General

WM Teacher Larry Kernagis (far right) and students from his
Maggie Valley, NC camp in 2017

We call it a “camp” if the teaching is done over two or more full consecutive days. Otherwise, we call it a class, which may be weekly sessions, a one-day event, or a few daily sessions at a festival.

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At the first session, after a little orientation, the teacher leads the class on 2- and 3-chord songs, at easy tempos. If you’ve never jammed before, this first session will get you going. Everyone will be invited to sing, take solos, and show their stuff… or just work on following along. Keeping it together and keeping it fun will be the main goals.

The first part of every session is classroom-style, instructing on topics including: following new songs smoothly, jam etiquette and traditions, how to lead songs and avoid “train wrecks”, finding melodies, faking solos, kicking off and ending songs, picking keys, using capos, the chord number system, harmony singing, and a lot more!

After the classroom half of the session, the full group is divided into small jam groups, each coached by the teacher or an assistant. Teaching this way helps keep the group working well together, and gives the instructor a chance to give individual pointers. Read more about the Wernick Method, and see the Essentials of the Wernick Method followed by all WM teachers.

WM Teacher John Holenko leading students in a classroom-style session.
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A Wernick Method jam class or camp is the ideal first step for any new bluegrass musician, providing all that’s needed to play with others, including the presence of other learning pickers. With just a few chords, a new player can participate, playing real bluegrass in a slow-speed student jam. Learning to make music in a small circle is top priority — everything is built on playing real songs with correct timing and chords, at first keeping simple rhythm and building from there. We teach many of the main skills — rhythm technique on your instrument, finding melodies and learning new songs on the fly — vital skills instilled when playing in a small group, all monitored by your teacher or a coach.

These are all skills that can be taught to a roomful of people playing different instruments, so some instrumental skills are taught even with a mix of instruments present.

Lessons and music camps designed to teach instrumental skills can be of great help once a person is playing regularly with others. Opportunities to play with others are at least as important as piling up skills focused on just one instrument, and not ensemble music. Wernick Method camps and classes focus on playing real bluegrass in small groups, with singing and a typical balance of instruments.

“I’d taken guitar lessons for a few months, and had been trying to teach myself the basics on the fiddle (with lots of help from my dad, who can play just about anything that has strings!). During camp, it was a struggle the first day, just to get my instruments out of their case – I was terrified to play in front of anyone! By the end of the week, I was having such a great time that I’d forgotten about the fear of making a mistake! Everyone was VERY patient and encouraging, telling how they felt the first time they tried jamming, and helping me learn at my own pace….without their support, I would never have made it to that ‘first rung of the ladder,’ (as Pete describes it).”
“I learned more in this jam class than I have in the 4 years I’ve had my banjo.”
“The jam setting, and the correct way to jam, etiquette, etc., are different experiences totally from taking private lessons, and/or ‘closet picking.’”
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During “small group jam” time (about half of all class time), teachers and coaches give each of the players in a jam group pointers and feedback. We feel that a student can be helped the most when their playing under “real conditions” is observed by a teacher, who can offer guidance based on what they see and hear.

At a Wernick Method class the emphasis is not on individual skill but on the principles and skills of playing together. Individual skills such as finding melodies by ear (essential for soloing) pickup licks to use for kickoff solos can be and are taught to the full group.

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Generally speaking, our classes and camps are really for paid participants only. However, each teacher has the discretion to allow others in some circumstances. For example, many classes and camps feature a “Jamboree” type event where students can choose to perform in groups for each other; friends and family might be welcome if space and other circumstances allow. When in doubt, contact the teacher for your class/camp to learn about those options.

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Many things. One of the major differences is that every class session spends about half the time with the pickers in small circles, leading themselves in jams, each circle attended by an experienced, helpful coach. I think a student can get better help being coached while they’re jamming than in a one-on-one lesson or sitting in a class listening to a teacher.

We teach a lot of skills that are normally never taught in books or lessons, such as how to lead a song, how to learn a chord progression quickly, how to fake a solo on the fly, and so on. Many jam classes I’ve seen are more about following the teacher leading everyone. We teach jam skills and repertoire that way, but the best way to get good at jamming is to practice actual jamming… so we show them how it’s done and get them jamming!

We offer online playlists of the most popular jam songs, to learn by ear, supply handouts with the full unspoken ground rules and etiquette for jamming, and have our own songbook with the biggest possible print and chords given in numbers, to let singers pick their best key for singing.

Based on two decades of teaching jamming, we’ve tried to anticipate all needs and work hard for “customer satisfaction”. To that end, all our classes are followed by detailed student surveys which get high response rates. The students tell us what’s working and what’s not. Pete and the teachers read those surveys carefully and learn from them in an effort to keep improving. We’re not only the first to offer jam classes, we want to be by far the best!

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