Beginner & Intermediate Tracks

We offer more than 100 classes at all levels in various genres at both Banjo Camp North, and Guitar & Mandolin Camp North.

Among these are several “tracks”, which are a series of classes designed for Beginning or Intermediate players.

Beginner Tracks:

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.

Beginner Tracks at Banjo Camp North:

We offer 2 levels of Beginner Tracks (Novice/Beginner and Beginner/Advancing Beginner) in 3-finger (bluegrass) and clawhammer (old time) styles.

On Friday afternoon, from 4 to 5:15 pm, Lorraine Hammond will teach a special “Jam Prep Class” for students in her Novice/Beginner Track. This class is meant to help prepare folks in her track for the jam that she will be hosting that night. Please note that this Jam Prep Class is being held opposite the first class of the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track. If you are not sure which track is right for you, you should probably attend the first meeting of the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track instead of the Jam Prep Class. Conversely, if you think the Beginner/Advancing Beginner Track will likely be too advanced for you, then you should probably attend the Jam Prep Class. Lorraine will be available to help individual students decide which class is right for them.

Beginner Tracks at Guitar & Mandolin Camp North:

For mandolin, we offer 2 levels of Beginner Tracks: Novice/Beginner and Beginner/Advancing Beginner. For guitar, we offer an Advancing Beginner Track. We do not offer novice or beginner classes in guitar.

At Both Camps: Top 10 Q&A’s for Beginner Tracks

  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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

10. May I Join a Track After it Has Already Begun (Part-Way Through the Weekend)?

You are welcome to join a track at any point throughout the weekend; however, the tracks work best for everybody involved when students attend all classes within a given track. If you join a track for the second, third, or fourth class, it is very likely that you will have missed hearing some important information that the instructor may or may not repeat. In that case, please be respectful of both the instructor and other students and try to fit in to the best of your ability; and remember, if you are having trouble, there are two review sessions where you should be able to work with the track instructor on getting up to speed. It is also likely that one or more people will have recorded the earlier class(es), and you can probably get access to that recording. And finally, you are not expected to stay in a track that is not the correct level for you; please feel free to leave at any time and head elsewhere to find the best fit for you.

Intermediate Tracks at Banjo Camp North:

In addition to the many Intermediate classes that are offered at the Camps, we’re offering a new feature in 2018 at Banjo Camp North:  two Intermediate Tracks 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) 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:

This track is designed for Intermediate players who feel almost ready to hike the path into the Advanced skill level. One of the hallmarks of the great players we admire is their mastery of the fundamentals. Yes, they all create interesting solos, provide tasteful backup, and add to the band sound in many other ways. But their excellence is rooted in complete control over the basics: a good sound that comes from accurate right and left hand movement, solid timing, and taste — knowing what to play when. In this group of workshops we will revisit some of these building blocks to help you move from intermediate to advanced player.

Transitioning from Intermediate to Advanced” includes the following classes:

  •  Listening as a Way to Get Better – Listening is the foundation to 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. (UI)
  • 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. (UI)
  • 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. (UI)
  • 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. (UI)
  • 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. (UI)

For more information about the Beginner or Intermediate Tracks, contact Music Camps North by email at or by phone at 203-362-8807