DAY 1 – Rockygrass Academy

Here I am at the music camp that precedes Rockygrass — Rockygrass Academy. My day was as follows:


Students of all instruments convened at the Blue Heron tent.  Mark Schatz, Dan Crary, Jens Kruger, and I helped them split up and form 5 different groups of standard bluegrass band instrumentation (bass, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, dobro). The instructors roamed between the groups and offered assorted guidance:

• Make your count-off or instrumental kick-off rhythmic and strong so everyone can get the tempo, and make sure everyone is ready to begin the song;
• Once you begin instrumental fills between lyrics on a verse or chorus, continue through that verse or chorus;
• Try to avoid playing fills on the part directly preceding your solo so that the sound of your instrument is fresh;
• If you hear someone taking the same role as you (eg. choping, filling), you be the one to back off…
• Either the fiddle, banjo, or dobro assume the chop when the mandolin is soloing;
• On an instrumental tune, usually the person who kicks it off is the one that finishes it;
• On an instrumental tune, playing the melody is preferred on the first and last time through. (I’m okay with more of a solo-type last time, but like to bring it home to the melody by the end);
• Think about beefing up the last time through an instrumental with group stops, unison melody, or harmony with another instrument;
• Experiment with dynamics in different sections as an arrangement tool — a quite verse, instruments dropping out and layering back in…



Tune = Down Yonder (G) Buddy Spicher & Benny Martin - Fiddlers' Hall of Fame - Down Yonder
We learned the single note melody phrase by phrase. To work on improving our ears (picking up melodies more quickly) I played each phrase over and over, each time adding subtle (and not so subtle) variations. The students would repeat each phrase to me after I played it. Sometimes the variations would be more difficult – like with doublestops or faster runs — so we’d slow it down to work on each note. At one time, we found two notier variations and combined the two…AA & BB, or AB or BA…Enjoying this approach, we applied the concept to other phrases as well. In the end, we played the melody as a group about 4 times in a row – the first being the plain melody and each successive time through, the students would add their own variations as inspired by the earlier call & response.


• In Nashville, there is unique chord notation short-hand used in the studios on demo and master recording sessions. It works great for bluegrass and country, but not so much for the more complex harmony and rhythms of jazz. The system allows for quick changes in key without chart rewriting. Also, a standard shorthand helps sessions to progress much faster and allow for more songs to be cut. I showed the various symbols commonly used and charted a few tunes for the students to see.

It’s a beautiful setting for a learning out here in Lyons, CO. I’m glad to be here teaching again.

See you on Day 2,

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