I write you from the campus of Maryville College in Maryville, Tenn., where I am teaching fiddle and guitar at Kaufman Kamp. I have the very beginning class for both instruments (simultaneously!) and, despite my reservations about teaching two instruments at once, it is working out rather well. This is our class:
We picked up one more student this afternoon, after the picture was taken (sorry Jim!). We started out the first morning of class learning a G scale. Now, traditionally on fiddle most people start out with the A scale. But my reasoning was that, since this is primarily a bluegrass camp, and the default key for bluegrass is G, that my fiddles should at least be able to chop along in the most common key right away. In trying to figure out how to manage two instruments in the same class I hit upon the idea of doing “Frère Jacques” as the first tune. Everyone knows the melody already and it only has ONE chord. So my sole guitar student could just grab a G chord and hang on.
It went so well that in the afternoon we learned some two-finger chop chords and alternated between playing lead and playing rhythm. Two of my students showed up at the next morning’s slow jam, at which we played everything in the key of G, so I felt good about teaching them G first.
The next day I started with a challenge. While my single guitar player and I had a guitar-specific workshop, the three fiddles tried to pick out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” by themselves, by ear. They did SO GREAT!!! I had told them the starting note and that all the notes they needed were in the G scale we had learned. They not only got “Twinkle,” they then added the shuffle bow stroke to it! They had started in on “Amazing Grace” when we guitars came back. I was incredibly impressed. All three of the women play other instruments (bass, hammer dulcimer) so they are already familiar with this music, and they’re used to using their ears to figure out what to play. Those very important facts contributed to them picking out “Twinkle” so quickly.
In the rest of Tuesday morning’s class we learned the A scale (for fiddles it’s a whole different scale, for the guitar we just put on a capo and played the G scale) and then “Boil Them Cabbage Down” with the shuffle bow stroke and pick stroke. They did so well I showed them how to do an easy double stop by playing the open E string along with the A string (the string all the melody notes are on).
After lunch we picked up a second guitar student, who jumped ship from the beginner group. I was worried he’d have a hard time since he’d missed what we did in the first three classes, but he gamely jumped right in (luckily he could already play his scale, and that helped immensely).
We took on our biggest challenge so far: “Cripple Creek”. It was the longest tune we’d done, and the most complicated. But by taking it three or four (or sometimes two) notes at a time, by the end of class we sure enough had it down. I was careful to explain to them that since we’re learning by ear, when they went to sleep tonight the tune would seep out of their head and wouldn’t be there in the morning. That’s part of the process. But we’d do extensive review, so by the end of today’s classes, “Cripple Creek” would be back. Oh, sure, it will go away again tonight when they sleep, but you know what, Thursday we’ll review it, too, so by the end of camp it will be stuck in there good and tight.
So, I’m off to lead this morning’s slow jam. Today’s key is A, so we’ll play everything in A, which opens the field to play “Cripple Creek” and “Old Joe Clark.” Also, since it’s two frets higher, my singing will sound less like a sick bullfrog and more like a healthy bullfrog (just kidding!). But I am looking forward to the C day, since that’s actually my key!