It’s not a book. It’s a system.

Universal Music Theory For Any Instrument is the core of my music instruction system. It is about how music works. Here is the theory method that explaines the simple geometry of music which freed me from reading music, got me playing by ear, and gave me the keys to the musical kingdom. Since that glorious day long years ago, I have figured out songs and played whatever I want…and you can too.

The problem with most teachers and books is that they start teaching somewhere in the middle of the story.  Universal Music Theory For Any Instrument begins at the beginning with the smallest piece of music — the half-step. The half-step is what chromatic scales are made of. We play chromatic scales together in the book and we learn how to match our voice to the tones we play. That’s how to play by ear! It’s easy and it works.

Chromatic scales lead to major and minor scales, which lead to chords, which lead to chord progressions. Songs are made of chord progressions, and I take you through each level in a reasonable and understandable manner that is easy to get.

There’s an old saying: — First you learn music, then you learn your instrument, then you forget them both and you just play.”

Universal Music Theory For Any Instrument meets the first issue, learning music. In 40 action-packed pages, I lay out the theory method that has fed me since I was young. This book is the bedrock and the backbone of learning any music on any instrument.

…then you learn your instrument

The theory method of Universal Music Theory (UMT) dovetails perfectly with the technique methods of Bluegrass Bass and Conversational Bluegrass Banjo. So if you want to rock the bottom and drive the music, get yourself a bass and get to playing on the first day with Bluegrass Bass. If you love banjo picking as much as I do, tune up and gather ’round. We’re playing Conversational Bluegrass Banjo and pickin like a pro.

Stay tuned and watch as I’ll be posting unsolicited testimonials from real pickers whose music dreams are coming true after visiting here at the Austin Pickin Ranch.

See you ’round the bend, my friend…

~ Ritchie

Another rave review

I always knew Bluegrass Bass was the best bass fiddle instruction book ever. Now, we’re getting increased feedback. Here’s an unsolicited testimonial from a happy customer of Bluegrass Bass that we’ll let speak for itself:

“I want to thank you for this amazing book! I’ve been trying to learn to play my bass for almost a year now & this book is the key I’ve needed! I’ve never played any sting instruments before, so I’m learning from scratch. I’ve bought other book & cd’s, but nothing like this! I can understand every thing that I’ve read so far. I love having scales in tabs, I love the interviews, I love everything about this book! I only wish I’d bought this back in April when I got my bass! I would’ve been so much further along than I am. Again, Thank you so very much! This was exactly what I’ve needed, and been looking for! Hope you have a wonderful day!!”

Well, it is a wonderful day. Let’s play bass!

See you ’round the bend, my friend,


Ruth McLain on bass

Washtub bass

It’s Killington, Vermont, 1961 and I’m 14. I am watching The Shanty Boys play at Mike Cohen’s Trailside base camp. Mike, brother of John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers, is on guitar. Roger Sprung picks his iconic gold hearts-and-flowers Mastertone banjo, grinning like WC Fields. On the first washtub bass I’d ever seen was Lionel Kilberg. He called it the Brownie bass. It had a small red fire hydrant at the top of the stick. Lionel played real, accurate notes on his Brownie bass and it really did the job.

Fast forward to South Austin, 2010, last week. I was over at Leeann Atherton’s barn to watch Yuichi Mitsui, from Japan, assemble a washtub bass. I asked Yuichi how he learned to play it. Yuichi answers questions in a soft, hushed word or two. He says, “Jim Kweskin.” “Ah,” I say, “Fritz Richmond!” Fritz played with the Jim Kweskin jug band. Fritz (1939-2005) was a wiz on the washtub bass (and the jug). I never once heard of him playing a real bass fiddle, only washtub bass. Fritz played very accurate bass lines. Yuichi could not have chosen a better mentor.

It takes Yuichi about 45 minutes to assemble the tub, stick, and wire and then it’s time to play. Yuichi is on bass, Leeann on guitar and I’m on mandolin. I play a little Sally Gooden and sing Dooley. Then Leeann sings I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and she’s so haunting that I almost did cry. Yuichi says, “Johnny Cash,” and I sing I Still Miss Someone. The washtub bass fills up the bottom of the music and grounds it. The last notes hang in the air and then it’s time for me to go. I can smell supper at home.

Sadly, we lost Lionel a few years ago. Thank you, Yuichi, for bringing back memories of The Shanty Boys.

See you around the bend, my friend.


Homemade washtub bass

Yuich on washtub bass

Welcome to the Austin Pickin Ranch

Ladies & gentlemen, boys & girls, children of all ages, and music lovers everywhere: From Austin, Texas (the live music capitol of the world), it’s the Austin Pickin Ranch. Yes, the Austin Pickin Ranch, where you can pick it too, and music dreams come true. So, settle back and enjoy Instructo-tainment at its finest. And, it’s all brought to you by:

Bluegrass Bass – Our 35th year!  The world’s greatest complete instruction guide to playing upright (and electric) bass for bluegrass and beyond. First released in 1977, Bluegrass Bass is a cult classic that has taught 3 generations of bass players. Now, it’s back withtheory, techniques,  all new pics and exciting interviews with the top bassists in all of bluegrass (and beyond). Complete with a disk of the original play-along stereo ‘floppy’ of songs from the book.


Conversational Bluegrass Banjo –  The revolutionary way to learn to play bluegrass banjo. There is no music to read, not even TAB. If you want to know the biggest secret to learning 5-string banjo, here it is: Forget TAB. Learn your right hand rolls. That’s what this book is all about. This book contains my best banjo tricks. Comes with 2 play-along CD’s of over 100 musical examples from the book. Play along with me until you get it.

How to pick it good and right

At the Austin Pickin Ranch.
Where you can pick it too and music dreams come true.

See you ‘round the bend, my friend.