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Banjo Camp FAQs


Thanks to some generous folks including Stelling Banjo, we are offering two scholarships to deserving students who would otherwise have difficulty affording to come to the camp. The Stelling scholarship is for $1000, covering almost all expenses incurred by a student from out-of-state. Deadline for applications is Dec. 15, 2012 and scholarship winners will be announced and notified the following week.

To apply, send a letter or email to Pete at [email protected] or 7930-T Oxford Rd. Niwot, CO 80503. The letter should explain the applicant's interest in coming to the camp, and an indication of the financial limitation that should be considered. The sound file or CD should be representative of the applicant's playing, preferably with their current band if they have one.

Qualifications, what's included, accommodations, food

Hilton from U.K. writes:
What level of expertise is required to make the most of the beginners camp? I can knock out a few basic tunes.
  1. What is included in the camp?
  2. If accomodation what type?
  3. Any food?
Dear Hilton,
All this information is provided in full upon signup, but here are some of the basics:

The topics covered in the basic camp are listed on my web site (here and here). The main things are: you will get to do a lot of jamming, even if you never have before, and you will learn how to put a solo together on your own without tablature. No "level of expertise" is required except the ability to change simple chords quickly with the left hand. You qualify! The camp is held at a nice motel that's quite affordable, a base rate of $62/night for campers. The rooms are spacious and there are many amenities including a free sizable continental breakfast. No food is provided at the camp, but there are many places to eat and a big grocery store within a short distance, and you can rent a microwave and a small refrigerator for your room at $2/night each.

I'm glad you're thinking of making this trip. Colorado has a lot of "winter wonderland", including nice skiing (all levels) less than an hour from Boulder. Also, Boulder a busy college town in terms of arts and interesting indoor pursuits. Denver is less than an hour away.

Please let me know if you have any other questions!

Pete Wernick

1-on-1 sessions with Pete at the camp. What are they like?

The 1-on-1 sessions at the Intermediate and Advanced camps are essentially guided diagnostic/problem-solving sessions where I spot problems in the student's execution and help him/her devise ways of practicing to overcome the problems. As the student practices, I guide the process, commenting on the progress or continuing or new problems, and have the student make modifications and sometimes increase volume or speed until the result shows noticeable, often dramatic improvement.

These sessions are always done with the class welcome to observe. Typically after a few of these sessions, the class loses interest in watching, since they understand the method and would rather be practicing themselves, using the methods on their own. And I let them head back to their practice rooms to do exactly that. Typically all the Advanced students have a 1-on-1 session, and I choose some Intermediate campers for this instruction as I consider appropriate.

All banjo campers will receive at least one evaluation from me during the week, with an overview of what is working and what needs work. Basic Skills campers are given small homework assignments I check daily.

Are family members welcome at the camp or evening jams?

Banjo campers often do come to Boulder with family members who stay with them at the Boulder Inn, but we normally don't have guests right there in the teaching room. In the case of youngsters who'll be out here for the camp with parents, I don't mind a parent being there part of the time, the way they might be permitted to sit in a classroom at school, but I don't expect them to want, nor would I want them, to be there the whole time. Likewise, if a spouse wants to look in now and then, fine. There's certainly ample space in the teaching room. Sometimes at lunch we watch a vintage bluegrass video while people eat lunches that they bring in for themselves. Spouses would be welcome for that as well.

Evenings there's often jamming, and the teaching room is available for that. We actually invite folks from the area to come to jam and bring instruments, and family members are welcome there as well. If any of them play an instrument, by all means that would be welcome.

Possible commuting to Camp from nearby?

What time does the Basic Banjo Camp in January begin and end each day?
We start promptly at 9am and end 5pm or a little later. It's not the greatest timing for commuters, though the location is easy to get to. In January, conditions can sometimes make it really nice to not have to commute.

Are most of the campers staying at the hotel and start up informal group jams or practices in the evenings after the camp is over,
Exactly. Plus we publicize to pickers in the area that there's jamming at the Boulder Inn each night.

so commuters would be missing that part?
A commuter can of course get in on some of this stuff, and then head for home late.

Can you practice in your room after the day's session or is that too loud for the hotel?
The Inn understands that people will want to practice, and they have a pretty understanding policy, including clustering the campers' rooms together.

Let me know if any other questions. Hope you can make it!


OK to leave early on last day?

I'm going to register for your intermediate banjo camp in Jan. Question: I'd need to leave by 4:30 on Saturday at the latest to make the last return flight to Salt Lake City. How does that fit with when the workshop ends?

If I'm going to miss something important, I'll hang over another night. Obviously, I'd rather not stay if I'm not going to miss much.


No problem with leaving a bit early. A fair number of the campers do that, due to plane schedules or other travel needs. It's typical that the number of campers shrinks as the last afternoon goes on. So the last "official" thing we do with everyone still present is in early afternoon, a little show in the teaching room where the different jam groups perform some numbers for each other, doing a song or two each.

With the smaller class size we have a number of options, including review or additional info regarding any material already presented, questions and answers on a wide range of topics, an additional period of my showing "content" (also known as "lick dump"), or follow-up with a person who's working on developing something or improving something. In other words, what might be thought of as cleanup or wrap-up of the camp. We just try to make best use of the remaining time, according to what people find most interesting or helpful.


Advanced "Lone picker" questions

I am a serious banjo picker, but I'm not in a group or a band and will probably never be in one again. I have been picking the banjo for approximately 31 years now.I pick by myself, for myself, with no other pickers around where I live,

It is not true to say there are "no other pickers around where I live". You just haven't sought them out. I guarantee you, they're there. (Yes, I'm aware I don't know where you live in America, but in America there's virtually noplace where good bluegrass musicians can't be found.)

so I pick almost all and every Béla Fleck CD that I can get my hands on.

Being able to play Béla material sounds pretty advanced to me. I wouldn't try most of it myself.

I don't have any idea what the size of my repertoire would be since I do not play with any bands.

Repertoire size is not a big consideration to me.

I should mention though, I do think of bluegrass as a team sport. Sort of like saying you play basketball. Less point to it all if there's no team to play on. The instrumental style grew up in the context of playing in groups, most especially based on coming up with good breaks and backup to *songs* (not instrumental pieces).

The names of bluegrass songs don't really mean anything to me

To the extent that I'm a teacher of *bluegrass music*, and the genre is built around *songs*, I would want to try to instill in you a respect for songs that would include knowing their names.

I would just like to know in your opinion, if this is the class that I should attempt to attend or if you feel there might be another one better suited for me.

I don't know of any other advanced banjo camp that's offered, though there are many offerings of banjo camps that include advanced players as teachers. Such as Banjo Camp North, American Banjo Camp, and Smoky Mt. Banjo Camp. You could go on Google with the phrase "advanced banjo camp" or just "banjo camp", and I'm sure you'll find out what's out there.

If your inclinations are decidedly "lone picker of banjo instrumental tunes", you will be somewhat out of place at times at my camp, because I teach how to be the best possible player in the context of a bluegrass band. That means learning to take songs and bring out the best from them, both the melodic and emotional content of the song. It also means instruction on the writing and arranging of banjo instrumentals, using one's own creativity. We also work a lot on good banjo backup, and dealing with a variety of tempos and keys. And we even touch on other band factors such as stagecraft, band interactions, microphones, etc.

There's more that can be said, but I hope you get the idea from the above. Your concerns definitely intersect with what I offer, but some of what I do seems of no interest to you. I think it would be cool to see that change, but if you're set in your ways, I can deal with that if you want to come to the camp.


Traveling with a banjo

I'm a beginning banjo player that has benefited greatly from your instructional videos and website.

My question has to do with traveling with the banjo. I have to fly to my parents this Christmas and I'm very nervous about checking my banjo with he baggage handlers. I can imagine my banjo will be treated like those suitcases in the old Samsonite commercial where gorillas (baggage handlers) flung the bags around and beat them on their cages. I don't think I can treat the banjo as carry on luggage since it probably doesn't fit into the over head storage area. My banjo is brand new and I paid a nice chunk of change for it. Is there a way to protect my instrument from the airlines?

There’s no one "standard procedure". On the plus side, banjos are typically quite sturdy and even standard hardshell cases are strong enough to afford very good protection and, especially with a few precautions, to give you high odds of no problems sending it through baggage. However, there are horror stories, most involving neck fractures, particularly at the headstock. Such damage is caused by careless/rough handling in baggage.

Generally when checking a musical instrument you are required to sign a waiver agreeing that the instrument is packed inadequately (regardless of how well you’ve actually packed it!) and that the airline is not responsible for damage except to the case. However, if the instrument is then damaged and it’s clearly due to bad handling, there are cases of successful claims in spite of the signed waiver. Think of that as iffy, though. Bottom line is: How unthinkable is it for you to have the neck of your banjo broken? Some breaks are easily repairable, some would mean the neck would have to be replaced.

You’ll improve your odds against damage checking a banjo through baggage if you:

  1. Avoid connecting flights when possible (in favor of direct flights), as that will cut down on the amount the instrument is handled.
  2. Loosen the strings enough to take the tension off the neck (leave enough to keep them holding the bridge in place), as a neck under tension can break more easily.
  3. Put some padding such as wadded cloth or plastic bubble wrap underneath the peghead to cushion it. Also, a towel rolled up to an inch or two thickness can be squeezed around the outside of the shell, resting on the flange, to absorb side impact that would otherwise be absorbed mainly by the resonator.
  4. Put "Fragile" stickers all over the case, even the bottom.
  5. While checking it with a skycap, emphasize the need for careful handling, and add a tip. This will up the odds of good handling at least on the way to the plane.
  6. Use a flight case, which combines a solid outside shell with lots of padding inside. These give excellent protection, though they’re expensive and bulky. Something to consider if you fly frequently.

The alternative that trades some inconvenience for total safety is to carry the banjo on with you and put it in an overhead compartment. At airports where carry-ons have to fit through a certain sized opening, a normal banjo case will go through, but some airlines have strict size requirements for carryons, with length of the case a possible problem. If you check with them by phone you’ll probably be told it’s too big. But at the airport it might not be a problem. A standard case will fit easily enough in the overheads of 727’s 737’s etc. if you are one of the first to use the compartment. To be sure of available space would normally require early boarding. Carrying on the instrument means no special packing is necessary-- it’s as if you had it with you on a bus.

If you board too late to find space in an overhead, ask an attendant to help you store it in a closet. (Sometimes an attendant spots it and tells you it will have to go in a closet.) This may be no problem-- or if the attendant isn’t feeling helpful, or it’s a crowded flight, a problem. You then have two choices: 1. Insist, saying it’s fragile, delicate, important, etc. and not taking no for an answer (there’s almost always someplace it can go, though your insistence may cause noticeable grumpiness). Choice 2: Let them "gate check" it which means tagging it and adding it to the baggage being loaded underneath, after which it’s treated like baggage. If it’s gate checked, it’s then time to do precautions 2-4 above.

Good luck!

Pete Wernick