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Britt Festival 2016 Guitar Workshop Report

See what happens when you fill a room with guitarists...

 

by Chris Loeffler

 

 

The Britt Festival, named after famed photography pioneer Peter Britt, is the largest non-profit music organization in Southern Oregon and hosts a classical series every summer alongside such eclectic acts as Chicago, Michael Franti, Les Claypool and Sean Lennon’s Delirium, and Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally in an intimate, outdoor setting. The Britt Festival's success has allowed it to have the resources needed to support local education through children’s band camp programs, residencies, and assorted workshops featuring much of the talent that graces the Britt stage. 2016 was the second year for their newest education program: a guitar workshop featuring (mostly) local guitar virtuosos in the genres of blues, rock, jazz, classical, flamenco, slack key, and bluegrass exploring techniques, theory, genre stylistic approaches, and more over the course of four days.

 

Each of the four days featured two 90-minute workshops and two 30-minute jam sessions (often turned into extended Q&As with the instructors), divided into beginner and intermediate groups. Instructors brought their own material and style to their workshop, which culminated in an all-instructor Q&A panel followed by performances by each instructor at the Britt Gardens Stage with an all-star solo swap finale of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The course included some workshop swag and a thick binder filled with over 100 pages of printed lessons from every workshop… easily a year’s worth of material to practice through. While every workshop lecture I attended was fantastic, I’ll focus on a few to best represent the variety of teaching styles and material covered.

 

Intermediate Blues Guitar by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman

 

Michael “Hawkeye” Herman taught the loosest, most anecdote-filled of the workshops I attended, with his 40+ years of professional blues experience guiding his lecture in an almost stream-of-conscious way that had the flow of a consummate storyteller. His personal playing style, acoustic finger-picked blues and slide guitar, is informed by sharing the stage with nearly every blues legend to have been recorded. Rather than diving into specific riffs or scales, Herman explored the various “signatures” of different blues players and focused extensively on the infinite possibilities to approaching a standard I-IV-V progression with a turnaround. The following video is a good overview (if far from comprehensive) of the material covered.

 

                               

Michael "Hawkeye" Herman explores the blues

 

 

Intermediate Rock Guitar by Page Hamilton

 

Page Hamilton, the founder and frontman of Helmet, led the rock course and took it surprisingly further than I think most students were expecting. For those not familiar with Hamilton’s background, he had a Master’s Degree in Jazz Guitar from the Manhattan School of Music before Helmet was a thing, and has scored major motion pictures and sat in with orchestras around the world. This multi-faceted musical background was reflected in the philosophy he kept returning to during his workshop: musical information is everywhere, and it’s up to the player to be curious enough to seek it out. He suggested everyone pursue music theory and the ability to read standard notation to remove limitations to their creativity, but that learning by ear and from other instruments is equally important. He used the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" as an anchor to exploring theory of pentatonics, chord phrasing, and technique.

 

Page Hamilton Talks Songwriting and Theory

                               

Page Hamilton on songwriting and theory

 

                               

Page Hamilton discusses respecting space in music

 

 

Intermediate Bluegrass by Glenn Freese

 

Glenn Freese is a Southern Oregon fixture in the bluegrass and instrument repair scene, as well as a seasoned instructor for acoustic guitar, mandolin, and hammered dulcimer. His laid-back attitude was a perfect fit for bluegrass, and focused on classic folk and americana songs and how they sprag from (or birthed) bluegrass music. The majority of the workshop was focused on picking and strumming techniques, the foundation for they style, as well as deconstructing open chords to identify notes that should be dropped to free up melodic space for banjos and violins. 

 

Intermediate Jazz by Ed Dunsavage

 

Ed Dunsavage is known as "the guy" when it comes to jazz guitar in Southern Oregon as well as being the guitar instructor for Southern Oregon University. The combination of his extensive background teaching at universities and the complexities of the jazz genre made for an incredibly dense set of material that Dunsavage managed to make extremely digestible. In the scant 90 minutes of his session he spoke to the roots and evolution of jazz, explored major and minor scale, walked through all 7 modes, and offered an insightful look into shell chords and how arpeggiated scales are the material that binds chords from scales. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that mastering everything he presented could easily consume a few years of one’s life, and everyone in the room, regardless of skill level, left the workshop with at least a couple of tricks to add to their bag.

 

                               

Ed Dunsavage gives a quick overview of the core of all jazz music

 

                               

Ed Dunsavage walks through the major scale to lay the groundwork for modes

 

                               

Ed Dunsavage covers the first five modes

 

                               

Ed Dunsavage explains shell chords and chord building

 

                               

Ed Dunsavage goes deep into theory in the Q&A 

 

All in all, the Britt Festival 2016 Guitar Workshop was well organized, well run, and filled with fantastic, inspiring instructors who were able to represent some of the best their particular genre of guitar music has to offer. As a guitar player, it was great to get a deeper dive into several genres of which I had only a cursory knowledge, and it was especially interesting to see certain musical tendencies carry between genres one wouldn’t normally expect to share much beyond a fretboard. Many of the students who attended the event came 300+ miles, and all felt it was well worth it. Getting to see all the instructors on the stage, demonstrating some of the material they’d taught us in a live band setting was a great way to end the event. The combination of hearing pros share their experience, advice, techniques, and theory was enough to both make students feel empowered with an expanded toolset and remind them how much there is still to learn.

 

Check out more videos shot at the event on our YouTube Britt Festival Guitar Workshop channel.

 

____________________________________________ 

 

Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 

 

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