Academy of Bluegrass – a review

Do you live in the middle of nowhere and can’t find a bluegrass teacher? Or work strange hours and need to take lessons at odd times? With the ArtistWorks Academy of Bluegrass, it’s now possible to improve as a picker, at your own speed, any time of day or night.

The Academy, which kicked off earlier this month, features interactive video lessons on banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar and bass. Students watch videotaped lessons, working through the curriculum at their own pace, and sharing videos of their practices so the instructors can offer feedback. The video exchanges don’t offer the immediate feedback of face-to-face lessons, of course, but they do offer a level of interaction you can’t get from watching videos on YouTube or working out of a book or with a CD.

“My feedback may not be instantaneous, but the student has that video to go back to again and again and again,” said Missy Raines, the Academy’s bass instructor. “You can sit there and chew up a lesson in small bites.”

The lessons for each instrument are grouped by level – beginner, intermediate and advanced. The camera work is top-notch, as are the musicians. Joining Missy are Tony Trischka (banjo), Mike Marshall (mandolin), Darol Anger (fiddle) and Bryan Sutton (guitar).

I’ve been checking out the bass site for about the last week. I’m a big fan of private lessons, but my day job in journalism and my weekend and weeknight music writing duties make for scheduling nightmares. With this bluegrass breakthrough, I can knock off a couple of short lessons (a few minutes each) when it’s convenient.

One small complaint I have from my time as a paying student and in a free media tour I took of some of the other instrument schools is that some of the camera angles are less helpful than others. This is especially true, I believe, for beginners. Another issue is that some music concepts need to be a little more clearly explained for those just starting out. One solution might be some introductory music theory videos that could be made available to everybody on the hub.

But, overall, this is a terrific concept and the bass lessons I’ve checked out – at all three levels – are both fun and instructive. I’m working my way up, slowly, to Sweet Georgia Brown.

I haven’t submitted any videos yet for Missy, but when I do, the whole “class” will get to see what I send in and how she responds in a video of her own. (I wonder, can you pitch-correct a video!?!)

Bryan Sutton became a fan of the video exchanges a few years back, when he was a student in an ArtistWorks jazz guitar class. He’s not a fan of group lessons, generally, but says the videos add a new dimension. “A lot of us deal with the same issues. To see someone in the hot seat and work with them in front of everybody is a great thing.”

Access to all the lessons for one instrument and a central hub where all students can interact costs $20 to $30 a month, depending on the number of months you buy. I look at it as paying less than a dollar a day to have Missy on call to help me improve. I’ve had the good fortune to learn from her at music camp and in workshops. Now I’ll have a video record of how much I improve – or don’t – and all of my fellow bass students will be there to watch. In a strange way, I think “performing” in front of others, even though I can’t see them, will help me get better.

Missy is so excited by the new venture that she scrapped a plan to offer private lessons through Skype, which allows video phone calls. “It’s about the reach,” she told me, “using the best of technology to have a one-on-one interaction with someone.”

More information can be found at

Meanwhile, if anybody knows where I can find a metronome that keeps good time, please let me know. I need to make a video for Missy, and mine seems to always be either fast or slow.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.