Guitar Week Classes – July 24-30, 2022


This class will cover the very basics of playing and enjoying guitar. Topics will include: tuning your guitar, basic chord shapes and patterns, basic rhythm patterns, simple right-hand technique (both flatpick and fingerpick), care and feeding of your guitar, and practice tips. By the end of the week, we will work in a tune or two for you to work on at home. Knowledge of guitar tablature is helpful, but not required. Students are encouraged to bring audio recorders to class and to attend the daily Slow Jam that Ed will lead directly after lunch.

This class focuses on how to play powerful bluegrass rhythm guitar. We will work on ‘alternating bass’ styles of playing as well as using bass runs and other motion within the chords to accent your vocals or the instrumentalists you’re playing with. In addition to these basic building-block techniques, we will learn one bluegrass song each day. Lyrics will also be provided, so you can learn the words and add these songs to your jam sessions at home. The class will present songs that allow you to see the rhythm patterns conducive to most of the first position chord shapes. We will also discuss how to use a capo to get the song in a key to fit your voice. All levels of participants are welcome. Familiarity with guitar chords and knowledge of guitar tablature is helpful, but not required. Students are encouraged to bring audio recorders to class and also encouraged to participate in the Slow Jam that Ed leads every afternoon, following lunch, as a way to reinforce the techniques learned in class as well as learn additional songs/tunes.

This course (as the name implies) is for the intermediate to advanced player who really wants to take it to the next level. During the week, we will cover a variety of techniques, including flatpicking leads and playing creative accompaniment behind singers and pickers, using the concept of playing licks around chord shapes, and building effective solos for bluegrass songs. We will start the week learning a few essential ‘grassy’ licks from the Rice and Watson schools of flatpicking. We will then emphasize picking out the basic melody of a song or tune, then analyzing where the melody fits within the shapes of the accompanying chord progression. We will then look for spaces within the melody line where one could insert some hot licks to create an interesting solo. This class will build upon the techniques covered in my instructional book, Deep Bluegrass Guitar. Please note that we will be covering some challenging technique during the week, but with a little bit of elbow grease, along with the tablature that I will provide to you, the motivated participant should emerge with plenty of material to learn and master during the coming year. Familiarity with guitar tablature is very helpful, but not absolutely required. Students are encouraged to bring audio recorders to class.

Don’t panic when it’s your turn to ‘take it’. You can learn how to construct your own swinging guitar breaks. Mike will take the mystery out of improv-isation, focusing on melody, arpeggios, scales, riffs, phrasing, and syncopation – all the components that make up swing guitar solos. Students in this intermediate/advanced class are expected to have a good grasp of rhythm guitar accompaniment for common swing jam tunes. This is a very hands-on class with lots of playing together, big band-style. Handouts provided, audio recorders encouraged, no video cameras please.

From the Piedmont-style fingerpicking of Mississippi John Hurt to the more uptown sounds of the great Lonnie Johnson, participants in this very hands-on intermediate class will learn licks, tricks, and a few new tunes in open D and G as Mike teaches syncopations, chord solos, turnarounds, and the alternating-thumb and slide techniques that are the foundation of this uniquely American genre. Bring a slide to class. Handouts provided, audio recorders encouraged, no video cameras please.

RIFFS, RAGS & BOOGIES (Mike Dowling)
From the Delmore Brothers’ infectious boogies through Louis Jordan’s jump-style grooves, Mike uses tunes from the blues, swing, and ragtime songbag to highlight techniques that will sharpen your ears, tighten your timing, and broaden your playing horizons. You’ll learn new syncopations and chord progressions which will lay the foundation for improvisation, but Mike says to be warned because you just might up with some practical music theory along the way. This class is suitable for both fingerstylists and plectrum players with lots of playing in class. Handouts provided, audio recorders encouraged, no video cameras please.

It’s like this: you pick some bass notes and a steady rhythm with your thumb. Then you pick a syncopated melody and some added ‘blue’ notes with your finger… at the same time. It’s the original form of multi-tasking; not complicated, but good to listen to, and requiring some attention to get it right. In this beginner/intermediate class, Steve will demonstrate a variety of song arrangements so simple and attractive that you’ll enjoy playing them…over and over. (Note: Steve James’ workshops are hands-on with provision made at the conclusion of each program for those who wish to use devices other than a guitar.)

That was Muddy Waters’ famous rejoinder when, at their first recording session, Alan Lomax asked “What’s that you’ve got on your little finger there?” And then, all hell broke loose. These beginner/intermediate sessions will be devoted to repertoire – blues, gospel, country – that has been defined by slide guitar; from single-string melody to rockin’ train rhythms to church bell chimes. Hands- (and slides) on. (Phones off until the concluding demo.)

Every great blues guitar arrangement contains a wealth of harmonic and rhythmic ideas that can be altered, transposed, and put to more general use. In this intermediate class, we’ll pick a few ‘fingerbusters’ and learn ‘em; then take ‘em apart and put ‘em back together to hear what makes ‘em work. This evergreen favorite is for more experienced players… or those who like to jump in at the deep end, guitars in hand! (Phones in pocket until the end.)

Chord Melody playing is the art of playing chords and melody simultaneously and is a wonderful solo acoustic jazz guitar practice. This class will expand your understanding of chords and their inversions while immediately applying the concepts to melody and playing ‘up the fretboard’. Using a concise method, we will combine inversions and melody while applying techniques directly to repertoire. All handouts will be in standard notation, tablature and chord diagrams so note reading is not required. Open to all levels.

This is like Parris Island for right-hand and -arm technique. We will focus on the simple fact that while the sound is changed by the left hand, it is MADE by the right hand. We will spend the week examining how to develop better thumb and finger coordination, using exercises that build right-hand technique necessary for John Hurt, Robert Johnson, and others. Of all the courses students have taken from me over the decades here at Swannanoa, this class has been reported by students to have made the most immediate, lasting, and empowering changes in their playing.

In addition to whatever raw talent they bring to the table, black singers are culturally encouraged and trained to use emotionally expressive and effective phrasing and vocal techniques that we all customarily used in speech in delivering a sermon or a song. This is not a talent, but a technique: it can be taught, and learned. This workshop will begin by lining out familiar techniques we commonly use for communicating emotion in speech. That done, we’ll look for places to use them in songs you already perform. Simple. But, there is some alchemy to this: to do it effectively, we need both a singer and an audience. In the spirit of play, we will rotate through singers one at a time. Participants will have the opportunity to sing a verse or two of any song of their choosing, in any style. Then at my suggestion, we’ll try out small, specific changes in the delivery of a particular line or verse and see how they impact the emotional responses to the lyrics. Over the course of the workshop, as both singers and listeners, we will develop an appreciation for the emotive power of specific techniques as we them out and hear them employed. I will be the only one offering feedback or suggestions and the class is private.

We’ll begin in standard tuning, one string at a time, developing five new hand skills. We’ll look at all the muting techniques necessary without the harmonic support of open tunings. We’ll explore strategies for playing slide accompaniments in standard tuning in various keys. Having established the basics, we’ll move to open tunings. Hand and guitar posture, controlled slide movement, getting a decent tone, and developing several types of vibrato will all be covered as we proceed through slide in standard, several major, and modal open tunings. We will take a look at solo and ensemble slide playing in standard tuning as well.

Crafting guitar arrangements from the harp tunes of Turlough O’ Carolan (1670-1738) has been a big part of my musical life’s work. In this intermed-iate/advanced class we will look at several of his melodies (and possibly a tune from one of his contemporaries) with a goal of giving them a voice on our guitars. We will learn some harp techniques that are essential for guitar players, and then work collaboratively and individually to create our own arrangements. This will not be a repertoire class, but one where we focus on arranging and rendering tunes with passion and respect for the tradition we have inherited.

Clawhammer is starting to make its way over from the banjo to the guitar. And what a sound it gives us! Bass, rhythm, and melody all flowing from one simple pattern. We’re going to start at the very beginning, getting you to master the ‘bum-ditty’. From there we will learn an old-time fiddle tune or two, and then use these as our training ground for exploring clawhammer bells and whistles. This class is for intermediate and advanced players who have good basic fingerpicking skills.

(If you’re left-handed, you’re welcome also). It has been said that the fretting hand steers the vehicle and that the picking hand is the engine that gives it the drive. This is a picking hand class where we will learn various essential techniques, (like the Travis pick) and also explore various percussive slap techniques that help you add fire to your playing. This is called Boot Camp because we will be drilling a lot. Please expect sore fingers and big smiles.

The pentatonic scale is typically the first scale we learn to play on the guitar. It’s ubiquitous in rock, country, and blues soloing but unfortunately, many guitarists fail to recognize its potential for jazz, and they avoid using it altogether. However, integrating pentatonic scales into traditional bebop vocabulary is a powerful way to add vibrant colors and rich sonic textures to your jazz improvisation, AND it’s wicked easy to do. We’ll learn the layout of the pentatonic scales on the fretboard and apply them to jazz harmony using substitution devices, chromatic sidestepping, and other concepts. Secondly, we’ll learn and explore three additional pentatonic scales, closely related to the minor and major pentatonics we already know, that sound totally at home in a jazz context.

A common complaint among both beginning and intermediate jazz guitarists is that their solos have the tendency to sound more like scale and arpeggio exercises, and less like the compelling musical ideas in the tradition of the great jazz masters. This class will present a range of creative, organic, and effective ways to overcome this very common challenge by focusing less on scales and arpeggios and shifting your attention to chord tones, chromatic embellishment, rhythmic phrasing, and motivic development.

Great jazz rhythm guitar players have command navigating all over the fretboard, have a solid understanding of the harmonic material for the underlying changes, and possess a wide range of tasteful rhythmic approaches – all of which require a never-ending process of learning, practice and perennial growth. This course will serve as a jump-start guide for jazz players looking to take their comping skills to the next level. We’ll skip the theory, and focus instead on only the concepts and approaches you need right now employing a shape-centric approach for navigating the fretboard and the harmony for many popular jazz-blues tunes and standards, whether you’re playing solo, as a duo, or even with a full band.

Many guitarists can’t read or write music or tablature well enough to use it as a tool for composing, so we have to depend on our musical instincts and our ‘ear’ to guide us on our journey. This beginner/intermediate class will start with the basic elements of what makes a good composition and jump off from there. We’ll have some fun exploring techniques you can use to create music using a number of different methods that don’t rely on traditional musical notation and everyone will get a chance to share their ideas and compositions with the class. All styles of music are welcome and any alternate tuning is accepted.

A great song can never reach its full potential if the guitar part is not quite good enough to support the melody and lyrics. Every songwriter should know how to create simple but effective guitar arrangements to back up their songs and support their lyrics, not distract from them. In this beginner/intermediate class, we’ll examine some different techniques and chord choices (and maybe even try an alternate tuning,) that can be used in your songs to improve them and make them more effective. Bring songs to class that you are having trouble with and we’ll see what can be done with them. Bring capos.

Each year at the Gathering, guitarists ask me to show them how to play my original instrumental compositions. This intermediate/advanced class gives you the chance to learn some of the techniques I use to play some of your favorites. We will pick one of my simpler tunes on Monday and dive right in, so come prepared with questions and fresh strings. Tunings will include DADGAD, DADGBD, CGCGCD, and of course, standard. I will provide the musical notation and tab for all the tunes we cover during the week.

Open to all levels, this class will cover all aspects of gypsy jazz rhythms including advanced concepts like Bossa, Samba and Bolero. The ‘magic key’ to getting into the better gypsy jazz jam sessions is rhythm: If you can play great rhythm, you’re IN ! We’ll cover in depth how to avoid right-hand and -arm fatigue, chord voicings, stamina and how to be a ROCK in the rhythm section. Discovering that “the Metronome is Your Friend” will shorten the learning curve.

Are you tired of being told WHAT to play instead of HOW to play? I can help with this: the class will specialize in techniques used in gypsy jazz that provide the special flavor that we all love. Why did Django have a “guitar with a human voice” (Jean Cocteau)? How did he DO that (ornaments, substitutions, etc.)?! We’ll take apart some of Django’s signature licks and devices. Right-hand picking techniques will be revealed as well as genre-specific chord choices and substitutions. Elements of the style are broken down so that you can “get into Django’s head” and really understand what’s at the heart of this unique style of guitar playing. Ornaments play a key role in the expressive/vocal-like qualities of this music: we’ll discover why they work, what they are and HOW you can assimilate them into your own style.

Open to all levels, proficiency in rhythm guitar encouraged. This directed jam will cover a new tune every day with ideas for how to play rhythm with appropriate chords and feel, how to solo comfortably and convincingly as well as ‘jam etiquette’ (for when you get in some sessions with REAL PLAYERS which you’ll be doing sooner than you think). Sheet music provided, memorization required! (more fun than reading).

BODY OF RHYTHM (Vicki Genfan)
Want to improve your groove? This class is for all levels, especially for those who feel rhythmically challenged! Drawing from eastern and western traditions, we’ll deepen our rhythmic awareness and listening skills through ‘body centered’ exercises. Each day we’ll practice listening, moving, clapping and speaking in ways to embody rhythmic principles like pulse, syncopation, beat and off-beat, subdivision and more, all without having to engage our thinking mind. We’ll end each class by grabbing our guitars and applying what we’ve learned to ten basic strumming patterns. If we have time, we might even jam with Boomwhackers!

This is beginner-level fingerpicking. We’ll learn the basics of hand position and numerous fingerpicking patterns like arpeggiated picking, steady bass, alternate bass, Travis picking, plucking and more. We’ll apply what we’ve learned using sections of a few different songs and experiment with how different patterns can create different musical landscapes and moods.

In this class for those who are new to this style and want to enter ‘gently’, we’ll learn how to use body percussion, thumb-slapping and harmonics to create dynamic guitar sounds and grooves. We’ll work in standard and open-D tunings.

The Grateful Dead, the rock band synonymous with the ’60s hippie culture and one of the top-grossing live acts of all time, started out as a jug band and never lost touch with their traditional-music roots. American folk archetypes sprang up constantly in their original songs, even at their most electric and psychedelic; they covered a vast amount of folk, bluegrass and country material, and recorded several albums featuring acoustic guitars predominantly or entirely. This intermediate-level class will examine a wide range of the Dead’s material, particularly the songs of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and explore possible acoustic guitar interpretations of it. We’ll also have a look at Garcia’s free-flying lead guitar work and Bob Weir’s innovative rhythm style, and listen to some of their lesser-known acoustic recordings. Tie-dyed t-shirts optional.

This intermediate-and-up class will explore the world of possibilities presented by traditional Irish, Scottish and Breton repertoire arranged for solo fingerstyle guitar. Some tablature will be offered, but students will also create their own individual settings of airs, jigs, reels and the 18th-century harp music of Turlough O’Carolan, sharing arrangement ideas in an informal, hands-on environment. Alternate tunings such as DADGAD, ‘Canine’ tuning (CGCGCD) and ‘Werewolf’ tuning (CGDGAD) will be used extensively to open up the instrument’s full sonic potential. A good time will be had by all.

By popular request: an exploration of how to create guitar accompaniment that’s stylistically appropriate for Celtic music. What does the guitar player do at an Irish session? How do we back up jigs, reels, hornpipes and so on in a way that makes the guitar sound like it belongs? How do we accompany singing in a convincingly Irish or Scottish idiom? What is a mode, anyway, and how do modes work? We’ll delve into these questions and more, using both flatpicking and fingerpicking techniques and taking advantage of altered tunings, particularly the much-beloved DADGAD. No previous knowledge of Celtic music is necessary, however, you will definitely need a capo!

This intermediate-to-advanced class will focus on using the entire guitar neck as a musical tool. We will cover lead-guitar playing, innovative approaches to playing solos and melodies, intuitive ear training and building your musical vocabulary. Patterns and sequences will also be covered along with ways to build the narrative for an improvised guitar solo. We will also cover concepts for coming up with your own signature guitar licks.

Inspired by Victor Wooten’s Book “The Music Lesson,” this class will cover 10 elements of music and how to apply them to the guitar: Notes, Articulation, Technique, Feel, Dynamics, Rhythm, Tone, Phrasing, Space and Listening. Through different musical examples we will explore various approaches to playing a song or melody. All attendees will be encouraged to purchase Victor’s book (or audio book) for references and examples.

Learn new ways to create an engaging performance, get out of your head and into the moment. This intermediate-to-advanced class is both for solo performers, musicians in bands, and even those who just want to share songs with loved ones! Performance techniques include tactics for stage as well as ramping up the energy in a jam session. Learn how to connect more with your audience, how to create interaction with the crowd and moments that people will remember.

This class is great for beginners or for those who know chords and strumming, but haven’t yet worked with single notes or melodies. We’ll work on basic right- and left-hand technique and take time to savor each note while we learn some tunes at a very slow pace. This class is taught by ear and folks are welcome to bring small recording devices or take notes.

We’ll learn a few flatpicking tunes and work on the picking hand’s shuffle and ‘boom- ditty’ that drives the music rhythmically. Do you ever wear yourself out trying to keep up with the tempo of a fast tune? We’ll develop some tricks to increase our tempo and stamina. I will also share some of my favorite bass runs, fills and passing chords in the open keys for spicing up all of your favorite songs and tunes. This intermediate class is taught by ear and folks are welcome to bring small recording devices or take notes.

In Advanced Flatpicking, we’ll expand our repertoire with some less common tunes as well as learn how to improvise and create variations on some well-known classics. We’ll be focusing on the subtleties of flatpicking and working on refining our technique to get a good sound and tempo for the music. This class is taught by ear and folks are welcome to bring small recording devices or take notes.

I have found some really beautiful Celtic tunes over the years that make ideal entry-level guitar pieces. Come and explore airs, strathspeys, marches, songs etc. We’ll cover some basic ideas in DADGAD and dropped-D tunings – basic enough that they can be used by those who first picked up a guitar two weeks ago, but deep enough to make some beautiful arrangements. We will learn some of the historic and cultural context for these pieces and hopefully have some fun along the way.

We will look at music from Scotland and Ireland- the usual suspects in the Celtic world- as well as music from Brittany (France) andCeltic Spain. We will examine how to translate the nuances of this music to the guitar, to lift our playing to the next level with ornamentation techniques: triplets, grace notes, hammer on/pull off, frailing with the right hand, rolls, cuts etc. We will look at alternative tunings (DADGAD, drop-D) and the tunes will illustrate the different rhythms and cultural structures that define this music, from Breton gavottes to Irish reels to Scottish pipe tunes to…. who knows?

Few musicians have had a more defining impact on the singer-songwriter genre than Canadian icon Joni Mitchell. In this class we will analyze her unique guitar style, hopefully in a way that might unlock some ideas for your compositions or songs. We will look at her use of altered tunings, open tunings – from the familiar, like Open-G, to exotic tunings with, for example, adjacent strings an octave apart. We will look at her use of suspended chords to imply tension, and examine at least one song in detail per class, looking at her chord shapes and right-hand picking patterns and techniques.

This intermediate/advanced class will unveil a ‘bag of tricks’ for fingerstyle guitarists seeking to explore new styles. The goal of the workshop will be to help develop different right-hand techniques: rumba-style, thumb-dragging, bass movement, African two-finger picking patterns, polyrhythms, etc; to help the player develop left-hand techniques such as passing chords, inversions, New Orleanian ornamentation, and more. This will be a bit of a one-stop-shop lesson that delves deeply into Cory’s personal approach to the guitar. Tabs will be provided as support for the lessons.

This is a class for beginner/early intermediate players eager to develop basic fingerpicking guitar techniques. Cory will break down the mechanics of alternate bass picking à la Mississippi John Hurt, and will introduce basic riffs, licks, and rhythmic feels to help the player in their quest to expand their game. This class will be less about how to be ‘virtuosic’ and more about how to have songs ‘speak’ in different ways. Students will be encouraged to arrange or rearrange a song they already know and perform it for the class at the end of the week! Tab exercises and songs will be provided as support for the lessons.

This class is a survey of guitar styles and traditions from around the African continent that Cory has explored. He will be discussing the playing of East African players of yore like Mwenda Jean Bosco (Congo), Daniel Kachamba (Malawi), and George Mukabi (Kenya),and West African players like Ali Farka Touré and Boubacar Traoré (Mali), among others. Through the use of tabs, audio files and live demonstrations, Cory will delve into different tunings, scales, polyrhythms and two-finger picking patterns. Having spent three years living in Ethiopia, Cory will also discuss his approach to adapting Ethiopian music for solo guitar.

This is a traditional Master Class, normally offered on the university level and focusing on what it is to be an artist – to live as an artist, and to understand more about the role of and history of the artist through the ages, right up to the modern world. We will be covering history – from earliest sapient beings to the ancient Greeks, the Dark Ages, medieval troubadours and their role in spreading the news, the Renaissance, and why syphilis gave rise to the ‘artist as lunatic’ perception. We’ll pay attention to fear, and its effect on us as creative persons, the poetry and consciousness of wood, what to do when the well runs dry, the importance of both craft and talent, and the impossibility of living up to your ideals. There will be exercises for stage fright, a ‘wall’ of quotes and artwork you can take pictures of to carry home with you. Each class will end with a song to illustrate that day’s lesson, along with a short Q&A. Students will be asked to read 3-4 short stories about artists before class begins. If you haven’t received the short stories two weeks before classes begin, please email for copies. (No class limit)


OTHER Events

Each evening, various staff members will lead virtual ‘sessions’, where students can gather in an online community to socialize and swap tunes and songs.