MBHeadMando & Banjo Week - July 31-August 6, 2016


(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 many subjects designed to improve the clarity and precision of your mandolin playing, including technique (both left- and right-hand), tone, playing with clarity and confidence, crosspicking ideas, playing up the neck, rhythms and rhythm playing at speed, chord inversions, rehearsal strategy and thoughts for practicing. Handouts will be provided, and tablature will be used in the handouts and in the teaching of this class. Bring your audio or video recording devices if you wish, and lots of questions are always useful and welcome, and often provide interesting and informative topic exploration.

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 groove and play tastefully. We will 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 class is a continuation of Emory’s previous ‘Art of the Lyrical Mandolin’ class, taking lyrical playing steps further, and learning how to embellish and tap into ever-expanding creative sources, to open up possibilities of improvisation presenting your melody on the mandolin. Learn how to recognize the tools of creativity, and how to use your creative pallette to treat your listeners to fresh ideas and creative mandolin breaks. And, as before, the class will focus on the subtleties of presentation of melody, which includes the shaping of notes, finishing phrases, note choices and thought process, as well as in-depth right- and left-hand techniques to achieve effective syncopation, sound textures, sustain, and any nuance the human voice creates in a vocal performance. Make your mandolin playing sing, and turn good solos into great solos. A collection of classic and modern bluegrass and newgrass songs will be studied and played by the class. Handouts will be provided.

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 back-up techniques for vocal numbers, 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.

This class is for the first-time mandolin player. The focus will be on learning proper right- and left-hand techniques to make the best sounds possible from the mandolin while learning some simple fiddle tunes and chords. Other topics covered will be the importance of solid timing, expressing the feel of a tune with rhythm, and how to seamlessly blend into a jam session even if you don’t know the tunes. Tablature will be provided. A digital video and/or audio recording device is recommended.

Prerequisites: Students should be able to play a few simple fiddle tunes on the mandolin in the keys of G, A, D and C, and the student should feel comfortable picking up new musical information by ear. This class will start with a brief review of fundamental techniques that will enable you to be most comfortable with your instrument and help you to employ ergonomic strategies to best transfer what you hear in your head onto your mandolin. The focus will be on playing the southern Appalachian fiddle repertoire, including tips for approaching melodies in settings in which the fiddle is tuned open (AEAE and other tunings), as well as borrowing sounds and styles from various old-time fiddle bowing techniques and ornaments. Other topics will include chording and melody ideas for participation in an old-time string band ensemble, with side trips into ragtime/blues styles and the mandolin of the early country music duets. Very simple tablature for several of the tunes will be provided. A digital video and/or audio recorder are strongly 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,” and “Sweet Dixie,” from the Jimmy Martin/Bill Emerson repertoire. We will take a musical and technical pilgrimage as we explore in detail “Theme Time,” and “Sweet Dixie,” from the Jimmy Martin/Bill Emerson repertoire. We’ll also 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)

Knowing how to survive a bluegrass jam session will unlock the joy of making music with others on the banjo. In this class, we’ll develop the skills you need to have a blast in any jam session or band. Through the week, we’ll develop listening skills to better hear and understand chord progressions and bluegrass song forms, use the capo to play in all keys, creatively use licks to create solos on the fly, and get comfortable accompanying others for fast and slow songs, fiddle tunes, bluesy songs, ¾ time and much more. This is a “grab-your-banjo-and-let’s-pick” style of workshop where we’ll do a lot of group playing together. Tab examples will be presented for everything covered in this class. (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), and we’ll take a look at some of Alan’s original tunes including “Peaches and Cream,” “Molly Bloom,” “Uncle Cooney Played the Banjo,” and others. Tab will be provided, and use of a small audio recorder is encouraged. (Class limit: 20)

Join Bill for this survey of the music and techniques of five bluegrass banjo masters: Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Bill Keith, J. D. Crowe and Sonny Osborne. We’ll cover a different player each day, providing new insights into everything from advanced Scruggs-style, melodic and single-string techniques to new ways of understanding chords, scales and the fingerboard. Bill will present two tunes from each player every day, along with presenting the licks and techniques that make each player’s style unique. Bill will present what he has learned directly from working one-on-one with these legendary musicians. Tab examples will be provided and recording is encouraged. Your requests are welcome after the first class session. (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 and the ‘single-string’ style. 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)

We’ll be working in the standard banjo tunings of G, double C, and ‘mountain modal,’ and we’ll focus on the clawhammer fundamentals ; ‘bum-diddy’ rhythm, drop thumb, double thumbing, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and back-up patterns. Then we’ll put it all together in the context of venerable Appalachian songs and dance tunes from Uncle Dave Macon’s “Grey Cat on a Tennessee Farm” to Melvin Wine’s “ Waiting for the Boatsman,” to Sydna Meyer’s “Twin Sisters”. Tunes will be taught by ear, with wordsheets provided.

We’ll jump into some more advanced clawhammer techniques, including the open string pull-off, the quack-slide, the eighth note rest, the triplet, and the “Galax” lick. We’ll then play some great old-time songs, and iconic tunes from “Charmin’ Betsy’, to “Old Hometown Band” to Jere’s “Sadie at the Backdoor.” Tunes will be taught by ear, wordsheets provided.

The banjo isn’t just an old-time instrument, but one that can play any kind of music such as Irish, Scottish, Québécois, Cajun, and traditional rock ‘n’roll. You too can make a 5-string sound like a tenor playing a 6/8 jig, rocking triplets left and right, or a triangle keeping the rhythm in a cajun band, or an electric guitar screaming at the local bar on a Friday night. Specific examples in Irish, Scottish, and Cajun music will be taught, as well as a couple of rock tricks. Students will also learn tools to gain confidence when playing for people, whether it’s in the living room for friends, or in front of an audience at a public venue.

This class is for those who want to use the banjo as a back-up instrument to their voice. An open attitude towards traditions will be important in this class. Leonard will show different ways to give a song the intended spirit using rhythm and chords, as well as single-note, and melody accompaniment. Leonard will show how various traditions can be incorporated into an arrangement, and and how to present yourself in front of an audience, giving you the tools to lose the nerves, and just play music.


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 Will Kimble, violin maker Lawrence K. Brown, and Northfield Mandolins.

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