Author: Evans, Bill

The (Relatively) Brave New World of Online Teaching & Workshops

How many you have tried a lesson with your favorite bluegrass performer via Skype? What’s Skype you might ask? Well, if you don’t know what Skype is, I’m going to let you Wikipedia that one and then come back to me. I’ll wait a couple of minutes….

Okay, got it? Read on!

It was simply a matter of time before music instruction via the Internet would become an accepted way of transmitting traditions. Back in January 2012, the New York Times ran an article called “With Enough Bandwidth, Many Join The Band” by Catherine Saint Louis, detailing how widespread the phenomenon of Skype lessons had become at that time. This particular article focused on a Minnesota doctor who took weekly bagpipe lessons via Skype from Jori Chisholm, an international piping champion living in Seattle, Washington. Mr. Chisholm’s primary source of income had become teaching lessons to students all over the world via the Internet.

You’d be surprised how many well-known bluegrass performers also offer instruction via Skype (and if you have Apple equipment on both ends of the conversation, you can communicate using either iChat or FaceTime). Mandolin player Mike Compton comes immediately come to mind as a high profile performer who also offers online lessons. The advantage of Skype lessons for the student is obvious: you are able to study with a master musician/teacher even if that instructor lives one time zone or half a world away.

While I don’t recommend Skype lessons as the only way of learning, especially for a beginning player who needs some hands-on contact in their initial stages, it’s certainly a fine way to progress for intermediate and more advanced students, especially if supplemented by written music or tablature, an agreed upon program of lessons that match the students’ goals, and playing with others as often as possible.

In addition to one-on-one Skype lessons, other exciting new options have recently emerged for online instruction. For bluegrass, the ArtistWorks Academy of Bluegrass ( offers a progressive series of lessons from beginning to advanced from a first-rate line-up of professional players: Tony Trischka (banjo), Mike Marshall (mandolin), Darol Anger (fiddle), Andy Hall (dobro), Missy Raines (bass) and Bryan Sutton (guitar).

For a monthly fee, you have access not only to ArtistWorks’ online inventory of hundreds of lessons and downloadable tabs but you can also submit videos of your own playing to the instructor, who then responds with a video commentary back to you. You also become a member of an online community of fellow travelers who exchange ideas via the site’s message boards (much like the CBA website, I imagine). From the feedback that I’ve received from folks who are subscribers, ArtistWorks is a great resource where the interactions with other students are just as valuable as the online lessons themselves.

Other musicians are now getting online with their own lesson services, including California dobro great Mike Witcher ( You can also download lessons straight to your computer from such bluegrass instructional mainstays as Homespun Tapes ( and AcuTab Publications ( (full disclaimer: I have projects available from both companies, including Bluegrass Banjo Classics which has just been released by Homespun but is available as a hard copy DVD directly from me at

Online workshops are the latest frontier in online instruction. For several years, I hosted online group sessions via Banjo Hangout (, a popular five-string banjo website clearinghouse. Earlier this week, I participated in a free online workshop co-hosted with one of my own banjo mentors, Tony Trischka. Co-sponsored by Banjo Hangout and ArtistWorks, Tony and I answered questions from participants who had posted their questions on Twitter or on a Banjo Hangout message board (hey, and if you don’t know what Twitter is, go Wiki it!). Hundreds of players participated in this session – and more workshops are in the works!

You can link to to replay the workshop, which is approximately one hour in length.

Thankfully, when we actually get around to playing and singing bluegrass, it’s still very much an analog process. However, when it comes to learning, the computer is becoming more and more an essential element of the bluegrass equation, connecting us with our musical heroes as well as to the worldwide community of players. Make it a part of your bluegrass learning experience and see where the music takes you!

All the best,

Bill Evans

Posted:  6/28/2013

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