Vol State Offers New Degree Program with an Emphasis in Bluegrass

Submitted on March 19, 2012 at 1:30 PM

Bluegrass is a music that incorporates many styles and has roots tracing back to Europe and the American South. It continues to find new audiences and now Volunteer State Community College is offering a degree program with a bluegrass emphasis. It's modeled after the East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies Program. There is even a transfer path to that ETSU program for Vol State students.

The program includes music theory, seminar classes and ensemble opportunities. Classes include private instruction in voice, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo, as well as group instruction.

"I started off in rock music, but it seemed more mundane in comparison to bluegrass," said student Zack Abbott of Cookeville. "I started off listening to AC/DC and then I was introduced to Doc Watson and Tony Rice, some of your bluegrass greats."

Students play together in an ensemble group, some of them performing bluegrass for the first time. "I love the entertainment of it," said student Josh LaFever of Carthage. "It's not high-strung. Everyone is laid back. We're all really close. Mark is a great musician and a great teacher."

Mark Barnett teaches the ensemble class and offers individualized instruction on many instruments. His experience includes performing on the Grand Ole Opry and with Ernie Ford, Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.

"The feel of bluegrass music is natural and down-to-Earth," Barnett said. "I think the popularity is because of the infectious pulsating rhythm that bluegrass has."

Melissa Du Puy is organizing the bluegrass program. She has played with Doc Watson and Bill Monroe.

"This is the first bluegrass college program of its kind in Middle Tennessee," said Du Puy. "The Vol State program puts it beyond the type of music your grandparents played. It makes it relevant for today and for all ages to participate. It offers options including performance, songwriting and the history of the music. And it's not just for performers, but also for those who may want to be in areas such as management or recording."

The two-year Associate of Science degree with an emphasis in bluegrass music is part of the Visual and Performing Arts Program at Vol State. The program can tie in to other programs at the college include songwriting, commercial music and work in the Vol State recording studio. Students play concerts on campus and participate in recording projects. Courses are held on the main campus in Gallatin, the Livingston campus and the Highland Crest campus in Springfield.

The College holds regular bluegrass jam sessions. In April, Vol State will be hosting the new Sumner County Bluegrass Jamboree, a competition and jam session for bluegrass musicians in a number of different instruments. The public will be invited to the weekend event on April 13 and 14 on the Vol State campus in Gallatin.

For more information about the bluegrass program and the Jamboree visit www.volstate.edu/bluegrass. For more information contact Melissa Du Puy at


or 615-452-8600, extension 2936.


Pictured: Vol State students Brandon Brown of Carthage (right) and Roger Stolen of Gallatin play in the new Vol State bluegrass ensemble group.

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