Casey and I are excited that our Intermediate Banjo Camp is coming up soon in Winchester, Va. We’ve been in the Banjo Camp Bid-ness (as we say in the South) only a few short years and we look forward to this cozy, intimate weekend, working closely with about 20 students. We are proud to say our students always learn a lot, and they certainly have taught us a thing or two!
One thing we learned pretty quickly is that students who survive our Beginning Camp…I mean students who LOVE our Beginning Camp in October often want to continue to feed their banjo euphoria by coming to our Intermediate Camp in March. I totally get that. In fact, I encourage students to strike while the banjo is hot, because life has a way of making other plans for you, as I’m sure you all know. To support these dedicated beginners, we’ve started offering a “I Just Barely Became An Intermediate Student By The Skin Of My Banjo Head” level. Which we shorten to “Newbie Intermediates.” You all are welcome at our Intermediate Camp!
Here’s what you Newbie Intermediates can expect:
First of all, our camps differ from other camps in that we have a list of prerequisites for each camp. These songs give us a foundation for our teaching and put all the students on the same page. For instance, to attend Beginning Camp you have to be able to play:
Banjo in the Hollow
Boil Them Cabbage Down
To move on up to the Intermediate Camp, Newbie Level, you simply add three songs. (And stir!)
I Saw the Light OR Foggy Mountain Breakdown (low break) Both songs teach, for the first time, the all-important “tag lick.”
Blue Ridge Cabin Home (“roly poly” version)
Bury Me Beneath the Willow (“roly poly” version)
These six songs plus the vamping will get you into the Newbie Intermediate class. Using those songs, which everybody in the class can play, Casey and I can then teach other Intermediate Skills such as:
How to Trade Breaks in a Jam (When do I come in?)
Improvising On the Fly At a Jam (How do I come up with break to a song I’ve never played before?)
Using a Capo (How the heck do I find the vamp chords when I’ve got a capo on! I’ve lost my markers!)
How to Interchange Licks in Songs You Already Play (Really? I can do this?) Yes, you can. We call these “upgrades.”
Our focus is never on speed. We focus on helping you develop the courage to play a break in a jam by giving you the tools you need. (Which are listed above.) Nowadays, we almost never focus on teaching new songs. You can get those off of our DVDs. Instead we focus on teaching you to actually play the songs you already know in a friendly jam setting. And that’s what we do with the Newbie Intermediates.
What do we offer our Advanced Intermediates?
First of all, the Advanced Intermediate class also includes you Intermediate Intermediates (which always reminds me of the character “Major Major” in the book Catch-22). The prereqs for our Advanced Intermediates are all of the above plus a few songs of your choice from this list:
Foggy Mountain Breakdown (low and high)
Old Joe Clark
Lonesome Road Blues
I Saw the Light
Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms (a must!)
The Advanced Intermediate class plays faster (but not too fast!) and we move through the new material faster. In this class we almost always work on whatever new thing I am currently gung-ho about in my banjo teaching. This year it is playing in three-quarter (¾) time. Working with my own Tip Jar Jammers this past year, I have come up with a great list of songs in ¾ time that work with ¾ time roly polys: Amazing Grace, Before I Met You, In The Pines, All The Good Times Are Past and Gone, and Angel Band. We will start out with the simplest way to play these and then, if the class is willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll move on to a more complicated way.
We will also be delving into my last year’s passion, playing in the key of C without using a capo. We’ll take one or two of the three-chord songs you already know in the key of G, and learn to play it in C. Doing this usually leads us into a discussion about playing in D, which opens that can of worms labeled “I hate to tell you this, but when you capo at the second fret you’re not always playing in A.” Huh? Really? Yep, really. You could be playing in the key of D! Casey and I will explain all. And then we’ll let YOU play in D—based on what we just learned to play in C.
Our goal in this camp and all our camps is to help you become better banjo players. We want you to walk in on Friday playing at one level and walk out on Sunday playing at a higher level. We do this by playing the songs—over and over and over—that you already know how to play. Sometimes we will play them at different capoed positions, usually A (two frets) or C (five frets). We also encourage you, gently, to play improvised breaks to simple, three-chord songs that you’ve never played before. But this is only after we show you how.
To support everything that you’ve learned during the day classes, we offer instructor-led jams at night in which everyone who wants to play breaks gets to play breaks. In these jams, we play slow for the Newbies and faster for the more advanced players. Kathy Hanson has been our jam leader for the last few years and we are excited to have her back again this year.
If spending a weekend actually playing the banjo, in company with like-minded people and under the tutelage of two seasoned, caring teachers (one more seasoned that the other!), sounds like your cup of tea, join us in Winchester, Va., home of Patsy Cline and Lynn Morris. All the details are here.