My big focus last year was on committing to memory as many basic versions of tunes as possible so I could fake my way through sessions and not have to rely on a tablature in a public setting. In the process I got a little better at playing by ear and more comfortable with winging it in those situations. I still have a long, long way to go with ear training and that remains my number one area of focus, but I feel like it's time to also start working on ornamentation and melodic variation. In a way they go hand in hand, I suppose. Rather than trying to personally write about a topic of which I have little experience, I thought it would be best to link to some other people's articles on Celtic ornamentation, articulation and phrasing. See below.
Here's a piece entitled Ornamentation for the Irish Tenor Banjo by Chris Smith. Smith is the author of Celtic Backup for All Instrumentalists, and has a great CD of Irish traditional music called Coyote Banjo that I've been listening to.
Here's an article on Celtic Mandornaments by instructor and bouzouki master Roger Landes.
And here's a feature on Triplets from tenor banjo enthusiast and Banjo Sessions contributor Mike Keyes, where he uses an unusual song - Stephen Foster's Camptown Races - to demonstrate this technique.
In a future post I may write about a triplets and variation exercise from Enda Scahill's Banjo Tutor that I am finding to be very helpful.