banjos. Tom Nechville has done research and consulted with some Irish tenor banjoists to hone in on what he thinks may be the most advantageous combination for the majority of players.

In an email to me, Tom listed these specs:

-Maple, 19-fret, 22.25" scale* tenor.
-G D A E tuning (low to high).
-11" Remo head with top frosting sanded smooth and tightened to 93+ on drum dial.
-Curly maple resonator (Excelsior open back also an option).
-Heli-mount black frame - Cyclotronic (ball bearing) mounted on 3 ply maple rim.
-40 hole archtop tone ring (other options available).
-Ebony fingerboard with pearl diamond trio pattern.
-Classic neck shape (slim but not too narrow).
-Comfortable low action (adjustable).
-Low, flat armrest - flush and at same height as tailpiece.
-Sturdy 2 foot bridge approx 21/32" 2 grams (neck adjusts for different bridge heights and action)
-High quality Gotoh tuners with black knobs.

*There is a trade off between the quick playability of a shorter scale neck and the superior power and tone potentials of a longer scale. We are offering 2 tenor choices at the moment, 22 1/4" and 23 1/2".
This will be a highly sophisticated banjo that will be comfortable, easy to play, adjustable and easily transportable. We are working on a flight case to carry the instrument in 2 pieces. We also build to custom specs.
Nechville tenor banjo
Tom is hoping to keep the cost under three grand. The first prototypes should be available by summer 2015.  I am looking forward to giving one of these a test drive!

Skype Lessons with Stevie Dunne, Irish Tenor Banjo

Stevie Dunne
Traditional Irish Banjo player Stevie Dunne has started giving lessons over Skype/FaceTime. Lessons will look at each individual's style to identify areas for development. Stevie will then work with that person to formulate a plan to enhance his or her playing and meet individual needs. The techniques Stevie intends to pass on will be designed to enable each player progress to their maximum potential.

If interested you can contact Stevie directly by Facebook or email.

Friday, March 13, 2015

St. Paddy's Day Week as a Player of Irish Music

As a player of Irish music, St. Paddy's Day Week is, ironically, just like any other week.  If there was a friendly local session going on that was open to someone of my intermediate abilities, then I would enjoy going to that.  But as it is I'll just continue doing what I do every night...which is playing tunes at home...getting better acquainted with melodies such as The High Reel and Tripping Up the Stairs.

A lot of it has to do with not being good enough to be offered gigs or other (paid) playing opportunities, but some of it has to do with a personal disconnect to the idea of Irish music as performance.  Of course, if I saw what I do as a possible form of entertainment for others, and I was good enough and confident enough to present it as such, and someone was willing to pay me money to basically do what I would already be doing anyway (which is playing tunes), then I would definitely be open to that!
It's funny that I should be disinterested in the groups that play a polished, concert form of Irish music because I am definitely susceptible to the idea of music in the concert setting and can identify with the hero-worshiping fan.  If I counted up the number of times I've seen Phish, Dark Star Orchestra, moe., Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain String Band, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Keller Williams, Strangefolk, even String Cheese Incident, it would number in the hundreds. (yes these are bands for white kids to take drugs to, but also great performers!).  So, I'm no stranger to the perspective of being a starry-eyed music spectator and appreciator.
I suppose there's a slight feeling of being left out going on here, although prior to playing Irish music I had no real connection to the culture so I didn't pay much attention to St. Patrick's Day as a holiday. Now I'm more aware of it due to a quizzical feeling of should I be a more direct participant in some way?  There's got to be more to the celebration than just the secular Americanized version of guzzling green beer, even for a snoot like me.

90% of my music listening these days is to Irish traditional tunes.  I view this type of listening as a disciplined study; mental preparation for the music that I love to play, which is basically any form of traditional Irish instrumental tune.  That's probably not a well-rounded absorption of Irish music as it noticeably omits the pub style ballad that so many listeners think of when they think of the Celtic genre.  It's a selfish indulgence that becomes more complex this time of year.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Joys of Playing with a Metronome

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I only recently started using a metronome.  This lack of discipline is probably apparent in my playing, but I'm happy to have gotten over the hump of not using one only to discover that playing with a metronome can be a fairly gratifying experience.

Playing with a metronome is surprisingly calming and hypnotic. It allows you to identify trouble parts where you either speed up or slow down so that you can concentrate on smoothing those sections out.  I was working on the reel Rakish Paddy the other night.  After getting in sync, I probably played it over a dozen times through (with the clicker going), which is something I've never done before on my own.
Practicing with a metronome has the potential to make you a better listener because it forces you to be aware of more than just yourself.  Like I said above, it can also be calming.  Knowing that the tempo is not going to change allows for a stress-free playing experience where you can focus on other aspects of your technique like ornamentation and purity of tone.

Once you've identified errors and remedied them, you can practice playing the tune perfectly with the metronome to keep you on track.  This will teach your neurons to play the tune in-time in a relaxed, steady fashion rather than sloppily and full of mistakes.  By hearing yourself repeatedly play the tune correctly, the sound of the well-played tune gets ingrained in your mind's ear rather than a version filled with uncertainty and flubs.  This breeds confidence and perpetual progress.
After all the preparation and recitation, hopefully when the training wheels come off you are able to keep it on cruise control.  And all this time I thought a metrognome was a dwarflike spirit that lives in the city.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Tenor Banjo Conversion - 5-String to 4-String!!!

"Gibsonoid" T banjo as lefty
Last week, the Irish Tenor Banjo Blog's Mike Keyes sent me one of his RK-R35 banjo conversions to check out.  The term "banjo conversion" usually refers to taking a tenor banjo and converting it into a bluegrass or old-time banjo by attaching a new 5-string neck to a vintage tenor banjo rim.  Sadness.

However, what Mike Keyes does is reverse this bad karma by removing the 5-string neck on a new Recording King RK-R35 bluegrass banjo and replacing it with a 4-string neck from his stock pile of vintage Gibson tenor banjo necks.  The vintage necks fit on these RK-R35 pots and you can re-use the tuners from the Recording King on the tenor neck by reaming the tuner holes to 3/8".

Once set up properly you're left with a very utilitarian Gibsonoid / Franksenstein style 19-fret resonator banjo that will more than meet the needs of most session-playing Irish tenor banjoists.  I'm not much of a tinkerer, so yesterday I had Fredericksburg, VA luthier Bob Gramann convert this heavyweight champ to lefty and tweak the setup.  Below are audio recordings of the first two tunes I played on it after getting it home - Golden Keyboard and Joe Bane's.

Bob Gramann also re-strung my wife's Blue Ridge BR-40T tenor guitar from DGBE to the Irish bouzouki tuning of GDAD, and fine-tuned the intonation while he was at it.  That's her playing the newly setup (single-course bouzouki) tenor guitar in the background. By the way, those Blue Ridge tenor guitars are great sounding instruments for not that much money.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Twelve Irish-Music Related Twitter Accounts To Follow

Nuala Kennedy
Irish singer and "flautist" Nuala Kennedy

Irish Music Sessions (@irish_sessions) – re-tweeting session info from across the globe.

Bodhrán master, storyteller, ballad singer, comedian(?), and Irish language speaker Máirtín de Cógáin. A real Cork, boy.

Ward Irish Music Archive – the largest collection of Irish music in America.

Edel Fox. Concertina player from Miltown Malbay Co. Clare.

The Online Academy of Irish Music

Archivist, researcher and Irish guitar and bouzouki player Jeff Ksiazek.

Comhaltas CCÉ. Promoter of traditional music and culture around the world.

Irish fiddler and fiddle teacher Paul McNevin.

Trad Connect – an online forum connecting traditional Irish musicians from all around the world.

Accordion player Jimmy Keane!

Milwaukee Irish Fest School of Musicoffering classes on banjo, fiddle, flute, uilleann pipes, bouzouki and more.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Historypin Wants To Know How You Learn New Tunes

Lise den Brok
Now is your chance to be part of history!  Lise den Brok, the Historypin Community Officer, is conducting a research project to find out how traditional musicians go about learning new tunes.  Historypin wants your feedback regarding how you identify unknown tunes and what resources you use to learn them.

One way to participate is by filling out the form below in as much detail as you can. There are about 20 questions and anything you answer will be useful to this project.  Please share the link to the questionnaire with any other traditional musicians you think might be interested in helping out.

Questionnaire Link: is a community archiving website where people can upload historic photographs, videos and sounds and pin them to a location on the map.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Play Along with Sliabh Luachra Slides and Polkas

The region in Ireland known as Sliabh Luachra (pronounced “sleeve LUKE-rah”) occupies a loosely defined inland area where East Kerry and West Cork intertwine – as much a state of mind as an actual place. It includes the villages of of Knocknagree, Ballydesmond, Scartaglin, Brosna, Cordal, Rockchapel, Newmarket and Gneevguila. Sliabh Luachra means “The Mountain of Rushes” or “The Rushy Mountain”.
Unlike other musical areas in Ireland, the Sliabh Luachra repertory includes a large number of slides and polkas. Well known players in the Sliabh Luachra style include Padraig O’Keeffe, Denis Murphy, Paddy Cronin, Julia Clifford, Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly.

If you are interested in listening to or playing along with some authentic Sliabh Luachra music there are a couple “relaxed pace” albums available on Bandcamp. Festival CD 2014 and Festival CD 2013 were produced in association with the Scully's Traditional Music Weekend and contain mostly local tunes from the long-running Monday night session at Scully's Bar in Newmarket played at a steady tempo. The inspiration for the project came from the home produced tapes and CDs that are often passed between musicians to share their music.

Twitter: @ScullysFest

Some sheet music / ABC: