What course should I go on?

This page is to help those who are not sure which class to choose based on their level of ability. We don't actively stream students and rely on their individual judgement when it comes to deciding whether to go into a main class or choose beginners.

We are always happy to have a chat with you and help you make a decision but we hope this page will set you on the right track. If you are taking private lessons, especially from someone who has taught at Sore Fingers, then ask your personal tutor for additional advice.

Lets' start by dispelling one common myth: You don't have to be "good" to come to Sore Fingers! The idea of camps like Sore Fingers Week is to teach people and help them improve. This principle is valid whether you have only just started out or you have been playing for several years. Another general principle is to not be afraid to be bold in your choice. We actively encourage students to set themselves a bit of a challenge. If you pitch too low, by day two you can do everything the tutor has shown you, you might have been a little conservative with your choice. You are coming to learn something new.

One of the advantages of workshops like the ones offered by Sore Fingers Week is that you are not isolated with a private tutor and you have the moral support of those around you. Your fellow students will be experiencing the same difficulties as you are. That "community spirit" is a big part of Sore Fingers Week and everybody helps each other. Many tell us they learn almost as much from the person sitting next to them in class as they do from the tutor.

Online versus Face-to-Face tuition

There's absolutely no substitute for face to face tuition. Having the tutor right there close to you and able to interact directly is a far more effective way of learning. The other advantage of being in the same room is that of motivation. When hidden behind the camera, it?s difficult for a tutor to really encourage and watch you through each step, one at a time and at your pace. Students who have attended will testify to this and will tell you how they have learned more in an hour long live teaching session. You learn more and you learn faster!

The following sections attempt to break down the main levels and give you an indication of what is required to join a class. If you are real beginner, then it's easy, join the beginners class.

Music Development Courses

Check out this short introduction video from your tutor, Andy MacKenzie

Sore Fingers is aiming to expand and offer complementary courses to take you beyond raw playing or singing technique. We have been running classes since 2019 under the generic banner of "Music Development". The purpose of these classes is to help you understand the music theory you already instinctively know whilst not necessarily been aware of it. Our development tutor Andy MacKenzie has introduced students to the secrets of improvising and building interesting breaks, finding the lost chord or passing chords to enhance the basic "root", "fourth" and "fifth" chord pattern so common in Bluegrass and Old Time.

It's a vast subject albeit a fascinating one. Over the five day class, you will be taught about the music theory you need to achieve better arrangements and solos. You don?t need to know advanced theory to join and Andy will demystify the finer points setting you up to grow at a comfortable pace and add to your knowledge of music that you can put into practice. And, like all the other classes, there will be plenty of practical contents with exercises to show what you can achieve with a minimum of knowledge. The class is open to all instruments including of course the singers.

The Beginner - Lower Intermediate Classes

There are a couple of scenarios to consider.

If you are a beginner musician and have been learning to play your instrument for less than a couple of years, it is likely you will benefit from taking a Beginners/Lower Intermediate class. This will set you up and make sure you are not developing bad habits which will impede your playing later.

If you are also taking private lessons, you might ask your private tutor for advice as you may well benefit more from the challenge of the main class. You can also give us a telephone call or send us an email as we have helped many who are undecided.

So how broadly is a beginner defined?

It's never wise to generalise but the following points will probably apply to those starting out.

  • Has been playing for less than a year,
  • Knows a limited amount of chords (maybe three or four),
  • Cannot yet join an open session with confidence,
  • Has limited experience of playing with others,
  • Finds it difficult to play at speed.
  • Things that will help you:

  • You should endeavour to learn the basics of reading TABLATURE (although it is not a requirement, TAB isn't anything as difficult as knowing how to read music),
  • Learn several chord shapes that are used in Bluegrass and Old Time (G, A, C, D, E and F are a good start),
  • For a period of two months in the run up to Sore Fingers Week, try and set aside 15 minutes a day to practice remembering to include your new chords and playing to a metronome to help you develop good timing,
  • Sore Fingers Week is demanding on your body and mind. It pays to build up a little resilience!
  • When it is less clear whether to enrol The Beginner - Lower Intermediate class

    Many students decide to learn a second instrument moving from guitar to mandolin for example. In most cases, these individuals cannot be considered as raw beginners as they have already assimilated a lot of knowledge about chords and technique on their original instrument. But, you may well fall into the Lower Intermediate group on your new instrument in which case, that is the class to book onto.

    For people in this situation, focus will be on learning to adapt to the new instrument, new chord shapes, moving from flat-picking to finger picking (if it's guitar to banjo for instance). However, one needs to carefully consider the situation, guitar to mandolin is fairly straight forward with some practice but banjo to fiddle is a different proposition altogether. It is the mechanics of adapting that knowledge you have to new chord shapes, handling a different instrument body, etc.

    The point is to make sure you end up in the right place so that the course is challenging but not overwhelming. We strongly recommend you speak to us first when considering such a move

    The Main Classes

    The main classes cover a wide range of abilities but not just from lower to upper intermediate. Some folk learn quickly, especially the younger students, others can do some things very well but struggle with particular aspects, etc. The common factor is that all will have loads to learn well beyond things you ever thought mattered!

    An element of personal taste and style come into play too. All in all, the main class tutor will have to deal with a wide range of student needs. But, they are prepared for this and they do it at many camps every year.

    A typical main class student will fall into intermediate level and may have a range of abilities built up over several years. This experience may have been gained by playing at sessions, being in a band and attending festivals.

    The challenge for us is to provide a class that stretches that pre-assimilated experience and opens doors to new levels of playing.

    Pre-requisites for The Main Classes

    You don't have to be proficient in all the skills listed below. But a degree of competency in at least three should ensure you are not out of your depth in the main class.

  • Have a reasonable under-standing of your equipment (instrument, tuners, straps, etc),
  • You should be able to play reasonably consistent rhythm with good timing,
  • Able to play at various speeds (but not necessarily at breakneck speed!),
  • Able to play and sing at the same time,
  • Play in several keys (using a capo to extend that range),
  • Understand basic chord structure Root, Fourth, Fifth (AKA the "three chord trick"),
  • Have the beginnings of single string picking technique linking chords with runs,
  • Be comfortable playing at a session with little or no prior knowledge of the tunes that might be played,
  • A little experience of playing with others (either in sessions or in a band),
  • Perhaps some basic knowledge of scales and a little music theory.
  • This is a guide and you don't need all of these skills to take the main Class. The idea is that most of the subjects above will be covered at some point during your five day course

    You will benefit from covering new ground and revisiting some of the basics and if you apply yourself, you will go away from Sore Fingers Week with lots of good pointers towards becoming a better and stronger musician.

    Upper intermediate levels and above

    Some of our students will be more advanced and already be playing lead breaks and be seasoned session players with a repertoire of tunes and songs. Sore Fingers Week can still offer something. Just as for an intermediate player, it never hurts to revisit some of the basics like good rhythm playing. Each tutor will have a slightly different approach and will always show you something you didn't know! But, you will most likely get the most by observing the tutors approach, the things that make him tick and his/her stylistic particularities. David Grier and Grant Gordy are both superb guitar players but they have radically different approaches to doing what they do! There are valuable lessons to be learned with people like this.


    It goes without saying that the pace in the beginners class will be slower, more patient, to give you time to absorb what you are learning. Main Class tutors are asked to not slow their teaching to cater for those who find themselves out of their depth. That statement may seem hard but it's only fair to those who have pitched their choice right. It is usually possible to change from a main class to the beginners if things are get a bit difficult.

    For practical reasons, it's less easy to guarantee a place in the main class if you have selected beginners and don't feel challenged enough.

    Naturally, if you are still in doubt after reading the advice we have published here, do not hesitate to contact us for further advice and if you are taking private lessons, discuss your choice with your private tutor.

    Our aim is that you enjoy your experience and have a great time. We also want you to have learned plenty when you leave. Whilst we cannot guarantee to run you into the next Doc Watson or Earl Scruggs, we reckon that if you apply the things you've learned at Sore Fingers Week, you will improve quickly.