Q. Our 13-year-old son started guitar lessons a year ago, and is something of an aspiring rock star. He'd love to learn more contemporary styles, but that isn't offered at his school. Are there music camps where he could develop his skills?
F Benson, via email
A. Music camps are a great place for young musicians to meet like-minded people and gain the confidence to hone their skills. Although summer camps abound in the UK, they tend to be geared towards offering sports and outdoor pursuits, while music camps have been more of an American phenomenon. However, a few are now cropping up on this side of the pond.
Though the trend is still in its infancy, music camps can now be found around the capital as well as in Wales, Bath and Gateshead. Since Gene Simmons' TV series Rock School, growing numbers of them have been catering to contemporary tastes. While aspiring guitarists can't yet get the guidance of an former Kiss front man, they can certainly strum with some of the best guitar players in the business.
At the fore of these specialist camps is RockMasters ( www.rockmasters.net). Now in its fourth year, the scheme is organised by the producer Mike Hurst, who jammed alongside the likes of Dusty Springfield and Jimmy Page in the Sixties. Week-long courses are offered this Easter in the leafy surroundings of Shiplake College at Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. Over-12s of all abilities can come along and learn rock techniques from teachers such as Ray Fenwick (Ian Gillan Band), Clem Cattini (The Tornados), and Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake). As well as receiving one-to-one tuition, participants are encouraged to play in groups and are put into bands on the first day. At the end of the week, and with a couple of songs under their belts, the bands give a concert in front of friends and family in the school hall. All the concerts are filmed, and band members receive a DVD of their gig.
The "rock school" has two runs over the Easter break, 31 March-4 April and 7-11 April, 9.30am-5.30pm, and costs £300 for the week. The courses are non-residential, but lunch, instruments and equipment are provided.
RockMasters also hosts a residential summer course at Stowe School, Buckinghamshire, which runs for up to six weeks in July and August. The summer event costs £600 per week, and includes all meals and full supervision. Children are also given the opportunity to use the school's facilities in the evenings, including football and cricket fields, and a large swimming pool. If you're not based near Oxfordshire or Buckinghamshire, then local tourist boards ( www.visitbuckinghamshire.org; www.visithenleyon-thames.co.uk) will be able to provide suggestions for accommodation.
Another option this summer is the International Guitar Foundation's Rock Camps (0870 240 6783; www.igf.org.uk). The IGF runs both residential and non-residential camps for 11- to 18-year-olds across the country in venues such as Cardiff's Millennium Centre, the London Institute of Contemporary Music and Bath Spa University; the Bath option is the only residential offering. These week-long camps offer courses for beginners to experts and draw on the IGF's extensive contacts with musicians and guitar teachers throughout the country. Past teachers have included Andy Summers (The Police), Hawi Gondwe (Amy Winehouse), and Hamish Stuart (Paul McCartney), and the course can boast the recommendation of the IGF's patron, Brian May.
Budding guitarists can learn techniques and improve their skills, and have the option to emerge after a week of jamming with one of the IGF's accredited vocational awards. The IGF camps run from 26 July-15 August, 10am-4pm Monday to Friday. IGF's camps receive substantial sponsorship from companies including Gibson Guitars, and non-residential prices start from just £148 for the week.
The Bath camp (01225 875 522) may be able to organise accommodation at Bath Spa University, depending on availability. Or contact the tourist boards of Cardiff (08701 211 258; www.visitcardiff.com), London (0870 156 6366; www.visitlondon.com), Bath (0906 711 2000; www.visitbath.co.uk) and Newcastle Gateshead (0906 680 6805; www.visitnewcastlegateshead.com) for accommodation options.
Finally, for something a little broader you might consider PGL's Music Studio holidays (08700 507 507; www.pgl.co.uk). PGL has been offering adventure holidays for children away from home for half a century, but it has only recently begun to focus on music. These Music Studio holidays concentrate less on instrumental training and more on music technology and production. They also offer a mix of activities; for example, participants can produce a rock song in the morning and go abseiling in the afternoon. Again, these holidays cater for all levels of ability: children can arrive with little or no music knowledge and be recording their own tracks by the end of the week.
The Music Studio holidays take place in PGL's camps at Boreatton Park, Shrewsbury, and at Marchants Hill, Surrey, and are designed for children aged 13-16. They cost £499 for the week, and the price includes all supervision and equipment, and full-board accommodation.
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