Mrs. eduJamesE and I discovered the Winter Village Bluegrass Festival a couple of years ago. Last year, and again this year, our Christmas present to each other was tickets to this festival. Today was the main day, and we enjoyed 15 or more hours of music. There were workshops, beginning at 9:00AM, performances by several different bands in very small, intimate venues all afternoon, and a “Big Show” at Ithaca’s State Theater beginning at 8:00PM. After everyone got back to the hotel, there was jamming until the wee hours of the morning.

Guitar Workshop

Guitar workshop with Michael Daves (right) and Grant Gordy (left).


Brittany Haas and Michael Daves

Too Blue

Too Blue


Richie and Rosie (Richie Stearns and Rosie Newton of the band Red Dog Run)

At the guitar workshop, I learned that some of these really, really speedy guitar players spend lots of time practicing slowly. I mean very slowly. Michael Daves says he closes his eyes and takes several seconds to act out a single strumming action, with a particular, single string as his target. He uses this technique to focus his attention on all the muscles involved – hand, wrist, forearm, arm, shoulder, neck – and to concentrate on finding where points of tension occur. He says the biggest factor in being able to play fast is to be relaxed. Tension is the killer.

Well this is good stuff to know, but it doesn’t automatically translate into me being a better guitar player. While I was listening to this I was thinking about my own teaching and my own students. I realized afresh that just because I tell them something, that doesn’t make them a better teacher. And I also renewed my knowledge that when they try something new that I’m teaching them, they need me to be patient and compassionate about their difficulties. I think these were valuable things to learn – on many levels.