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Jody Hughes of the

Jody Hughes Trio:

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From Metallica to Merlefest

alancing performing with a teaching load of 30 students a week, Jody Hughes of the Jody Hughes Trio is a full-time musician and music instructor. Originally a chemist with a degree from Kennesaw State University, Hughes has had a passion for music since the age of 13. “It was just something I’ve always been drawn to, the creativity side of it,” Hughes said. Despite only being a full-time musician for the last decade, Hughes has performed in several groups and won the 2006 Merlefest Banjo Competition. Beginning with the guitar, he played more hard rock and listened to Metallica. Hughes said he didn’t know what bluegrass was nor had any aspiration to play the banjo until the day he went to the flea market with his grandfather. “I was talking to my grandfather, and come to find out, one of my grandfather’s dreams was always to play the banjo,” Hughes said. “He never got to do that.” Hughes’s grandfather told him he’d buy him a banjo if he learned to play something on it. “I was the typical teenager, listening to Metallica, and I really didn’t think I would have anything to do with bluegrass or the banjo,” Hughes said. After listening to the music for a while, Hughes said he could relate to how fast the music was, and he became absorbed into the world of bluegrass. “I found myself wanting to play the banjo more and more,” Hughes said. “[I] found some local people to play with and started going to the jams.”

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Canton Family Life | AUGUST 2016

Hughes taught himself how to play the mandolin at the bluegrass jams. “There would be three or four other banjo players there, and some of them played the mandolin as well, so if they were playing, I would just kind of ask them [how to play],” Hughes said. “I started playing the mandolin on the side as kind of a necessity to contribute to the jams.” Hughes said he believes music genres can be intermixed because many have similarities. “I think that bluegrass and jazz, in particular, are a good mix because they both involve improvisation,” he said. Hughes has played banjo and guitar in A High Lonesome Bluegrass Mass, a production by Tim Sharp, executive director of the American Choral Directors Association. This production mixes bluegrass and choir music and has been performed at Carnegie Hall and the Ryman auditorium. But his favorite place he performed at was Merlefest, which he describes as the “second most prestigious kind of banjo contest in the country,” behind the National Banjo Contest. Hughes said one of the great things about Merlefest is that they invite the competition winners to come back the next year to judge the contest. “That gave me a lot of perspective on what a judge hears out in the audience,” Hughes said. One of the songs Hughes likes to perform is an original song called “The Path.” “I’ve written a lot of tunes, but I’ve found that audiences respond to that one pretty well,” Hughes said. “It’s not your straight, typical bluegrass kind of song; it’s

By Rachel Sprouse

something that has a little bit of a rock tinge to it.” When he’s not performing, Hughes teaches about 30 students a week. He gives online lessons to those with preexisting experience with the banjo, using Skype and Google Hangouts to connect with students. He started offering online lessons after seeing another person post about it on Banjo Hangout, an online discussion forum for banjo players. “There are all these people across the world who live in remote areas, or they live in some area where they just don’t have access to the instructor, so the technology really allowed me to reach those people,” Hughes said. He has students in Canada, one in London and has taught students as far away as Thailand in the past. He’s even had students in Georgia that prefer online lessons to in-person. “I had a guy that lived in Georgia that took online lessons simply because he didn’t want to drive,” Hughes said. Hughes said he does not take pure beginners for online lessons because he believes there are things a person can only be taught in-person. “There’s certain things you can’t just teach through the computer [like] exactly how to hold the instrument,” Hughes said. “You can direct them, but it’s not as good as hands-on.” Hughes said the best advice he could give aspiring musicians is to be consistent with practicing. “You have to try to play the instrument every day, whether or not that’s five minutes or three hours,” he said. “As long as you’re consistent with things, you’ll make progress.”

Canton Family Life 8-16  
Canton Family Life 8-16