Essentials of the Wernick Method


  • Music should be fun.
  • Do what gets you the most musical fun the soonest. Easy is good, as long as the music is good.
  • Learn chords and basic timekeeping first. Start by playing along with 2-chord songs, then 3-chord songs.
  • Practice jam skills at home. Play/sing from a songbook. Play along with recordings and videos.
  • Keep it slow at first, about 70 beats per minute.
  • It’s easy enough to be in tune, so make it a practice to check tuning regularly.
  • Jam in a circle. Groups of 4-6 are best for bluegrass, 8-10 unwieldy. When possible, divide into smaller groups.
  • Soloing is optional, and is easier once jam skills are learned. Instrumentals are difficult for novices. Stick to songs.
  • Song leading is a necessary part of a jam. At least one person in a jam, but preferably more, must have this skill.
  • Students may not read chords from paper in a jam; read a guitar player’s left hand. If no guitar player knows the chords, the song leader first teaches a guitar player the chords. There is usually no need to call out chords.
  • Ear skills are needed for bluegrass, tab and music reading skills are not. Cultivate ear skills.
  • Learn about bluegrass basics, and work on them first.
  • Learn the typical ground rules and protocols for jamming.
  • Respect bluegrass sensibilities and traditions.

Go for Liftoff

  • Learn to control your backup volume.
  • Practice singing so you can carry a tune and sing in a jam. For each song, choose the key that’s best for your singing, one that you and your fellow jammers can probably play in.
  • Learn the number system, for following chords and transposing keys quickly.
  • Learn choruses by listening/singing. Only a lead singer needing the words may have a book open.
  • Learn to reinforce the pulse effectively.
  • Learn “placeholder” soloing, do it when appropriate.
  • Learn more chords so you can play more songs, in more keys.
  • Help others stay on track.
  • Learn the basics of using a capo. Players of non-capoing instruments: learn to read capoed guitar chords.
  • Learn “filler content” soloing as an upgrade to simple placeholder soloing.
  • Learn how to find melodies and build simple solos that include them.
  • Playing exactly memorized instrumental solos is difficult, and not necessary but optional in jams.

For Extra Participation and Respect

  • Learn to lead songs.
  • Learn to take good-sounding solos, including kickoffs.
  • Learn to sing harmony, and practice adding harmony on the fly.

For Respect and the Success of the Group

  • Work with the limitations and preferences of your fellow jammers.
  • Share the spotlight—give others a chance to show off.
  • Bring good material to the jam that you are prepared to lead.