Roots of American Music Classes

Flat-pick Guitar

Chris Brashear

Playing the guitar with a flat pick is likely the most common way you see folks play the guitar in both solo or ensemble settings. As a style, it is most associated with players like Doc Watson who used a flat-picked approach to playing fiddle tunes. We will look at both tunes and songs to incorporate a flat-pick guitar style. Building a tune repertoire will be a focus for the week.


Chris Brashear

The mandolin was a foundational instrument for bluegrass music, and its place in even earlier music and parlor ensembles is well known. We’ll spend the week looking at ways it can be used for backup or as a lead instrument in everything from bluegrass songs to Missouri fiddle tunes. If you are a singer, bring a song to learn with the mandolin as your supporting instrument. If you don’t sing, bring a song you’d like to learn anyway and we’ll make it mandolin friendly.

Ballad Singing

Alice Gerrard

No Depression calls Alice Gerrard ” one of the best voices in contemporary old time music”.  Students will have an opportunity to experience this first hand.  Drawing on the repertoire of Nimrod Workman, Molly O’Day and others, the class will focus on traditional southern singing styles with an emphasis on ballads and solo singing.  It will involve listening to source material as well as learning some wonderful songs. Alice will break down the different styles and sounds and students might even try writing a ballad!  Bring your voice and an open ear.

Early Country Duets

Alice Gerrard

The sound of ” brother duets” or “close harmony” is a classic sound of early county music.   This class will focus on those traditional southern duet style harmonies. It will involve listening as well as singing. Even if you think you can’t sing harmony, you most likely can. You’ll be amazed! We will deal with simple as well as complex harmonies in the style of Louvin Bros, Cooke Duet, Piedmont Melody Makers, Alice and Hazel, and others. Bring your singing partner if you can but no partner necessary.

Piedmont Blues

Ernie  Hawkins

Piedmont fingerpicking features a moving bass.  Once you master this style, you will be able to apply this skill across the board to enhance your playing. I consider Piedmont Blues to be a style a style rather than a place, which therefore includes players like John Hurt. Piedmont fingerpicking includes everything from blues and rags to country songs and standards.  Gray Davis was, and is, the genius of this style. Other significant Piedmont style guitarists include Elizabeth Cotton, Maybelle Carter, and Merle Travis. We will cover these and more in my Piedmont Blues class. Please check out my DVDs on both Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop and Homespun videos for more info.  Class is intermediate.

Texas Blues Guitar

Ernie  Hawkins

Texas Blues features a single bass style. Blues guitarists Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bill Broonzy and Mance Lipscomb are just a few of the great players included in this style. Learning to apply the CAGED system, which is a useful approach to playing closed chords up the neck, you will learn to apply this single bass system to Texas Blues in the above five keys. This is an intermediate class.  I have lots of DVDs on both Homespun and Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop videos where I demonstrate this style for students who might find that helpful.

Clawhammer Style Old Time Banjo

Frank Lee

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.

Three-finger Bluegrass Banjo: Fundamentals and Beyond

Frank Lee

Frank Lee began playing bluegrass banjo in 1976 while lying in traction with a broken femur. Though he made a name for himself playing clawhammer banjo in the 90s with The Freight Hoppers, his musical beginnings were with bands Bluegrass Generation and then Clearwater, whose album was produced by Rhonda Vincent.  In this class, Frank will break down the traditional 3-finger style made famous by Earl Scruggs. He will teach great tunes and the tricks and licks of classic bluegrass banjo. While tabs are fine starting point, this class will approach bluegrass banjo as a living art form learned by listening, watching, and doing.  You’ll learn to use right hand rolls and “punctuation” licks to create your own arrangements. Through learning to hear and find melodies on the banjo, you will learn to improvise in jam settings. Tonality and incorporating it thoughtfully into a piece will be covered.  Frank will show you how chord forms, closed chords, and chord substitutions can inspire you to create interesting breaks and backup for playing with others. Bring your device to document Frank’s teaching and your own musical creations.

Ukulele Blues Party

Del Rey

Jugband and blues songs orchestrated for the ukulele, with playing and singing parts for several levels of player. We’ll work on getting that old-timey sound on your uke, with the right rhythm, chord positions and where to find the melody. Plus we’ll try and listen to each other and play together.  We’ll add parts for basic chords, strumming, picking and singing. Basic level: be comfortable and confident with first position chords and able to keep time while changing between them. By ear, no TAB.

The Blues Styles of Memphis Minnie

Del Rey

The songs of Memphis Minnie, recorded between 1929 and 1950 are a wonderful guide to the development of blues guitar playing. Learning her songs, chord ideas and positions takes the guitar from complex syncopated fingerpicking to Chicago electric style. This class listens to songs in the keys of G, C, A, and E, and shows how to hear and figure out this musical style by ear. How Memphis Minnie approaches the guitar will also illuminate the music of Bo Carter, Big Bill Broonzy, and other early guitarists. You can take this class as a listening and repertoire resource and/or as a guitar intensive. If you have a favorite Minnie tune bring it and we’ll figure out how she plays it.

Fiddle Rags and Blues – for Advanced Beginner/Intermediate fiddlers

Suzy Thompson

There will be plenty for the advanced fiddler to work on, as well!  Suzy will teach bluesy and raggy material from old-time sources like Arthur Smith, the Mississippi Sheiks, the East Texas Serenaders, the Baxter Brothers, and Doc Roberts etc.  We might also delve into some of the Cajun-Creole blues from southwest Louisiana. Besides learning the tunes, we’ll also work on groove, ornamentation, and the things that make this kind of fiddling “swing”. All material will be taught by ear, so bringing a recording device is encouraged. Source material will be provided in advance for students to listen to.

Blues Singing

Suzy Thompson

Repertoire will be drawn from country blues artists (like Memphis Minnie – to complement Del Rey’s class) and also some from the classic women blues singers like Bessie Smith. We’ll work on practical things like finding the right key for your voice, finding the tempo that fits the song and your style, the subtleties of breathing and phrasing and lyric interpretation, and on more personal aspects of singing the blues: emotion and personal imagery.  Bring your guitar if you play guitar, Suzy will show some simple accompaniments to the songs.  Source material will be provided in advance for your enjoyment and edification.

Scratch Band

Staff Musicians: Hunter Dowdle, Mary Gordon,  Ann Whitley

Always wanted to play an instrument?  Just getting started?  Want to play with others who are also new?  This is the class for you.  Our patient and experienced teachers will have you playing in no time. We will get you going on guitar, uke, fiddle, banjo, bass, mandolin or ? Learn to play by ear and to jam with other people.  Learn some easy and common jam tunes and songs. Bring an instrument and have fun!