From the February 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY DAVID LUSTERMAN


Summertime, and the living is . . . way more musical! Warm weather means getting away, and for Acoustic Guitar readers, getting away means grabbing your chosen instrument and heading to a camp, clinic, or workshop to hone your technique, study with your guitar heroes, learn new songs, see old friends and make new ones, and completely immerse yourself in what you love best.

More than 300 of your fellow readers took the time to answer our recent online survey about their own experiences at adult summer music camps. Here, we’ll share their recommendations, advice, and thoughts, so you can make your own 2018 plans wisely.

Based on survey feedback, we reached out to our readers’ favorite instructors for advice on three key questions: How to get ready for a great summer experience, what to expect when you arrive, and how to make the most of it once you get back home. You’ll find their answers in the portraits that follow.

Our readers have attended well over 100 different camps and workshops, some of which have sadly gone into abeyance or disappeared; we’re focusing here on the 25 that received multiple mentions and endorsements and are holding events in 2018. (You can find the complete list here.) Choosing a camp isn’t always easy, so our comparison chart may be of help in finding camps that meet your criteria for subject matter, format, and facilities.

The variety of programs, locations, and infrastructure is astounding. Many camps meet on college campuses where space becomes available during the summer months; a handful, such as the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College, are programs of the college itself. Some, like Menucha Blues in the Gorge, are produced or hosted by picturesque rural retreats. Others are the work of dedicated nonprofit societies with boards of directors and deep community affiliations, like WUMB Acoustic Music Camps or Hornby Island Blues Workshop. Still more are the vision of a single impassioned performer, such as Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp, Richard Thompson’s Frets and Refrains, Frank Vignola’s Hot Club Dream Camp, and Tommy Emmanuel Guitar Camp—though none matches the vision of Fur Peace Ranch, a year-round retreat dedicated to teaching and performing the roots and blues genres in which founder Jorma Kaukonen and his many musical partners excel.

When choosing camps, readers pay scant attention to how far they need to travel or what kinds of accommodations they’re likely to find. What matters most are content, culture, and community. Learn as much as you can about those elements when choosing a destination. Don’t be shy about asking questions, speaking directly with instructors, and asking to talk with past participants.

Despite their differences, the appeal of all camps is the chance to immerse yourself in music, guided by knowledgeable and supportive teachers, in the company of likeminded enthusiasts, far from the distractions of your daily routine. With that in mind, let’s see what the top-rated instructors can tell us.


mikedowling
MIKE DOWLING
Montana Fiddle Camp, June 10–15
Guitar Intensives, July 15–20
Swannanoa Gathering, July 22–27
Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, August 10–16
MikeDowling.com

GETTING READY
So many music camps, so little time. Study the brochures, the class offerings, and especially the class skill levels or requirements. Be honest with yourself about your abilities. I’ve had students contact me by email well before camp with questions just to make sure they’ll be a good fit for my class. I don’t mind that at all; in fact I appreciate it.

You may have listened to a fair amount of the instructor’s music. You know he or she is a fine player, but what about his or her teaching approach? Does that teacher concentrate on just teaching songs? That’s great if you just want to learn songs. Maybe he or she teaches by ear with no handouts or tablature. Is that okay with you? Do you like a lecture atmosphere, a chalker-and-talker approach, or are you looking for some hands-on playing in class? Camps are musical smorgasbords and there are probably as many teaching styles as there are teachers.

WHAT TO EXPECT
Bring a good digital audio recorder with you. Know how to use it, unobtrusively, while your instructor is talking or playing. Techniques, tunes, and exercises the teacher led you through on Monday will be a distant memory by Thursday. Try to record strategically as you go, rather than having one long recording of each class. The tedium will come as you wade through the recorded material. Well-edited keeper tracks, downloaded to your computer, will keep you motivated when you get home.

If you’re the kind of player who’s been learning by yourself at home, the camp’s jam sessions, dances, and student concerts can be real eye-openers. Don’t be afraid to join a jam or a song circle. Some will be for beginners, some more advanced, but you’ll know where you fit. Don’t be shy. Be receptive and open and you’ll quickly pick up dos and don’ts for playing well with others. If you join a teacher-led jam, pay attention to how the pros communicate musically. Watch the interaction and observe jam etiquette.

If you’re looking for stage experience, student concerts are the place. These are the friendliest folks you’ll ever play for, except your mother. You can usually ask an instructor to accompany you, if you want or need their support. In fact, you can pretty much ask an instructor anything throughout the week if they’re available. They all want you to have a good experience.

Music camps are just plain fun, but don’t overdo it. If your objective truly is to learn, you don’t want to be too tired in class the next morning to do so.

MAKING IT LAST
A good teacher won’t promise that you’ll become a better musician just because you’ve taken their class. But a good teacher will prepare you to become a better musician if you put the time in when you get back home. Edit those tapes before your enthusiasm evaporates. The audio will take you straight back to camp, but you’ll hear things with fresh ears. If you’ve made good recordings and come home with some solid suggestions from your teacher(s) regarding the gaps in your playing, you’ll have a year’s worth of study material before the next camp. If your instructor commented that you need to work on your time, get a metronome and do just that. Remember, what you think you need to work on and what your teacher thinks you need to work on may not be the same thing.


HAPPY_TRAUM_300x300
HAPPY TRAUM
Fur Peace Ranch, May 11–14
Frets and Refrains, July TBA
HappyTraum.com

GETTING READY

My workshops are generally about various aspects of guitar fingerpicking, and the most challenging topic is how to maintain a steady rhythm on the bass strings with the thumb while picking out melody or accompaniment notes on the high strings. If you have not played this way before then all you need is a knowledge of the basic chords and some facility in changing easily from one to the other. After that, it’s getting the brain rewired so that the thumb and fingers can move independently.

WHAT TO EXPECT

All you need to make the most of your experience is the love of the subject matter and the enthusiasm to learn. If you have those things, then you’ll have the drive to overcome the initial frustrations of not yet having the coordination to achieve goals immediately—and the initial pain of sore fingertips—that plague every new (and experienced) player.

MAKING IT LAST

After-camp follow-up is very important. Finding like-minded players in your community with whom to jam, swap songs and ideas, and socialize around a common love of guitar is an ideal way to continue to grow. If there are workshops or teachers you can access to continue the development of the skills you learned, that’s great too. Nowadays you can even communicate with teachers and fellow players online with Skype and other communication devices. Of course, there are also numerous instructional websites that offer streaming, downloads, or physical DVD lessons.


al-petteway_300x300
AL PETTEWAY
The Swannanoa Gathering, July 22–28
Fur Peace Ranch, October 26–28
AlandAmy.com

GETTING READY

Come to have fun and enjoy yourself while learning. Bring extra fresh strings, capos, writing materials, or whatever else you may need. Many camps rely on you to evaluate your own proficiency. This often leads to classes with a variety of players at different skill levels. I always feel it’s my job as the instructor to stick with the advertised level but try to include everyone. Usually on the first day, I’ll have the students tell the class a bit about themselves—how long they’ve been playing and what they hope to learn during the course. This not only helps everyone relax a bit; it’s also a comfort to know there will be players who are both more experienced and less experienced than they are. And it allows me to restructure my class or workshop in an effort to accommodate more levels, if needed. If it’s an advanced class, it will always be structured to accommodate the more advanced player; and the same approach goes for the beginning level classes. Again, everyone is welcome to stay and get what they can from the class, whether they participate or not.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Bring a recording device and take notes that will help you reconstruct the session on your own time and at your own pace. I like everyone to be working together during the class or workshop time and to stick with it, even if it seems too difficult or they get bored. No matter how advanced you are as a player, it’s important to be patient and to learn what you can, even if it’s simply a matter of listening to your tone and timing. Some folks are very comfortable with reading tab or music notation and others learn better by ear. I like to work by ear in class as much as possible and hand out tab at the end, or send PDFs via email that you can use in your private practice sessions outside of the group environment. Every instructor handles this part a bit differently, but I know they all would prefer that the attendees listen and not go off on their own practice session while in the group.

MAKING IT LAST

It’s impossible for you to completely absorb all of the information you get during the classes and workshops. So have a good time while you are there and use the evening hours to play with others and try to apply some of what you’ve learned so far. Once you get home, you can use your notes and recordings to work through all of the material gathered, but at your own pace. The experience of living and breathing nothing but music, combined with the camaraderie that happens during these camps, is something you can’t get anywhere else, and people tend to return year after year specifically for that experience. It’s also why these camps manage to get such stellar instructors. We enjoy it every bit as much as the students.


jason_Vieaux_300x300
JASON VIEAUX
Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival, June 8–10
Eastern Music Festival, July 16–28
JasonVieaux.com

GETTING READY

An awareness of your current playing level is one of the best things you can bring to a workshop or camp, especially if you’re working with me for the first time. Also, it’s good to bring at least a few pieces that you’re currently comfortable performing in front of me, other students, and auditors.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Having lessons on fingerings in new pieces for advanced players is fine, because I’m known for tailoring fingerings to the individual player, but also playing at your best performance level helps me to best diagnose your strengths and weaknesses, in order to help you move forward at the most efficient rate possible.

At the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina, Kami Rowan, Julian Gray, and I cover a huge array of topics: mechanics, technique, practicing, ensemble playing, fingerings, interpretation, performance anxiety—anything, really. We meet with the students regularly and get their feedback on what other topics can be covered during the two weeks. Faculty and students interact a lot, and you’re immersed in a first-class performance environment featuring all instruments, ensemble, and orchestra. The guitarists are more fully integrated in chamber music activity with the other students than in most other programs, and everyone is performing regularly during the two weeks.

MAKING IT LAST

I prescribe follow-up or follow-through to each student individually. That depends on a lot of moving parts surrounding the student.


JORMA_KAUKANEN_300X300
JORMA KAUKONEN
Fur Peace Ranch, Year-round
FurPeaceRanch.com

GETTING READY

Signing up for one of our camps presumes you chose well—you checked out all of the instructors and read their class descriptions. The teachers are pretty thorough with their descriptions, but they cannot possibly mention everything they will cover. Be sure you explain your goals when you fill out an application and then they can tailor the lessons based on your goals. My best advice is to say, “Fill out everything on the questionnaire.”

WHAT TO EXPECT

When you get to the Ranch, don’t be afraid to ask questions—not only from your instructor, but from the other students. In my view, peer-to-peer interaction is just as important as teacher-student interaction.

MAKING IT LAST

Practice as much as you can. That’s how you get good. If you need a follow-up, I give you my email, my phone number, and a one-month subscription to my online guitar class, BreakDownWay.com.


frank_vignola_300x300
FRANK VIGNOLA
Hot Club Dream Camp, TBA
FrankVignola.com

GETTING READY

It’s important to seek out a camp where there’s a lot of jamming. Most hobbyist musicians don’t get enough chances to play with other people, and camp is a great place to have that experience. We send 20 lead sheets in advance to every camper so everyone knows the same tunes when they arrive.

WHAT TO EXPECT

We start each day with 50 musicians warming up—30 guitarists, ten fiddlers, and ten bass players. Then we go to jamming sessions and then into ensembles. I think that’s important because there are only so many lectures about modes and scales that you can hear. Teaching jazz in general is all about learning songs. How did all the great guitar players grow up? By playing a lot of songs, writing a lot of songs.

MAKING IT LAST

Practice, play with other people as often as you can, and continue learning. I am currently teaching 300 students online through video messaging, and sharing materials all around the world, so studying with me is always an option.


brookes_robertson_300x300
BROOKS ROBERTSON
Rocky Mountain Guitar Camp,
August TBA
BrooksRobertson.com

GETTING READY

Start by writing down a list of your present musical strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Then explore how the workshop can help you achieve those goals. If some of the camp topics are on your weakness list, try focusing your pre-camp practice on foundational improvements, rather than practicing the things you can already do very well or might not be covered.

Keep a list of questions and bring it to your workshop instructors. For many camps, you’ll want to have a basic chord vocabulary and be somewhat familiar with chord symbols and names, especially when the instructor calls out C, E7, Am7, Dm7, Cmaj7. In addition to your guitar and picks, bring a clip-on tuner, a guitar strap, a pencil with eraser, music staff paper, an audio or video recorder if it is allowed, a new 9-volt battery if you have an instrument with an active pickup, plus a 1/4-inch instrument cable. Most importantly, make sure your guitar is set up properly and that the action is at a comfortable level.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Camps and workshops are not competitions; participants and instructors are there to share the experience, learn, and have fun—not to judge one another’s playing. Everyone is there to improve their musicianship in some way or another, so be supportive of yourself and other participants. Stay focused on what you want to learn while also being open-minded—trying new things during class, jamming with others, and really being fully immersed in the learning environment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Absolutely make sure to take good notes during classes and record audio/video if and when possible. That way, you’ll have material to take home and continue to work with. Try not to play, noodle, or talk while the instructors are talking, as it can be a major distraction and seems to be quite infectious. Although many workshops last for three to five days, the time seems to go by very quickly, so do your best to attend each session and soak up as much as you possibly can.

MAKING IT LAST

Back home, take time to reflect on the sessions, what was presented, and what music or experiences inspired you. On your original list of goals, add the topics, songs, techniques, or ideas you want to improve on and make a step-by-step plan to achieve them. If you took notes, recorded media, or received materials from instructors, be sure to review and actively work through the content, consistently practicing the things that were assigned or suggested. In many cases, instructors have books, video courses, or online lessons that will allow you to continue developing and studying the topics that were covered at the workshop.


molly_tuttle_300x300
MOLLY TUTTLE
RockyGrass Academy, July 22–26
MollyTuttleMusic.com

GETTING READY

Brush up on any standard tunes or songs you know. Practice playing those tunes and songs without stopping or changing tempo (go as slow as you want!). If you don’t read tablature, look into how it works because some teachers will use handouts. Have a way to record lessons but always remember to ask the teacher for permission before recording anything. Carefully read class descriptions and place yourself at the right level. If you are unsure what level you should be in, you can also usually email the teacher before camp.

WHAT TO EXPECT

If you get to camp and realize the class is moving too slow or fast, sometimes it’s possible to change after the first day. It never hurts to talk to your teacher if you are having a problem. It could be helpful to get familiar with your teacher’s playing and come up with a couple of questions or topics to ask them about. Just remember to have fun and maybe try something that’s out of your usual comfort zone, like joining a certain jam or taking an elective that you don’t know much about. Try to learn as much as you can in class, but you can also get so much out of making friends and jamming with the other musicians during your free time.

MAKING IT LAST

When you get home, go through notes, recordings, tab, and other materials, and set a practice routine right away to go over the things you learned. Even 15–20 minutes of review each day can go a long way. If you go a few days after camp without refreshing yourself on the material, it’s very easy to forget a lot of what you worked on.


stephen_bennet_300x300
STEPHEN BENNETT
Andy McKee’s Musicarium, July 5–9
Pete Huttlinger’s Guitar & Fly Fishing Camp, August 5–9, 2018 in Livingston, MT
harpguitar.com

GETTING READY

Go in with an open mind. It might well wind up that the most enlightening thing you get out of the experience will be something completely unforeseen.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Sometimes I teach a tune directly. I play a short phrase and the class repeats it. Again. And again. And again. I make sure that everyone plays it correctly at least once. I play the next phrase—they repeat it. I make sure that everyone plays it correctly at least once. We move on. The further into the piece we get, the less likely it is that everyone can keep it all together. That doesn’t matter to me. What’s important is that everyone has played each component part of the whole correctly, at least once. They’ve managed to mechanically make each part happen. And that means that they can then practice the thing into submission, so to speak, on their own time. And I prefer to do this without having put the music/tab in front of them. It’s just me playing and them repeating. At the end of the class, I give everyone the music/tab that they just learned.

However, sometimes I like to go a different way altogether. Sometimes I will hand out the music/tab to a piece of music. Just the melody to it, not an arrangement. I have gone with all sorts of tunes, but one of my favorites over the years has been the “Washington Post March” by John Philip Sousa. Typically when I do this, I break the class up into twos and send them off to different corners of the room to come up with their own arrangement of the first section of the tune. I tell them it’s a musical problem to solve in whatever way they choose to do it. They can each play the same thing, or they might approach it as a duet.

What matters is that they spend some time exploring a tune—and the fretboard—and try to find some way to present to the rest of the class one way to turn what’s on the page into music. I go back and forth between the pairs of students, listening. I might suggest things either to help them move further down the road they’re already on, or sometimes, to coax them onto another road altogether if I don’t think they’re headed anywhere productive.

After some period of time, we reconvene and each pair plays for the class. To my mind, there is a ton of stuff to learn from this process. For starters, there are some real fundamentals to solve. Is anyone counting off so they can start together? Are they talking to each other, past each other, or not talking at all?

MAKING IT LAST

I like people to leave the class knowing a tune they didn’t know when they walked in. Maybe they can’t play it all the way through yet, but they know how to finish it up if they choose to do so. Or if it’s been more of a how-to-arrange-something kind of class, then my hope is that they leave the class seeing the fretboard in a slightly different way than they did before.


clive_carroll_300x300
CLIVE CARROLL
Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp,
June 17–23
Swannanoa Gathering, July 22–28
CliveCarroll.co.uk

GETTING READY

Starting about a month before the course begins, play every day at home—even if it’s just for ten minutes—so that the calluses on your fingertips are ready for the four-plus hours a day of playing at summer camp.

I like to send out any music notation in advance if possible, and although I don’t expect anyone to learn it all before the course starts, it’s really helpful if you can familiarize yourself with the tunes by looking them up on YouTube, for example, and having a look at the tablature, so you get a feel for each piece. Of course, pencils, note paper, and recording devices are pretty essential.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Be true to yourself about which classes will work best for you. Opting for “advanced jazz fusion chord substitution class” when you have only been playing for a year may be a little on the tough side! And I have seen people try it. Instead, choose classes that you think will push you but not overwhelm you. There will be a lot of information taught by very enthusiastic teachers. Make notes and record examples when possible. The information will really start to sink in over the weeks subsequent to the course.

MAKING IT LAST

Make a practice plan. For example, let’s say you were taught “Here Comes the Sun.” What did the teacher say? Perhaps there was detail about fret-hand fingering, the tricky chord shift in bar x, bringing out the melody more, or being aware of the rhythm in the last section, and so on. Write a list of what to practice and what to listen for. Then, with a plan written out, pick up the guitar and enjoy working on it all!


bryan_sutton_300x300
BRYAN SUTTON
RockyGrass Academy, July 22–26
Fur Peace Ranch, August 17–20
BryanSutton.com
artistworks.com/bryansutton

GETTING READY

I’d encourage folks to not over-prepare, guitar-wise. Meaning, don’t feel like you need to practice until you bleed or try to dramatically improve in the days leading up to the camp. Come as you are. A good teacher will see where you are in your playing and meet you there. We’re all on a journey here, and though there might be players who appear better than you, we’re all just trying to get better. If you’re playing for or around a group or instructor, it can be intimidating to put yourself out there. Come to the camp with a goal to be vulnerable and open, but also think about what you’d like to get out of the experience.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Making the most of your experience means understanding more about what real quality is, and discovering where your playing stands in relation to these ideals. I find that some folks come to these things with an idea that a new lick or chord voicing is the way to improvement. My encouragement is to get more inside the basics of your guitar-playing at a camp, finding and discussing needs or concepts regarding tone, groove, or musicality.

I like for folks to think about how they play as much as what they play. Some come to camps just to hang and jam, and this is really important, but finding a balance of work and play will make the experience more impactful. Also, ask deep questions of the instructors. Be willing to accept broad, almost mythical answers. Also understand that you may get some pointed constructive criticism. Most pro-level players operate at a very subconscious level and it’s really hard to articulate all that is going on when they’re just not thinking.

MAKING IT LAST

I’d hope a good balance of learning, playing, and just good-old-time sharing would leave most campers with a feeling of inspiration. More concretely, I’d encourage folks to try to realize a few basic things about their playing: Have a healthy and realistic sense of where you are and where you want to be; have a couple of new songs, concepts, or techniques that though not mastered are worth continuing to work on. Acknowledge the steps you need to take to realize more quality in your playing.


This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Comments