Ira Gitlin

Music Instruction

PANDEMIC UPDATE: I am teaching online via Zoom and Skype. I am also teaching in-person lessons in College Park, Maryland, for students who, like me, are fully vaccinated.

Teaching—mostly bluegrass banjo, but also various styles of guitar and bass—has always been a big part of what I do. For many years, starting in 1994, I was on the teachers’ roster at the House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park, Maryland, and I taught at Baltimore Bluegrass from 1994 until that store closed in 2000. I’ve also worked as a banjo instructor at the American University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In addition to numerous festival workshops, I’ve taught at Common Ground on the Hill (1996, 2007), the Maryland Banjo Academy (1998, 2000, and 2002), the Swannanoa Gathering (2001-03), Pete Wernick’s Jam Camps (since 2003), the Augusta Heritage Center (since 2004), Banjo Camp North (2010), and the Midwest Banjo Camp (2018 and 2022).

I try to show my students the big picture. Learning an instrument isn’t just a matter of learning this lick or that song; it involves learning how music works in general, and understanding how your instrument fits into the style of music that you’re playing. My goal is to make my students self-sufficient. Once you learn some fundamental techniques and a little theory (which is really nothing to be afraid of), you can move on to jamming and improvising—and that’s when the fun really starts!

Here’s what a few of my students have said:

“A real passion for bluegrass…the teacher we all dream of finding.” –C.C. (Paradise Valley, PA)

“An uncanny ability to break down the banjo into easy-to-understand and consumable pieces.” –S.Z. (Laytonsville, MD)

“The best, most understanding teacher in the world. No one even comes close.” –Z.M. (Weaverville, NC)

“Knowledge and first-hand experience with the roots of the music…He’s the real deal.” –D.S. (Washington, DC)

“I always leave my lesson looking forward to sitting down and learning what he has shown me, and it’s almost always something I can apply right away.” –D.W. (Alexandria, VA)

“Ira listens to where you are musically, asks where you want to go, and gives you practical instruction that leads you in that direction.”
–B.D. (Arlington, VA)

“Ira Gitlin is the BEST!!! “ –G.S. (Alexandria, VA)

Individual lessons


I teach in-person lessons at my home in College Park, Maryland. The exact schedule varies from week to week as I try to accommodate the needs of my students.

Payment and scheduling

I charge $65 for a one-hour private lesson, and $35 for a half-hour. I usually recommend hour-long lessons for adults. I ask my students to commit to, and pay for, a calendar month’s worth of lessons at a time. Here’s how that works: On the last lesson of the month, we’ll schedule lessons for the following month, and you’ll pay for those lessons at that time. As a general policy, I don’t give refunds or make-ups for lessons you cancel. If, however, there’s another available time slot during that same week, I may offer it to you as a substitute—at my convenience.

Additional information

I strongly encourage my students to record the essential parts of their lessons. Please bring your recording device of choice. It can be a digital voice recorder, an iPhone with the appropriate app, an mp3 player with a recording attachment—even a cassette recorder will do the job!

Group instruction

From time to time I conduct workshops on various topics. See my schedule for more information.

Wernick Method jam classes

In the late 1990s musician and teacher Pete Wernick began to develop a way to teach amateur players the fundamentals of bluegrass jamming. I’m part of the international network of teachers who use Pete’s method. Every spring and fall I teach a four-session class for people who want to get in on the fun and satisfaction that comes from playing music with others. See my schedule to find out about my upcoming classes. For more information on the Wernick Method, check out Pete’s web site.

Augusta Bluegrass Week

The Augusta Heritage Center, a traditional-arts organization housed at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, has hosted Bluegrass Week every summer since 1984. Bluegrass Week is a week of total immersion, with classes in all the bluegrass instruments plus vocals and songwriting, concerts, dances, jamming, and cameraderie.

With a staff of instructors chosen for their teaching ability and their stature within the bluegrass world, Augusta Bluegrass Week attracts students of all ages and skill levels from across the United States and several foreign countries.

I have worked at Bluegrass Week as an instructor and a staff musician since 2004, and I have helped coordinate the program (along with Mary Burdette and Neel Brown) since 2013. You can read more about Augusta Bluegrass Week here.

Kids’ academies

An exciting trend at bluegrass festivals in recent years has been the rise of “kids’ academies”—programs designed to give young pickers an intensive but fun experience with other kids who share their interest in the music. One of the biggest of these is the Grey Fox Bluegrass Academy for Kids, held every July at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, where I’ve been teaching banjo since 2000. I’ve also been working as the music director and banjo instructor for similar programs at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival (since 2003), the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival (since 2004), and the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival (since 2010).

D'Addario Strings