Reflections on National Guitar Workshop Chicago 2009

Above: NGW students Zack, Bruce, Pete, and Philippe pose with Buddy Guy!

National Guitar Workshop’s Chicago campus was another fantastic experience. At this campus I taught a blues core class which means that I have now taught every core class that NGW offers: rock, blues, jazz, and acoustic. This was also the first time that I had a class comprised entirely of of adult students. The guys in the class were all of similar abilities and interests and they bonded quickly and were a fun and easy group to work with.

The Drive

With the exception of a couple of nasty thunderstorms around Columbus the drive to Chicago was smooth sailing until I hit Illinois. I had been hesitant to take I-90 through the city, but after calling my my cousin Rob who is a Chicago resident I decided to brave it. Rob told me that I-90 should move along pretty well on the weekend. Unfortunately he was wrong and I was treated to an infamous Chicago traffic jam. To add insult to injury my air conditioning and fan broke again around Gary, Indiana. There was nothing to do but roll down the windows, crank up the iPod and listen to some blues. I think it took close to 3 hours to go the last 60 miles.

On the way home I charted a course around the city. This was definitely a better choice and traffic flowed smoothly all the way to I-65. There were some seriously major backups heading in the opposite direction however, so I guess the lesson is that there is no sure-fire way to get around the area.

Judson University

NGW calls Judson University home for the Chicago campus. Judson is an evangelical Christian university, located along the Fox River in the city of Elgin, just 45 miles northwest of Chicago. It surprises me that a school that reportedly doesn’t even allow dancing on campus would welcome a bunch of guitarists to take over their school for a week each summer, but we’re actually a pretty well-behaved group apart from the loud guitars.

Blues Core

This was the first time I’ve been asked to teach a Blues Core class for NGW. Blues may be the easiest of the core classes to prep for because it is a much more narrowly defined style of music and implies some basic song forms and concepts that can be extrpolated into rock and jazz styles. Below is an outline of the material I planned to cover in 5 days. I probably didn’t get to everything since we lost most of a day of classes for the trip to Buddy Guy’s Legends.

Basic Technique and Warm Up Exercises
4-finger patterns
2- and 3-octave chromatic scales
Paul Gilbert-style alternate picking exercises
hammer-on and pull-off drills
strumming patterns

Scales and Improvisation
major pentatonic scales
minor pentatonic scales
blues scale
major scale
basics of modes
harmonic minor scale
identifying when to use each scale.
using chord tones to add harmonic content to pentatonic solos
using harmonic minor on the V chord of a minor progression
using half-step and whole-step bends musically

Musicianship and Interpretation
competence in “guitar friendly” keys: C, G, D, A, E
finding all major chords using CAGED system
creating shuffle patterns by adding the 6 and b7 to any chord form.
ear training: Identifying I IV and V chords in a song
identifying key, meter, tempo, and feel
identifying intro, verse, chorus, etc.
creating dynamics and contrast throughout a piece
researching a song

12-Bar Blues Forms (Straight 8th and Shuffle Feels)
Green Onions – Steve Cropper
Hey Joe – Jimi Hendrix
House of the Rising Sun – Trad. (6/8 time)
Key To The Highway – Big Bill Broonzy (Eight-bar blues form)
Sundown – Wes Montgomery (Introduction to jazz blues changes)
The Thrill is Gone – B.B. King (Minor Blues)
Tore Down – Freddy King
Who Do You Love – Bo Diddley

Rhythm Section Classes

This was my second time having students work with rhythm section players as part of their daily routine. The acoustic classes never had this opportunity in the past, but if I end up teaching an acoustic core class in the future I’m definitely going to try to arrange a rhythm section class for the acoustic students too. The rhythm section classes provided me with lots ideas to address in our regular classes and when the music came together with bassist and drummers the students really felt a sense of accomplishment.

Special Interest Clinics

I again gave 2 special interest clinics this week: Learn Every Note on the Guitar Neck TODAY! and Bossa Nova and Samba Patterns.

One of the students in my class was Zack from He did a great job of blogging about his experience as a student at NGW. If you’re thinking about attending NGW in the future, his blog will give you a snapshot of what you can expect. Here’s a link to the first of Zack’s six daily posts: National Guitar Workshop: Sunday Warmup in Chicago You’ll be able to navigate to each successive post from there.

Buddy Guy’s Legends

I decided not to drive back into Chicago to attend Buddy Guy’s Q & A session at Legends, so I can’t comment on it personally. But the students were really pumped up about the experience when they returned to campus.

According to Jason Shadrick’s blog: “On the 16th we headed down to Buddy Guy’s Legends to spend some time with the man himself. As we arrived at the club, Buddy was sitting at the bar waiting for us. Many of the students had to look twice as they walked in, not believing that he was just hanging out.

Buddy spent some time answering questions and telling stories about his life in music over the last 6 decades. After he answered questions, he went back to sitting at the bar and proceeded to make sure everyone who attended had the chance to say hi, get an autograph or get a picture taken. It was great to see someone at his level take the time to do this.

After all the autographs were signed the jam for the students started. Buddy continued to hang to check out the first few bands and you could tell he was digging it. It was an incredible thrill for everyone involved and I hope to talk to Buddy (and Isabelle) soon to bring him to another campus.”

Final Concert

At the end of the week the class performed Freddy King’s “Tore Down” at the final concert. None of the guys play regularly with others and they really enjoyed working on the song together. Everyone seemed pretty concerned about perfecting the tune and they practiced a LOT prior to the concert. In the end they nailed all of the stop time sections, Bruce delivered some strong vocals, and while I don’t think everyone was completely happy with their solo I heard a lot of improvement in phrasing over the course of the week. Below is a video of the performance.


With a few exceptions, this was a different batch of faculty and staff than the McLean, VA. campus but they were and equally fun and talented group. Please visit their websites and check out their fine work.

Doug BrattMurali CoryellMike CramerCasandra FaulconerGreg HorneBob LovecchioDennis McCumberAmanda MonacoShawn PurcellJason ShadrickMatt SmithDave TiedeGary Tu

Pictures From The Week Many pictures courtesy

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