by Debra

For most guitarists, playing face-to-face with a musician you worship is the stuff of daydreams.

But what if someone gave you the opportunity to take a guitar lesson from a master guitarist like jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny, or from Scott Tennant, one of the greatest classical players in the world? Would you take it? Or would you hesitate, wondering if you were good enough?

Well, the best way to find out is to attend a guitar workshop, where you can actually study and mingle with top guitar players. Worshops, clinics and music camps, which frequently host world-class professionals, are a fantastic resource for students. And once you’re in the same room with these guys, you’ll find it’s not so intimidating after all.

One of the most renowned programs is the National Guitar Workshop, which holds a summer guitar camp every year in Milford, Connecticut. This summer, NGW partnered with David Feffer (himself a student of NGW) to bring the first annual Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival & Workshop to northwestern Montana. And we weren’t gonna miss it.

From August 28 through September 5th, not only Metheny and Tennant but also Lee Ritenour, Alex DeGrassi and other top guitarists arrived in Bigfork to teach at Flathead Lake Lodge, a four-star dude ranch on the banks of the largest lake west of the Mississippi. That’s Big Sky country, so not only were we surrounded by great talent but by some of the best mother nature’s best, too. Anyone who needed a breather could enjoy a few hours of fly fishing or hiking in nearby Glacier National Park. For music and nature lovers, it truly is the best of both worlds.

Clinics can work in all kinds of configurations, mixing group studies with performances, jams, discussions, and one-on-lessons. Students at COC chose a learning “track,” such as Jazz with Pat Metheny and Jody Fisher, Modern Acoustic with Alex De Grassi, Classical with Scott Tennant and Andrew Leonard, and Classic Rock with Matt Smith.

At his workshop, Metheny had a rapt audience of fifteen students ranging in age from seventeen to seventy, and ranging in experience from beginners to accomplished musicians. He told us, “Jazz is a language, and the better you know it the easier it is for you to tell your story. Show people what’s happening through the melody and they will stay engaged.”

Metheny then offered an encouraging critique of each individual student’s playing. But it wasn’t all pats on the back (pardon the pun). At one point he admonished the entire group: “None of you are playing in time! If you want to play ahead or behind the beat, make sure that is a conscious choice you are making, not just something you’re doing because you don’t know how to play in time.”

A great guitarist joins a workshop’s faculty because he wants to teach, so even beginners can benefit immensely. As David Feffer, the man behind COC, notes, “Scott Tennant solved a problem in 30 seconds that I had been struggling with for months. The two master classes and one private lesson I had with him have already taken my playing to a higher level.”

Lee “Captain Fingers” Ritenour gave one evening clinic, opening with a performance of the Sonny Rollins tune “Alfie’s Theme” and then sharing hilarious stories. He had some tales from his legendary L.A. session days about blowing his cue repeatedly during a full-orchestra film score recording, and waiting all night with Quincy Jones for Stevie Wonder to show. At one point, Rit invited two teenage students to the stage to jam with him. He listened carefully and offered tips, such as minimizing hand movement to play faster. The students walked away beaming.

Here at The Punch-In, we’re all about finding new ways to learn guitar. Treating yourself to a week in Big Sky with the masters at COC is one high-class way to do it. If you want to stay local, ask around at music stores and schools about intensive programs and touring clinics that might be passing through your area.

Of course, right here at TrueFire we’re constantly looking for innovative ways to bring those daydreams alive. We’ve got more cool ideas in store, so keep learning and stay tuned.

Debra is lead singer and guitarist for the rock band Devi,