Students in Denison’s American Roots Music program explore America’s musical and cultural heritage while developing into well-rounded musicians ready to succeed in today’s music world.

Explore America’s diverse musical heritage

Denison’s American Roots Music program spans a broad range of music styles and eras — including traditional and progressive bluegrass, early commercial country music, country/Delta blues, folk, gospel, and early jazz, string band music, and 20th/21st century Americana songwriters like Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, and John Prine.

American Roots celebrates the diverse peoples and cultures that shaped the United States. It reaches back to European fiddle tunes and ballads, African-American spirituals and proto-blues, Appalachian string band music, early rock-’n’-roll, and the folk revival and social movement music of the 1960s. It continues to evolve today, giving voice to Americans of all backgrounds and identities.

Immerse yourself in exciting courses and live performance

As a Denison American Roots Music student, you can take courses in music theory, composition, songwriting, improvisation, music history, and sound editing/recording — all taught by talented faculty members who are active music professionals and performers.

Outside the classroom, you perform on stage — starting in your first year — at local and regional music festivals, private events, in concert halls and theaters, even opening for national touring artists like The Steep Canyon Rangers, Sister Sadie, Mile Twelve, and The Special Consensus.

The American Roots Music ensemble rehearses, arranges and performs in arrangements ranging from duo, trio, full string band, large ensemble, and small hybrid acoustic/electric bands. You are encouraged to develop your own music as you explore the variety of models of traditional and modern sounds.

Qualified students from any major can participate in ensembles, take private lessons with Denison’s world-class faculty, and participate in masterclasses with national touring artists. They gain expertise on guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin/fiddle, bass, and dobro/slide guitar, as well as vocal performance.

Chart your own path to a career in music

As an American Roots Music student, you complement your musicianship with liberal arts coursework and practical internships that help you build a network and discover what it takes to succeed in today’s fast-paced, entrepreneurial music world.

Examples of Denison students and alumni in the music world:

The Denison Bluegrass Festival

Each February, members of the American Roots Music ensemble perform with top bluegrass artists, both national and local, during the Denison Bluegrass Festival, one of the university’s best-loved musical traditions. In past years, stellar artists, including Larry Sparks, Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, David Grier, Tim O’Brien, and The Price Sisters have performed at the festival.

In between two evenings of exhilarating concerts, students, local musicians and guest artists gather to create pop-up bands for rehearsals, jamming and performing during a day of bandmixer style workshops.

Our Faculty

Denison’s American Roots Music faculty have a mastery of musical knowledge, extensive experience in performance, and a passion to share their expertise with students.

Learn more about our outstanding faculty.

Our Curriculum

American Roots Music program is offered as an emphasis and a minor in the music degree. The liberal arts model gives you the flexibility to continue to study and perform music while pursuing a second major or minor. This is nearly unheard of in a conservatory setting. Many of our ensemble members are not music majors, but you’d never know it based on how involved they are in the program.

Core courses, which are open to students from any major, include:

The History of Bluegrass and American Roots Music

  • Take a look at the musical formulas established in the 1940s and 1950s by the pioneers of Bluegrass music!
  • Understand the music that helped to create Bluegrass music – Traces the timeline up to Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys.
  • Explore the offshoots and evolution of Bluegrass and string band music into modern times.

History of Country Music

  • Explore different approaches to music-making throughout the world
  • Examine the ritual and social contexts, compositional techniques, performance styles, instruments, and learning traditions of different musical cultures.

American Roots Music Seminar

  • Our recording studio is the perfect place to explore songwriting, song analysis, arranging, and multitrack recording.
  • Produce an EP of students’ original music each semester.

You can earn an American Roots Music minor, or earn an American Roots emphasis with your bachelor of arts degree in music.