At Banjo Camp North, we offer nearly 100 classes at all levels, from Novice to Advanced/Professional, in various genres. Click here to see the class descriptions.
I. Beginner & Intermediate Tracks
Among these classes are several “tracks”, which are a series of classes designed for Beginning or Intermediate players.
The Beginner Tracks give campers who are just starting on an instrument a “home at Camp” … a place they can go where they know they will be working with an instructor dedicated to teaching at their level and in the company of other campers of similar skill and experience.
We offer 2 levels of Beginner Tracks (Novice/Beginner and Beginner/Advancing Beginner) in 3-finger (bluegrass) and clawhammer (old time) styles.
Beginner Tracks: Top Nine Q&A’s
1. What are the Beginner Tracks?
The Beginner Tracks are sets of connected classes and review sessions taught by a single instructor, which progress methodically through the most important topics for Novices, Beginners, and Advancing Beginners. Each Track consists of four class sessions and two review sessions (in which no new material is presented). Campers need not attend all the sessions, but the majority of people in the track will be attending all the classes. Furthermore, it is likely that the instructors will frequently refer to topics they’ve covered earlier in the classes.
2. What is the purpose of the Beginner Tracks?
Both the Novice/Beginner Track and the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track are designed to prepare campers for higher level classes. It is common for some campers to want some extra guidance on what to study while at camp, and it can be challenging for some campers to attend Intermediate- and Advanced-level classes.
3. What is the difference between the Novice/Beginner Track and the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track?
Both the Novice/Beginner Track and the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track will begin with the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to begin learning an instrument. That means they will cover many of the same topics (see below for examples). The Novice/Beginner Track covers these topics as if the campers have never seen them before, while the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track is more like a review of these same topics. Therefore, the main difference between the two levels is that the Beginner/Advancing Beginner track will move at a faster pace and cover more material than Novice/Beginner track.
4. What does a Beginner Track consist of?
The Beginner Tracks at each camp (for both instruments and both levels) consist of four class sessions interspersed with two review sessions. The four class sessions will be taught sequentially – each new class building on the previous classes. However, campers are welcome to drop in, even if they have missed some or all of the earlier classes. The two review sessions will typically be led by the same instructor who teaches the track classes, but no new material will be presented. These review sessions are not mandatory — indeed, none of the classes at either Camp are ever mandatory — and will be driven by the needs of those who attend them.
5. May I attend both the Novice/Beginner Track and the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track?
Campers may choose to attend either track, or both tracks, or switch back and forth between the tracks. As with more advanced classes, campers are welcome to come and go between classes and are encouraged to find the classes that best meet their needs and interests. That being said, the majority of people in the track will be attending all the classes, and it is likely that the instructors will frequently refer to topics they’ve covered earlier in the track.
6. What topics will be covered in each Beginner Track?
The Novice/Beginner and Beginner/Advancing Beginner Tracks will cover some of the following topics according to the individual teachers’ curriculum and time permitting:
• how to hold the instrument and pick(s) if applicable
• left- and right-hand technique
• strings and tuning
• chords, rhythm, and using the capo if applicable
• slurs: hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides (for banjo primarily)
• applying the ideas listed above to common songs
7. What topics will be covered in each specific class session?
Beginner Tracks are designed to move methodically through the most important topics for Novices, Beginners, and Advancing Beginners. Each Beginner Track is taught by a single instructor dedicated to meeting the needs of the campers in that track. Most campers will attend all the classes within their chosen track. Due to the nature of the Beginner Track system itself, it is not possible to predict specifically what will be covered in any particular class session.
8. Which track level (Novice/Beginner or Beginner/Advancing Beginner) is better for me?
Detailed descriptions of each skill level are provided elsewhere, but please keep in mind that there is a lot of overlap between the levels. Loosely defined, a “novice” is someone just starting out on the instrument, while “beginners” and “advancing beginners” have already started to learn fundamental techniques and might be able to play a few songs. During registration on Friday afternoon, campers may attend a Find-Your-Level session where instructors help them decide what level classes to attend. Because class sessions of the Novice/Beginner Track and the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track are not taught simultaneously, campers may attend both tracks (starting with the first class of each track on Friday afternoon) to decide which level is better for them. Some campers may decide to attend all class sessions of both tracks.
9. What if the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track (the more advanced track) is too basic for me?
If you find the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track (the more advanced track) is too basic for you, there are a wide variety of classes held throughout Camp that you may attend. Look for classes on the schedule that are labeled Advancing Beginner (AB), Intermediate (I), (All), and (Demo). And remember, as with every class at Camp (including the Beginner Tracks), all campers are welcome to come and go between classes and are encouraged to find the classes that best meet your needs and interests.
Intermediate Tracks at Banjo Camp North:
New in 2018, we’re offering two Intermediate programs in 3- finger (bluegrass) banjo:
(1) “Lower Intermediate” Track:
The distinction between skills levels is not hard and fast. A player who has been Advancing Beginner may not feel quite ready to take Intermediate level classes. For just such players, we are offering the Lower Intermediate Track to help you navigate this transition. You may attend any or all of these single-topic classes.
- Picking and fretting ergonomics – how you use right and left hand techniques determines your sound. We will delve into hand positions, clarity, tone, timing, drive, dynamics, finding you own sound, and “playing like you mean it.” Practice exercises and metronome use will also be reviewed.
- Fretboard roadmap – seeing the fretboard as a whole, with movable chords, plus repeating progressions and lick shapes, will increase your skills in backup, lead and improvisation. We will also cover playing movable minor, seventh and other chords out of the major chord shapes.
- Creating solos – learning to find melody and then play basic (and beyond) breaks.to songs is a primary skill to master .We’ll find melody, place the notes into rolls, add lead ins and tag licks, and fine tune the break. The tools and ideas can be used at home and also on-the-fly at jams. We’ll also discuss “faking a break” at jams.
- Up the neck techniques – there is a lot going on above the 5th fret, and playing there will open up the whole fingerboard to you. We’ll review licks, chords, backup, and leads up the neck.
- Backup – basics and beyond, we’ll cover vamping, rolling backup, rhythms and classic Scruggs techniques. Effective backup is very important, since we play it most of the time when playing with other musicians.
(2) “Transitioning from Intermediate to Advanced” Series of Classes:
One of the hallmarks of the great players we admire is their mastery of the fundamentals. Yes, they all create interesting solos and provide tasteful backup, but their excellence is rooted in complete control over the basics: accurate right and left hand movement, solid timing, and taste — knowing what to play when. In this group of workshops we’ll revisit some of these building blocks to help you assess your readiness to move from intermediate to advanced player. You may attend any or all of these single-topic classes.
- Transitioning from Intermediate to Advanced: Listening as a way to get better – Listening is the foundation getting better, and the best players are careful listeners to themselves and to others. In this workshop we will work on some ways to listen critically to the players and bands you admire and want to emulate, but especially to your own playing, as a tool for improving. This session will be especially helpful for players who do not have a regular teacher. (I)
- Transitioning from Intermediate to Advanced: Improve your left hand timing and accuracy – Most of us know that right hand timing is a cornerstone of sounding good. But the left hand has to play an equal role, with accurate finger movements coordinated with the right hand picking. We will go over these fundamentals in detail and work through some exercises that, if done regularly over time, will make you a better banjo player. (I)
- Transitioning from Intermediate to Advanced: Learn to love your metronome – As Mark Twain said, “There’s nothing so annoying as a good example.” In this workshop we’ll learn exercises and tips that will turn the metronome from a depressing scold into the secret weapon of improvement that it is. We’ll also cover ways to use the metronome as an aid to practicing at home. (I)
- Transitioning from Intermediate to Advanced: How to figure out the chords to new songs – An important skill for musicians is to be able to deal with unknown chord changes by ear, so that you can, for example, go to a jam session and have fun playing songs you’ve never heard before. Hearing chord changes is not a gift — its something you can practice and get better at. In this workshop we’ll learn how to figure out the chords to a song and make a chord chart. (I)
- Transitioning from Intermediate to Advanced: How to create rolling down-the-neck backup from scratch – Once you have learned to play backup chords (commonly called “chopping” or “vamping”) a good next step is to learn to play rolling backup down the neck, mostly below the fifth fret. In this workshop you’ll learn a step-by-step method for creating such backup, and we’ll use the method to create backup to a simple bluegrass or folk song of our choice. (I)
For more information about the Beginner or Intermediate Tracks, contact Music Camps North by email at email@example.com or by phone at 203-362-8807
In addition, there are two more formal opportunities for indiviual attention:
“Find Your Level”: Intended primarily for Beginners, Advancing Beginners and Intermediate players, campers may meet with an instructor (between 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm on Friday in Sage Hall) who will listen to them play and assess their approximate skill level. Since there is overlap between levels, these assessments are intended to be helpful, but not limiting. Campers may attend any classes they would like, but, as a matter of etiquette, we ask that campers not try to make a class proceed faster or slower than the advertised targeted level for each class
“Coaching Sessions” are an opportunity for a camper to have an individualized lesson with a faculty member of his or her choice. Each session is limited to four campers. All four campers will be present for the whole period and the time will be divided equally among those attending, for one-on-one attention. Each camper will determine topic and level for his or her time with that instructor. Sign-up for coaching sessions are first-come, first-served, with no more than one coaching session for each camper. We’re revising the sign-up method, so stay tuned for more info.