Cia began her banjo career with the internationally acclaimed Bluegrass family band Cherryholmes at the age of 16. Influenced by the stylings of banjo heroes like JD Crowe, Don Reno, Jason Burleson, and Jake Jenkins and mentored by Bluegrass King Jimmy Martin, she developed her own style blending the traditional hard driving approach with blues and honky-tonk. Recipient of the SPBGMA banjo player of the year award three years in a row, she has helped to pioneer the way for many young female banjoists and to bring playing while singing to the forefront. The Americana ensemble Songs of the Fall is her most current musical endeavor, blending traditional banjo with, delta blues, and mountain roots.
MORE ABOUT THIS ARTIST FEATURED ARTIST - NOVEMBER 2015
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ARTIST INTERVIEW — The Banjo Reserve interviewed Cia Cherryholmes, here's what she had to say.
Q. How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A. I am a self taught player and learned mostly from just listening to recordings of banjo players that I liked. While reading music and tab can be very helpful, I feel that learning to play by ear is the most valuable. If you can train your ear to pick things up, you are a lot less restricted when it comes to learning resources.
Q. During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?
A. During the very early stages, sometimes just getting my right hand fingers to pick the correct strings was a challenge! From there, mastering a clean pull off was something I put a lot of time into.
Q. What challenges do you still hope to master today?
A. The challenge now is more the drive to keep pushing myself with my playing and learning how to use my instrument for other genres besides bluegrass. I play a yearly tour with Mark O'Connor, and I always look forward to the challenges his music presents me with. A lot of times, I'm having to use the banjo for piano and oboe parts for his classical arrangements. It keeps me on my toes!
Q. Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A. I have always viewed banjo as more of a support instrument. There are definitely songs that are banjo features, but most of the time we are playing a supporting role. I think that is allowing the banjo to pop-up in more unlikely places like mainstream radio and in movie soundtracks. I think that by staying active in the music industry, whether in live shows, soundtracks, teaching, or putting out my own albums, I can help keep the banjo moving forward.
Q. What most inspires you to play?
A. For me, having a specific goal to work towards inspires me the most to play. A lot of times that comes from arranging new music or preparing for a show.
Q. What song(s) do you enjoy playing the most on your Banjo?
A. Hard to pick a favorite, but I tend to lean more towards "darker" sounding tunes. Back when I was a teenager learning how to play, I remember reading an article about Jason Burleson where he said he liked to take all of the "happy" sounding notes out. That always stuck with me.
Q. Based on your professional experiences as a Banjo Player, what advice do you have for beginners?
A. Practice, practice, practice! And practice with people who are better than you. It will challenge you to push yourself to become a better player when you get out of your musical comfort zone. Students sometimes ask me how long it will take for them to get good, and I always tell them you'll get out what you put in. If you half heartedly practice for 15 minutes a few times a week, that's what your playing will reflect. If you only have a limited amount of time to practice, I suggest this method when I teach: use 1/3 of the time warming up on something you are comfortable with, 1/3 on learning a new skill/tune/lick, and the last 1/3 back on something you are comfortable with so that you don't feel like throwing your banjo in trash if you're struggling a little on the new stuff!!
Q. You and your family experienced several years of music fame as the incredibly talented band "Cherryholmes". What was your favorite banjo related story from that experience? And what is your favorite banjo related story from your experiences with Songs of the Fall?
A. One of my favorites banjo memories when I was with Cherryholmes involves Jimmy Martin. We would go over to his house, and he would listen to us play and coach us. I remember him emphatically tapping the head of my banjo when I'd play "Sunny Side of the Mountain and telling me to "drop my thumb" down on the 2nd string because that's how he told Little Red (J.D. Crowe) to do it! It stuck, and I learned how to incorporate my thumb a lot more.
With Songs of the Fall, we got to tour for 3 months with David Crowder as his opening act a while back. That was a really fun experience. Honestly though, getting to travel with my spouse makes it fun on a whole other level. Feels less like work and more like fun musical trips!
Q. You've lived in Los Angeles, California, Nashville, Tennessee, and now Pagosa Springs, Colorado. How have these locations had an influence on your music? And have they had any influence on your banjo technique?
A. Each place has helped me reach a milestone in my playing. In L.A., I was still learning how to play my instrument and trying to develop a style and become confident as a musician. In Nashville, I was better on my instrument but with all of the other great musicians around, it really pushed me to become better and to be competitive. By the time I was 26, my doctor told me that I had nerve damage in my hands and arms from playing at the intensity level that I had been for the past decade and would be unable to play by the time I was 30 if I didn't make some changes. Leaving "Cherryholmes", starting Songs of the Fall and moving to Pagosa all allowed me to make the changes I needed so that I could still play the banjo but at a better pace and with less stress. I've finally learned to relax a little and it's helped my ability to play.
Q. Do you have plans for another Songs of the Fall CD, or special project that you would like to share with us?
A. We are currently in the process of recording a new Songs of the Fall CD and hope to have it released in Spring of 2016. It's been a while in the making, but we're excited about all of the new songs!
Q. At this point in your banjo playing career, what work or event are you most proud of?
A. I am probably the most proud of the Grammy nominations I received while with Cherryholmes. It was such an honor to be considered for those awards and to get to attend the award shows.
Q. What other interests do you have?
A. Aside from music, I enjoy reading --- books. I just can't quite get myself to use an E-reader! Outdoor activities, cooking, and hosting get togethers.
Q. Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A. We adopted a shelter puppy earlier this year, and she's a great little companion.