Learning to Play
Traditional musicians in the North Carolina mountains and foothills often say that they learned “knee to knee” with their musical mentors. Rather than relying on sheet music, scales, and other methods of formal instruction, they learn by ear—by listening and watching, usually in a one-on-one setting with a more experienced musician. That method of learning is also found in group settings throughout the mountains. Whether you live in the Blue Ridge Mountains or are planning a visit, you’ll find many opportunities to learn to play mountain music, a pursuit that often becomes a lifelong hobby and pleasure.
If you live here, or are going to be in the region for an extended period of time, you might want to take lessons from a personal instructor. Visit the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area’s Traditional Artist Directory, click on “Services,” and select “Private Lessons.” You’ll find a list of some of the most respected traditional musicians in the area who also offer lessons. Local music stores that carry stringed instruments can also be a good resource for finding instructors.
Multi-day workshops and music camps are available for all ages and levels of musical skill. Among the best-known in the region (and in the nation) are the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, Blue Ridge Old-Time Music Week at Mars Hill University, and the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown.
Haywood Community College’s Creative Arts Program offers continuing education classes in Appalachian music and dance for beginners and intermediate-level students.
Public school students throughout the Blue Ridge have the opportunity to learn from experienced mountain musicians in Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) programs.
Native Ground Books & Music, based in Asheville, offers a nice collection of instructional books, ebooks, recordings, and other merchandise aimed at getting you started on your bluegrass or old-time music journey, or taking it to the next level.
You’ll find single-session workshops, usually about an hour long, at many of the region’s music festivals. These are a great way to get a taste of what a particular instrument or musical tradition is like, and to find out if you’d like to learn more. They’re often taught by master musicians and singers, so whether you’re there to learn or simply listen, you will experience great music.