The Helix Learning System
In the course of teaching private music students since 1981 (in addition to his own studies since 1974), Jim Wood has amassed an incredibly broad range of experience with various pedagogical methods and philosophies that include everything from private lessons in the tradition of western European classical music to jazz studies at Berklee College of Music to his having grown up in the epicenter of one of the world’s great grassroots music scenes in Middle Tennessee to his “on-the-job” training in the professional recording studios of Nashville, Tennessee. The confluence of these disparate influences produced solid results, with Jim himself having won fifteen state championships during his music competition days (including his winning a record five times at the prestigious Tennessee State Fiddle Championship) to his having taught thirty-eight different students who have won national and/or state championships. Many of Jim’s students have gone on to have careers as professional musicians, but this is only the smaller part of the picture.
Jim’s commitment to teaching is based on more substantial values concerning his deeply-held conviction that music is a vehicle for individual growth and personal development, and since societies are comprised of individuals, music can thus have a profoundly positive impact on culture and civilization. The spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical evolution that can happen when a person studies music is truly transformative, and performing, recording, and teaching music has been Jim’s way to try to make a constructive contribution to the world.
With all this having been said, Jim has developed over the years his Helix Learning System of teaching (both fiddle music in particular and as well as general musicianship) whereby all musicians can participate in making music together while still being challenged and stimulated at their given level of skill and experience. By learning tunes at their most basic level and then revisiting them at progressively higher degrees of technical difficulty and sophistication, every student can continue to expand technique and repertory while at the same time remaining in community with the largest possible group of fellow players. Initial emphasis is on developing musical proficiency via the diverse and rich canon of American folk music (a common cultural vocabulary), but after establishing firm technical foundations in a very organic way through learning simple folk melodies, fiddle tunes, and hymns, a student can then move into any and all genres. Loosely based on concepts introduced to the general public in the book Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change by Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, Jim has codified the standard fiddle tune repertory into six levels of technical difficulty. By knowing where they are on this scale, students can continually stand firm with the material that they have learned, challenge themselves to reach for the next reasonable step, and see where they want to be at the end game. The idea is that the real path to success is a spiral rather than a linear progression. By reviewing the same material, more or less, every time a person passes any given tangent on the spiral, a deeper understanding follows. This broadens one’s consciousness and opens the door for learning new and different material. Every time that a musician examines the same or similar topics, then he or she is a little higher up the spiral. Ultimately, this approach manifests itself in other aspects of person’s life, and expansion becomes a habit. Given its cyclical, non-linear nature, this Helix Learning System is not a method, per se, but it offers up resources that are organized in a logical manner that, at one and the same time, seem progressive and structured yet flexible enough to meet the needs of any individual or group.
The Jim Wood Online Acoustic Music Academy is designed to guide students on this potentially life-long journey of fun and discovery, and Jim, along with his long-time fiddle buddy and business partner, Michael Smartt, want to thank you for exploring this music with the hope that what they present here can add to your life in the way that it has for them.