Matt's 8-lesson course Fiddle Tune Harmony just wrapped, and I thought I'd tell anyone who missed out or is thinking of future courses (BG101, 102 and 103 coming up) how his program works.
First of all, Matt is incredibly well organized, generous, and thorough, as well as supportive and friendly and fun during the live sessions. He answers all questions and still keeps the lesson on-track to cover the material. He thoughtfully designs a multi-week syllabus that supports the course title topic. He has a great understanding of skill levels and suggests an approach to the material that will challenge anyone if all exercises and tunes are mastered.
Nuts and bolts: the custom course website hosts general information; downloadable .pdfs for tunes and exercises; downloadable .mp3s of tunes in parts at three different tempos; streaming videos for prior live lesson and practice sessions as well as re-recorded segments from the lessons for each exercise and tune; some background info on some of the tunes; and a forum area where students can post text, .pdfs, .mp3s, images... for fellow student and Matt feedback. The website is up for the course duration and until the next courses start, but if you have downloaded all the support material you no longer need ongoing access to the site.
The magic for me was the two live sessions per week. The weekly Lesson started at 9PM ET and lasted well over an hour. Sometimes there was a brief warm-up, then new ideas and concepts were introduced first as examples and exercises, then as a primary tune (and then its harmony part, for this course) with playing tips, and finally a bonus tune. Matt strives to teach learning by ear, but makes the notation available as the lesson proceeds.
The GoToMeeting web lesson engine has a re-sizable video window, a chat window (which Matt checks often and responds to during the lesson), and a resource window from which you can view or download the .pdf of the exercise or tune being taught. You get email reminders through the week and day of the upcoming live session with a button to link to the lesson. I never had a problem configuring or connecting although there was clearly some stuff briefly going on in the background to make it happen. The audio and video from Matt were crystal clear and high resolution with no delays or gaps.
Now, the Practice Session. Matt has cleverly realized that the key to adult learning is repetition. Should I say it again? So, on Saturday (four days after the lesson for this course), he has a second live session that goes over all the lesson material again. If you didn't quite pick up a concept the first time through, it may well be clear hearing him explain it a second time. If you practiced the material from the lesson and have a question about note choice or fingering, you can ask now and get a live answer. I think this aspect of Matt's lessons certainly eats up his time! (I said he was generous) but makes it much more likely you will assimilate the week's material.
And if you miss a live Lesson or Practice, they are available to stream from the course website within a day.
This particular course -- Fiddle Tune Harmony -- covered how to create and play harmony parts for fiddle tunes in keys of G, D, A and C as well as minor tonality. The first seven lessons addressed high harmony, generally involving the next highest chord tone above the melody on strong beats while mirroring the melody line for the passing notes. This often involved playing high on the neck which was a good introduction to position shifting and surviving in the thin air up there; Matt demonstrated various approaches to fingering strategy. The final lesson introduced a second harmony part playing baritone (three mandolins at once). The drills and exercises involved identifying I-IV-V(7) chord tones in various keys as well as crafting a harmony over various licks. In general, I found it very useful to incorporate triad knowledge and patterns with accurate and prompt fretting on the fingerboard. Nothing mechanical about this process--there are choices about blue notes and 7ths for the V chord that will express your own taste.
Instruction on theory, technique, drills and exercises, and sixteen beautiful tunes with play-along tracks and notation for all parts. After eight weeks I can learn a tune more quickly, better see the melody in context of chord, have greater facility in higher FB positions, and have understanding (theoretical, at least) of creating harmony parts on my own. And I dig the sound of two mandolins together--nothing more beautiful as Matt says. Clearly I loved this course, and look forward to many more with Matt. It was one of the most productive and fun eight weeks in my mandolin journey.