Friday, April 19, 2013

My Lesson with Eamon O'Leary

Eamon O'Leary
Last month I had two hour-long Irish tenor banjo lessons with Eamon O'Leary when he was in Williamsburg, VA to teach at the Boxwood Festival - one lesson on a Thursday and one on a Saturday.  Eamon didn't seem too concerned with time and each lesson ran longer than the allotted hour. 

I instantly liked Eamon O'Leary upon meeting him.  His easy-going, patient nature allowed me to learn some tunes phrase by phrase in a way that I had never been able to do before.  Eamon wasn't concerned with changing my "one finger per fret" fretboard assignment, although he uses mandolin style fingering.

Eamon did bring to my attention several things that I could do to improve.  In fact, he was probably more critical of my playing than anyone ever has been to me in person, but I was appreciative of that.  He had a constructive way of phrasing his pointers that made me feel encouraged and not defensive.

Below are some of the things he told me to work on:
--Watch your over emphasis on "the one".  Smooth it out.
--Shorten pick strokes for a more efficient movement.
--Don't lift fingers on the fretting hand until you have to. When you do lift them keep them close to the fretboard; don't lift them far.
--Experiment with putting in double stops wherever you can.
--Look for places where you can put triplets.
--Some triplets don't have to be melodic. In other words, instead of making a triplet F# > E > D, which would be more melodic, you can do it as F# > F# > D.

Those are the main notes I took.  We didn't talk too much about ornamentation or variation; just about throwing in some triplets or double stops as you see fit.  I recorded the lessons so I plan on reviewing them again to pick up more details I might have missed.  In addition, Eamon taught me two tunes I had never played before: the reel My Love is In America and the jig The Black Rogue.  I now love both of these tunes, especially Black Rogue, and they have now become regular parts of my repertoire.

I'd definitely take some follow up lessons from Eamon O'Leary if he's ever back in the area. Eamon's currently based in New York City and is one-half of The Murphy Beds, with Jefferson Hamer.  He is scheduled to teach at the Swannanoa and Augusta Heritage Irish weeks this summer.  Here's a video of The Murphy Beds.

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