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Outtakes: Highlights from the Tom Collins Interview That Didn’t Make the Cut

Considering more than a thousand people viewed my last post in the span of a few days, it seems Tom Collins is a popular guy. He provided some great answers to my questions, so inevitably there were some responses that didn't make it into last week's post. As a bonus, here are some highlights from the cutting room floor.

On Collins' favorite banjo player
If I had to pick one, it would be Fred Cockerham. He’s a big part of the sound I have in my head. I spent the first several years chasing his sound like some kind of mad dog. His style is spare, but can drive real hard. He also wasn’t afraid to get weird. Some of his renditions of tunes are downright experimental. He can hew to tradition, but has these moments of leaving it behind and soaring into the unknown. That’s exciting to me.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Walt Koken. Such a different player than Fred, but has that same spirit: spinning the old melodies and taking them into the unknown. Walt’s exuberance, and …
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Getting Blitzed with Tom Collins

A little more than a year ago, Salem, Massachusetts-based banjo player and teacher Tom Collins embarked on a yearlong project he called Banjo Blitz. The weekly YouTube series provided short banjo lessons on technique. Each video is about five minutes long, give or take, and presents a short pattern — or “ostinato” — designed to teach and improve a specific aspect of banjo playing.

The mission was to get the audience “to practice clawhammer in discrete chunks every day without the burden of trying to memorize tunes,” Collins says. He wanted to build skills rather than repertoire.

“Let’s take the tune off the table,” says Collins, who has been teaching banjo for 11 years. “Let’s focus on a simple, mantra-like ostinato that can train your body how to execute a technique properly, while training your ears how to hear it properly. Let’s also make it so that you can do this every day without it sucking every spare minute from your life. The big dirty secret about learning how to play an ins…

Recommendation: Get Up in the Cool

Sorry for the monthlong gap between this and my previous post. I do have some upcoming stories in the works that should prevent a similar hiatus in the next couple weeks. I've also written some reviews for The Old-Time Herald, which should appear in the next issue. For now, though, I'm here to steer you to a wonderful old-time music podcast I've recently discovered.

Get Up in the Cool is a weekly podcast hosted by banjo-player Cameron DeWhitt, who I believe is an Oregon native but now is based in the Washington, D.C., area. That's just what I've gathered from my listening to past episodes.

The podcast typically revolves around an interview and jam session between DeWhitt and his guests. Recent participants have included banjo builder Brooks Masten, melodic clawhammer master Ken Perlman, fiddler Chirps Smith and many more. He's also interviewed a few musicians with Ohio ties, which certainly caught my attention, including David Bass, Nikos Pappas, Hilarie Burhans…

Clawhammer Picks and You: A Review

Clawhammer picks are a useful tool for increasing volume or to overcome fingernail challenges, such as broken, too short or weak nails. There are all sorts of commercial and homemade solutions available for banjo players, but it can be difficult to decide which options to choose. Thankfully, I've already done some of the work for you.
Just to be clear, I prefer my natural fingernail for frailing. However, there was a time when I experimented with regularly using a pick, and there are instances now where I find that a pick is necessary. Today, I'll take you through the five options I've tried. These are all available online at prices ranging from about $1 to $13.

Reversed/Reshaped Dunlop Pick ($0.75)
This was the most common suggestion before other companies started addressing the gap in the clawhammer pick market. Take a bluegrass pick, flatten it out and wear it backwards. The problem is that it's hard to get the fit right. While Dunlop picks are cheap and readily avai…

A Second Year of Ward Jarvis

Over the past couple weeks I have been reflecting on my fiddle and banjo playing in 2017 and trying to determine what my path will be this year. So, I hope you're not tired of Ward Jarvis.

Considering I made it through only four of the six tunes I planned to tackle last year, my first Year of Ward Jarvis project seemed incomplete. I didn't want to just leave those tunes hanging. However, I also feel my repertoire is lacking in the more common tunes played in old-time circles, so I want to work on some old chestnuts.

My focus will be on common tunes I've found among influential Ohio fiddlers from the mid-20th century. I've compiled a list of fiddlers and their repertoires, and determined "common" tunes to be those played by three or more people. I then looked to see which of those tunes I have recordings of by Ward Jarvis.

This year's tune list is:
"Three Forks of Reedy""Leather Britches""Forked Deer""Grey Eagle" As y…

Milestone: Five Years of Fiddle

Happy New Year, banjo friends! Welcome to 2018. I hope the holiday season was kind to you, and you had ample opportunity to play that five-string, or at least hear some good banjo music.

Each new year brings the promise of rebirth. We all create goals or make resolutions to help start off the year right. I'm no different. For me, though, Jan. 1 also marks an anniversary. It was on that date five years ago that I started playing the fiddle.

I bought my fiddle from my friend, Guy, who was also a big help over the years with numerous pointers. I got a decent carbon-fiber bow and started sawing my way through various instructional books and videos, including from Brad Leftwich, Bruce Molsky and Erynn Marshall.

Last year, as you know, I broke away from the instruction materials to learn tunes from the repertoire of Ward Jarvis. That project has gone a long way toward developing my abilities. However, I know I have a lot of work yet ahead of me.

As Dwight Diller once said, "It take…

The Best Glory-Beaming Banjo Posts of 2017

Well, folks, the New Year is upon us. I hope you have enjoyed the holiday season. Thank you all for reading my blog throughout the year, despite my sometimes lackadaisical frequency. This is a hobby,
and I appreciate all of your support. Keep in mind, we do have a Facebook page. Join us there to keep the conversation going. I look forward to what is to come in 2018.

For your enjoyment, here are the Top 5 Glory-Beaming posts of 2017:

The Year of Ward Jarvis: Learn how I decided to put together a project to learn the repertoire of the great Athens County, Ohio, fiddler.Review: Olitsky and Moskovitz Weave Beautiful Banjo Harmonies on "Duets": A look at the banjo duets album, released earlier this year by two great players.New Additions to My Old-Time Record Collection: An overview of my budding old-time vinyl collection, including Tommy Jarrell, Ed Haley, Roscoe Holcomb and more.An Old-Time Smorgasbord in Peninsula: A preview of the wonderful Music on the Porches event in Penins…