The Rhythm Guitar Workshop – Maura Kennedy

Maura Kennedy

Maura grew up with the guitar goal of being a great rhythm player. In her early bands, she kept the drummer right in tempo, and at a recent session in New York City, the bandleader told the bass player, “Stay in tempo! Follow Maura’s right hand!” Besides keeping a perfect groove, she specializes in coming up with parts that “sound like a whole band”. Her strong rhythm playing was the bedrock of many Nanci Griffith tours, and being a singer and songwriter, she knows how to use dynamics to bring out the lyric of a song and make one or two guitars get a big sound. There is a lot of music in that instrument, and Maura will show you how to get the most out of it. She’s also a truly caring teacher, and she brings out the fun in learning!

Guitar Arranging for Singer Songwriters – Pete Kennedy

Pete Kennedy

Pete has a lifetime of experience backing singer-songwriters on the road and in the studio. His early travels with Mary-Chapin Carpenter led to a steady gig as a member of Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra. He can be heard playing the opening guitar solo on Nanci’s Grammy-winning CD,”Other Voices, Other Rooms”, and his work with Nanci involved backing her numerous songwriter colleagues, including Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt as they would show up to collaborate with Nanci on a song or two. Each singer had their own artistic approach, and for Pete the challenge was always to “zone in” on that and play in a way that would frame their lyrics and bring out what they wanted to communicate to the listener. That education was invaluable when he joined forces with fellow Blue Moon orchestra alumnus Maura Boudreau and they became the married Kennedys. Each song on their dozen CDs started as a guitar arrangement, and that is how they are performed live. Pete is thankful to the many mentors who taught him to play with taste and imagination, and he looks forward to mentoring aspiring singer songwriters in developing their own guitar arrangements. This will be a “master class” format, which means that it will be driven by the students’ own performances. Play a song, and Pete will help you get the maximum depth and breadth from your guitar part.

The 5 Things That Will Improve Your Guitar Playing Now – Pete Kennedy

Pete Kennedy


  • The one simple exercise that will do the most to improve your playing.
  • Triads: One bit of theory that will get you playing up and down the guitar neck.
  • Modes: They’re a lot simpler than you think, and they will open up your solo ideas.
  • Harmonics: Your guitar has a wider range than you think!
  • Cool Chords: Pete shows some of the voicings that George Gershwin and Ray Charles used to kick the blues to the next level

Harmony for Everyone – David Roth and Glen Roethel

No better time in this world than now for some harmony! Join David and Glen in an all-levels exploration of singing together. This will include some basics on harmonic principles, locating the “wheelhouse” of your range, finding and holding your part, and singing fearlessly and whole-heartedly. We’ll explore 3-4 parts on as many songs as time will allow, and through our practice will start to train our ears to find our “place in the choir”.

Writing a Humorous Song ~ with Sue Riley

Sue Riley

Having a humorous song in your set can go a long way towards endearing yourself to any given audience. Much humor will come from the delivery, but a songwriter can use tailored methods and tools to make a song funny. A humorous song is different than a parody and can even poke gentle fun at the songwriter if written in the first-person. In this class, we’ll explore different kinds of funny songs and the components that go into them, then we’ll build our own from the ground, up.

Lucy Wainwright Roche

Lucy Wainwright Roche

Lucy Wainwright Roche is an American singer-songwriter and the daughter of Grammy Award winner Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche (The Roches). She is the half-sister of singer-songwriters Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright (whose late mother Kate was half of the Canadian folk duo Kate & Anna McGarrigle), and niece of Sloan Wainwright. After two EPs, 8 Songs and 8 More, Roche released her debut album, Lucy in October 2010, followed by four more studio releases.

She also stars as Jeri in the Stuff You Should Know television show.


coming soon

Maura Kennedy

Maura Kennedy

Maura Kennedy, a veteran East Coast singer-songwriter known for her angelic voice and straight-to-the-heart melodies is one-half of the Americana duo, The Kennedys. She has released more than a dozen albums in the past twenty years. Artists including Nanci Griffith and Southside Johnny have covered her songs. In 2015 she teamed up with widely published California poet B.D. Love to create “Villanelle: The Songs of Maura Kennedy and B.D. Love,” a highly anticipated and unique collection.

Learn more at


Your SummerSongs Questions, Answered

Sometimes you just have to jam!

It was August of 2003 when I showed up at songwriting “camp” for the first time. A good friend had been talking about SummerSongs for months — the classes, the teachers, the community, the beautiful location  — and it sounded just up my alley after months of dealing with a divorce and sitting home alone writing sad songs.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made: Over the next year, I wrote dozens of new tunes, debuted a new album and never looked back. And, I’ve been to SummerSongs, many, many times since, both in New York and California. I literally have hundreds of friends and comrades from around the US and the globe through the  SummerSongs community, all of whom “get” the thrills and chills of writing and sharing songs.

However, if you’ve never been to this kind of music retreat before, I know there are always lots of questions about what the experience is like. Here are some answers to a few of the most common ones:

1) What IS SummerSongs? 

SummerSongs  supports and nurtures the songwriter in all of us. It is primarily a camp for adults, though families are welcome to join. We take classes in singing, songwriting, guitar, piano, creative process, and performance. We listen to each other and appreciate each other’s creative process.

2) Do I need to be an experienced songwriter? Or, am I TOO experienced? 

These are two groups of people who, over and over and over again, say after camp that “this has changed my life.” For the beginning songwriter, the life-changing experience is the sense of empowerment that comes with realizing that even if you’ve never written a song before, you can find your creative muse and your spirit in a supportive and nurturing environment. On the other hand, there is PLENTY to gain even if you are a professional musician. There is so much to learn — and it gives you a new perspective on what it means to be an artist. That is, art is for the world, it’s for your community, for the people you love and the people you just met.

3) Why is SummerSongs such a powerful experience? 

One of the most powerful things about coming to songwriting camp is the fact that you are there with your peers — you’re there with others who are interested in you, interested in what you’re writing about and they are also sharing their songs.  The mix of listening and sharing is incredibly, deeply inspiring and empowering. You’re sharing not only in song circles, in which people sit around and play songs for each other, but also sharing on stage at nightly “coffeehouse” open mics and student shows.

4) How did SummerSongs get started? 

Penny Nichols, a well-known singer-songwriter and vocal teacher originally from Orange County, California, founded SummerSongs with an initial camp in New York’s Catskill Mountains in 1999. She says: “Back in the 80s and early 90s I was teaching out of the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, a big music camp outside of Seattle. I came home and I realized that this connection and this socialization of songwriters is very important, because we get very isolated. So, along with a few other female songwriters, we started having quarterly weekend get-togethers where we’d talk about songwriting, write songs and eat a lot of strawberries and coffee and chocolate. I had an opportunity to put a songwriting class together — there were 27 students and that was the first SummerSongs. After that I formed a nonprofit corporation and started doing it full time.”

5) Is SummerSongs a “competitive” and “critical” environment? 

No. Um, NOT! SummerSongs is meant to be a supportive, encouraging, enriching creative experience. We are all there to listen to one another, to share with each other. We encourage participants not to criticize another student’s work unless they ask for critique first!

6) What are the accommodations like at SummerSongs? 

SummerSongs takes place at the Stony Point Center, 30 miles north of NYC near the beautiful Hudson River, where most of the accommodations are semi-private dorm-like lodge rooms with baths that are shared by three rooms. You can also upgrade to a private lodge room, or to a private room in an 11-room luxury B&B on the property which has private baths.

7) What are the teachers like at SummerSongs? 

The teachers, coaches and facilitators at SummerSongs are carefully curated and are typically touring, award-winning artists and performers with many years, even several decades, of experience teaching adult students at retreats. Some may be brand-new to SummerSongs, others are beloved instructors who come back every year. In all cases, they are there for you — supportive, encouraging and meant to help you take your creative process to the next level!

8) What is a typical day like at SummerSongs? 

There is no typical day at SummerSongs! Every day is whatever you want it to be — you can participate in as much or as little as you like. There IS a lot going on you can take advantage of: Two class periods in the morning, two after lunch, as well as one-on-one coaching sessions you can sign up for and post-dinner open mics, staff shows, song circles and jams. But, you might just want to designate a period as perfect for a nap, or set aside some quiet time to take a walk or just noodle on your guitar.

9) What if I’m on the fence about a songwriting retreat like SummerSongs?

Do yourself a favor and take a chance!

10) What if I have additional questions? 

Reach out! You can get in touch with me at sharon at — if I don’t know the answer to your question, I’ll know exactly who to pass it to.

Get ready to register at!


Songwriting Tips: The Evocative Power of Melody

Want to improve your songwriting in 2017? Start by creating great melodies that support your song! That’s what SummerSongs founder Penny Nichols can help you do this year at WinterSongs West (January 26-30) in Cambria, CA in her brand-new workshop, the Evocative Power of Melody.

We asked Penny about that and more:

Q: Can you talk about your new workshop, the Evocative Power of Melody?

Penny: We hear so many songs these days and the melodies are mostly groove melodies which are great if you want to dance, but they may not support the emotional landscape of a story song all that well. So we will be looking at how a melody enhances and can support your story in a song.

For instance, listen to Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans.” The melody transports you to the movement of the train and puts us in touch with the underlying sense of loss and nostalgia he wanted his listeners to experience when listening to his song.

Q: What led you to come up with the idea? What is it about melody that you think songwriters need to focus on?

Penny: I came up with it from listening to all of the albums that people send me and music I hear on the radio. How many of those melodies do you remember? You may remember a song idea or a lyric, but a song with a melody you remember stays with you much longer and more vividly.

Q: What is something a songwriter can do right now to make the melodies in their songs better?

Penny: Listen to your songs with your focus on the melody. Does the melody go down when you’re getting deeper into the feeling of the song? Does it go up when you are making an important statement? Ask yourself how your melody is supporting your story? Is it supporting your story at all? That is your starting place. Through discussions and exercises in the class we will explore how to analyze our songs in terms of the effectiveness of our melodies and maybe you will come out of it with a powerful new song!

Q: Now let’s talk about SummerSongs generally. What are you most proud of in terms of the success of SummerSongs Songwriter Camps since you founded the organization in 1999?

Penny: I am deeply grateful for the experience of watching so many beautiful songwriters learn their craft and go on to be successful in their musical pursuits!

Q: What are you most looking forward to at WinterSongs West?

Penny: Being with all of our songwriting community and appreciating the new places they will have explored in song since I last heard them, and sharing my own new songs as well.

Q: Why should someone return to a retreat like SummerSongs if they’ve been before, and why should someone decide to go if they’ve never been?

Penny: Come back because the inspiration will feed your muse all the time you are away. Reconnect and rediscover the amazing work we share together in music at camp. Come for the first time to connect with a deeper level of your own creativity and to meet some of the most amazing songwriters you will ever know, up close and personal.

WinterSongs: Cambria, CA, January 26-30, 2017
SummerSongs West: Cambria, CA, June 1-5, 2017
SummerSongs East: Stony Point, NY, July 23-29, 2017

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Musician’s Palette. Music Theory – Vito Petroccitto Jr.

Vito Petroccitto Jr.

“The Musician’s Palette” is much like a painter’s palette of colors, only our paint you can hear! The painter has colors to paint a picture we can see. They’re beautiful colors, some straight, others blended together to create gorgeous tones for our eyes. The musician has the same thing, only our colors are sounds like chords and scales! In this course I will show you the relationship between notes, chords, scales, keys, and how they all work in concert together to bring us beautiful pictures we can hear! Please join me in exploring the wonderful views of sound. Applies to instruments of all kinds! It also will help you develop your jamming skills and give you more tools for your songwriting toolbox. If you’ve ever been stuck using the same four chords over and over again, this information might give you a new boost to get out of that rut!

What you could walk away with:

  • A better understanding of theory;
  • Knowledge of which chords go together in any given key;
  • Vito’s “Page of Relations” (which is like throwing the circle of fifths at the wall and having all of its secrets become totally apparent;
  • An understanding of the Nashville number system and then some.

I’ve been teaching guitar for many years so I’m sure there will be something to gain here! Let’s get to painting!!