World Virtual Flatpicking Contest 2020

We’ve all had something to suffer during this year’s COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions. For most of us, fortunately, it hasn’t involved serious illness and hospitalization, though that has existed for some. We all surely know someone who has been unable to work, with the attendant financial insecurity that brings, especially in the world of music and the performing arts.

But it has been inspiring to see all the creative ideas that have bubbled up to keep the music playing, even in the face of state and municipal constraints against large gatherings of people. We’ve seen the drive-in concerts bloom in many places, along with virtual online live concerts and festivals.

The loss of the fiddlers conventions and contest festivals this summer has been a tough one for those who take their vacations there each year, camping out with friends to reconnect and play music all day and into the nights. And for some, that spirit of good natured competition that the contests inspire is what keeps us practicing and staying sharp.

So hats off to Marcy Marxer and Steve Kaufman, who have put together a remedy for folks missing out of the contests, the very first World Virtual Flatpicking Contest. Contestants all across the globe are invite to enter, with a bevy of great prizes being donated by companies like Ear Trumpet Labs, Elderly Instruments,, Fishman, Down Home Guitars, Acoustic Vibes Music, Fret and Fiddle, Tonal Park:Recording, Mixing and Mastering, and Gold Tone Instruments.

The World Virtual Flatpicking Contest is open to the first 150 pickers to register online, and will run through this week, September 21-28. The registration fee is only $20, and video submissions are being accepted starting today.

To enter, each contestant is asked to make an unedited, live video recording of themselves playing one tune on guitar. They must use a flatpick, and entries can be no longer than three minutes long. Medleys are not permitted and all submissions must be played in standard guitar tuning, though drop D is allowed.

Videos are to be posted on the Facebook page of the World Virtual Flatpicking contest, or on YouTube with an unlisted link sent by email.

All entries received will be judged by a panel of three professional players, who will winnow them down to a top 5. These finalists will be announced on September 29 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT), who will be asked to submit a final round submission of two tunes with a maximum of five minutes in total.

All five finalists will have their videos live streamed on the Facebook page on October 3 at 7:00 p.m. (EDT), hosted by Cindy Baucom of Knee Deep In Bluegrass. Winners and placement will be announced at the end of the broadcast.

Through both rounds, judging will be based on the following criteria:

40 points – ARRANGEMENT – Contestant’s version of the tune selected. Is it appropriate to the tune and arrangement? Is the tune selected in keeping with the flavor of the Contest? Is the arrangement original, for the most part, to the contestant, or is it someone else’s known arrangement? 

40 points – EXECUTION & ARTICULATION – Are the notes buzzing and muddy, or are they clear and distinct? Tone – Are the notes full or thin sounding? Timing – Is the tempo steady and constant? Dexterity – Are the notes played in difficult positions up and down the fingerboard or is the piece played for the most part in first and/or second position? Tuning – Is the instrument in tune with itself and relatively close to concert pitch of A=440? 

10 points – EXPRESSION, DYNAMICS – The music should be played with life and feeling. 

10 points – OVERALL IMPRESSION – Paragraphs 1 through 3 are considered at this point.

Well done Steve and Marcy for coming up with this idea, and bringing it from concept to execution. This is a perfect opportunity for people who are a bit nervous about competing on stage, since you can make your submission tape wherever you are most comfortable. And while they must be recorded live, you can take as may tries as you like to get your best playing on video.

And for $20, what have you got to lose?

Registration can be completed at the World Virtual Flatpicking Contest web site. Additional rules and regulations will be sent to each registrant.

Be on the lookout in October for a World Virtual Bluegrass Banjo Contest as well!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.