2012 Interlochen Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop

July 26-28, 2012
Interlochen, MI

With our Interlochen Stick workshops happening on an every other year schedule, I decided to play the role of pure student this year, dust off my acoustic guitar, and attend the first annual Interlochen Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop.

Up until 2010, the Interlochen Guitar Festival and Workshop consisted of a large number of faculty and students and covered several different styles. That workshop has since been split into smaller groups based on style and the 2012 season introduced the first of what will become the annual Fingerstyle Workshop.

The workshop took place July 26-28 which, like last year's Stick workshop, coincided with part of the summer art's camp. Personally I love it when we're at Interlochen at the same time as the campers. That means we're sharing the campus with a couple of thousand very talented young arts students and there always appears to be music coming from every nook and cranny. This year was no different.


Matt Schroeder was the artistic director of the workshop. Matt is from Wisconsin and brought along additional faculty members Thomas Clippert and Peter Roller. Tom's specialty is classical guitar while Peter is a master of slide.

The marguee players this year were Laurence Juber and Billy McLaughlin. This was Juber's second visit to an Interlochen workshop. He has had a fairly storybook career as a session musician, a film and TV musician, and live performing musician getting his start playing for Paul McCartney and the Wings. McLaughlin was just beginning a dream career enjoying serious critical acclaim when he developed focal dystonia affecting his right hand and was no longer able to play. He then focused on his acoustic tapping technique, re-trained himself to play as a lefty, and made a full comeback.


The workshop kicked off Thursday around lunch. After an hour window to register, the faculty introduction started at 1PM. The session took place in the brand new "Great Room" at Mallory-Towsley which just opened and doubles as a performance space and large lecture hall. The first session was a faculty introduction where each of the five faculty members talked a little about themselves and then played.

After the introduction, we split into two groups that had been determined prior to the workshop. These were our ensemble groups that we would keep for the duration. I was in the first group. We broke out into one of the smaller rooms where Tom Clippert starting working with us on a piece called "Like Dreaming" composed by guitarist William Beauvais. The other group did a workshop on slack key tunings led by Peter Roller. After an hour, we traded places. Tom worked with the second group on a piece called "Spider Dance" composed by Andrew York while our group did the slack key tunings workshop.

We all met back in the great room to wrap up the day. Billy McLaughlin gave a lecture called "Inspired to play no matter what" where he gave a detailed account of his fight with focal dystonia and talked about the things that drive us all to keep playing.

At 6PM, we broke for dinner at the Stone Center Cafeteria. We had some time to kill at that point so Steve and I went wandering the campus and stumbled on one of those moments that could only happen at Interlochen. One of our fellow guitar players was hanging out at the Giddings Concourse playing away. Some high school age campers joined him. One of them played guitar and the two of them started to play "Free Bird". I think it started as kind of a laugh but when they hit the fast part where the guitar solos come in, a young violinist started soloing and just ripped. Good stuff!

At 8PM, Laurence Juber performed in the Mallory-Towsley great room to wrap up the first night. A real master!


Friday started at 9AM with a session on right and left hand warmup exercises led by Tom Clippert. This was a session we would repeat every morning.

At 10AM, Billy McLaughlin did a two hour sesson on tapping. We worked with transcriptions of his original tunes "Helm's Place" and "Away With Words" and it was really interesting to dissect his approach to tapping. I had brought my Stick along so after his workshop wrapped up, I plugged into his rig and did did a demo for him. I started to play a bit of "Away With Words" on Stick he made me promise to work it up and send him a recording.

After lunch, Laurence Juber did a session on arranging popular music for guitar discussing many of his original tunes as well as some McCartney and Beatles tunes. Juber is a university music graduate and is one of those guys that has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, harmony, and theory.

For our last session of the day, we broke back into our ensemble groups where we continued to work with Tom Clippert on the pieces we'd been assigned on Thursday. Meanwhile in the other room, Peter Roller led a workshop devoted to slide playing. This involved lap playing as well as standard playing and also utilized several altered tunings. Again we traded places with the other group half way through the afternoon session.

Dinner came at 6PM once again and then at 8PM, Billy McLaughlin performed in the great room to wrap up the Friday session.


Saturday started at 9AM with another session on warmup exercises led by Tom Clippert. At 10AM, Laurence Juber did a two hour session covering rhythm techniques. This was real interesting to me as he covered a lot of different techniques and never once reached for a pick. Juber also prefers never to play with nails which I found a bit inspiring as I can't really grow my nails out and still play Stick effectively.

After lunch, Billy McLaughlin did a session on quickly learning the fretboard and chord shapes in any altered tuning. This was one of the most helpful sessions for me personally as I really want to start investigating more altered tunings on guitar and Billy's workshop gave me some really good tools for quickly finding various chord shapes.

Later in the afternoon, the two groups got together again for last minute run throughs of our ensemble pieces. At 4PM, we wrapped up the workshop with master classes. We split into two rooms with two instructors in each room. Here several of the students ran through solo pieces and were critiqued by the faculty members.

At 8PM the student recital took place in the great room. Around ten of the students signed up to perform solo pieces. We listened to a real enjoyable mix of both original and cover tunes covering styles from classical through folk, bluegrass and rock. After the solo pieces came performances from the faculty who hadn't already performed on prior evenings. Matt Schroeder played a piece by Michael Hedges. Tom Clippert played the classic Prelude from Cello Suite no. 1 by Bach. Then Matt and Peter Roller wrapped up with a really beautiful duet. To wrap it all up, the two ensemble groups performed their pieces.


What a blast! Two years ago I attended the guitar workshop only to do some performing on Stick and also to setup a room where I could introduce some guitar players to the Stick. I remember kicking myself back then for not bringing my guitar and signing up. In all my music travels, I've never really done much in the way of fingerstyle playing on acoustic and certainly never had any kind of instruction in it. This workshop turned out to be a major shot in the arm and has left me swimming with ideas for incorporating guitar back into my life.

Interlochen comes to the rescue once again.