by Stephen Wang (Los Gatos, California), 2021 recipient
The IBMA Foundation’s Arnold Shultz Fund provided me the opportunity to take guitar lessons with Jack Tuttle, a treasured fixture in the California bluegrass community. Jack is well known throughout the bluegrass world for his effective teaching strategy and style. Perhaps the ultimate proof of this can be found in his children, all of whom are top-level musicians. The moment I discovered that Jack taught bluegrass through a local guitar store, Gryphon Strings, I knew I wanted to learn from him. I contacted him about the possibility of taking lessons through the fund, and thankfully he agreed! Once I received word that I was a recipient, I quickly contacted him again to begin lessons. I was able to take ten lessons, and I was intent on making them count. I decided to have a lesson every two weeks to stretch them out, also giving me more time to practice in between lessons.
I remember being very nervous on the first lesson. Playing “Blackberry Blossom” at speed while holding your breath doesn’t translate to beautiful music! I remember learning some important fundamentals during that first lesson, such as playing the G and C chords with four fingers instead of three for a fuller sound. I also remember learning the basics of bluegrass rhythm guitar. Jack taught me to incorporate the root and the fifth notes with my chord strums to produce that classic bluegrass guitar sound. In retrospect, these lessons laid the groundwork for my playing going forward. Soon, we developed a sort of rhythm where I would practice a song from his book to play for him each lesson as well as a fiddle tune or two that I was learning on my own. I also wanted to work on my solo playing ability, so he would choose a song for me to practice breaks on each lesson.
Near the end of my lessons, I became interested in practicing singing. Jack seamlessly incorporated that into the lessons as well, hearing me sing a song each week and critiquing the singing on it. I learned that a musician’s singing is just like another instrument. It requires practice and repetition to become proficient. Before, I had the notion that singing was a thing some people were able to do naturally, and some were not. Now, I know that singing is a skill that can be improved and worked on with careful hearing and concentration. Overall, the lessons were extremely effective, and I saw my playing improve drastically.
One day I went into a local music store with a banjo, looking for a tool to tighten the head. The store manager saw me and asked if I was here for the bluegrass jam, which I knew nothing about. I learned that a weekly jam took place at the store, and I asked the leader, Sonia Shell, if I could join in. She happily agreed, and I was able to play with other bluegrass players for the first time. Being able to play music with other people is something I will be able to cherish and enjoy for the rest of my life. The IBMA Foundation’s Arnold Shultz Fund as well as Jack’s teaching made it happen.
RETURN to the November 1, 2021 issue of The Cornerstone.