Can I play ukulele at a jam class or camp?

While ukulele is not a “bluegrass instrument” it can play along at a bluegrass jam and “do no harm” as long as they hit the right chords and stay in rhythm. It’s likely they won’t be heard very well, and will not be asked to solo unless they can play melodies. They can still benefit from the class… learning bluegrass repertoire and etiquette, meeting new people, and being exposed to real bluegrass as played on the typical instruments. We’re always glad if a uke player decides after the class/camp to obtain a mandolin or guitar, whose similarities to ukulele work as a good head start. In any case, we do welcome ukuleles and hope you decide to join in!

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How much individual instruction is there?

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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What’s different about Wernick classes compared to other jam classes?

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!

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Do I have to know how to read tab or notation?

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.

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What should I bring to class?

  • Songs to sing, whether memorized or in songbooks or any printed version. An iPad on a stand is a useful jam tool if you can get online to a lyrics website. A variety of good songs is the heart and soul of a good jam!
  • A clip-on electronic tuner – a “must”, $20 or less at music stores or online. Get comfortable using it. We recommend the D’Addario tuner, small enough to be left on your instrument full-time. Keep spare batteries. Tune early, tune often!
  • A recording device (can be your smart phone). Besides recording some of the teaching, it’s often useful to record songs as you jam – especially new ones you want to learn. You can play along with your recording later, with earphones or other amplification.
  • Banjo and dobro players must bring and have practiced playing with a thumb pick and two finger picks.
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Is singing required?

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!

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When are you doing this again? I don’t feel ready for it.

The sooner you start, the sooner it gets easier! It’s typical at first that students are a little out of their comfort zones, but our teachers understand and will gently help you expand that zone, getting you jamming with people at your level. Don’t let this rare chance pass by!

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I’m not that good yet and don’t want to hold the camp back!

Our only requirements: (1) you can tune your instrument, and (2) you can change smoothly between G, C, D, and A chords (fiddle and bass players need to know which notes work with which chords). Fast playing and soloing are not expected. If you can do the above, your teacher can guide you on how to participate in slow and easy jams. The camp will show you how to follow new songs, fake simple solos, learn standard repertoire, overcome timing problems, and fit in without stress.

“Last year was my first year at Jam Camp. I drove down from NY listening to bluegrass songs and trying to cram as many as I could into my poor brain. I was SO nervous. I was sure I wouldn’t play well enough or sing well enough for this group.

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I already go to a large jam, so I’m not sure I need this.

We offer a more user-friendly situation than most large jams. At Wernick Method camps, your teacher makes sure that:

  1. Everyone is in tune
  2. No one plays backup too loud
  3. Tempos are not too fast
  4. Everyone observes proper jam etiquette

Students jam in well-matched groups no larger than 8, tended by friendly experienced coaches, and are shown how to work together to make the best music possible… even if they’re new to jamming. At our jams, people can hear themselves, and feel encouraged!

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