Live Skype Lessons!
As the picture implies, I'm a patient and nurturing teacher.
Seriously, though, I've taught an awful lot of people how to play the banjo and guitar. I love doing it. So if you've ever wondered how your life would be different if you played the banjo, or played the banjo differently, then wonder no more!
I can teach you pretty much any tune you're interested in (traditional tunes, or any of my original tunes), but I also have about 20 workshop-style lessons that are more "conceptual", focus on a particular topic or technique, and are geared to certain levels. Each one of these is backed up by a written overview of the subject that includes some amount of tablature.
scroll down to see 20 banjo lesson descriptions and 5 guitar lesson descriptions.
Banjo From Scratch – From None to Fun! (beg.)
As the name implies, nobody is too novice for this lesson. We’ll look at basic right and left-hand principles, how to hold the instrument, how to tune the instrument, and I’ll get you started on a simple tune that will introduce the “basic strum” and a couple simple chords.
Introduction to “Drop Thumbing” and “Double Thumbing” (beg/int)
This is for players who are comfortable with the basic strum and want to learn how to add the other two right-hand techniques to their bag of tricks. These techniques can be a bit of a bugaboo for some folks, but there are some basic right-hand mechanics that are really important to learn right from the start. I’ll get you going on the right track.
Introduction to Common Old-Time Banjo Tunings - How, What, When, and Why (beg)
When you first start playing, the different banjo tunings can be extremely confusing. I’ll show you what tunings you should be aware of, how to use them, and explain why they are necessary. We’ll look at how the capo works, using an electric tuner, tuning by ear, basic scales, playing in minor keys,and how you know what tuning you should be in. I’ll leave you with a tune to work on in each of the different tunings and answer any nagging questions you might have!
An Introduction to Chords in G, Double C, and Modal Tuning (beg/int)
I’m amazed at how many old-time banjo players either don’t know any chords, or just know a few in G tuning (but none in Double C or Modal). This is un-good!!! Knowing chords is essential for playing with others, especially backing up songs. It’s a great help when learning tunes on the fly, and will give your fiddle tune arrangements a fuller sound.
Clawhammer Technique Tune-up (all levels)
I’ll take a look at your playing and suggest any ways I think you could improve what you’re doing. This usually focuses heavily on the economy of motion of both the right and left hands, and making sure you’re doing things the easy way. Once we go over everything, I’ll teach you an arrangement of a tune that will challenge you in any areas where you may need some work, and/or leave you with some practice suggestions.
Understanding Your Clawhammer Tools (int/adv.)
In my opinion 99% of everything anyone plays in the clawhammer style is some combination of 3 right-hand techniques and 3 left-hand techniques. Most people who can play 20 tunes can do everything they need to play the other 980…but they don’t understand how those techniques, or “tools” work. We’ll take a good look at what those techniques are, what each one allows you to do, and make sure you’re executing them correctly. This is a good lesson for those of you wanting to break away from tablature.
Building Tunes in Layers (int/adv.)
This is a systematic approach to coming up with your own arrangements of tunes. Using this method will help you play by ear, as well as pick up tunes on the fly at jam sessions. By imposing limitations on which right and left-hand techniques we use, we come up with several different versions of a tune. What you end up choosing will depend on your playing level, aesthetic choice, or the amount of time you have to learn the tune (i.e. playing a tune in a jam session you’ve never heard). This isn’t the only approach, but it’s one that has worked for a lot of folks I’ve taught it to.
Playing in the Key of G Out of Double D Tuning (int/adv)
Sick of having to change tunings all the time? Playing in the key of G out of D tuning is surprisingly easy and it sounds great. Learning this little trick can save you lots of time (and hassle) tuning. It also gives you a very unique voice (sound) in the key of G that works well alongside another banjo playing in standard tuning. I'll unpack this and show you how it works - what left-hand positions you have to be aware of, how to handle the 5th string, and some tunes to apply it to.
Introduction to FDGCD - How, What, When, and Why (int/adv)
FDGCD (F tuning) is both a versatile and beautiful banjo tuning. We'll unpack it and make a case for why you should add it to your clawhammer toolbox. We’ll look at a tune that will get you started, and I’ll leave you with a couple others to keep you going.
Using Clawhammer Rolls (int/adv)
I use rolls (clawhammer patterns that allow you to emulate 3 finger picking) a lot in my back up playing for both songs and tunes. We'll take a look at what that sounds like, how to do it, and how to apply it to your music. I’ll show you rolls for both 4/4 and waltz time.
Rests and Alternate Clawhammer Rhythms – Less is More…and Funky! (int/adv)
Leaving space in clawhammer is actually sort of tricky. We'll look at how to add rests to your clawhammer playing without losing your groove and momentum. This allows you to create some very cool alternate rhythms. I’ll show you a specific example that you can insert into any tunes you already play.
“Ghost Notes” or “Alternate String Pull-Offs” - How, What, When, and Why (int/adv)
Alternate String Pull Offs (I call them “Ghost Notes”) are sort of like banjo magic tricks. I use them an awful lot as a rhythmic device for backup, but they are a great melodic tool as well. As the name of this workshop implies, I’ll show you what they are, how to execute them, and how to apply them to your playing.
Movable Chords in G and Double C tuning That You Should Know – (int/adv)
Learning a few movable chords in both G and Double C tuning is invaluable for your back-up playing and will help demystify playing up the neck. We’ll look at the three-note as well as two-note versions of these chords that I’ve found most useful and applicable. The theory used to understand the movement of these chords is not overly complicated, but it can lead to a better understanding of music in general.
Introduction to Two-Finger (thumb lead) Up-picking for the Clawhammer Players (int/adv)
If you can play clawhammer, it's not much of a jump to playing some sweet two-finger old-time banjo. In this workshop, we'll see how it works, and how it relates to what you already know how to do in the clawhammer style. This is also
How to Learn a Tune from a Recording – (int/adv)
This is for people who want to break away from using tablature. If you’ve never done it, learning a tune from a recording can be very intimidating…but you need to start doing it!
It’s a skill that you learn and develop over time. It’s the best ear training you can get and it’s the first step to being able to pick up tunes on the fly in a jam session. I’ll walk you through the process and look at things like - how to figure out what key the song is in and how that informs what tuning to choose, what to do when there’s no banjo in the recording, gauging how appropriate a piece is for the clawhammer style, and knowing when to quit (or how close is close enough).
Singing with the Banjo / Song Accompaniment (any level)
This is a wide-ranging subject, but based on your level, I’ll show you some approaches to backing up your own singing or that of others. We’ll look at a few different directions it can go in, and I’ll try to sell you on my own “less is more” philosophy on the matter. I can give you feedback on one of your songs and answer any burning questions you might have.
Strummy Strum – New Strumming Horizons for the Clawhammer Banjoist!!!! (int/adv)
One of the biggest developments in my own clawhammer playing over the past few years is the incorporation of strumming patterns similar to what a tenor banjo player or mandolinist might play. I do a lot of this when I’m playing with The Lonesome Ace Stringband. Being able to go seamlessly between strumming and clawhammer gives you some rhythmic and chordal textures that can really enhance your overall sound. It will increase your dynamic range significantly and can help you fit into other song styles (such as honky-tonk, and Celtic) that can be hard to pull off convincingly in clawhammer. I’ll show you how the right hand works, some rhythm patterns, left-hand muting, and some chords that are useful.
Tune Variations – The First Step to Improvising (int/adv)
I hate when people say that there’s no improvising in old-time music, there is, it's just more subtle and melody-based than what goes on in bluegrass – it’s about phrasing as opposed to scales or licks. One of the most common complaints I get from people at workshops is that they just play their tunes the same way over and over and wish they could change it up. Often when I work with these people, I find that they are trying to re-invent the wheel where they should be paying more attention to smaller details. In this class we’ll look at what tools you have to enhance your phrasing and how to put them in to practice. I’ll get you paying attention to smaller phrasing details, which will lead to coming up with rehearsed variations, and eventually, to playing freely and improvising.
Tone, Timing, Touch, Technique, and Practice – (int/adv)
If you want to take your playing to the next level, stop endlessly learning tunes, and start to look at what’s at the root of it all. This lesson is mostly conversational (although you’ll still need your banjo!). We’ll go through each of those points and I’ll give you my take, listen to yours, and answer any questions you might have. We’ll get into some real banjo-geek minutia here, such as…nails, strings, banjo setup, metronomes, how to play with more dynamics, practice techniques and strategies…and much more!
The Galax Lick and Licks Just Like It – (int/adv)
What people call the “Galax Lick” is a technique that turns the beat around momentarily and puts the 5th string in a rhythmic beat that it doesn’t usually play in clawhammer. I’ve never liked calling it The “Galax Lick” as it implies that it’s distinctly from the area around Galax VA, when you can hear examples of it in clawhammer playing from just about anywhere. In fact, I was recently doing a workshop with a great banjo player from Galax. Somebody asked about the Galax Lick, and she didn’t know what they were talking about (she was expert at the technique, she just had a different name for it). In any case, I’ll show you how it works, how to execute and practice the technique. we’ll look at how players such as Kyle Creed, Clarence Ashley, Lee Hammons used versions of this lick….and I’ll leave you with a tune or two to work on.
Introduction to Old-Time/Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar (Beg)
This is for people who know how to play and change between basic chords (G,C,D,E,A…I’m not going to teach you the chords). We’ll look at how to play your basic “boom-chuck” pattern, how to hold the pick, what your go-to bass notes are for each chord, and all the fundamentals to get you going. I’ll give you a song out of D, G, and A for you to practice. Playing basic rhythm guitar is deceptively simple. The basics are very important to get right and getting them right will set you up for great things, not to mention being welcome in jam sessions!
Beyond “Boom-Chuck” – More Rhythm Patterns for Old-Time/Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar (Beg/Int)
So, you’re feeling comfortable with playing your basic boom-chuck rhythm pattern and can consistently hit the appropriate bass notes and change chords? Next, we’ll look at some other strumming patterns that are appropriate for song and fiddle tune back up. We’ll also look at a bass note picking pattern that is the root of learning how to crosspick. This will allow you more interesting rhythms and a fuller sound, especially at slower and mid-tempos. Begin thinking of the guitar as a drum, and the pick as a drumstick, and your rhythm guitar playing will become more mindful and deliberate.
Introduction to Moving Bass Lines 1 – Moving Bass Lines Without Moving Your Fingers!!! (int)
We all want to play fancy moving bass lines behind fiddle tunes and songs. Before you start doing finger contortions, and potentially mess up your solid rhythm, look for the bass line potential that is already right under your nose. We’ll look at how to use the open strings that are available to us in our primary chord shapes in a more deliberate and mindful way to follow the direction of the melody and create pleasing bass lines that won’t sacrifice rhythmic feel. Again, this is deceptively simple, but something I think lots of players really skip over and miss out on.
Introduction to Moving Bass Lines 2 – Classic Moving Bass Lines While Moving Your Fingers!!! (int)
Now that you have a feel for simple whole note bass lines, we’ll start looking at how you can add ½ and ¼ note bass lines to your bag of tricks. In order to do this, you have to stop your strumming momentarily and pick individual notes. We’ll look at how to accomplish this without sacrificing your solid drive and rhythm. We’ll look at how your choice of bass lines can add rhythmic and harmonic tension, pleasing counterpoint, or melodic support, depending on the situation you’re playing in…and ultimately, your choice of aesthetic. For many, this will be an introduction to up/down flatpicking and looking at pick direction, which is the foundation for learning how to flatpick fiddle tunes etc.
Learning to Flatpick your First Melody (int)
Using the haunting old-time melody “The Cuckoo”, we’ll introduce proper up-down picking technique, as well as how to mix melody playing and strumming (sort of like Maybelle Carter). If you’ve been wanting to make the leap to playing melody on the guitar this is a great place to start, and I think you’ll love the arrangement you’ll end up with.