Gospel Bluegrass Learning Resources

Since we have had quite a few asking about music lessons that we might recommend in the form of books or DVDs, we have put together general information about it.

We strive to use Christian materials as many of the secular works have worthless (at best) catchy tunes and lyrics that can run about in the mind. If we can’t find any quality Christian materials, we consider secular if it is more of a method book. Usually the method books don’t have many songs with words in them, and if they do, we can white-out the words, remove the pages or staple them together.

Learn Gospel Bluegrass - By Yourself...

The biggest advantage of using a music teacher is they provide accountability and motivation for your child. However, homeschooling parents have learned they can take that role on themselves. They motivate their children to do regular schoolwork, and they can also challenge them to practice a musical instrument. Of course, it is easier to let the teacher be the motivator, and so, if one is to self-teach music, that “cost” has to be counted.

If several or the entire family were to learn instruments together, you have built in motivation and accountability. There can be individual practice times, but of major importance is the time when you practice as a group. That provides excellent motivation and accountability since everyone wants and needs to progress together.

Here are the resources we have tried so far and our experience with them. We would like to build this page. If you have used self-instructional books/CDs/videos, which you could review such as we have with the resources that follow, please send your review to: managers@titus2.com with permission to use it.

The instruments are listed in alphabetical order below.

Learn to Play the Banjo

Revised Banjo Primer for Beginners, by Geoff Hohwald; Book comes with DVD.

ISBN: 1-893907-32-5; Available from local music stores, or 1.800.416.7088.

This is a great beginner book. Secular songs but no words. The DVD is especially helpful in watching Mr. Hohwald’s technique.

The Banjo Encyclopedia by Ross Nickerson; ISBN: 0-7866-7074-6. Secular course.

This is an excellent book. If we could only learn from one book and were choosing between this and the Revised Banjo Primer for Beginners, we’d definitely take this one. Mr. Nickerson covers in detail how to do rolls, gives many for you to learn, and takes you further into other techniques. He goes over chords and teaches notes on the fretboard, how to play thirds, and much more. It will take at least a year or two to cover all the material in the book! We choose to white out some song titles, but there are no words to the songs themselves. There was also an immodest picture of his daughter, which we used a marker to cover up. Although this book does not come with a DVD, it does have a CD.

Learn to Play the Fiddle

Anna started learning fiddle when she was 12. She learned the basic scales/where to place you fingers and those types of simple details by using regular violin books, and after that she learned the fiddling style from other fiddling books. Three years later Anna was at a point where she had the basic fiddle knowledge. She now mainly works on imitating other fiddlers. She is able to slow fiddle instrumentals down with a device called a Tascam. The slower speed allows the listener to be able to hear the individual notes better. 

If you are or are going to play the fiddle, there is one key factor to remember – PRACTICE. We have not found any good places to buy gospel fiddle arrangements. We know that there are many fiddle resources out there, and we will include two of the ones we have tried and liked.

Be careful when you are looking for fiddling books; because a lot of them have fiddle in the title, but they just teach secular fiddle tunes with words and/or a bit of shuffle bowing. A music store is the best place to look for books, because you can look through them to see if they teach the “meat” of fiddling!

Learn to Play Country Fiddle by Frank Zucco; Published by Mel Bay; www.Melbay.com; 1-800-8melbay.

This book is pretty good for the beginner. It shows how to hold the fiddle and bow. It also has a few gospel songs. The rest of the songs have no words. It does not teach much about how to play “real” fiddle style; it just talks a little on how to create a shuffle pattern and teaches some songs played with drone (double) strings.

Children’s Fiddling Method by Carol Ann Wheeler; Published by Mel Bay; www.Melbay.com;

This is an excellent teaching resource. It is wonderful for a fiddler that already has the basic knowledge of the fiddle – like how to hold it, although many fiddlers are a lot more “relaxed” than normal violinists. It has fiddling techniques and information. It also has an instructional DVD with it. There is one song with words, but all the rest of the songs do not have words. One thing to watch out for on the shuffle bowing – is it easy to get in a rut of always using shuffle pattern. Anna has found it is difficult not to use that pattern for runs/licks.
Learn to Play the Guitar

 Christian Courses for All Ages: http://www.christiancourses4allages.com Angie Adams

Fairly expensive, but with her course, our family was playing Christian songs in a very short amount of time, from the oldest to the youngest. She uses some non-standard notation in the book, and there is little or no theory, but it is great for being able to pick up a guitar and quickly have the satisfaction of playing a few Christian songs, mostly hymns.

Each course is $87, or there is a savings when multiple courses are purchased at the same time. A course includes a three ring binder with the songs, a CD with Mrs. Adams, once a homeschool mom, playing the songs and an instructional DVD (or VHS). When you consider the price of an instructor versus the cost of this course it is still fairly inexpensive. They have four levels, children’s, beginners, intermediate and advanced. We didn’t have any trouble starting with the beginner’s and working through it, including eight-year-old Mary). We did find that the eight-year-old and ten-year-old needed smaller guitars, which are available.

Acoustic Guitar Primer for Beginners by Bert Casey (Book with CD; DVD); Published by Cassette and Video Learning; Available at local music stores or call 800 416 7088

This is a secular course. We whited out the words of the songs in the book and skipped the teaching sections of the DVD that had the words. This course taught us basic guitar chords, strumming and picking styles, and some music theory. We took what we learned in this course plus what we learned in Angie Adam’s course and began using it in hymns after just three months.

Hymns with Chordshttp://www.musicease.com/cvhymnal.html

We found it to too costly to purchase multiple copies of books with hymns in them with chords. However, we found software that had hymns in it with chords that we could print multiple copies from and make our own personalized hymn book for each person. Plus we could change keys of the hymn so that it was in a key we knew the chords to.

Depending which software you consider look carefully at what songs are being purchased. A write-up about one of the programs says it contains 1640 public domain hymns, but many are listed as much as four times because they are slightly different tunes or words. Still for us to be able to work with over 400 different hymns was a real blessing. They do have a demo you can download and try which is a good idea. The software if very basic and not on par with most commercially available software, however, we have found that it is functional.

Basic Guitar Chords Case-Style by J.T. Publications; Distributed by Heartland Music, Inc. This little reference booklet showed us all the chords. From this we could learn new chords. Any guitar chord reference that shows all the chords would work.

Jeane Wells’ Worship Guitar Class (book with DVD for children and booklet and DVD for adults) is published by Jean Welles Worship Guitar and can be purchased by calling 800-391-5412 or visiting WorshipGuitarClass.com & KidsWorshipGuitar.com. Product packages/combinations are listed online and are very reasonably priced.

These are wonderful teaching/learning resources for guitar. It is helping us move toward the goal of being able to glorify the Lord through worship, play as a family, and minister to others through music. After mastering lessons one and two, one child could “tab” the melody, as taught, and the other child could play the chords. It was neat!

Mrs. Welles begins with an introduction to the guitar, in both courses, and goes over the parts of the instrument itself. She swiftly moves into strumming, picking patterns, and chord combinations in both courses. The children’s course moves at a slower pace than the adult course and is geared toward an elementary level. They are beautifully put together, and best of all—they are Christian! Lessons are offered in Spanish along with practice sessions for each corresponding lesson to reinforce teaching.

One negative aspect of this course is that Jeane Wells does not wear conservative clothing in the DVD's but the dressing was not to the point where it prevented me or my children from learning from it.

Written by a friend of the Maxwell family, who tested this guitar course for us and provided us with this review.

Learn to Play the Hammered Dulcimer

Mel Bay Presents . . . The Original You Can Teach Yourself Hammered Dulcimer by Mel Bay – www.Melbay.com ; 1-800-8melbay. Secular course.

10-year-old Jesse started with this book. There is a teaching CD that comes with it. We also purchased a DVD of this title that had an instructor teaching the book.

Hammered Dulcimer Fundamentals with Jamie Janover; Produced by Dusty Strings; www.dustystrings.com. Secular course.

Excellent introduction to all the basics of hammered dulcimer. Video (no book).

Playing with Arpeggios; A Private Lesson with Kendra Ward; www.dulcimertimes.com; Secular course.

Continuing instruction on the use of arpeggios. Video (no book).

With the background of these three instructional resources, 10-year-old Jesse, after only a few weeks, began applying what he had learned to accompanying the other instruments and voices on hymns.

Learn to Play the Mandolin

Introduction to Mandolin for Beginners by Bert Casey (Book with CD; DVD); Published by Cassette and Video Learning; Available at local music stores or call 800 416 7088. Secular course. There were no words to the songs in the book so no white out was needed. This course taught mandolin basics and some music theory. We took what we learned in this course and began using it in hymns as soon as we could.



Learn to Play the Mountain Dulcimer

Mel Bay Presents . . . The Original You Can Teach Yourself Dulcimer by Mel Bay – www.Melbay.com ; 1-800-8melbay. Secular course

This was the starting point for 8 year old Mary learning the dulcimer with help from older brothers and sisters reading the instructions and showing her what to do. This book teaches tuning to DAA.

Hymns of Praise, Hymns of Praise II, Hymns of Praise III, Mountain Gospel Favorites by Michel Schull; www.michaelshull.com – Hymns in dulcimer tablature with dulcimer tuned to DAD. After learning the basics, Mary began playing out of these books.

Mel Bay Presents . . . Dulcimer Chord Book by Neal Hellman – www.Melbay.com ; 1-800-8melbay – Good reference but at this point Mary isn’t playing many chords. She is still mainly playing single melody notes.

Mel Bay’s Complete Dulcimer Handbook by Mark Biggs – www.Melbay.com ; 1-800-8melbay; Secular course. We found this book after Mary had learned the dulcimer basics. It looks very good, and with help, we plan to have Mary go through it.


Learn to Play the Upright Acoustic Bass
The upright bass was one of the latest instruments that the Lord provided for us, and it's one of the simplest instruments to start playing. While the upright bass can be used to play melody, it's primarily used to provide rhythm. One has to be careful that the proper accents are put on the proper beats of each measure, and that the rhythm never overpowers the melody. Guitar basses are similar to the upright bass, and a lot of books about learning the bass can help you learn the upright or guitar-style basses.
The basic pattern that a bass will play during a regular song with 4 beats in each measure is to play the root of the chord on the first count, the 5th of the chord on the second count, the root of the chord on the third count, and the 5th of the chord on the fourth count. The 1st and 3rd beats/counts are the primary ones of the measure and should be accented the most. So, if a song was using an A chord, a person would play:
Count: 1   2   3    4
Note:   A  E   A    E
And for a D chord:
Count: 1   2   3    4
Note:   D  A   D    A

When you get your upright bass you'll want to learn where the various notes are on the four strings, starting with what each open (or unfretted) string is: low string is E, then A, D, and the highest string is G, followed by where you fret the strings to play the in-between notes. Most songs have 3 primary chords (and there are theory explanations for why that is) in it. So a song in the key of A will primarily use these 3 chords: A, D, E. For the A chord you'll be primarily using the notes A and E. For the D chord you'll primarily use the notes D and A. For the E chord you'll primarily use the notes E and B (the only ones that will need to be fretted).

The keys of A, D, and G are some of the easiest to play along with on the bass, because they require very little fretting and a lot of the alternating notes will be played on open strings.
I'm not aware of any instructional DVD for the upright bass that only uses Hymns and Gospel Songs to teach the upright bass.
The closest I have found is a DVD titled Beginning Country and Bluegrass Bass with Dan Huckabee (I believe it is now a discontinued item). The quality of the recording is actually somewhat poor (it appears to be a VHS that was remastered to DVD). There are several secular songs on the video, including one that glorifies the drinking of alcohol and is a song I strongly dislike: Mountain Dew. But, to be honest, I've never listened to that part of the DVD and don't know if he sings the words or just plays the tune (I only noticed that the song was on the DVD when I pulled it off the shelf to review the title of contents - when I watched the DVD I just went through the first portion of it).
In the part of the DVD prior to that he does a good job teaching the basics of playing the upright acoustic bass, and he uses several gospel songs in the process. If you were to get the DVD and just watch the part that has the first few songs, it provides a good, basic, introduction to the upright bass.
Some more advanced DVD's that we have found which are relatively wholesome (even though they don't use many gospel songs or hymns) are by Mark Schatz and are called: Bluegrass Bass 2 DVD Set

Learn to Play Gospel Piano

Piano section written by Christopher Maxwell (Age 26)

This Gospel Hymn part has three sections. Immediately below, I share how you can teach yourself to play the piano, with an emphasis on beginners (the goal being to learn theory and learn how to play the four notes in the hymn book). Once a person can play the four notes out of a hymn book, they are ready to begin studying how to improvise/arrange hymns. I have a separate page that shares How To Learn Hymn Improvising on the Piano. I also now have a page on How to Teach Yourself the Piano.

Section 1 - Learn Basic Gospel Piano

I don’t have experience with self-taught piano, but I can share some information from my own learning experiences as well as giving piano lessons for a number of years primarily to beginners.

There are several Christian Piano Series currently available. The method that I have found to be successful with a variety of students, and the series that I believe does the best job of teaching solid theory and setting the groundwork for later improvising, is the David Carr Glover Church Musician Series. There are 9 levels, starting with the Preparatory Level, then Levels 1-8. The levels generally include a Method Book which introduces and explains new concepts, a Repertoire book (which has songs that give additional practice), and a Theory Book (similar to “home work” that further reviews the concepts). Past level 6 the series begins to focus on Advanced Hymn Arranging.

To improvise hymns a strong foundation of theory is needed. The Church Musician Series is very strong on learning chords and the theory that goes with it. The most common Piano Series is “Alfred’s”, and their theory books are easy enough that most answers can be found on the same page or by looking back a few pages. Not so with the Church Musician. Once a topic is introduced, the topic will be reviewed in quizzes throughout the book and on into the next one.

Once a student is through level 3 in the Church Musician Series they should be able to start playing hymns from a hymnal, and will hopefully be able to identify chords in hymns. At that point it would be good to start branching out, and in addition to the Church Musician books, the student should begin working on learning improvising (I can recommend some books/videos that would be helpful).

Because the Church Musician Series seems to start out at a fast pace, I would start my students in the Alfred’s Piano Series – first going through Level A (Lesson, Solo, and Theory books), then through Level B (Lesson, Solo, and Theory books). Following that I would switch to the Church Musician Preparatory Level.

When a child is learning the piano, unless they are a bit older (perhaps 12 or older) or very self-motivated, it would be a good idea for a parent to learn with them and help them out. Learning some basic musical concepts will be invaluable to you, and you will be able to help your child at times when he has questions. It isn’t necessary that you do this, but it will definitely help the process.

The best way to work through the books is to have a set practice time every day, and have the child assigned to practice several songs in each book. The songs will generally “coordinate” with each other (working on the same new concept) and the child can work on several pages of theory as well (again, working with the same concept). You will be able to see how the songs coordinate (Alfred’s makes it easy by listing the coordinating page numbers at the top of each song). When a song can be played with few mistakes and the proper timing – it is ready to be “passed”.

There are very few “technique” issues to be worried about with the piano, especially if one is simply going to be arranging and playing hymns (although avoiding tightness in the wrists and/or bending the fingers backwards are good to watch for). The big issues are simply making sure the right note is played and the right timing is used. Most students have a much easier time learning and playing hymns because they are already familiar with the timing of the song.

There are some other Christian Piano Series that I have checked into, but most of them are photo-copier quality and progress at a fairly quick pace. In addition, they usually only have one or two books per level – they simply aren’t as “polished” and don’t seem to be as comprehensive as David Carr Glover’s Church Musician Series.

The Church Musician Books can be ordered through almost any local music store. Simply tell them the name of the book and that it is by David Carr Glover. Or, they can be ordered from a number of places online:


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Click to visit Section 2 - Advanced Hymn Improvising on the Piano


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