Class Descriptions

Rhythm and Repertoire: Howard Rains and Tricia Spencer

They will present -style tunes from their home states of Texas and Kansas, as well as tunes from surrounding states that influenced or were influenced by those regional styles such as Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa. Many of the tunes they will present were learned directly from older masters or family members such as Tricia’s grandpa, Kansas old-time fiddler Vernon Spencer. On the rhythm side, Tricia will teach her trade secrets of fiddle chording which can be applied to any instrument and help musicians of any skill level be able to accompany all manner of fiddle tunes and play tunes effectively on the fly. Howard will also teach his guitar chording for the tunes. These old tunes from Texas and the midwest are full of surprises. Some are simple, some are crooked, some are straight ahead barnburners, but all of them are unique to the region. Waltzes, schottisches, and even a jig or two will also be presented for good measure. Everything is learned by ear so a recording device is encouraged.

Fiddle and Banjo:  Paul Brown and Terri McMurray

The fiddle-banjo duet is a classic, central form in southern mountain music. It is also at the core of most old-time string bands. Come explore it in depth. You’ll play with instructors; form duets in the class and listen to them; hear your instructors perform as a duet, and listen to significant recordings.  There will also be stories and discussion regarding how the masters of previous generations thought about and executed fiddle-banjo duets, and how you can interpret and continue this great musical tradition. Bring a recording device and your enthusiasm, and enjoy a great week of musical adventure.

Early Intermediate Guitar – Susie Coleman

A New Approach to Old-Time Guitar focuses on using the simplicity of alternating bass to help you become a powerful, reliable old-time rhythm guitarist, featuring exercises to build hand strength and muscle memory for both hands. In addition to learning new tunes every session, students will study timing basics, kickoffs, simple bass note runs, how to navigate square and crooked tunes, and will get a comprehensive overview of the Number System. Course includes a copy of the Pegram Jam Chord Chart Book, a fiddle tune reference for old-time rhythm players. We will work with first-position open chords only. Students should be familiar with most common major and minor chord shapes, be able to strum smoothly and have developed sufficient callouses and hand strength to play for a couple hours at a time.

Intermediate Guitar – Allie Lee

Can you transition between basic chords and hold down a beat but want to do more with your guitar playing? Take your boom-chuck to the next level with this class! Bass lines and runs, chord options, and creating a groove are topics we will cover to help you improve your rhythm guitar style. Close listening to source recordings will be a discussion point for unpacking different rhythm guitar styles. We will have a fiddler in class with us and will improve our back up to fiddle tunes in D, G, A, and C. We may also explore playing waltzes, backing up songs, and following crooked tunes. Bring a playable guitar, spare strings, a couple of thick flat picks, a recording device and/or note taking materials, and an electronic tuner.

Advanced Backup Guitar – Evan Kinney

Starting with the basic folk chords you know, we will concentrate on getting a powerful tone and clear strum on the off beat. We’ll build on that by connecting one chord to the other with traditional bass runs, then on to more complex movements by great backing guitarists such as Riley Puckett, Melvin Dupree, and Jim Baxter. During the week you will pick up useful concepts such as circle of fifths and chromatic steps as we study some Rags, Blues, songs and novelty tunes of the old-time repertoire.

Advanced Guitar – Steve Kilby

In this class you will be introduced to versions of many well-known fiddle tunes and some not so well known tunes. We’ll also discuss some tips on how to transfer melodies from fiddle to the guitar so you can develop your own versions of tunes you might hear.

Intermediate Banjo – Hilary Dirlam

How do you translate a fiddle tune into “banjo language?” Once you’re ready to move into playing in a group, you’re faced with this challenge. In this banjo class we’ll look in depth at various approaches to playing banjo with the fiddle.  These approaches include rhythmic backup (including chords and occasional harmony notes), sketching the melody, and playing note-for-note with the fiddler.  Beginning with listening to a fiddle tune (we’ll have live fiddler with a new tune every day) we can explore ways for the banjo to enhance and have fun with the tune.  To be in this class you need a solid grasp of clawhammer banjo basics, including common tunings, basic chords, hammer-ons and pull-offs. You should be able to play several tunes comfortably in a couple of tunings. There may be a little tab used in this class, but a recording device and paper and pencil will be much more useful. Any questions? Email me at

Early Intermediate Banjo – Robby Robertson

The Early Intermediate Banjo Class is for the picker who is wondering, “OK, what’s
next?”  You’ve already got the basic clawhammer lick under your belt and know a few tunes and want to learn even more.  We’ll work on old-time tunes in G and C tunings, and at the same time, we’ll learn some cool new licks like hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides.  Bring a playable banjo, an electronic tuner (or a good ear) and if you have one, a portable recorder. We’ll learn to play the banjo the old-timey way – by listening and practicing.

Advanced Banjo – Frank Lee (Class is full and is closed. A waiting list is available please call 828-689-1167 to have your name added)

Frank Lee, of the longstanding old-time band The Freight Hoppers, has one of the most unique banjo sounds around. His clawhammer playing locks in tight with a fiddler, sometimes doubling the melody and other times providing an exciting counterpoint. His knowledge of Round Peak repertoire and style informs his playing yet allows him the flexibility to sound like nobody but Frank Lee.  In this class, Frank will break down the traditional clawhammer style that has become his trademark. He will teach great tunes and the tricks of the trade that make his playing stand out.  You’ll learn right hand techniques such as drop thumb playing, percussive sounds, using a pick on your middle finger, and the details of his banjo setup. He incorporates the “diddy-bop” lick and the famous “Galax” lick. We’ll also go beyond the basic “bum-ditty” rhythm and learn ways to make syncopated melodies.  You will learn exercises to improve technique and musicianship such as “the spider.” You’ll learn movable F and D position chords to allow you to play in different keys without retuning. Unusual tunings are part of the joy the banjo, and you will also learn beautiful tunes in several different tunings.  Get outside your box with Frank Lee’s fun and funky banjo noises.


Early Intermediate Fiddle – Helen White

This class offers a quick refresher on the basic foundations of fiddling: playing in tune with good rhythm and producing a good tone. We’ll learn by ear, identifying the “bones” (simplest melody) of a tune and fleshing it out by recognizing and applying various bowing patterns common to Southern Appalachian fiddling. We’ll experiment with chords for fiddle that can be useful for back up and learn how to “get into a jam” without initially knowing a tune. Most tunes taught will be in standard tuning, but we will likely veer off to an open A or G tuning for one class period. Although not primarily a repertoire class, we will learn several tunes in different keys during the week. Tunes will be taught by ear. A recording device is strongly recommended. Students need a good functional fiddle that is easily tuned. The D’Addario violin tuner that clips on the fiddle body is highly recommended.

Intermediate Fiddle – Beverly Smith

In this class we will begin to explore the details that will give your fiddling a real old-time sound. This will include bowings and tunings as well as left hand ornaments used by traditional players.   We will be learning tunes from the repertoire of older fiddlers from the Appalachians such as Melvin Wine, Wilson Douglas, Eden Hammons, Norman Edmonds, Tommy Jarrell, Hiram Stamper and more.  Tunes will be taught by ear.  Please bring a tuner and a recording device.

Advanced Fiddle – Emily Schaad (Class is full and is closed. A waiting list is available please call 828-689-1167 to have your name added)

This class will focus on building a stylized repertoire, getting rhythm in the bow, and finding “that old-time fiddle sound.” Tunes will be drawn from a variety of fiddlers from NC, KY, VA, and WV, exploring different techniques that are used for accentuating rhythm. We will discuss making choices while learning new tunes, varying rhythms while playing, and some basic ideas for breaking free from playing a tune the same way each time. Some discussion of improving mechanics (tone, articulation, ergonomics) and exposure to source recordings will be included. Please bring a recording device, as all tunes will be taught by ear, and be prepared to play in a few different keys and tunings.

Fiddle Blues and Rags – Mick Kinney (Class is full and is closed. A waiting list is available please call 828-689-1167 to have your name added)

Since the 1800s, Ragtime and blues has been part of fiddling. Studying one measure at a time, you will have some great pieces to include in your collection. We’ll begin with tunes in familiar keys and scales so you can get into some raggy rhythms right away. As we progress, we will cover some improvisations within the blues, and the harmony behind the old-time rags. Our material will range from classic American composers W.C. Handy and Scott Joplin, to Jug Band and street style fiddlers. Suggested for intermediate to advancing fiddle or mandolin.

Intermediate/Advanced Mandolin – Pete Vigour

The mandolin has been a standard instrument in American traditional music for generations, gaining great popularity with the introduction of a wonderful line of instruments produced by the Gibson Company in the early 20th century.  The mandolin can do it all— melody, chords, song accompaniment, and percussive rhythmic backup, and is perfectly suited for playing fiddle tunes and accompanying songs from the Carter Family, Blue Sky Boys, and other early country music performers.  Pete will be assisted by his wife, mandolinist Ellen Vigour.  Pete and Ellen will include tunes they learned personally from Kenny Hall, Everett Lilly, central Virginia’s Bobby and Lovell Coleman, and other great players. Tunes will be presented specifically to clarify pick direction, opening the door to playing rags and other syncopated styles.

Intermediate/Advanced Bass – Kellie Allen

As a prerequisite for taking this course, students must be able to play bass up to a moderate speed on old-time tunes. In this course, above all else, the emphasis will be on providing solid bass rhythm in an old-time string band setting. We will move beyond the “ones and fives” bass style by exploring bass runs to move from chord to chord in a given song or tune. We will practice the art of recognizing certain patterns in old-time fiddle tunes. We will address the best ways to interact with guitar players in old-time music and what style of bass playing, if any, works best in various old-time music contexts. We will learn about playing in two or three positions on the neck in the common old-time keys, and we will cover some tricks for playing in the less common old-time keys, such as F and Bb. This course is for those willing to play upright, acoustic bass. Please bring a recording device. Kellie Allen

Beginning Dulcimer – Margaret Wright

Margaret will focus on Beginner and New Player level dulcimer students.  The focus will be fretboard familiarity, rhythmic, musical strumming techniques, and tune acquisition in the keys of D, G and A.  All subjects will be presented within the framework of fun, old-time tune material.  This class is totally “hands-on!”  Tunes will be taught by rote with ear training and muscle memory encouraged.  However, tablature will be available.  Be sure that your dulcimer is playable (don’t just take it down off a wall and make assumptions!)  Have it checked for string height and any buzzes.  A capo will be needed and an electronic tuner.  Your dulcimer should have a 6 ½ fret, but please do not add 1 ½ (unless it is already there.) Bring a set of extra strings and a device for recording.  If you are not sure about your skill level, you may contact Margaret, or know that there may be some fluid movement between her class and son Lloyd’s class if it seems fitting.

Intermediate/Advanced Dulcimer – Lloyd Wright

Lloyd’s knowledge of other instruments including fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin gives him a strong perception of how to tastefully incorporate mountain dulcimer in any setting whether it be a casual jam or an on stage performance.  In Lloyd’s class he will cover multiple keys, tunings and styles, with and without a capo. He will focus on old-time music but may touch on other styles.  This is an intermediate to advanced workshop.

Old-time Duet Singing – Kay Justice and Sam Gleaves

This class will explore the singing styles and harmonies of the southern Appalachian mountains.  Focus will be on learning to sing a strong lead and then exploring appropriate harmony parts.  We will listen to some recordings of traditional mountain singers, but the thrust of instruction will be on singing.  The instructors will demonstrate the lead part and then will give examples of harmony lines.  Students will be divided into small groups, giving each student the opportunity to practice singing both lines.  Lyric sheets will be provided.  Those who play instruments are encouraged to bring them; chords to the songs will be provided.   A recording device, while not required, will be helpful.

Mini-Courses: Require paying extra fee per course

1:00 pm Mini-Courses:

Susie Coleman:  Beginner Guitar

In our class, students will learn how to hold a guitar and a pick, and a little about the instrument itself. We’ll talk about how to tune and care for your guitar. We’ll cover the most commonly used open guitar chords and try some basic strum patterns. We’ll talk about how to practice efficiently. And we’ll learn to play a few of the best-known old-time tunes. All students will receive a complimentary spiral-bound copy of “Acoustic Guitar: Meet the Rhythm Machine,” a reference guide with related commentary, diagrams and charts, plus some simple songs to practice with to help the beginning strummer get off on the right foot. We will work with first-position open chords only. Things you might bring: Guitar with fresh strings; a tuner of any type; a flat pick; a capo; pen or pencil; a recording device if desired. iPhones, iPads, etc. are welcome.

Bob Buckingham:  Mandolin Window-Dressings

All of the brother duets and many other old time groups use the mandolin to play little figures on their mandolins to fill between verses, take breaks, playing introductions and endings.  Find out how to appropriate fills in the melody by learning to use chord arpeggios.

Allie Lee: Old-time Rhythm for Ukulele and Banjo Ukulele (Class is full and is closed. A waiting list is available please call 828-689-1167 to have your name added)

Be unique in almost any old time jam with the portable and fun ukulele! The Hawaiian instrument has made its way into diverse genres and styles, so why not see how it grooves in old time music? In this mini course, we will hear samples of rhythm uke in recordings, practice right hand strums, and explore left hand chords and chord substitutions. Ability to change chords and strum is helpful, but all levels of players and pre-players are welcome. Bring your uke or banjo uke, thin pick, tuner, and recording device.

Pete Peterson:  Intro to Finger Style Old-time Banjo

If you already can play clawhammer banjo past beginner stage, consider expanding your horizons. The class will start with thumb-lead two-finger banjo (thumb and index finger) and learn to play tunes in the style of older Piedmont musicians such as Frank Jenkins and DaCosta Woltz. By the end of the week, we will be learning to play three-finger backup for fiddle tunes and songs in the style of Charlie Poole and Uncle Dave Macon.

Sam Gleaves:  Appalachian Songs

Lift your voice in old-time songs from the mountains, including narrative ballads, hymns, and lighthearted songs. Different singing styles and vocal ornamentation will be explored with a focus on unaccompanied singing.  Hear the stories of the singers who passed down these songs and their home communities in central Appalachia. Songs will be taught by listening, repeating, and singing as a group. Singers of all experience levels are welcome.  Lyrics will be provided.

Howard Rains and Tricia Spencer:  Twin fiddling and Seconding on the Fiddle

Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains will discuss and unlock the mysteries of their unique twin fiddle sound. Tricia grew up hearing the sounds of Scandinavian fiddling throughout the midwest and this informed her sense of harmony. Howard grew up in Texas hearing all of the influences of Old-Time, Cajun, Polish, German, Swing, and Mexican in the fiddling there. Tricia and Howard will teach tunes and their harmony parts and also discuss their approach to harmony and seconding. They have found that seconding can not only be useful for learning tunes on the fly, but can also make a big fiddle sound, and can be a lot of fun.

2:00 pm Mini-Courses:

Rosin Sisters:  Harmony Singing

This class is for anyone who wants to explore and participate in harmony singing, whether you are already accomplished at harmony or just getting started.   We promise a friendly and fun atmosphere.  We’ll learn the basics of musical harmony, how to find a harmony part to fit your voice, how to work out a song with one or more other people, and the etiquette of harmony singing.  We’ll focus on old-time country songs, and throw in some blues, gospel, and honky-tonk just for fun.

Amy Buckingham:  Beginning Bass

The upright bass is the bedrock of good old time music.  No matter whether you play another instrument or you are a beginning musician, this class will get your feet wet. We will learn some “bass-ics”, such as how to play in the keys of D, G and A and how to follow guitar players’ chords.  A recording device may be helpful.  Oh, and a bass would be helpful as well, but isn’t required if you know how to share.

Frank and Allie Lee:  Double Banjo

Two banjos at once? Doesn’t that break some kind of law? Maybe so, but come be delinquent with us as we explore how two banjos can play an old time tune together. We will use clawhammer technique and beyond to play melody and harmony on a familiar tune or two. We will demonstrate, discuss, and explore how open banjo tunings – together with our friend the capo – can work in our favor to create harmony. Some understanding of music theory will be helpful for this course, as well as ability to play simple melodies using clawhammer style. Bring your 5-string, tuner, capo, recording device, and/or pencil and paper for taking notes.

Charlie and Nancy Hartness:  Advancing Ukulele

This mini-class assumes facility on the ukulele with basic chord progressions in the keys of C, D, G, A, and F. We’ll warm up as a tight, rhythmic, strumming ensemble, and leap forward from there. Our playing will have pulse, drive and snap. We’ll arrange songs where some of us will pick melody and others play chords. We’ll sing, whistle, and add other refreshing alternatives to singing, as we travel with our ukes to previously uncharted territory. Please bring a ukulele, tuned GCEA, in good playing condition. A tuner and a recording device (AKA “milking machine”), are recommended. Handouts will be provided.

Pete Vigour: Jamming for Beginners

Old-Time Music Week here at Mars Hill is a great place to learn tunes and enjoy jam sessions with friends old and new. If you haven’t played with others before or would just like to get more comfortable jamming, here’s a daily jam just for you! All instruments welcome. Features easy, fun tunes, and lots of tips and tricks to help you build a great tune repertoire and become a confident jammer.

Evan Kinney: Beginning Banjo

Starting with the basic claw hammer stroke, you’ll be able to play along with fiddle tunes the first day. From there we will focus on accompaniment while learning some simple session and jam tunes. Bring your banjo and if possible a tuner. Recording devices are welcomed and encouraged.

3:00 pm Mini-Courses:

Mick Kinney:  Banjo EZ Chord System

Here is a way to use your old-time double C tuning for tunes that may call for more than open string clawhammer. This easy chord system is also great for rags, songs, blues, and enables you to play in any key! We will also try some different vintage right hand techniques such as two-finger and plectrum style.

Laura Boosinger:  Shaped Note Singing: ( free afternoon class)

Join us for a cappella shaped-note singing. We will be singing from The Christian Harmony, a seven-shape book traditionally used in Western North Carolina.

Steve Kilby:  Carter Scratch Guitar

In this course we will examine Maybelle Carter’s left hand techniques, hammer ons pull offs and slides. Also concentrating on her right hand technique known as the Carter scratch. We will learn a couple of her songs where these techniques are used.

Emolyn Liden:  Flatfoot Dance

“Have you ever been listening to an old-time jam and wanted to get up and dance but didn’t know just how to do it? In this Flat Foot Dance class we’ll dig in to the wonderful traditional steps from dancers that have come before us and touch on various dance styles to create a style all your own. We’ll learn a variety of steps to add to your “dance vocabulary” to have ready for freestyle dancing and we’ll also discuss how to combine steps in a sequence to match the melody of tunes so that you’ll become a percussive “addition” to the overall sound – a musician in your own right. Flatfooting is about letting go, laying-down rhythm, and adding to the music while letting your personality shine. The steps will be taught in a very approachable way; starting with the basics for beginners and adding layers of rhythm for more intermediate dancers. Throughout the class we will be striving to polish those traditional steps, add new challenges, and define your individual styles.”

Ellen Vigour:  Fiddle from Scratch

This mini-class is for folks who love the fiddle and really want to play.  No prior experience is needed, just come ready to learn.  This class is also for those folks who may have some experience with other instruments, but want to develop some fiddlin’ skills.  Together, we will learn some wonderful, easy traditional fiddle tunes and simple bowing techniques. Come and join in the fun!

Morning Yoga:  During breakfast   M-F

Liz Harzoff : Gentle Yoga

This gentle morning yoga practice will help you prepare for a day and night of classes and jams. Designed to help you stretch, relax, and center, we will warm up, move through several yoga postures, cool down, and end with savasana (a pose that allows you to integrate the benefits of your practice).  Please wear clothes in which you can easily move. Bring something on which you can lay on the floor-a bath towel or yoga mat will work. Some yoga mats will be available, but the number is limited.