California native Tyler Grant is widely known in the jam band world for his work with multiple outfits including Grant Farm and Emmitt-Nershi Band, fronted by members of Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident. While his electric guitar work compellingly reflects classic influences such as Jerry Garcia, his award winning flatpicking guitar styling has placed him in a class of his own. He’s spent his adult life honing his skills and interpretation of this uniquely American style of guitar playing. Grant took home trophies across the U.S. at cutthroat guitar competitions, culminating in his becoming the National Flatpicking Champion at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas in 2008. His hard work and dedication have resulted in 11 studio albums, a busy workshop schedule, and a high profile touring history.
Yet when the COVID-19 quarantine clamped down in mid-March and most musicians were staring at empty calendars, Grant didn’t let grass grow under his Martin D-28. He launched a series of Facebook guitar-focused livestreams to share his music and instructional abilities with those stuck at home.
Grant admits that at first he thought the quarantine would be a “welcome break.” Then he realized he wanted to establish an online concert community as soon as possible. “Now, even more so than an opportunity to stay relevant and make a living, it seems like a service to the community,” Grant explains, expressing his passion for music and flatpicking, in particular.
And what is flatpicking, exactly? “Flatpicking is the style of guitar associated with bluegrass music primarily, and it’s a sub-genre of old time and classic country music,” Tyler says. “There’s rapid technique with the propulsion of a dance-style breakdown or fiddle tune.” Doc Watson and Tony Rice are good examples, he adds. “I believe flatpicking music is its own genre. It blows my mind that it’s not in the Webster’s Dictionary yet!”
Tyler narrowed his focus to flatpicking after graduating from California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) in 2000. “CalArts was a broadening experience. I learned about styles from flamenco to Bulgarian folk music, but after college I realized I’m going be happiest if I pursue this thing that I’m culturally connected to, that I can do convincingly.” He attended his first bluegrass festival in Colorado in 2002 and was hooked. “There were people my age jamming all night and having fun. They were all inspired. I was so fired up I couldn’t sleep for days afterwards.”
Now Tyler is a regular performer on those festival stages, inspiring others to follow in his path. Appearing relaxed and professional, he’s developed confidence through years of intentional practice. “I did a lot of inner game work: tons of meditation, gratitude journals, faith and confidence that it’s going to happen,” he explains. “I’ve spent time facing my fears as much as possible—doing the contests, doing the performances. My advice to other musicians: put yourself on the spot, observe what happens, and try to draw your own lessons from that.”
He advises new guitarists to practice scales along with ear training to become fluid as improvisers. “You conceive of a solo in your mind and then play that exact thing with your hands. Don’t hunt and peck. Conceptualize, then play it perfectly the first time.” He practices by improvising on his repertoire for at least an hour per day, and he teaches these skills in his workshops and online streams.
On Friday nights, Tyler performs a solo acoustic and electric concert; while Saturdays bring a two-hour instructional “Guitar Workout,” and Mondays are allotted for “Play Along Jams,” which are a weekly highlight for many homebound musicians of all skill levels. Streams are no cost and are publicly accessible at www.facebook/tylerguitar.
Music fans and players may tune in to Grant’s offerings for the foreseeable future, he says. While the virus has created a new online landscape for live music by necessity, will Grant continue his popular series once we’re all allowed to leave the house? “There are so many unknowns, but I hope we’ve all found an alternative medium that can sustain itself and that we can all sustain each other through this [period]. But I also really hope we can all get out and play gigs again. The future is wide open right now.”
All virtual dates listed on Tyler’s website at www.tylergrant.com