Education & OutreachEducation ProgramsPlayshopsRiverTunesVocáli Voice Camp

Arts Education and Outreach

Joe is first and foremost a creative force of nature and, as a workshop leader or motivational speaker for the arts, he is without peer.

Jim Magill, Director – The Swannanoa Gathering Folk Workshops / Black Mountain, NC
JJoe tailors his presentation to your specific population, addressing areas of concentration that specifically support your curriculum and instructional goals. He has the proven ability to assess the situation and meet it head on.

My Approach to Arts Education

I define and promote creativity as an organic, playful pursuit of possibility. My approach is an education process of connecting informally learned information to what one already does – more so than an introduction to music making based on a formal pedagogy requiring specific prerequisites.

It’s more an issue of believing you are music, rather than doing or playing music.

Whether in concert or in the classroom, folks often share with me that they feel refreshed in seeing the value of music making and artful living in their own lives. I help individuals take possession of what they already have and “demystify” art through self-expression as a daily ritual.

As a self-appointed and now recognized arts activist, my passion is to help folks realize the importance of seeing art and arts education, not merely as enrichment or enhancement, but as the bedrock of one’s life. It’s difficult to create the world as it might be if we have been required to memorize the world as it is; living out of imagination instead of memory is the way to a life in this previously mentioned pursuit of possibility. If art is approached – and taught – as a problem solving mechanism, people can embrace it’s application as valuable, if not crucial, to all individuals. Creativity not only instills greater confidence, flexibility, self reliance and potential, it can also save a life. In the real world, these are the kinds of properties that propel us from a mindset of “How will I survive?” to “How can I thrive?”

Economic recession is a reality but allowing a recession in our ability to learn how to critically think, problem solve and see possibility is a reduction that, more than money, we can’t afford in our lives. In challenging times, there always exists the opportunity of the “Mother of Re-Invention”.

I believe that anybody can learn to sing in tune, keep a beat and make music confidently with other people.

I am dedicated to providing private intensives, workshops, assemblies, residencies, public speaking and other outreach to help folks embrace creativity through music. Write me about your situation. I am here to help however I can.

Joe and Hattie Craven jam, along the banks of the American River, at RiverTunes.

Joe and Hattie Craven jam along the banks of the American River.


An award winning educator for over 25 years, Joe’s clients include primary and secondary schools, universities, juvenile and adult detention centers, special needs facilities, medical facilities, civic organizations, music festivals and music camps to name a few. Joe has paneled at American String Teacher’s Association and Folk Alliance. He counts Goodwill, Wells Fargo and the United Way among his clients as well as Enloe Medical Center. He is the Executive Director of RiverTunes Roots Music Camp, Vocàli Voice Camp, a Co-Director for the Wintergrass Youth Academy and a key note clinician for Delfest. Joe partners with Fine Arts Councils by creating and/or implementing grant funded proposals for arts outreach to communities. And no matter who Joe’s connecting with – a community workshop in Costa Rica, a university lecture and demonstration in Washington, or on stage in front of thousands of school kids in Scotland – Joe’s at home and loving every minute.

Learn More

Email me regarding my programs, bookings, or any questions you may have.
Joe Craven at 530-902-4413

What do professional educators and students think of Joe Craven presentations?
Read testimonials.

To see a sample of Joe’s education topics and playshops, click here.


Schools, festivals, camps, weekend retreats, residencies, one day workshops, teacher in-service, group and private lessons

I loved your workshop. I got many ideas for teaching speech and theatre.  I am thinking about things in a different way. You are an extraordinary teacher! 

                                                                                       – Kelly Doran / Theatre Instructor / Tacoma School of the Arts 


Joe Craven - Educator

Spirit of the Suwannee Park – MagnoliaFest – Florida


A 2 hour lesson to fit the needs of the student. This can be an individual or small group session (up to 6).



One hour (+ or -) Musical instruments and found sound from around the world and around your house. Performance mixed with motivational speaking about self expression & some participation; completely self-contained with sound system, etc., when possible. (5 stars – a favorite with schools).


1) Everyone Live In Concert – This is all-inclusive program of school wide participation, teamwork, preparation and performance of a music program for the community by a specific population of (or the entire) student body demonstrating a variety of musical pieces the students learn. Break out sessions occur over each day over the course of the residency. The students use found sound and conventional instruments, demonstrating the ability for anyone to make and perform music in a concert performance.

2) The Music Tree – A music appreciation style program of listening, learning and discussing, (through recorded and live example), the relationships – and key musicians – between many different types of vernacular music in the US, and the world, today. Students then visually illustrate a “family tree” of music, “genealogically” through time, thereby seeing the ultimate connectedness of all music’s genres. A great way to expose students to a wide variety of music in the world.

3) What Is Folk Music? – The Uncommon Music of Common People – Joe introduces the concept of ‘folk process’, or informally learned music as a way of expressing, documenting and preserving their everyday life experiences, thus creating “personal music diaries” for themselves.

Joe demonstrates how the process of folk music works which, for him, are pieces learned from the aural tradition of observation – handed down person to person and generation to generation. Tunes and songs embellished and altered with different versions through time ultimately creating new music altogether. Music doesn’t belong to individuals so much as it belongs to cultures and to humanity. When you are learning other people’s music you are learning your own. When you discover theirs, it is a foundation in discovering your own.


Playshops on rhythm, playing by ear, improvisation, tips for better practicing, self-motivation, goals, intention, and more…for Middle and High School Band, Orchestra, Chorus and Theater.

Joe introduces intuitive ways to play “off paper.” He brings a playful, fun approach to learning music through aural tradition.“Cross Over” – the infusion of vernacular (or informally taught music) – to classical (or formally taught music) continues to grow in popularity. Joe connects incremental learning of music to students in similar ways we all learn speech.


My Family Makes Music – Children and their families experience the dynamics of connection with each other through music making in the moment and sharing that music with others. The joy of the folk art idea of informal learning and community building is explored and celebrated through “jamming”! 2 hour program – after school, early evening or weekends.

Educator In-Service ~ for Teachers and/or Parents.

One to two hour lecture/demonstration/discussion/participation format on topics such as, but not limited to;

Turning Up The Creative Flame – To Avoid Job Burnout – A workshop that promotes the fun and value of the individual teacher taking greater creative risk through the idea of spontaneous play within themselves to help encourage that example within their students. This approach promotes the concept of informal learning within the more formal structure of standardized curriculum.

Breaking Through Your Box…Then Playing On It – Ideas for the integration of creative problem solving, critical thinking and artful living into existing curriculum while adhering to standards guidelines. The workshop is participatory, fast paced, motivational and fun with fresh perspectives and ideas! (20 participant maximum)

Your workshop was a model for all other presenters!  As an elementary teacher for 33 years, I was amazed at how incredibly well prepared you were. You were very specific about each of the tasks and let us know WHY we were doing each exercise as well as how it could relate to our experience in an ensemble. You’re the best! 

                                                                                                                – Ross Pomerenk / educator / workshop participant

Joe Craven – Educator

Wintergrass Adult Intensive

PLAYSHOPS (workshops)

intimate and interactive presentations for music festivals, camps and community groups

I think that what you taught is applicable to any creative endeavor – not just music.
You are an excellent teacher. 

                                                                                                    – Pat Nelson / workshop participant

IMPROVISATION: In the Moment and Movement Without A Net!
How do you make better music in the moment, jam confidently with folks you’ve never met, and/or say something different every time you take a solo? This class for ALL instruments will help deepen one’s connection to spontaneity and flow through organized sound. Joe teaches musical improvisation more from a theater model rather than the requisite model of jazz. Therefore, this is not an ability-based class. If you’re an advanced player seeking a ‘theory & technique’-oriented foray into improvisation from a jazz architecture, this class may not be for you. Joe connects improvisation to what you already do and moves you forward from there. We’ll focus on ways to think differently about sound, embrace fearlessness, and address the connection between spoken-word language and the language of music. Showing up empty-handed, mimicry, mistakes & metaphor, sending/receiving and the value of losing control are just some what we’ll apply to our music making in class. Lots of exercises and opportunity to play with others in new ways. The class will stretch you and may well change some of your perceptions of what music is. It’s a fun and enlightening romp!

Take an old tune and make it new; take a new song and make it old. Looking at things differently is part of a long, great tradition in Folk Music! Bring any instruments, ideas and challenge Joe and the group!

This fun class focuses on creative problem-solving in your music with both old and new approaches. The concept of “recycling” in music is explored as; 1) Object: innovative uses of conventional and found objects as instruments 2) Idea: reinterpretation and re-composition (new music comes out of old music).

This is open to all instruments and all folks wanting to deepen their connection to their own creative voice. Joe’s critically acclaimed CDs, CAMPTOWN, MO’JOE, FOAKEE and DJANGO LATINO are testimonies to his folk music philosophy. Come with tunes, songs and objects that you wish to musically alter.

Ahhh…that “lilting” swing time rhythm – what is it? It’s a sound, a rhythm, a dance and something that lifts the spirit every time it comes around. In this all instruments session, Joe will not only show you how swing lives as style, (including a gateway to Jazz’s popularity), but how it is the “feel” of bounce, sway, roundness, elasticity and “pocket” in vernacular music.

Joe loves giving people ideas & tools to make connections with informally made music. He starts with the basics; listening, using whatever is in your toolbox, rhythm, solos, singing, good manners, and then so much more! Its fun and encouraging to play music informally and spontaneously with folks from duos to large gatherings; learning to fit in and what to contribute are part of the etiquette.. Everyone has a space…and a place….in music making. Joe helps you find yours. Your table is waiting, so come take possession of what you already have!

An adventure open to all folks who wish to deepen their connection to self-expression. Explore the joy of organized sound by learning to think differently about it all. Challenge Joe by bringing objects to his “Alter of Found Sound” that you wish to see musically defined. Explore the joy of spontaneity, improvisation and self-expression in music making. Heightened listening, observation and imitation, and rhythm are touched on. As Joe puts it, “If you want to live an artful life, you got to find ways to bust through the box of normality, category, mediocrity. I try to mix the discipline of being an adult with the wonder of a child… Staying open to things, focusing, listening deeper, looking longer and letting go. It’s about passion and that means sometimes you’ve got to quit thinking… just close your eyes, do it, feel it…and learn.

This workshop or playshop, as Joe likes to call it, is open to all instruments. Even If you’ve never picked up a string or percussion instrument, Joe will briefly demonstrate how anybody can play music right away by simply organizing sound! Everyone moves rhythmically through every day of their life. Through rhythmic phrasing you can say powerful things with just one pitch (note) or chord. There are always new ways of deepening your connection to your music through it’s most fundamental element…RHYTHM! As Joe puts it, “You’ve got the time, so why not make your music?”

Discovering and furthering the “Life Drummer” in yourself with the organic, intuitive way that Joe himself learned. Connecting your daily movements to the movements of organized sound along with awakening to most anything in your immediate environment as your toolbox of expression, can make you more musical than you ever imagined. Joe can give you great ideas!

The blues are truly a foundation and inspiration for most traditional and contemporary vernacular American music. This adventure is open to ALL instruments. We’ll listen to historical references from early recordings to the present. And yeah, we’ll learn some technical stuff; basic forms, a few scales and stompin’ on the groove. We’ll also tackle how to translate the “feel” of the grease, the groan and the growl of the blues to your instrument, and importantly, we’ll address learning how to take your time sayin’ a bunch – without playin’ a bunch – of notes. After all’s said and done, playin’ the blues ain’t a math problem and it ain’t rocket science – it’s about intuition and release of emotion. The more you surrender to the feeling, the better you’ll do it! We’ll have a great time.

Have you always wanted play the fiddle? For first timers and beginners, Joe jump starts your desire to play in this fun playshop. Boldly bow where no bowing has gone on before! Joe shows you how to comfortably and confidently bow in different keys and even play a simple tune er two! You will be able to join and support a jam after this session! BYOV* (*bring your own violin – borrowed from a friend or your own).

In this presentation, Joe introduces the concept of teaching students folk music as a way of expressing, documenting and preserving their everyday life experiences, thus creating “personal music diaries” for themselves.

A copy of the brochure from an exhibition Joe curated on folk music in 1981 (available on request), highlights the “ballad” and is a model for this presentation.

Joe demonstrates how the process of folk music works which, for him, are pieces learned from the aural tradition of observation and imitation – handed down person to person and generation to generation. Tunes and songs embellished and altered with different versions through time ultimately create new music altogether. Music doesn’t belong to individuals so much as it belongs to cultures and to humanity. When learning other people’s music, you magically discover your own!

  • Spontaneity and improvisation in composition
  • Percussion and voice / “being in the moment”
  • Call and response
  • Examples of everyday topics for writing lyrics

Keep this going and give people the freedom and mandate to be musical. It was fun, valuable and needs to be expanded. Adult psyches are so fragile, you deal very well in that realm. I see you as a musical psychologist. 

                                                                                                                         – Mike Hensen / workshop participant

– Begin Your Beyond

RiverTunes isn’t about showing us how to do something better, as much as RiverTunes is about showing us what we didn’t realize what we capable of in the first place!

~ RiverTunes Student
RiverTunes Student Body

RiverTunes Student Body

What We Are

RiverTunes is a small community-based/volunteer assisted Music Camp, whose purpose is to validate, encourage and promote the creative music abilities of all people with informally learned American-based Roots Music.

Anyone never having “given it a go” with learning music, anyone having previously experienced genuine struggles or negative experiences learning music, and from never before beginners to folks wishing to progress to the next level, RiverTunes provides a really fun opportunity for people with a desire to explore, learn and grow musically in a supportive and safe environment.

We are three and a half days of acoustic music instruction, performance opportunities, evening activities, jamming, dance and more in a breathtaking outdoor setting in the heart of California’s beautiful gold country. Study voice along with string, percussion and keyboard-based instruments in a variety of genre. We explore traditional and contemporary Folk and Americana, Blues, Pop, Hawaiian, Tin Pan Alley, Bluegrass, Old Time, Swing and Dance, along with Improvisation, Rhythm, Songwriting, Theory, Performance Craft…and lots of Jamming!

Camping under the stars, making new and/or reuniting with friends, eating delicious/ nutritious catered food, tons of laughter, very little sleep, lots of “ah ha!” moments and so much more, await us every year.

Where We Are

RiverTunes is based in northern California. We are currently finalizing arrangements with our new location for 2017. Our former location was on the south fork of the American River in Coloma CA.

Visit our website

RiverTunes is one of the best things to ever happen to our family. It has changed us in so many ways.

~ RiverTunes Student
RiverTunes Student body good bye

RiverTunes Student body good bye