Teachers at the Old Town School

Michael Miles

Banjo, Guitar

Michael Miles is one of America’s most innovative banjo players. With expansive unpredictable repertoire and high-reaching musicality, his work is described by Banjo Newsletter as, “a brilliant tour-de force that effectively obliterates the limits of what was thought possible on clawhammer banjo.” Hailed by Chicago’s legendary WXRT as, “Genius.” The Chicago Sun-Times simply says, “Give the banjo to Michael J. Michaels you’ll hear a mighty soul stirring sound.”

When Pete Seeger heard Michael’s very first recording his response was, “This is enough to make me want to learn to play the banjo all over again.” That was 1990. Over the past 25 years, Michael has created and refined an evocative musical, education, and theatrical voice.

In addition to his work on the banjo, Michael as an MA in Guitar Performance with a particular interest and expertise in fingerstyle. Over the years, he has led classes in Fingerstyle Jazz, Great American Songbook, James Taylor, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, The Beatles, and fingerstyle arranging.

Michael carries his musicianship even further into the theatrical arena. Here he has created over a dozen “musical documentaries for the stage” that combine musical performance with literature, politics, and humor. 2015 offerings include his signature one-man show From Senegal to Seeger and his latest work Way Down the Road.

These shows and Michael’s concerts have been featured at places like the Smithsonian, the Old Town School of Folk Music, Royal Opera Theatre of Marrakesh, Sage Gateshead in the UK, Musical Instrument Museum in Arizona, the Chicago Humanities Festival, and Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival in Ireland. He’s equally at ease in the intimate setting of a house concert or library.

Finally sharing the good fortune of his musical world, Michael is a passionate educator who in the course of any given year leads school assemblies, songwriting residencies, workshops, and classes at festivals. Michael served as Program Director at the Old Town School from 1984 - 1998, bringing the School international acclaim and raising enrollment from 200 students to move than 4000. He was the first ever Artist-In-Residence at the School from 2005 - 2007.

In addition to his work with the Old Town School, Michael is also a teaching artist for the Ravinia Festival and guest professor at Vilanova University and the VanderCook College of Music.

Education: B.A. Oral Interpretation of Literature, University of Illinois, 1976
M.A. Music Performance and Pedagogy, Northeastern Illinois University, 2004
Independent Study: John Moulder, Guitar; Kathy Cowan, Voice.
Additional independent study

Started at the Old Town School in September of 1979

Upcoming Workshops

Clawhammer Banjo Workshops with Michael J. Miles: Jambalaya by Hank Williams

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Mon. November 30, 6:30 PM – 7:45 PM · Online

This classic Hank Williams song was #1 hit in 1952 spending 14 weeks at the top of the chart. This is played by every beginning guitar students, but the tune sounds way better (with respect) on the banjo because you can deliver that cajun groove.   

Fingerstyle Workshop Series with Michael J. Miles: Dancin’ In The Street

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Mon. November 30, 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM · Online

Written in 1964 and recorded by Martha and the Vandellas, as well as the Mamas & Papas, this song came to symbolize the 1960's. As a fingerstyle guitar piece it's just flies right off the guitar.

Clawhammer Banjo Workshops with Michael J. Miles: Minuet in G by J.S. Bach

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Mon. December 07, 6:30 PM – 7:45 PM · Online

Always wanted to play  Bach but have been afraid to try? This is the perfect tune to start with. We'll actually change it to the key of C, but the banjo sounds beautiful delivering Bach's brilliant melody written in 1725.

Fingerstyle Workshop Series with Michael J. Miles: My Girl

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Mon. December 07, 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM · Online

With its iconic bassline, this was just one example of Motown's magical response the Beatles. Fingerstyle guitar allows you to lay down that bassline and weave the melody on top. A thrilling guitar experience.

Clawhammer Banjo Workshops with Michael J. Miles: Freight Train and New River Train

Intermediate

$25 ($24 members)

Mon. December 14, 6:30 PM – 7:45 PM · Online

Classic train songs packed together with the clawhammer groove. In this workshop we'll lay out the basic melodies and add elements of improvisation as well. Freight Train was written by Elizabeth Cotten, and she played it on her guitar. New River Train is just a great tune with one foot in the bluegrass world and the other on the run.

Fingerstyle Workshop Series with Michael J. Miles: Christmas Time is Here

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Mon. December 14, 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM · Online

Staying home for the holidays is the perfect time to step into this magical tune that has come our way care of Charlie Brown and Vince Guaraldi. It is a beautiful and not too difficult piece for fingerstyle guitar.

Class is full.

Fingerstyle Workshop Series with Michael J. Miles: 2nd Section of Christmas Time is Here

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Tue. December 15, 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM · Online

Staying home for the holidays is the perfect time to step into this magical tune that has come our way care of Charlie Brown and Vince Guaraldi. It is a beautiful and not too difficult piece for fingerstyle guitar.

Clawhammer Banjo Workshops with Michael J. Miles: Afro-Latin Grooves

Intermediate

$25 ($24 members)

Mon. February 01, 6:30 PM – 7:45 PM · Online

Based on the free app, AfroLatin Drum Machine, which everyone should get regardless - we will step into the musical percussive world on the other side of "old time" and "bluegrass." These Afro-Latin grooves will expand your playing and rhythmic understanding.

Fingerstyle Workshop Series with Michael J. Miles: Lean On Me

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Mon. February 01, 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM · Online

This song is an anthem for troubled times--and beautifully moving even as an instrumental. Bill Withers passed less than year ago and leaves a grand musical legacy. See also "Ain't No Sunshine on Feb 8

Clawhammer Banjo Workshops with Michael J. Miles: Little Martha by The Allman Brothers Band

Intermediate

$25 ($24 members)

Mon. February 08, 6:30 PM – 7:45 PM · Online

This is a classic guitar instrumental that sits quite perfectly for clawhammer banjo.  If you like the Allman Brothers and play the banjo, this one's for you.

Fingerstyle Workshop Series with Michael J. Miles: Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Mon. February 08, 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM · Online

Classic hit song from the legendary Bill Withers who passed less than a year ago. See also "Lean on Me" on Feb 1.

Clawhammer Banjo Workshops with Michael J. Miles: Sleepers Awake by J.S. Bach

Intermediate

$25 ($24 members)

Mon. February 15, 6:30 PM – 7:45 PM · Online

While some of J.S. Bach's works are on the acrobatic side when it comes to playing them, this one is truly one of the most beautiful and not so impossible to play.

Fingerstyle Workshop Series with Michael J. Miles: Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell

Intermediate

$25 ($23 members)

Mon. February 15, 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM · Online

Joni Mitchell is a wondrous soul who played the very first concert in Maurer Hall. Here is a classic tune of hers, played by many because it is rich and deep, with that twinge of mystery that fingerstyle guitar helps illuminate.


Group Classes for the session beginning 01/04/2021

Doc Watson for Clawhammer Banjo with Michael Miles

$99 ($89 members)

01/04/2021 – 01/25/2021 (4 meetings)

Mondays · 6:30 PM – 7:50 PM · Online

Great American Songbook for Fingerstyle Guitar with Michael Miles

$99 ($89 members)

01/04/2021 – 01/25/2021 (4 meetings)

Mondays · 8:00 PM – 9:20 PM · Online