How to Pick Your Skill Level

Be Very Honest With Yourself.

My opening line (above) is very important. Some people assume that since they have been playing an instrument in a style other than Old Time and Bluegrass that they are farther along on the instrument than they really are. They self choose their level at Kamp incorrectly. Or if they have been playing an instrument for a while, been to Kamp and took the beginner class for two or three years and feel now they are now intermediate. Not the case. If you haven't put the time in at home, you did not necessarily reach the next level. You could stay in the class level you choose and plan on struggling in the class or come to Donna or Steve and see if there is room in the lower class level. This applies to all classes. You can't just go to a different class. We need to make sure there is room.

Our Kamp is more of an instrumental technique learning music camp than a strumming and back-up music camp. Our goal is to train you to play solos and melodies on your instrument, as well as back up and rhythm techniques. Keep this in mind as you choose your level. A guitarist with 30 years strumming and singing would still be considered a high beginner with no real "picking" experience.  A violinist with 20 years of classical experience may still be barely an intermediate "Fiddler". Just because you have played your instrument for many years, does not qualify your proficiency level to be an advanced level. Please be accurate for your level. Do not jump into a higher class because you want to see what is going on there. If you do this, as soon as you ask a question you may bring the class down to your level. Please be accurate. Thank you for your honesty in this placement. Register as you wish now and you may reassess your level in May. Nothing is cast in stone, you may choose to change level after your first class as well after seeing Donna for reassignment.

Beginning Class Level One (Called 101): For Ultra-Beginners - Contact Steve to see if this is really you.

Guitar, Old Time Banjo, Fiddle in Week One and Guitar, Banjo, Fiddle and Mandolin in Week Two: True beginners who know nothing about the instrument. The student level ranges from never had touched an instrument before (be sure to bring one) to being able to strum a few chords but may not really know what to do with them. No music theory or music reading skills required whatsoever! You will stay with the same instructor the entire Kamp. No class rotations. You will have a blast and get yourself ready to be at least in the beginners class for the following year.

Beginners: Full Rotation

All Instruments:  Should know basic open chords, 3-6 chords at least: G, C, D, A, E and maybe F. Maybe also their minor counterparts. Should be able to strum and change chords easily and steadily. Should know 2 to 12 simple songs, playing them by using single notes. Quarter notes good for the melodies. A knowledge of reading tablature is a huge plus, but not necessary. Should be able to tune their instrument by ear or with a tuner, put on the picks if used, know which string is which (first, second, etc) and the names of the strings.

Fingerpickers and Banjo Players: Should know a couple of basic rolls, (Forward, backward, alternating thumb). Banjo—should be able to play ONE song all the way thru, preferably  Cripple Creek or Boil Them Cabbage. Fingerstyle guitarist should be comfortable with at least one fingerpicking pattern.

Dobro (TM) Players: You know most or all of the straight-bar chords and might pick a few licks out of those bar positions, but generally need help finding a melody or doing much beyond going back and forth among the straight-bar chords. You may have memorized a G major scale but still don't know what to do with it, or you may have found a few simple melodies but can't quite execute them because you still need to work a lot on picking and barring technique. You may have learned a roll, but don't know how to incorporate rolls with melodies. If you've tried playing with others in a jam, you pretty much stick to chording and wish you knew how to do more. Dobro may be your first musical instrument, and discussions of music theory may be frustrating. You'd like someone to start with music theory from the very beginning and take it slowly.

Fiddlers: You can play 1 octave scales such as A and D. You know some songs and fiddle tunes at a slow to moderate tempo. You are concentrating primarily on playing in tune, getting good tone and controlling the bow. You may know the basic shuffle bowing (Long short short, LSS)

Mandolin and Flatpickers: Should be comfortable using the pick, basic chords, should know 2 to 12 simple instrumental songs, playing them by using single notes. Quarter notes good for the melodies. but do not have to be up to speed.

Old Time Banjo Pickers: (but not new pickers) - Have some experience with the right hand Clawhammer technique and understand that it is NOT the same as Fingerpicking. Helpful to know a few chords in G tuning.

Bass: You can play an alternating bass line (root-fifth) on easy songs using mostly open strings. You’re just starting to get a good solid bass sound. You can hold a somewhat steady rhythm while playing the bass line. You’re learning to damp the strings after hitting them.

Hammered Dulcimer:

Mountain Dulcimer:
Beginner: I am brand new to the instrument or I'm so new that I still need more practice and instruction in basic playing skills like playing the right notes, playing in time, reading tablature and/or learning to play by ear.


All Instruments: All of the above plus… Should be able to comfortably play chords, some scales and be able to get a good sound from the instrument. Understand the use of a capo. Should be becoming aware of the instrument's role in a group situation and be asking questions such as: "How do I backup another musician or singer?" or "How do I play solos up the neck? " or "How can I learn to play faster?"

Dobro (TM) Players: (Ivan says....)You feel confident holding the bar, sliding, picking, and trying hammer-ons and pull-offs, even if you still make a lot of mistakes. You know a few scales, and chord changes don't come as a surprise in 3-chord bluegrass songs. If the teacher says, "the song goes to the 4 chord and then back to the 1 chord," you can follow along easily. You've tried playing in several different keys (though you're probably only comfortable in 2 or 3 of them). You know some basic melodies but want to learn strategies for finding melodies faster and making them sound more interesting with  rolls, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. You have several songs in your repertoire, and now that you can play a bit of music, you're interested in refining technique and sounding better. A little bit of music theory applied right away seems helpful and interesting; too much music theory makes you forget everything you learned an hour ago.

Fiddle: You can play at least a single octave major scale in common keys A, D, G, C, F. Some of these scales in minor keys. You are comfortable using the full bow. You can play some double stops. You can play slurs and slides. You use drone strings. You are somewhat comfortable using your 4th finger. You have good rhythm and intonation and have played with other folks some. Play at least 10-20 instrumental tunes from memory.

Flatpickers and Mandolins: Plectrum users should be able to play some fiddle tunes using appropriate alternating strokes at a moderate tempo. Understand movable chords. Transpose chords from one key to another. Play some tunes with variations. Play at least 10-20 instrumental tunes from memory. You can recognize I, IV and V chord patterns. You know minor seventh chord and diminished chord forms. You play well with others and are used to jamming

Fingerpickers: Should be able to keep alternate bass going during a tune, should know first position chords and understand how they translate up the neck. Play at least 7-20 instrumental tunes from memory. Not just a roll style back-up for singing like Dust in the Wind etc. More like Freight Train, Alice's Restaurant, etc in Travis style or the like.

Banjo Players: Should be able to play 3-4 different rolls up to speed. Should know 1st and 2nd position chords and hopefully 3rd position chords. Should be able to interchange rolls and riffs. Should be able to play the off beat (2 and 4 beat) rhythm "Chunk" back up.  You can play several rolls, and they’re smooth and in good rhythm. You can do at least one intro lick and one ending for bluegrass songs. Play at least 10-20 instrumental tunes from memory like Cripple Creek, Salt Creek, Old Joe Clark, etc., Foggy Mt. Breakdown.

Old Time Banjo Pickers: Right hand technique in Clawhammer style should be solid. Able to change chords in G tuning and double C (or double D) tuning. Must be able to play several songs and tune in each tuning. Play at least 10-20 instrumental tunes from memory

Bass: You can play comfortably in the keys of C, G, D, A and E. You’ve played with other folks a fair amount. You can play at least three major scales. You play with good rhythm. You can do some runs between one chord and the next. You can play other bass notes than the root and the fifth (such as the third) and know where to use them. You can play other rhythmic patterns besides the standard 1st and 3rd beat.

Hammered Dulcimer:

Mountain Dulcimer:
I am proficient at using tablature and/or playing by ear to learn a variety of music. I can apply chords relatively easily in my playing. I am learning to adapt different chords other than what is written. I am expanding my ability to flat-pick, strum, and finger-pick in a wide variety of rhythms, speeds, and dynamics. I am learning how to become more expressive in my playing.


All Instruments: Should have a large repertoire. Interested in the finer points of improvising and experiencing music as a language. Should have a basic knowledge of music theory and realize that an ever expanding knowledge of theory will open more doors to them. Should be striving for more precision and mastery of both the right hand and the fingerboard.  Should be able to learn without tablature, to improvise a little and have some understanding of playing up the neck. Should be performing in bands or solo or just on the edge of being able to do so.

Dobro (TM) Players: (Ivan says....)  You've probably taken combined intermediate/advanced classes before and felt they moved too slowly. Even if you can't quite do them up to speed, you have many songs in your repertoire, including a few fiddle tunes that require some intricate barring and picking. Hammer-ons and pull-offs aren't a problem, and you've practiced incorporating rolls into your bluegrass solos. Overall, you're starting to sound pretty good when jamming with your friends. You're comfortable playing in open and closed positions, and you're looking to play more interesting music un-capoed in the keys of C, D, Em, Am, etc. You should have several chord triads memorized. The Nashville Number System is old hat, and you can't wait to learn some more practical music theory that will make you a better musician. You'd like to know more-advanced ways of playing Dobro backup and rhythm. In short, you can already play some pretty good music and have a good grasp of what to do with the Dobro, but you want some hands-on instruction to get you to the next level.

Flatpicking: (Both Weeks) Should have a large repertoire or at least 20 tunes minimum but more like 50-500. Of that large repertoire, should be able to play the melody and a variation to all. Possibly play same song in different keys. Should have a strong understanding of chord structures and progressions, movable chords. Should be able to play most songs at speed (200-228 bpm). May be able to play out of positions up the neck.

Mandolin: Should be able to play solos on bluegrass songs. Have some knowledge of double stops. Should be able to jam comfortably with others. Some improvisation skills.

Mandolin according to Don Stiernberg: The advanced mandolin player should be careful not to be better than Don Stiernberg as that would intimidate Don and perhaps hamper his performance with Steve Kaufman which he looks forward to with great relish.

Fiddle: You learn new tunes quickly (by sight reading or by ear). You are comfortable with 3rd position, and may also play in 2nd, 4th and 5th positions. You can back up others in a jam using double stops and chops. You can improvise some leads. You play well with others and are used to jamming at a pretty fast tempo. You play (or can play) double shuffle bowing and Georgia shuffle bowing. You can play a variety of stylistic ornaments like trills, rolls, slides, and drones with 4th finger slide. You are comfortable playing in most keys. You’re an experienced jammer or performer. You can play well at a fast tempo

Fingerstyle: Always keep alternate bass, even with hammers and pulls both on and off the beat, play (and maybe understand) chords up the neck, be familiar with two or more styles (e.g., jazz and country, or folk and blues), should have some ability to improvise while playing solo. You can work out fingerpicking arrangements including bass lines and treble harmonies.

Old Time and Bluegrass Banjo: You are an experienced jammer or performer. You play melodic leads comfortably and at a variety of speeds. You can play with dynamic control. Your rhythm is rock-solid. You can improvise on most any tune or song.

Bass: Your rhythm is rock-solid. You’re an experienced jammer or performer. You understand the theory of the chords you’re backing up. You’re comfortable with many different styles of playing. You can play a walking bass in all keys using closed-position notes.

Hammered Dulcimer:

Mountain Dulcimer: See Above

All Instruments: Should be extremely comfortable with their instrument. Should be able to improvise somewhat melodically in most keys without the sole use of pentatonic or blues scales. Be a theme or melody player with continuity. Should have comprehensive ideas on how music fits together. Should play with compassion and feeling for those around them trying to keep up. Should be able to play what you are thinking, not thinking about what you wish you could play.