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2014 Midwest Banjo Camp flyer

June 6-8, 2014
"Pre-camp" beginning on June 5

Click on the image for download page

2014 MBC group photo.

Midwest Banjo Camp X will take place on June 6-8, 2014 at the Olivet College Campus in Olivet, Michigan. Come study old-time or bluegrass banjo with some of today's best players and teachers in both styles. Our program features hands-on classes, demonstrations, two faculty concerts, and still leaves lots of time for jamming with your fellow banjo enthusiasts.

MBC Class

MBC offers eight class sessions over the course of the weekend -- two on Friday, four on Saturday and two on Sunday. Each session is one hour and fifteen minutes long. There are staff concerts on both Friday and Saturday evenings; over the course of the weekend you'll have the opportunity to hear our entire staff in concert. Rounding out each evening program are staff-led bluegrass and old time jams at a variety of skill levels.


Midwest Banjo Camp is committed to offering highly specialized classes with subjects tailored to the expertise of our faculty. Most of our classes are "hands-on," meaning that teachers have a set of skills or a tune or two in mind to impart, and that students should have their banjos in hand during class.

Once you've registered for MBC, you may attend any class you wish at any time throughout our program. You do NOT have to pre-register for any track, class, or teacher. The questions on the registration form regarding interests and levels are only there to help us plan our program. They do NOT commit you to pursue any particular level, style, or instrument. Here is a list of popular classes in previous years. To give you an even better idea, here is our new 2014 MBC Schedule.

Old Time
  • Intro to Round Peak Clawhammer
  • How to Play with Fiddlers: Concepts & Strategies
  • Wade Ward's 3-Finger Chording Style
  • The Clawhammer Styles of Fields & Wade Ward
  • Intro to Syncopation, Clawhammer Style
  • The Fundamentals of Drop and Double Thumbing
  • Grandpa Jones Songs & Tunes
  • Mastering the Mechanics of Good Tone
  • Western North Carolina Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer
  • That Old-Time Rhythm
  • The "Chuck"and Other Rhythmic Space Fillers
  • Exploring Cumberland Gap Tuning
  • Banjo Pickin' Girls: Songs from the Coon Creek Girls & Cousin Emmy
  • Round-Peak Retrospective: Contrasting Creed, Jarrell, & Cockerham
  • Can That Tuner: Learn to Tune & Change Tunings by Ear
  • Fitting in at a Jam: Hearing & Following Chord Changes
  • Intro to Melodic Bluegrass
  • Essentials of Single String
  • The Essential Earl: Licks & Techniques
  • Tone Color & Acoustic Special Effects
  • The Banjo Style of JD Crowe
  • Don Reno Techniques & Tunes
  • Blues Banjo: Improvising Over a Three Chord Harmony
  • Roll Logic: How the Rolls Work
  • Rock 'n' Roll, TV Themes & Other Stuff You Ain't Supposed to Play on Banjo
  • Scruggs-Style Picking in the key of C
  • Up the Neck Scruggs-Style Backup
  • Intro to Jazz Improvisation
  • 3rds & 6ths: Playing Melody & Harmony Together
  • Walking Basslines, Texas-Swing & "Stride" Bass as Approaches to Backup
  • Picking it Solid: Achieving Clarity, Punch, & Timing:
  • From Bluegrass to Western swing: A New Slant on Bluegrass Chord Progressions

Levels and Tracks for Bluegrass & Old-time Banjo

All students at MBC are free to take any class at any time. You canmove among levels, move freely between old-time and bluegrass, take classes in different instruments, and generally create a program that works best for you. We now offer four levels or "tracks" for both bluegrass and old-time banjo: Novice, lower intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced. Here is how we define our levels:

Novice track:

The novice program is designed primarily for true beginners: banjoists who have been playing a few months or less, or who have not yet learned even the most basic mechanics of either fingerpicking or the clawhammer stroke. If you already know these basics, we recommend diving into either the lower intermediate or even the upper intermediate programs. Even if they are a little over your head, you'll still be taking home vital advice and mental images that will guide your growth on banjo for years to come.

Lower Intermediate Track:

Our lower intermediate track is for students who are beyond the novice stage but still need a lot of technical help on a variety of fronts -- such as efficient left hand and right hand techniques, building up speed and power, achieving good timing, basic song and tune arranging, and so on. Estimated minimum playing experience required: 6 months to 2 years.

Upper Intermediate Track:

The upper intermediate track is for students who can play pretty well at a basic level, but are looking to increase their repertoires and playing efficiency, and expand their horizons. It is also designed to help your playing sound more authentic and professional. Estimated minimum playing experience required: 18 months to 3 years.

Advanced Track:

The advanced track is for those who can already play up to (or close to) speed, but who are looking to grow further as musicians through learning from some of the world's best players. Estimated minimum playing experience required: 3-4 years and up.

Pre Camp

The Pre-camp is a low pressure way to ease into your weekend of intense banjo-immersion. On Thursday evening June 5 and Friday morning June , our instructors will host jam sessions, offer demonstrations, and generally be available for mingling with students. The "Pre-Camp Program" is optional for both students and staff. However, most of our staff and well-over half our students generally participate. To give you a better idea of what the Pre-Camp is all about, here is our Pre-Camp Schedule from 2013.

There is an extra tuition charge for MBC students who wish to take part in pre-camp events; there is also a charge for lodging at the Olivet dorms on Thursday night, and for signing on to an Olivet meal plan that covers meals from Thursday dinner through Friday lunch.

Demos: During Our “Pre-Camp”, many of our class sessions are devoted to demonstrations. Demos are round-robin presentations or mini performances that address a theme, combined with explication and Q&A sessions. Somewhere in between hands-on classes and demos are those classes labeled "demo-instructional." Following are a few examples of the kinds of demos we might offer:

  • Progressive Approaches to Bluegrass
  • All "Earl" all the time
  • Banjo-Fiddle Duets
  • Singing with the Banjo
  • Black Banjo Styles & Influences
  • Old-time Fingerpicking
  • Blues on the Banjo
  • Tunes you Don't Expect to Hear on Banjo
  • Playing in a Band: Concepts & Techniques
  • Fiddle Tunes on Banjo
  • Vocal Harmonies
  • Bill Monroe Tunes on Banjo


Why Attend the Pre-Camp?

Although there’s no hands on instruction in the Pre-Camp, it does offer a valuable learning experience. By observing our demos, watching our instructors play, and listening to their explanatory remarks and verbal interchanges, you get a strong sense not only of the state of the field, but also of the history of bluegrass and old-time music. What’s more, observing the instructors in action is a great way to discover whose styles you are most attracted to, and whose methods of presentation suit you best. Finally, the Pre-Camp’s relaxed atmosphere offers a great opportunity to converse with and get to know your teachers and fellow students.

Introducing the Banjo: a Two-Hour Crash Course for Absolute Beginners

On Friday morning MBC will run a special two-hour class for people who want to get started on banjo (or for those who have already gotten started and figure they need a quick review before diving into our novice program). The class covers the following topics: getting acquainted with the instrument, holding it, getting in tune, how to finger the strings and play a few basic chords, how to keep time by simple strumming, etc. For those who are undecided about which banjo path to pursue, our instructors will also demonstrate both bluegrass and old time styles on the banjo and explain some of the pluses and minuses about trying to learn each genre. "Introducing the Banjo" is open to all MBC Registrants; in other words, if you have signed up for the regular camp, you do NOT have to also be registered for the Pre-Camp to attend this class.

Study Bass, Dobro, Fiddle, Guitar & Mandolin Full Time at MBC

We now have full-time “tracks” in several instruments other at MBC, namely Bass, Dobro, Fiddle, Guitar & Mandolin. Since there is only one class option for each of these instruments, you should expect instruction to be at the intermediate level. Here’s a more complete description.

The MBC Bass Track: We offer a full program in bass, with one option during each class session. You can study bass full or part time. Our principal instructor for 2014 is MBC stalwart Tom Ball. Other bass classes will be taught by Frank Youngman.

New!! The MBC Dobro Track: We now offer a full program in dobro, with one option during each class session. You can study dobro full or part time. Our principal instructor for 2014 is Ivan Rosenberg. Other dobro classes will be taught by Allen Bates.

The MBC Fiddle Track: We offer a full program in fiddle, with one option during each class session. Full-time fiddle players can now study their instrument throughout, while others can enrich their experience by taking an occasional fiddle class. Over the course of Camp, we offer eight fiddle classes. Our principal instructor in the fiddle program for 2014 is Erynn Marshall. Fiddle Classes will also be taught by Adam Hurt, Bruce Molsky and Peter Knupfer.

The MBC Guitar Track: MBC offers a full program in guitar, with one option during each class session. You can study guitar full or part time. For 2014, our principal instructor in the guitar program is the great flatpicker Emory Lester. Guitar classes will also be taught by Dave Para.

The MBC Mandolin Track: Mandolin instruction is now a permanent part of our program. MBC offers a full program in mandolin, with one option during each class session. You can study “mando” full or part time. For 2014, our returning principal instructor in the mandolin program is Nashville legend Mike Compton. Other mandolin classes will be taught by Don Julin.

The Special Events Track: This is our "miscellaneous" column. Here's where you'll find classes in instruments not listed above, such as set-up and repair, banjo building, rhythm instruments, singing, and other special subjects.


The faculty concert is split into two parts; half the staff plays on Friday evening and the other half plays on Saturday evening. Given that our staff contains a hefty percentage of the best banjo pickers in creation, these concerts come pretty close to achieving banjo heaven. Here's how some of our students have described our staff concerts: "The best banjo concerts in the world", "As good as any bluegrass festival", "None better! What a ride!" And finally, "Either half of the faculty concert was worth it coming to camp alone. But both!" You can sample performances from Faculty Concerts held during previous years on our YouTube page.


Organizing a successful jam when the available crew is made up only of banjoists presents a special challenge. We rise to the occasion by bringing stellar accompanists to Camp and by inviting a team of guest musicians to be on hand to assist our jam leaders by playing a variety of other instruments - such as fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass, etc.

By the way, at MBC we call our guest musicians "musos" (pronounced "mew-zoes"). Ken Perlman picked up this expression in Australia where it's an affectionate nickname for "musician" and it has stuck.

Here's the kind of jam sessions we offer:

Slow Jams: for those who like to jam, so long as we promise to keep the speed way down

How to Jam: workshops for those who can play pretty well but just don't know how to play with others. Issues covered in these workshops are jam etiquette, the roles of different instruments, how to find appropriate chords, how to play something effective when you don't know the tune, etc.

Intermediate Jams: moderate tempos and common tunes.

“Intermediate and Up” Jams: Potentially more adventurous than the intermediate jams. Leaders have been instructed to pitch the jam-levels to the skills of the players who attend.;

Vocal Jams: For those who like to sing and play at the same time. These jams have been growing markedly in popularity in recent years.

Specialty Jams: We like to offer jams from time to time that appeal to special interests, so check the schedule for this year's options. Among the jams we may offer are minstrel, jazz and swing, and northern & Celtic.

Jam from a list: Over the years many students have requested a list of tunes that might come up at jam sessions, so they can learn them before Camp. Although it's impossible to predict what songs might come up at jams spontaneously, for 2014 we will schedule one special bluegrass jam and one special old-time jam where teachers guarantee to stick to a predetermined list of about 25 standards. These special jams will take place on Saturday evening, and are entitled "Jam From a List" on the schedule.

Organize your own jams: -- there's plenty of available spaces -- either during the scheduled jams, immediately afterwards or at any other suitable time. And if there are musos around when you get started there's a good chance you can get them to join in.

Use of Recording Devices at MBC

Many of our instructors prefer to teach by ear and example rather than by tab or other notation. Consequently, we encourage students to bring along compact recording devices, so that recordings made in class will be available after camp to serve as memory aids. As a courtesy, however, please ask each instructor at the start of class whether he or she permits the use of such recording devices.