Note: these are the same basic requirements as for all elementary jamming.
You must be able to tune your instrument accurately, in a minute or two, with an electronic tuner.
You must be able to smoothly change on your instrument, between the chords G, C, D, and A. Fiddles and basses need to play the single notes that go with each chord.
To be sure you meet these requirements: Pete’s video Bluegrass Slow Jam for the Total Beginner presents 17 songs using only G, C, D, and A, at minimum bluegrass tempos. Learn to follow guitar chords, shown magnified on screen. G, C, D, and A are shown on all six instruments. Order from the Jam Store. Playing along with this video will build your confidence!
If you are having problems with either of these skills despite using the item above, please contact your teacher, whose email address is on the page advertising your class.
All skill levels are welcome. The only prerequisite is the ability to change smoothly and quickly between simple chords like G, C, D, and A. Often there are quite a few who have never or only rarely jammed. The camp is designed for them. But often there are also more experienced/skilled players, and they generally fit in quite well, with the understanding that when jamming with the less skilled, they need to keep the songs easy and the tempos moderate. Wernick Method teachers are trained to give a variety of extra challenges to more experienced players, and when possible, to group them together.
Average age varies by camp and is hard to guess, but we’ve had folks from under 10 to over 80. For parents of youngsters, please first contact the teacher to discuss.
Some jam groupings mix different experience levels, and some match skills more closely — just as happens in real life, so a chance at each is good training. Teachers offer personalized comments to everyone at the camp, with their experience level taken into account.
See previous section, concerning typical skill levels.
Though there is flexibility according to the skill levels of the attendees, the classes and camps are tailored to musicians who are just getting into jamming or want to. At registration, attendees are asked: How often have you jammed/”, with the choices: Never / Rarely / 5-15 times / 16+ times. The makeup of any of the classes typically includes some of each, and often the numbers in each category are about equal.
“Pete Wernick is a master teacher with decades of experience in promoting and advancing bluegrass education at all levels. His methods seriously address the fact that most pickers quit while still at a beginning level due to the use of ineffective materials and methods. His approach quicky leads one to becoming an independent and successful learner.”
“I keep coming back! I was a raw beginner at my first Wernick Method camp. I was a little better when I left, but more importantly knew that I could continue to improve with the skills I learned — and I did! I had so much fun that I’ve now been to 15 camps. I’ve made camp friends and we enjoy seeing each other. Even as a more experienced jammer there’s always something new to learn – a new technique, a new song. And it’s always fun.”
Singing is not required, but our classes have a lot of singing, much like typical bluegrass. Jams need singing, and singing helps develop musicianship — especially the ability to find melody notes on an instrument.
We understand some folks are shy to sing around others. Some can’t seem to carry a tune. Our teachers are trained to be gentle and helpful with these common obstacles. The Wernick Method includes a sure-fire way to show any person they are capable of singing in tune, by choosing a key that best fits their voice.
Even bluegrass newcomers will likely know familiar favorites like “This Land Is Your Land” and “When the Saints Go Marching In”, which make great bluegrass songs. You can start by singing along on the chorus with everyone else. Many reluctant singers find their voice at our camps and classes, and singing becomes truly fun.
In summary, don’t let this stop you from signing up!
“My Wernick Method teacher changed my life. Not a statement to be taken lightly, to be sure. But he convinced / made me lead a song and sing in public for the first time ever. This was a really powerful experience and changed my view of myself.”
Most attendees come with no or limited ability to take solos. Many only know solos they have learned by rote from a teacher, a tab or video. It’s common that these folks may have some trouble doing those solos in a jam. The Wernick Method prefers to teach soloing with a combination of “keeping single notes going with the right hand while the left hand follows the chords…. along with separate teaching of “how to guess at the melody on the fly, with missed notes sounding OK”. Over time, these skills yield believable on-the-fly solos that may come out different each time — but include melody and follow the chords. Memorized solos are welcome though not always possible in jams, and the ability to *fake* a solo is what we consider the more useful focus.
We don’t exactly “require” folks to try solos but since we know that many students aspire to fake solos effectively at jams, we gently push them to try the easiest possible method described above, what we call the “here goes nothing” solo, often improvised while reading the guitar player’s chords. We encourage everyone to try a solo once in each song, even when the inclination is to pass. “Everyone” does not include bass players or guitarists who don’t aspire to ever take solos. But banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro players are generally assumed to have soloing as a goal, so it’s good for them to step up, just for practice in the safe context of our jams, as a way of building this skill.
“When I got back (home), I went to both my blue grass jams. I took breaks almost every song at both jams. I’m thrilled that I played more breaks than I ever had before.”
“It was a great intro into jamming. It was also fun to watch each other as we became more confident leading and taking breaks. I was just as proud of what others accomplished as I was about what I learned.”
Pete’s Bluegrass Jamming and Intermediate Jam videos give a player multiple opportunities to fake a solo over band accompaniment. Many Bluegrass Jamming Favorites are on the video. We strongly recommend working on this important skill, including coming in and out accurately and smoothly, as a good head start for your class.
What are the qualifications for Level 2 Wernick Method Camps (at MerleFest, Silver Bay and others)?
- Be experienced at bluegrass jamming, including following guitar chord changes easily
- Be able to play comfortably in the keys of G and D, use the chord number system, and understand capo use.
- Be able to jam comfortably at “intermediate” speeds (100 beats/minute or more)
- Be able to sing reasonably in pitch and lead songs (“good voice” not required)
- Be willing / able to fake instrumental solos on most songs in G or D (except basses and rhythm-only guitars who don’t aspire to play guitar solos)
Both tab or standard notation are just fine as a way of learning solos that someone else has created. But in bluegrass jamming, people have to “think on their feet” and learn to come up with solos based on their ability to follow chord progressions with notes that fit in the chords, and put in melody notes or pre-learned “licks” where they can. So we actually don’t use written notation in our classes at all, but work on developing ear skills.
We want students to cultivate (with help from a teacher) ear skills such as the ability to remember and anticipate chord changes, and eventually to correctly guess chord changes, and to find melodies by ear. Most students recognize if they lack ear skills and understandably wonder how they will ever learn them. A teacher saying, “It comes in time,” may not be enough to overcome a building pessimism. However – a student who jams regularly gets ample evidence of their developing ear skills at every session.
“But can I use it anyway?”
We encourage you to just leave the tab and notation at home…or in your instrument case! Use the time at camp to learn those ear skills. Unless you are the song leader and need the lyrics in front of you, books shouldn’t be used during class. Read more about what to bring to class/camp.
“It was great fun and I for sure got a lot out of it. I’m about to throw out a good portion of my tablature library and use my ears!”
“Speaking as someone who tries to learn without the benefit of a teacher, I want to compliment you on your insightful style of teaching us “how to fish’ rather than just giving us the fish. It’s easy to get hooked on all the tablature that’s out there today, but it can postpone indefinitely the real “woodshedding” we all need to go through in order to truly “make music”. Your appreciation of that fact, coupled with your genuine encouragement and realistic instruction, makes the journey much more credible and a lot less intimidating.”
“The camp was responsible for helping me break out of tablature dependence, and which gave me the encouragement to work out melodies on my own, as well as removing some of the fear of playing around others.”