Pete Wernick (“Dr. Banjo”) has a goal to introduce as many people as possible to the pleasures of playing bluegrass music with friends, family, and even strangers. Since 1999 he has taught over 1,000 at full-immersion 3- and 4-day Bluegrass Jam Camps across the country. Last year he stepped up his efforts by launching the Wernick Method Bluegrass Network, training and certifying qualified teachers to offer jam classes in their own communities.
The first five completed classes, in Maryland, Wyoming, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, drew an average of 15+ students and received strongly positive student evaluations. Another 12 classes are scheduled for spring of 2011 in Nevada, Massachusetts, Arizona, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Queensland, Australia.
The classes teach such skills as how to follow and learn new songs in a jam, faking solos, finding melodies by ear, leading songs, and the informal ground rules and etiquette used in bluegrass jams worldwide. “It’s mostly just common sense, but people who have only played music by themselves ‘in the closet’, or for one other person, often start off bewildered,” Wernick says. “Between the first session and the later ones, there’s a huge gain in confidence, and typically these folks will now be jammers for life.”
Wernick continues to train and certify teachers in the Wernick Method, and to refine training materials including video, audio and written teaching guides. “I am psyched that so many talented teachers want to join forces in helping these untold thousands of people who really want to learn to jam,” he says. “We provide a lot of support -- a flyer, publicity, the same student materials I developed for our camps, the registration and evaluation processes, as well as the teacher training. The teachers say they’re pleased with us so far.”
Pete’s own jam camps for 2011 will all take place between April and June, two on weekends in April near his home in Colorado, and his three annual camps preceding major festivals: April in Boomer, NC (pre-MerleFest), May in Gettysburg, PA, and June in Owensboro, KY (pre-ROMP). The Boomer camp includes a popular intermediate track, and the Loveland, CO camp is devoted to intermediate jamming and band skills. The teaching teams at the camps include Pete’s wife Joan and selected local teachers.
Wernick pioneered bluegrass camps in the 80s, first with a series of banjo instructional weeks in Oregon, and started his annual Colorado banjo camps in 1984. “Jam teaching didn’t exist then, but even with all banjos at my banjo camps I would always teach jam skills.” Student requests led him to try teaching groups with mixed instruments. He found coaching small group jams made for more effective teaching.
“A teacher normally just hears a student play solos, usually unaccompanied. Coaching people as they jam gives the teacher a much better idea of the needs and problems, and a hands-on lab for making improvements, all while people are having a good time jamming. I had good success with some three-Sundays jam classes in Boulder, and that led me to try full-blown camps. It took off from there -- more camps, three jam instruction videos for Homespun, and I made my web site a hub for free jamming information and articles.”
The new Wernick classes represent more than just an expansion, according to Pete. “I think classes have some great plusses over the camps. Most especially, the classes bring together people who live in an area, who then become jam buddies, which is ever-so-handy. And classes give a chance to digest and practice what is learned every week, compared to the three or four-day full-immersion blitz.”
Wernick estimates that by the end of 2011, 300 students will have learned jamming in the new classes, with numbers expected to grow exponentially as he certifies more teachers. His target? “I want bluegrass jamming to be bigger than bridge!”
For updated class schedules, visit www.DrBanjo.com and click on Classes. For “all things jamming”, click the Jamalot page.
2011 Spring Wernick Method Classes
Mar 3-Apr 7—Reno, NV, Thursdays, 6:30-9pm with Rick Sparks
Mar 12-Apr 9—Phoenix, AZ, Saturdays, 9am-2pm with Mark Miracle
Mar 13-Apr 17—Cambridge, MA, Sundays, 3-5:30pm with Tony Watt
Mar 20-Apr 10--Alexandria, VA, Sundays 1-5pm with Ira Gitlin
Mar 27-May 22—Arlington, TX, Sundays 2-4:30pm with Jim Penson
Apr 3-May 15—Shelby, NC, Sundays 2-6pm with Gilbert Nelson
Apr 6-Jun 1—Burlington, MA, Wednesdays 7-9pm with Tim Rowell
Apr 30-May 2--Golden Beach, QLD, Australia, Weekend with Greg McGrath
Jun 2-Jul 21—Brielle, NJ, Thursdays 7-9:30pm with Heidi Olsen
Jun 13-23—Hartland, WI, Mon/Tue/Thu 6-8pm with Jon Peik
2011 Bluegrass Jam Camps with Pete and Joan Wernick
April 1-3—Boulder, CO, at the Boulder Inn
April 15-17—Loveland, CO, Intermediate/Band Skills Camp at Sylvan Dale Ranch
April 25-28—Boomer, NC, preceding MerleFest, includes Intermediate Track
May 10-12—Gettysburg, PA, preceding the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival
June 20-23--Owensboro, KY, preceding the ROMP festival