MBHeadMando & Banjo Week - August 6-12, 2017

(Unless otherwise indicated, all classes have a limit of 15)


We will explore the art of interpreting beautiful melodies. Whether it’s a simple fiddle tune, a bluegrass classic, a jazz standard or a Brazilian choro, we will work through a variety of musical styles over the course of our week. From developing a beautiful tremolo on a folk ballad to creating variations on fiddle tunes and improvising on some classic bluegrass barn burners, we will dive into some jazz standards, and, of course, a healthy dose of Brazilian choro classics along our way.

From the simplest of folk strums to the bluegrass chop, we will artfully slip into some basic swing syncopations, pop and funk rhythms and the ever-contageous Brazilian choro grooves. Also, I will present you with my own foolproof way of understanding chord theory on the mandolin and explore how to find almost every chord from three simple chord shapes.

This class will focus on learning the mandolin artistry of Bill Monroe. We will cover basic Monroe music ‘vocabulary’ and learn the techniques used to reproduce that sound. These will include the preferred right-hand technique and some of the more common right-hand rhythm patterns found in Monroe’s material. We will also work towards playing with good tone and changing our tone of voice to suit the material on hand. ‘Chop’ rhythm will be covered and Mike will furnish the class with some alternatives to the standard bluegrass chord shapes. Since the traditional bluegrass mandolin style is built on fiddle playing, we will certainly take a closer look at tremolo. If we have time, we will cover playing out of chord boxes more thoroughly. Tablature/standard notation will be used to teach this class, as will audio examples. Bring a tape recorder, video camera, or whatever you need. There will be handouts. Come prepared to play and ask questions. This class is not meant to be a lecture.

This class will consist of building breaks to common bluegrass songs and instrumentals, finding the melody in different places on the fingerboard, position shifting, double stops, improving your slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, building speed and learning the steps to improvisation. We’ll also cover playing rhythm with a band as well as your role in other ensembles, adding rhythmic variation, and groove. We will also cover how important it is to listen to the music around you to find the groove and play tastefully. We’ll learn classic licks to make your bluegrass playing sound more authentic. Questions are always appreciated and I encourage you to bring recording gear. There will be some handouts but a lot of ear practice as well. Its gonna be fun!

This class will focus on some advanced techniques in bluegrass mandolin and mandolin in general. We’ll look at some standard bluegrass songs and start by playing them using chord positions and double stops, and then branch out into many other more modern approaches. We will discuss rhythm playing and variations. We will also explore how to “play around the melody” tastefully. We will talk about the journey to true improvisation as well as discussing how to alter some of your favorite licks to get much more out of them. The overall focus will be on giving students various options when they take solos and helping them improvise more effectively. Bring all your recording devices and plenty of questions. There will also be handouts in this class as well. Gonna be a blast!

This is primarily a repertoire class of the more advanced Monroe vocabulary. We will cover tunes and solos to songs from the beginning of Monroe’s career to the “last days on earth.” We’ll take a closer look at a few Monroe blues trademarks, the use of slides to insinuate phrases and round off corners, playing up the neck using chord boxes and rhythm to imply melodic content, double-stops and shifts, tremolo styles and downstrokes. We will also take a look at playing out of alternate tunings a bit and cover a few examples of how to back up singers. Tablature/standard notation will be used to teach this class, as will audio examples. As with the intermediate bluegrass class, bring a tape recorder, video camera, or whatever you need. There will be handouts. Come prepared to play and ask questions. This is not meant to be a lecture.

We’ll look at the myriad styles of American fiddle tunes and look at ways of creating your own solos on them. Changing octaves, using chord tones and adding some new melodic ideas will be the focus, along with some theory and ear training. Tunes will range from old-time to slightly swingy, and variations will range from fairly basic to fairly advanced. We’ll also integrate chords and inversions of chords into how you play both lead and backup.

Starting with some modern-ish bluegrass songs, we’ll look at a standard double-stop and position-playing approach to taking solos, and then branch out from there into some other “newgrass” approaches. Following the lead of players like Sam Bush and David Grisman, the course will explore ways of adding new elements to your playing, from fiddle tune phrasing to rock & roll to a bit of jazz and more.

In this class, the emphasis will be on learning to keep the basics in mind, i.e., playing a song’s melody cleanly with good tone and timing. We will learn some fiddle tunes and songs from the old-time repertoire. The fiddle tunes will show the proper right-hand picking patterns. The songs will incorporate double stops. We will also look at the bluesy style of Bill Monroe and other early bluegrass practitioners like Everett Lilly and Pee Wee Lambert. We’ll also discuss basic technique, with emphasis on tone production. Prerequisites: students should know all the standard bluegrass closed chop chords, and know some fiddle tunes and be able to play them at a reasonable tempo. Students are encouraged to bring a recording device.

In this class we will learn advanced mandolin techniques by studying some of John’s original tunes and other instrumentals from his repertoire. For example; to work on double stops and tremolo we will learn “The North Shore.” For uptempo bluegrass style playing we will learn “Big Bug” and “Side by Each.” For single-note fiddle tunes we will learn “Itzbin Reel” and “Cazadero.” For more progressive bluegrass and ‘new acoustic’ music with more complicated chord progressions we will learn “Birdland Breakdown.” We might even touch on jazz chord/melody by looking at “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” We will also study chordal accompaniment, improvisation, and tone production.

This class will bridge the gap between the folk mandolin and the early Baroque and Classical mandolin composers. We will begin by working on the fundamentals of sound production, then move on to some basic mandolin techniques that include cross-picking, some nice exercises and some wonderful melodies. Lastly, we will work on coordination and speed, but we’ll keep the focus on having fun. The ability to read music will really help in this class.

In this class we will focus on the Romantic and Contemporary periods, and the great Italian masters who pushed the mandolin art form to such a high level. We will focus on developing a good tremolo and then move on to ‘duo style,’ where you play two parts at the same time. Then we will break down the art of playing ‘harp arpeggios’ (cross-picking) techniques from these periods. The ability to read music will really help in this class.

This class for intermediate to advanced players will focus on the role of the mandolin in Celtic music as both a melody and an accompaniment instrument. Topics covered will include left- and right-hand technique, a variety of ornamentation techniques (including picked triplets), drones and doublestops, open-string chording, and generating dynamic and consistent rhythm. The repertoire will focus primarily on Irish and Breton tunes, but will include a song or two. Classes will be taught mainly by ear. Students are encouraged to bring an audio recorder, pen and notebook. Note: This class is also open to tenor banjos in “Irish” tuning (GDAE), an octave below the mandolin. The technical elements will be similar for both instruments.

If you just bought a mandolin, or found one in your grandmother’s attic, and you want to do something with it, this is the class for you. We will start with good fingering and picking technique, and rhythm and timing, as you learn and practice some basic chords and fiddle tune melodies. As the week progresses we will even play duets to get the feel of playing with others and enjoy the jams. Lessons in standard and TAB notation will be provided. Recording devices are recommended.

RAGS, STOMPS & BLUES (Rich DelGrosso)
This is a repertoire class with a diverse collection of music from the recordings of the great African American mandolinists – music from the early string band, jug band and solo performers. As we play these pieces you will come to know and recognize the techniques of the blues and the roots of Monroe’s bluegrass. Lessons in standard and TAB notation will be provided. Recording devices are recommended.

“New Options for Rhythm Playing PLUS Repertoire for the Swing Jam” These sessions will focus on (easy!) chord voicings containing color tones and voice movements in the context of the progressions and tunes favored by swing and jazz players. Learning the fretboard and how progressions work should help you spice up your rhythm part in any style of music. We’ll use tunes from subgenres of swing from Bob Wills to Django, and Bix to Bird. We’ll look at how to jazzify blues, standard, and fiddle-tune progressions. Drills for changing chords smoothly will be included along with handouts for reference. In addition to your mandolin and pick, bring a recording device. Familiarity with the harmonized scale and its resulting numbering of chord functions(I-IV-V, ii-V-I, etc.) will be helpful.

“Musical Map-reading, Digging Deeper into Improv, Famous Jazz Melodies and How to Make Your Own” When it’s your time for a break, do you feel like you’re actually improvising or playing the same things all the time? We’ll broaden our soloing vocabulary by looking at phrases, patterns and licks that fit with various harmonic situations, emphasizing color tones, connecting chords, substitutions, and alterations helpful for players of all styles. We’ll discuss melodic and harmonic approaches to soloing, how to get a swing feeling, and drills for playing flowing lines over lengthy chord changes. We’ll play for each other and discuss which things sound good and why. There will be handouts including sample solos and well known jazz melodies which employ useful improvisational concepts. We’ll also demystify nasty-looking chords and progressions as seen in fakebooks where “it looks like someone wrote G and then their phone number after it” (G7#11b13, Gm7b5, etc). No need to be an advanced improviser, but you should know the fretboard and be a bit familiar with numbered progressions. Bring your mandolin, your favorite jam tunes, and questions about where you’re having trouble or looking for other options. Most importantly, bring your willingness to go for it – we’re all going make mistakes, but in this laboratory no one gets hurt!


In this class for intermediate players, we’ll analyze the solos of Earl Scruggs on “Blue Ridge Cabin Home,” “Your Love is Like a Flower,” and “Little Darlin’ Pal of Mine.” We will take a musical and technical pilgrimage as we explore in detail “Theme Time” from the Jimmy Martin/Bill Emerson repertoire. We’ll also look at practical ways to search for melodies, explore the concept of “play where your fingers are,” learn how to play backup by combining chord shapes, rolls, licks, and runs to produce quality bluegrass banjo accompaniment, and learn to combine the rolls and melodies in a stylized fashion that produces bluegrass banjo solos. Tab will be provided, and use of a small audio recorder is encouraged. (Class limit: 20)

You’ve been playing for a couple of years and you can successfully play a handful of your favorite tunes at medium speeds. You’re even holding your own, at least some of the time, at your local jam. Now you’re ready to take your playing to the next level by unlocking your power, speed and creativity to create your own solos and backup on the fly and make the most efficient use of your practice time. If this shoe fits, then this is the perfect class for you! We’ll explore the ingredients of great playing technique in order to bring out your best sound and then move on to practice techniques that will quickly increase your speed and dexterity. Along the way, you’ll learn classic licks and expand your knowledge of the fingerboard. We’ll uncover the secrets of effective solo playing and combine back-up formulas that work for songs in a variety of keys. The emphasis will be on meeting your individual goals with short assignments given each day. Audio and videotaping is encouraged. (Class limit: 20)

This class for advanced players will cover fretboard stratagems, or “How Do I Know Where to Put My Fingers?” by learning the names of the notes and where they are, diatonic chord systems, intervals, and much more. We’ll look how to play in keys other than G without a capo, how to create beautiful and interesting back-up and chord solos for slow songs, the melodic style of playing fiddle tunes (and the different way of viewing the fingerboard needed to perform them), including “Fire on the Mountain,” and “Bill Cheatum,” and we’ll take a look at some of Alan’s original tunes including “Peaches and Cream,” “Molly Bloom,” and “Uncle Cooney Played the Banjo.” Tab will be provided, and use of a small audio recorder is encouraged. (Class limit: 20)

Bill shows you how to turn technique-building exercises in Scruggs, melodic and single-string styles into powerful licks that you can use in everything from traditional bluegrass improvisations and solos to fiddle tunes and blues and jazz-tinged solos. You’ll map out the fretboard and master major scales, octave shifts, chromatic licks and more in melodic and single-string styles while gaining a new understanding of the theory underlying these contemporary approaches. We’ll even throw in a bunch of great tunes that put to use what you’ve discovered through the exercises. For good measure, we’ll also explore roll-based exercises and licks that will strengthen your Scruggs-style playing and backup. Short assignments will be given each day and audio and videotaping is encouraged. (Class limit: 20)

For this class, Tony will discuss the all-important concept of playing the ‘syllables’ of a tune. This is a Scruggs concept that allows you to play the real melody of a tune. In the process you learn how to play solos up the neck and in different keys without a capo. The class will also cover tools for improvisation, the “melodic” style, “single-string style” and back-up. Tab will be provided. Please bring an audio or video recording device. (Class limit: 20)

This class will examine composition, so that you can fully explore your own creative potential. The class will also cover advanced backup techniques as played by Earl Scruggs and JD Crowe. Advanced improvisatory techniques such as those used by Trischka, Fleck, etc., will also be covered. Tab will be provided and an audio or video recording device is recommended. (Class limit: 20)

Learn some repertoire of outstanding southwest Virginia players such as Wade Ward, Fields Ward, Calvin Cole, Matokie Slaughter and Giles Lephew while improving your music-making basics. In this class we will work on keeping excellent time, understanding melody, learning tunes and refining our clawhammer technique. using some of the most interesting and elegant clawhammer tunes of the southern mountains. We’ll also focus on playing and backing banjo songs in clawhammer style, and playing banjo with fiddle. Recording devices are encouraged, and please arrive ready to play your banjo, clap, and sing. You’ll have a great time and learn a lot.

This class will focus on tunes, tunings, technique and style at an advanced level. We’ll consider the core characteristics of the banjo, how to bring them out in clawhammer, and what makes for excellent playing. We’ll work on training the ear for melody, and we’ll focus at a high level on keeping exquisite time, adding repertoire and interesting tunes, mostly from the southern mountains, in unusual as well as standard tunings. You’ll have the opportunity to play in a duo with your instructor on the fiddle or guitar, further improving your understanding of timing and of interplay with other instruments and musicians. Take your clawhammer playing to a new level with this banjo master class. Recording devices encouraged.

Intrigued with the sound of clawhammer banjo? This is the class for you! We’ll work on the basic clawhammer down-stroke style, develop some left-hand techniques (slides, hammer-ons & pull-offs) and pull these all together using some simple, yet great, southern tunes. This class is designed for players new to the banjo or new to the clawhammer style. I can promise a fun, comfortable pace. Singing and laughter is encouraged! I encourage you to bring a capo and a recording device.

Although there isn’t one specific Round Peak clawhammer banjo style, there are elements of style that contribute to a recognizable sound from the Round Peak region of northwest North Carolina. This intermediate/advanced class will explore some well-known tunes from the great players of the Round Peak community. We’ll focus on the space, style and timing that make this music recognizable. We’ll go at a comfortable pace in a safe, fun and encouraging environment. As the week progresses, we’ll borrow a fiddler or two so we can practice refining our tunes to the playing of a particular fiddler. For the most part, we’ll play in the keys of A and D. I encourage you to bring a capo and a recording device.


Swing guitar is fun and accessible. This hands-on class is intended for either a beginning guitarist or someone new to playing guitar in a swing style. We will use tunes common to the repertoire to learn the basics of chord voicings, pick technique, melody playing and accompaniment practices. Plan to be jamming over your favorite tunes by the week’s end. (Find this class in the Fiddle Week Schedule)

This hands-on class will deepen your understanding of swing guitar. We will examine the guitar styles of Freddie Green, Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt and Oscar Aleman and will utilize elements from each player. Plan to expand your chord knowledge, learn how develop thoughtful accompaniment practices, play energetic chord solos and add some “hot” guitar licks into your vocabulary. (Find this class in the Fiddle Week Schedule)

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 the rhythm accompaniment part to one bluegrass song or tune each day. The class will present songs/tunes that allow you to see the rhythm patterns that work effectively in most of the first-position chord families. 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. Participants are encouraged to bring recording devices to class and also encouraged to participate in the Bluegrass Jam that Ed will lead every afternoon, as a way to reinforce the techniques learned in class as well as learn additional songs/tunes.

This course will delve into more advanced forms of bluegrass guitar rhythm playing. In addition to learning our way around the standard “boom-chuck” bass note and strum patterns that form the foundation of bluegrass rhythm guitar, we will explore more advanced moving bass lines, substitute chords and inversions, and even some basic three-note swing rhythm patterns to put some extra “sock” into your playing. Along the way, we’ll highlight the concepts of harmonic theory and how to select chords and chord patterns to strengthen the guitar’s support of the vocalist and instrumentalist. Familiarity with flatpicking and guitar chords, along with knowledge of guitar tablature is highly recommended. While tablature will be provided for most techniques and songs covered in class, participants are strongly encouraged to bring recording devices to class as a memory aid, as we will be covering some fairly challenging material.

This class will cover the basic skills essential to providing good session guitar accompaniment. Conducted in standard tuning, a number of the concepts could also be applied to other tunings. The student will learn basic chord shapes, modal chords, chord inversions, and a variety of progressions for effective accompaniment in the principal keys used in Irish music. We will focus on jigs and reels, with detours for other dance tune forms and perhaps a song or two, but it’s worth mentioning that many of these skills can also be applied to other musical genres and styles. Classes will be taught mainly by ear. Students are encouraged to bring an audio recorder, pen and notebook.

Other Events

In the last hour before supper, Ed will lead a non-threatening bluegrass jam for all levels and instruments. Come have fun channeling your inner Bill Monroe! (No class limit)

During the last hour before supper, there will be a special class time for students of any skill level to form bands, along with students from Fiddle Week. With the guidance of instructors, band members arrange and rehearse with the option of performing at the Student Showcase on Friday evening. (Sign up for band sessions at first band meeting time, no advanced registration required.)

Throughout the week we will feature several fine luthiers displaying instruments, including bowmaker Roger Treat, mandolin builder Steve Sorensen, violin maker Joe Thrift and the folks from Northfield Mandolins.

Master luthier Lynn Dudenbostel will be offering his repair services throughout the week. Contact him through his website for his rates: