Pete Wernick has given a great deal to the banjo and bluegrass communities over the course of his lengthy career. The author of several top-selling instructional books for banjo, he was also a founding member of Hot Rize, and the developer of the Wernick Method for teaching new bluegrass pickers how to jam. He was also a founding member of the International Bluegrass Music Association and served as its first President.
Any of these achievements would surely be enough to earn him a spot in bluegrass history books, but in toto, it sets him apart as one with few peers in his field.
These days, it’s starting to look like the Wernick Method will be his most lasting legacy. For many years Pete has been teaching groups of strangers how to play bluegrass music together, using some fairly simple techniques that can be presented quickly to the various student musicians in a class. It had been a primary way he supported himself, leading these seminars all over the US, and near his home in Niwot, CO.
But recently, Pete has built up a large contingent of teachers who have been instructed in his method, and loosed them on the world so that more people can learn to jam. And not for the millions in potential licensing fees, but simply for the good of the music. Anyone who wants to lead these classes is encouraged to get in touch and become certified as a Wernick Method instructor, and no fees are charged for any of the training. The Wernick Method will also help with registration and promotion, and handle payments for classes, as well as provide materials, for 15% of the total class income.
And this year they have released a songbook specifically for use in this course, and by any other group learning to play bluegrass together. The JAM Songbook was produced for and with cooperation by the Junior Appalachian Musicians, who hold after school instruction classes for bluegrass and old time music in 40 schools in Virginia, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina. Assembled and produced by Wernick with Liam Purcell, mandolinist and fiddler with Cane Mill Road, it contains lyrics and chords for 39 jam favorites, printed in large type to be easily readable by a group of people from a music stand, or by an individual learning these “must know” songs.
The chords are shown using the chord number system, which is explained at the front of the book. This is done so that each group of pickers and singers can choose a key that suits their voices, something that is also covered in the introduction. Charts are included for all the bluegrass instruments with chords for banjo, guitar, and mandolin, and positions for bass and fiddle. There is also a section on chord tones to help bass players and fiddlers learn which notes will work well against the various chords.
All this for only $10, with bulk purchase discounts for large groups. The authors have even created a Spotify playlist which includes all 39 songs in the book.
The JAM Songbook is available online from Pete’s web site, DrBanjo.com. A copy will also be provided to all students attending a Wernick Method class this year.