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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: How to play with ohters in an old-time jam


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freddfish - Posted - 08/25/2012:  22:30:30



When I first started to play the banjo, I couldn't find anyone to play with in the old-time style, and so was relegated to bluegrass and folk jams. Nothing (much) wrong with that, but now that I have found a few old-time jams, I am trying to figure out how to fit my picking in with them. So far I have just stayed in the background and played chords, but that is kind of boring. In a bluegrass jam, I got into the habit of chording or playing quiet melody until someone gave me a break, but that doesn't seem to be the way OT folks roll. I don't see them taking breaks, at least not like I have seen bluegrassers do.



-Does one play melody all the time in a song they know, just altering the volume as needs dictate?



-The songs seem to be driven by the fiddle, as they are based on dance tunes. Does one need to know the melody to every song in order to hold their end up?



-I also play the bones, and have had no bad reaction to them in my regular jam. When played quietly, are they more or less welcome in OT?



 



Thoughts, folks?


carlb - Posted - 08/26/2012:  05:58:11



quote:


Originally posted by freddfish

1-Does one play melody all the time in a song they know, just altering the volume as needs dictate?


2-The songs seem to be driven by the fiddle, as they are based on dance tunes. Does one need to know the melody to every song in order to hold their end up?



3-I also play the bones, and have had no bad reaction to them in my regular jam. When played quietly, are they more or less welcome in OT?





 




 1- Yes, I do. Don't play too loud or too soft; blend in.



2- Yes, I do. However, if the tune is new to me, I take some time and listen to it a few times through and then start trying to find the notes (softly) or chord along with the tune and try and find the notes out of the chord patterns (you can check my pictures for chord positions in various tunings).



3- Yes, they should be. I found a way to play my wooden spoons (bowels and handle ends; sort of a cross between spoons and bones) for Irish music and they haven't discouraged me from playing with them (it's now been about 5 years; I do play whistle also but only on tunes I know).


Tatersoup - Posted - 08/26/2012:  09:04:19



Q: Does one play melody all the time in a song they know, just altering the volume as needs dictate?



A: I wouldn't as I think the odds of "bumping into" the vocalist or other instrumentalists is too high and makes the song sound a bit hollow and flat. I think playing harmony would be more appropriate, unless you have the break.



Q: The songs seem to be driven by the fiddle, as they are based on dance tunes. Does one need to know the melody to every song in order to hold their end up?



A: Yes, but it is not necessary to play it; think harmony.



 


Clawdan - Posted - 08/26/2012:  09:38:06



Everyone plays in unison - no breaks, clawhammer preferred though pick-less fingerpicking in the old time style is quite acceptable, no bones please. And yes, fiddle melody drives the tune.


Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 08/26/2012:  11:32:50



quote:


Originally posted by Clawdan




Everyone plays in unison - no breaks, clawhammer preferred though pick-less fingerpicking in the old time style is quite acceptable, no bones please. And yes, fiddle melody drives the tune.






I never go to old time jams because I find more than 2 or 3 instruments playing in unison to be a most uninteresting type of ensemble music, both to listen to and to play.* But I would venture to say that Clawdan is right on in his description of how old time jams are generally structured.



Personally, I much prefer jams where people play all different kinds of music, and where each player finds a distinctive part to play - and that is definitely not the prevailing etiquette at old time jams.



(*On the other hand, I think fiddle banjo unison duets are about as perfect a setting for old time tunes as you're likely to find. I just don't like having everyone else in there muddying up the sound, and destroying the subtlety of the "mix".)



Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 08/26/2012 11:34:21

ukuleletim - Posted - 08/26/2012:  11:54:58



Although I have a diverse musical background and love just about any type jam situation, I find old time jamming to be very energetic and satisfying (with the dynamics described by Dan). It just feels good.



Here is a video of few songs from a jam I participated in while in Arkansas. I didn't find it to be muddy at all, but I do suffer from some hearing loss, so...



 




VIDEO: Old Time jam, a few songs with dancing in Mountain View, Arkansas
(click to view)

   

Bill H - Posted - 08/26/2012:  15:26:57



I've yet to find an old time jam here in NH. Mostly folk mix with a few popular traditional tunes. Great fun,but I end up mostly strumming chords.



Found a Bluegrass jam that looks interesting. They had an open mike before a Sierra Hull concert. Guitars, banjo, and two ukes with lots of singing. If I can't fit a little clawhammer into that mix I give up.


banjoak - Posted - 08/26/2012:  23:42:37



For fiddle tune jams, it's generally driven by the fiddle. I would say though that the expectation for banjo in many OT jams doesn't generally play quite in unison with the fiddle, and indeed has it's own distinctive part to play, and role to support the whole sound. Generally not as melodic as the fiddle, (that's what tenor banjo is for) yet not just quite based on just background accompaniment chord progressions and rhythm. Might think of it as a more bare bones melodic contour, and rhythm. That style works just fine with singing as well. Don't think I've ever heard anyone attempt a harmony part on banjo in OT, doesn't seem like harmony would be appropriate (often not even appropriate for fiddle).



So IMO one generally needs to be able play the basic melody (or contour)



But it really depends on what the others you are playing with think; they might think strumming chords is just fine (maybe even desirable) Similar with the bones and wooden spoons. Myself, I am not generally a fan, mostly due to enough folks who are more interested in being part of the musicians than actually supporting the sound of the music. What makes any of these things welcome comes down to how the person plays (banjo or bones), and the people playing with.


Evan C - Posted - 08/27/2012:  11:54:03



quote:


Originally posted by Marc Nerenberg






Personally, I much prefer jams where people play all different kinds of music, and where each player finds a distinctive part to play - and that is definitely not the prevailing etiquette at old time jams.



 






No, indeed it's not. Although you find unison playing uninteresting, having a group of folks who play different kinds of music is a recipe for some nasty sounding stuff. There's a reason why the OT etiquette is the way it is. If you want to produce some decent sounding music, it's usually best to have some understanding of the genre being played at the jam.


Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 08/27/2012:  18:35:41



quote:


Originally posted by Evan C




quote:


Originally posted by Marc Nerenberg







Personally, I much prefer jams where people play all different kinds of music, and where each player finds a distinctive part to play - and that is definitely not the prevailing etiquette at old time jams.



 






No, indeed it's not. Although you find unison playing uninteresting, having a group of folks who play different kinds of music is a recipe for some nasty sounding stuff. There's a reason why the OT etiquette is the way it is. If you want to produce some decent sounding music, it's usually best to have some understanding of the genre being played at the jam.






Well, that's not been my experience. I find having a group of folks who play different kinds of music playing together to be a recipe for very interesting music.



Of course the players have to be fairly good musicians with good taste, and an understanding of how to play with restraint, and how to listen closely to what the other guys are doing.



Some of the best music I've ever heard at jams have been at ones where there is a real diversity of backgrounds, and an openness to listen and learn - and this has been especially so at jams where the musicians come from diverse parts of the world.



But what I like to hear at a jam and what you like to hear at a jam are obviously different things. That's what makes the world go round.



Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 08/27/2012 18:37:07

Roosterick - Posted - 08/28/2012:  13:23:44



 



quote:


Originally posted by Clawdan




Everyone plays in unison - no breaks, clawhammer preferred though pick-less fingerpicking in the old time style is quite acceptable, no bones please. And yes, fiddle melody drives the tune.







 


The term "oldtime music jam" to describe this type of gathering is a misnomer. To jam means to improvise. A jam session is where a group of musicians get together to discover new ways to play familiar and unfamiliar tunes. Twenty people sitting in a circle playing by rote is not a jam. I'm not sure how or why this type of playing was adopted and became the norm within the old time music revival community, but the definition of oldtime music (and oldtime banjo) seems to be getting narrower and narrower all the time.



 


While many people enjoy the camaraderie and hypnotic rhythmic groove of these musical get togethers, I, like Marc, would rather get together with a small group of like minded musicians who are willing and capable of listening to a song or tune and coming up with an original approach to the music. IMHO improvisation, variety, and individual interpretation are a huge part of the tradition of American music. My musical heroes are all innovators, not imitators. 





 



Edited by - Roosterick on 08/28/2012 13:35:16

banjoak - Posted - 08/28/2012:  14:29:48



quote:


Originally posted by Roosterick




 



quote:


Originally posted by Clawdan





Everyone plays in unison - no breaks, clawhammer preferred though pick-less fingerpicking in the old time style is quite acceptable, no bones please. And yes, fiddle melody drives the tune.







 


The term "oldtime music jam" to describe this type of gathering is a misnomer. To jam means to improvise. A jam session is where a group of musicians get together to discover new ways to play familiar and unfamiliar tunes. Twenty people sitting in a circle playing by rote is not a jam. I'm not sure how or why this type of playing was adopted and became the norm within the old time music revival community, but the definition of oldtime music (and oldtime banjo) seems to be getting narrower and narrower all the time.



 


While many people enjoy the camaraderie and hypnotic rhythmic groove of these musical get togethers, I, like Marc, would rather get together with a small group of like minded musicians who are willing and capable of listening to a song or tune and coming up with an original approach to the music. IMHO improvisation, variety, and individual interpretation are a huge part of the tradition of American music. My musical heroes are all innovators, not imitators. 





 








I can't speak for Dan; but for myself,  the jams I play at (that would generally be labeled as OT), is not about playing by rote. Indeed has quite a bit of living in the moment improvisation. Just perhaps in a different way you are thinking. It includes quite a bit of room for discovering new ways to play familiar and unfamiliar tunes. And interpretation is highly regarded. As matter of fact each gathering is different, time, place and participants, so changes to incorporate and reflect that. As well each time through the tune is not exactly the same. At it's best is a live conversation, between players.. It breathes, it fluctuates. While some of the notes might change here and there, much more of the improvisation is the articulation and expression of the notes, ornamentation, affecting the rhythmic push and pull, groove, flow, drive, syncopation, building up intensity, and then bringing it down. But not just any old way, within the context of parameters of the tune, and a larger continuity of rhythmic groove. You have to be skilled at listening.



If your listening is limited to  "notes" (different sequence of pitches, chords, harmonic space, music theory concepts) you might miss the concept, it would be an uninteresting same thing over and over and over.



No doubt great complexity and variety of melodic line and of harmonic space is a way to go, but I often find when that's all they are doing, not achieving much more than playing by rote (they just rote memorized formulas), but essentially they are just playing notes. Lacking expression, it can be just as bland to me.



Edited by - banjoak on 08/28/2012 14:39:22

Roosterick - Posted - 08/28/2012:  15:05:51


I should have used the word unison instead of "rote". I didn't mean to give a negative connotation to playing a set melody.

g3zdm - Posted - 08/28/2012:  16:16:24


I attend BG, Celtic, English morris dance and cajun sessions mostly; however, I do occasioanlly find myself at an OT jam - usually when I am working away from home (in UK or USA).
I always play with picks on; I don't do clawhammer.
Like Carl B I start by making sure I have the chords then move on to finding the melody, then try to find variations or possibly harmonies. If there are several other banjo players and they're mostly playing down the neck, I try to work out a way of playing the melody up the neck instead. What I find useful is that tunes tend to get played multiple times - like 7 times through. This gives plenty of time to get the tune into my head and experiment (quietly at 1st until I am convinced it fits in with the rest of the players). I avoid using driving Scruggs rolls in OT sessions- that ain't sympathetic with the music.

Chris muriel, Manchester, UK

Clawdan - Posted - 08/29/2012:  06:49:54



quote:


Originally posted by Roosterick




I should have used the word unison instead of "rote". I didn't mean to give a negative connotation to playing a set melody.

 






Doesn't change what you are saying. Playing in unison (perhaps ensemble is a better word?) does not mean there is no interplay or improvisation, quite the opposite. I am quite in agreement with banjoak's statement:

"I can't speak for Dan; but for myself,  the jams I play at (that would generally be labeled as OT), is not about playing by rote. Indeed has quite a bit of living in the moment improvisation..."



In fact this is where I usually experiment more than I would or could in a performance setting.



BTW, many of the best ot jams are basically closed to the general public in order to maintain what we like. You don't get invited until folks don't think you will try to "change" what they like and do. Yes, there is room for all but when you decide you like this type of jam, the jam will find you.



Play Nice,

Dan

Clawdan.com


panthersquall - Posted - 08/29/2012:  19:25:35


Roosterick, I would venture to say that all musicians start out by being imitators, no matter what the genre; it cannot be learnt any other way. You learn how to play music, by playing other people's music first, yes? And at first, it is all "by rote."

Same as learning the alphabet, same as learning a new language.

There are as many "innovators" within the oldtime genre community as there are in any other genre/community, be it rock, americana, blues, country, classical, etc. And every "innovator" has had at least one musical influence on them, that they tried to imitate at first.

Improvisation goes on all the time within OT jams, within the framework of the OT genre and it is a beautiful thing. That, in and of itself, is no different than a jam in any other genre of music.

The how and why OT jams are the way they are, is because this is a music that was played within the family and the community. That is it's tradition. The type of jam you have a preference for is an apple compared to an orange. Neither one is better than the other, or "more musical" - and I'm not saying you implied that - just that they are two different animals, in their own way, as you point out, and yet the same in many ways I don't think you recognized.

While you might prefer playing with a few other musicians, trading licks and speaking a musical language to each other, the same goes on within an OT jam, only it is on a bigger scale, with more people participating. It is playing with a community of folks all at once, rather than just a 'band' or a handful of folks. And yet, it can be a jam with just two people playing, also. It still comes alive, in it's own way.

I think walking into a good hopping OT jam is like walking into a beehive. It is like walking into a living, breathing thing that is alive and humming with energy. Yes, the hypnotic, rhythmic groove is a wonderful thing, but it is the same with a good band. It is the same thing, only amplified with more people. It is a band, times 5. It is community, in it's fullest sense. And it is getting together with a group of like-minded musicians, who, as you said, have listened to songs and are playing their own interpretations of them and are listening to each other, improvising and speaking back and forth in that particular language.

There are OT musicians who write songs within that genre and without, artists who put their own interpretations on traditional songs and who create their own, innovators within this field, and variety beyond your wildest imagination. This type of community-based, home-grown music has spawned at least a thousand successful artists and bands, past and present, (will be glad to name names upon request), thereby inspiring generation after generation in the tradition of 'American' music.

The limitation you ascribe to it is only your own projection, and not a reflection of the true reality of the actual situation.

With all due respect :-)

Tatersoup - Posted - 08/30/2012:  07:51:07



"So IMO one generally needs to be able play the basic melody (or contour)"



Contour is such a perfect description.


Roosterick - Posted - 08/30/2012:  08:01:05



Clawdan,



 


Fair enough.

Different strokes for different folks.


That's why they make Kool-Aid in different colors I guess.


 


 


P.S.


I stand corrected. Apparently my definition of "jamming" is antiquated. According to my 1972 edition of the Harvard Dictionary of Music a jam is when musicians get together to play familiar tunes while improvising and exploring new melodic and harmonic possibilities, but according to the latest edition, a jam is simply a group of musicians getting together to play for pleasure. I guess I am just old fashioned. I still think of jamming as improvising and old-time music as being more than fiddle tunes played in unison.  ; )


 


 


Panthersquall, 


 


First of all I appreciate your thoughtful response, these are all just my opinions and preferences. You know what they say about opinions, everyones got one. I'm not trying tell anyone that there is a right or wrong way to do anything.


 


Addressing your first point about learning; I know a lot of people will disagree (I guess I'm somewhat of a musical heretic), but I don't think imitation is really the best way to learn I think it is better to emulate than imitate. Listen to a lot of music. Listen to the music you like let it become a part of you. Listen to the music that inspired the players you would like to emulate. Watch people play, ask a lot of questions, and spend a lot of time with an instrument in your hands. Be a filter allow the music that comes out of you be a little different than what came in. I know learning from tab, written music, or instructional videos can be a fast track and many people have success with it, but I don't think it is a very holistic approach to music. Learning a song, that you don't already have in your head, note by note, is kind of like learning a poem by memorizing the order of the letters. When I teach people I always start them with songs that they already know. eventually they will be able to figure out how to play anything they can remember. A few years back I had a nine year old banjo student, I was teaching him things like Skip to My Lou, then one day I decided to teach him a G major scale. I went up the scale and his face was blank, but went I went back down the scale his eyes lit up and he yelled "Friend of the Devil!"  He learned how to play Friend of the Devil and I Know You Rider before he learned any fiddle/banjo tunes. He also surprised me by asking to learn Worried Man Blues and Black Jack Davy. He's twelve now and learns the way I do, he watches and listens and then plays back something like what I play. If he doesn't play it exactly the way I do I don't correct him, heck I probably don't play it "right" anyway! He's got a good idea of what sounds good and what doesn't and he's pretty fair singer which helps  a lot. 


 


As far as old time jam sessions. . . I probably should have kept my mouth shut. I don't like to get involved in "this vs that" musical argument, but I'm pretty familiar with old time jams, 20 years ago I thought they were a blast. I didn't mean to question their musical validity or the musicianship of the players. I apologize if I offended anyone with my original response, but this subject is one of my pet peeves.


 


My daughter is a fairly accomplished fiddler and a superb flatfoot dancer. She has been playing professionally since she was thirteen, studied with some of the most respected fiddle players in the world and was awarded a youth scholarship to Swananoa Old Time Music and Dance gathering when she was sixteen. There are a couple samples of her playing with me on my BHO homepage. We used to play a lot of fiddle tunes and go to OT jams together. At some point she fell in love with Ralph Blizzard and his bluesy style of playing. I don't know if your familiar with Ralph, but he was kind of a protege of Fiddling Arthur Smith. He played a very smooth slippery sliding style of long bow fiddle. He took Erica under his wing and encouraged her to improvise. He even wrote a letter to the editor when one of our CDs got reviewed in a national magazine and he felt her playing was unfairly criticized. (the letter never got published but he sent her a copy) Ralph was not a big fan of repetitious playing, he liked to play songs and solo over chord changes rather than fiddle tunes. Erica is even less fond of fiddle tunes than Ralph was. She lost interest in the old time jams long before I did. I still enjoy sitting down and playing few fiddle tunes with friends, but at this point Erica pretty much refuses to play fiddle tunes anymore. It's a shame because she was really very good at it. On a side note Ralph didn't understand the rift that has grown between old time and bluegrass. To him it was all just country music.


 


The problem I have with some of the comments in this thread is that it was giving people the impression that the only valid way to play old time country music is to play a specific canon of fiddle tunes in a particular style; unison, no breaks, no harmony, no percussion, only instruments approved by the Old Time Police. Rural old time musicians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century used any instrument they could get there hands on, pump organs, accordions, bones, washboards, cellos, clarinets, ukuleles, etc. They also played a wide variety of material. The rules laid out by Clawdan would exclude many of people I consider giants in history of rural American (old time) music. Barred from the "jams" due to lack of fiddle lead and other crimes against the state. The Carter Family (Maybelle took guitar solos) Jimmie Rodgers (Louis Armstrong played trumpet on some of his recordings ) The Delmore Brothers (more solos and harmony vocals), The Mississippi Sheiks, Henry Thomas, Dock Boggs, I could list hundreds more.  In 1952 Harry Smith put together The Anthology of American Folk Music which in turn inspired people like the New Lost City Ramblers to dig deeper and help bring all kinds of great old time music to light.  At some point the very interesting, but relatively obscure style of Round Peak dance music became the dominant culture in the old time music community. As a banjo player it's hard not to want to play like Kyle Creed, Fred Cockerham, or Hobart Smith. But I don't think that really explains it.


 


I suspect that the tradition of mass jams with everyone playing in unison started because the early old time fiddle festivals were in a way anti bluegrass festivals. Everyone is equal, the music doesn't belong on stage, it belongs to the people, not the elite professionals. Well when you have a large group of musicians of varying levels of ability, many playing the same instrument, unison playing is the only way to go. And like you said it creates a beehive of energy and is great for dancers.  That's just a theory I came up with while writing this so I don't know if it would hold up to close examination. I suppose the bigger the group the more rules you need. That's why I would rather play in a smaller group.


 


Big bluegrass jams can be just as bad when it comes tolerating anything outside the accepted norm. Several Years ago we were performing at a fairly big BG festival. We were playing two sets on each of two days so we stayed for the whole weekend. Every night we would go out and mingle and do a little jamming. One night we were at a jam that was dominated by some pretty rudimentary players and up walked a guy wearing a zydeco washboard. Apparently he had been run off from every jam in the park and it wasn't long before these jammers let him know in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome there either. We left with him and found a quiet place to play. Turned out that he was really good! He had just move to Philadelphia from New Orleans where he had played with the Neville Brothers as well as a number of Zydeco bands. I played banjo, guitar, and sang, Steve played the rub board, my wife was on doumbek (hand drum) and banjo-uke, my daughter on fiddle and my other daughter on mandolin and jawharps. Well I had more fun than a pig in mud and it wasn't long before there was about a hundred people gathered around hootin' hollerin' and dancing up a storm.


 


In your post you said "because this is a music that was played within the family and the community. That is it's tradition" I am also very familiar with this tradition, 20 years ago our family got rid of our television set and began playing music, telling stories, and dancing to entertain ourselves, 15 or 16 years ago we were invited to perform for a local traditional music society. Since then we have recorded four CDs, played about a thousand shows and facilitated banjo, fiddle, and flatfoot dance workshops around the country. About half of our music is original and the other half is original arrangements of traditional material. Lately I have rekindled my fascination with the American and British ballad traditions.


 


"This type of community based, home grown music has spawned at least a thousand artists and bands, past and present"


 


The name of our family band happens to be The Homegrown String Band


 


 


I hate it when people try to force music into pigeon holes or record bins. I cringe when I read a review that calls our music bluegrass, a little less so when they call it old time, mostly because I know the purists and guardians of the faith will accuse us of blasphemy. If people ask me what kind of music we play I say American roots music or "just regular music."


 


 


People are funny, we can have so much in common and still find something to disagree on. I've said my piece. I'm done with this thread. I hope I didn't ruffle too many feathers, a few would be OK though.


 


Peace, Love  & Happiness and remember " A man who can play the banjo has got it made!"


 


Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 08/30/2012:  09:02:54



quote:


Originally posted by Roosterick


 ...


 


People are funny, we can have so much in common and still find something to disagree on.


...


 








Well, I, for one, don't disagree with a single thing you said in that long post!


Clawdan - Posted - 08/30/2012:  12:22:53



quote:


Originally posted by Roosterick




Clawdan,



 


Fair enough.

Different strokes for different folks.


That's why they make Kool-Aid in different colors I guess.


 


 


P.S.


I stand corrected. Apparently my definition of "jamming" is antiquated. According to my 1972 edition of the Harvard Dictionary of Music a jam is when musicians get together to play familiar tunes while improvising and exploring new melodic and harmonic possibilities, but according to the latest edition, a jam is simply a group of musicians getting together to play for pleasure. I guess I am just old fashioned. I still think of jamming as improvising and old-time music as being more than fiddle tunes played in unison.  ; )


 


 


Panthersquall, 


 


First of all I appreciate your thoughtful response,...


Peace, Love  & Happiness and remember " A man who can play the banjo has got it made!"


 






Roosterick,



Forgive me if I seem to be beating a dead horse here, but I must not be making myself clear at all. We don't disagree. I look at jamming the same as the 1972 edition does (though the later edition does seem much the same thing, if worded differently) but I improvise, explore WHILE playing in unison. Not the same notes as the others, but we all play together - no "solos". I believe I also used the word ensemble. Your interpretation of my remarks seems to imply that you think I feel we should all play the same notes at the same time when nothing could be further from the truth. I don't see any argument in what you are saying and others are saying, I just feel you are misinterpreting my comments.



In a jam as I see it, we all get "together to play familiar tunes while improvising and exploring new melodic and harmonic possibilities" - key word for me is together or in unison - as opposed to one at a time or separately in performance style. To me one does not preclude the other. Just want to make sure I am clear here.



There are indeed many types of jams and folks will tell you that I am one of the first to say that "old time music" is much broader than how most festival style jammers look at it today AND different in every part of the country as well as other countries. If we want to be specific, it would be more accurate to say most "jamming" of "old time" music is a very narrow segment of the broader term "old time music" which I might more accurately describe as appalachian style fiddle tunes played mostly instrumental based upon the early string bands of the 1920's". My early incarnation of my band, The Boiled Buzzards, didn't even have a fiddler. We had a harmonica player instead ala Dr. Humphry Bate and his Possum Hunters and were a CO-lead with clawhammer banjo up in volume and style beside the harmonica player. So, yes, labels can and do become restrictive but we can mostly blame the recording industry for that.



All that said, I think the question that starts this thread asks "how do I fit in to today's old time jam?", even if not in those words. It is a common question from all of my students. SO, it isn't really a matter of what is a jam, or what old time music is or is not, but if you go to a jam, what are the social norms that will help you fit in and how does this tribe practice their ritual of "jamming". In that context, I stand by my comments. I do hope I have been more clear about how I mean them.



I consider myself very lucky to have been raised with this and other forms of music. I sometimes am fascinated by those who learn by imitating others (sometimes to a fault) as I have never been good at that skill. Yes, it too is a skill. I ALWAYS listen to those voices in my head that say, "play it this way" and have the musical data base in my head to draw upon that many don't. BUT, first you have to "make it go" (your instrument) then if you choose to play with others, you need to understand the "rules" of the group you wish to play with.



So, I have no problem with your post or the information you provide, other than it seemed to misrepresent what I said and make it seem like I have an absolute position on jamming and old time music - which I do not. In THIS case, you have seen my answer. Want to be welcome at these jams? Here is what you got to do. Don't care about this kind of jam? Don't like or want to participate in it? No worries. There is another jam that fits your criteria. Just please don't come and try to change "this one". I don't often attend bluegrass jams or song circles because they are not the type of music or playing I enjoy being a regular part of BUT if I DO go to one, I know the "rules" for them and will do my best to conform.



Fred, I think you were wise and brave to ask the question. I hope we have answered your issue through the lengthy discussion.



Play Nice,

Dan

Clawdan.com


Roosterick - Posted - 08/30/2012:  17:52:17



OMG my punctuation is atrocious!  I should get an editor the next time I compose an essay like that.



Have they changed the definition of Unison too?   I guess that could be what's causing the confusion here.



First old time music, then jam, and now unison.  I can't keep up.  :  )





The internet is fast and far reaching, but sometimes it doesn't work any better than a couple cans and a piece of string.



Edited by - Roosterick on 08/30/2012 17:59:23

Clawdan - Posted - 08/30/2012:  19:34:36



figurative, sense: if several people do something "in unison" it means they do it simultaneously,



unison



noun

in unison


1. simultaneously, at the same time, as one, in concert, all at once, at the same moment, at one and the same time Michael and the landlady nodded in unison.


2. together, unanimously, in agreement, in harmony, in accord, cooperatively, unitedly The international community is ready to act in unison against him.



Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002



Though I believe I clarified with Ensemble:



en·sem·ble  (n-smbl)



n.

1. A unit or group of complementary parts that contribute to a single effect, especially:

a. A coordinated outfit or costume.


b. A coordinated set of furniture.


c. A group of musicians, singers, dancers, or actors who perform together: an improvisational theater ensemble; a woodwind ensemble.



2. Music

a. A work for two or more vocalists or instrumentalists.


b. The performance of such a work.






[French, from Old French, together, from Late Latin nsimul, at the same time : in-, intensive pref.; see in-2 + simul, at the same time; see sem-1 in Indo-European roots.]


The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.



Ah well, if we only spent as much time playing music.



Edited by - Clawdan on 08/30/2012 19:38:13

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 08/30/2012:  20:19:36



I always thought playing music in unison meant several people playing the same notes at the same time  (as opposed to playing in harmony, when they're playing different notes at the same time).



As in the Online Glossary of Musical Terms at classicalworks.com/html/glossary.html:



Unison: Two or more voices or instruments playing the same note simultaneously.



Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 08/30/2012 20:20:48

Roosterick - Posted - 08/30/2012:  21:01:39



quote:


Originally posted by Marc Nerenberg




I always thought playing music in unison meant several people playing the same notes at the same time  (as opposed to playing in harmony, when they're playing different notes at the same time).



As in the Online Glossary of Musical Terms at classicalworks.com/html/glossary.html:



Unison: Two or more voices or instruments playing the same note simultaneously.






This is also my understanding of the musical term unison. Sometimes the meaning is stretched to include people playing or singing in octaves.



And an  en·sem·ble  (n-smbl)  can, and often does play in unison.



So you are saying it is acceptable to play in harmony or a counterpoint line to the melody of an Appalachian style fiddle tune at an old time music jam, but still no bones. Correct? 



 


banjoak - Posted - 08/31/2012:  02:15:38



I think it could be better understood with the difference between;



Monophonic - which is all the notes are played in exact unison. Like all of the first violins.



Homophonic - is a texture in which two or more parts move together in harmony, the relationship between them creating chords



Heterophonic - is a type of texture characterized by the simultaneous variation of a single melodic line. Such a texture can be regarded as a kind of complex monophony in which there is only one basic melody, but realized at the same time in multiple voices, each of which plays the melody differently, either in a different rhythm or tempo, or with various embellishments and elaboration.

 



There are many different concepts about what an OT jam is. What approaches and experience folks are after.



One is more one of accomplishment, perfect execution of the "right" notes, as written, based on composer's intent, or perfect reproduction of another's model. There is little improvising, repetitions tend to be nearly exact, and alterations tend to be more in terms of variation (worked out) This accommodates large groups, numerous fiddlers playing mostly monophonic, but due to natural abilities, includes incidental heterophony. At an extreme, for some of these jams (what some folks think is an OT jam) it's only about simultaneously playing the same tune at the same time; and just playing it over and over and over. And the more the merrier.  Personal input and identity is not a huge factor, other than in technical skill of execution to "right", overall one can't notice much difference of the input of any one person.



A few of the characteristics about many jams I notice folks like   - the music is much more that the melody is thought of in terms of a simpler basic framework, contour and rhythmic frame. The fill both melodically and rhythmically and expressively is variable. So offers improvisation of those variables. As there is no exact "right" (as written/played) personal input is a big factor to the whole. It has more focus on playing the tune WITH each other, going beyond just simultaneous to much more interactive, if not symbiotic.



As well, the aspect about repetition that sometimes folks (from other music) don't quite grasp. It's not really about playing the same thing over and over and over. While the sometimes hypnotic aspect happens, mostly it's not the the primary purpose. Not sure how to explain it, other than to say the experience is about the ride. Maybe a similar example is in social dancing. It isn't in the achievement of being able to follow the pattern, and really isn't about fancy foot work and elaborate spins, nor is it about performance.. The idea is about the feel of movement through time and space, the feel of weight and balance of those you are dancing with. What makes it fun is sinking into the groove and riding the groove. Even though everyone is following the same basic movements (nobody does a solo), there are a lot of variations to the same movements, in the way folks give weight, balance, flow, make turns... and even though the same over and over, each time through is a new experience (and involve some slight variation to weight balance, flow.) and are individual improvisational choices in that regard. Jamming for some is after that same experience. It's not really about performing for an audience. It's just a different experience. If your expectations or experience you are after is about doing something else, soloing, fancy footwoork... it might seem boring.



 



Edited by - banjoak on 08/31/2012 02:28:29

Clawdan - Posted - 08/31/2012:  06:07:51



yep


quote:


Originally posted by banjoak




I think it could be better understood with the difference between;



Monophonic - which is all the notes are played in exact unison. Like all of the first violins.



Homophonic - is a texture in which two or more parts move together in harmony, the relationship between them creating chords



Heterophonic - is a type of texture characterized by the simultaneous variation of a single melodic line. Such a texture can be regarded as a kind of complex monophony in which there is only one basic melody, but realized at the same time in multiple voices, each of which plays the melody differently, either in a different rhythm or tempo, or with various embellishments and elaboration.

 



There are many different concepts about what an OT jam is. What approaches and experience folks are after.



One is more one of accomplishment, perfect execution of the "right" notes, as written, based on composer's intent, or perfect reproduction of another's model. There is little improvising, repetitions tend to be nearly exact, and alterations tend to be more in terms of variation (worked out) This accommodates large groups, numerous fiddlers playing mostly monophonic, but due to natural abilities, includes incidental heterophony. At an extreme, for some of these jams (what some folks think is an OT jam) it's only about simultaneously playing the same tune at the same time; and just playing it over and over and over. And the more the merrier.  Personal input and identity is not a huge factor, other than in technical skill of execution to "right", overall one can't notice much difference of the input of any one person.



A few of the characteristics about many jams I notice folks like   - the music is much more that the melody is thought of in terms of a simpler basic framework, contour and rhythmic frame. The fill both melodically and rhythmically and expressively is variable. So offers improvisation of those variables. As there is no exact "right" (as written/played) personal input is a big factor to the whole. It has more focus on playing the tune WITH each other, going beyond just simultaneous to much more interactive, if not symbiotic.



As well, the aspect about repetition that sometimes folks (from other music) don't quite grasp. It's not really about playing the same thing over and over and over. While the sometimes hypnotic aspect happens, mostly it's not the the primary purpose. Not sure how to explain it, other than to say the experience is about the ride. Maybe a similar example is in social dancing. It isn't in the achievement of being able to follow the pattern, and really isn't about fancy foot work and elaborate spins, nor is it about performance.. The idea is about the feel of movement through time and space, the feel of weight and balance of those you are dancing with. What makes it fun is sinking into the groove and riding the groove. Even though everyone is following the same basic movements (nobody does a solo), there are a lot of variations to the same movements, in the way folks give weight, balance, flow, make turns... and even though the same over and over, each time through is a new experience (and involve some slight variation to weight balance, flow.) and are individual improvisational choices in that regard. Jamming for some is after that same experience. It's not really about performing for an audience. It's just a different experience. If your expectations or experience you are after is about doing something else, soloing, fancy footwoork... it might seem boring.



 






 



Edited by - Clawdan on 08/31/2012 06:08:15

Roosterick - Posted - 08/31/2012:  06:59:20



Bravo! Bravo!



I think Fred has finally received an insightful, useful, and informative answer to his question.



Thanks Banjoak


tunemakers - Posted - 08/31/2012:  09:49:41


As to "fitting in" I had the same fear. I did not want to be labeled as a "lousy player" before I had a chance to find my footing.
My approach was to sit toward the outer parts of the circles and try to play the little I knew as quietly as possible. My thinking was it is better to add nothing to a jam than to drag it down or move it in an unacceptable direction.
If I had no idea of what the song being played was I would "chunk" quietly, muffling the strings with my left hand and seeking out the rhythm. Once I felt comfortable "in the groove" rhythmically, I would find the root note for the key and work from there.
I still use this approach. I'm never the star of any jam but I'm not the goat either. I enjoy being surrounded by the music and I'm comfortable adding a little to mix.
I will admit that I have the most fun when I absolutely know the tune well and I can help be the force pushing the tune firmly along but that would mean that I could only play one or two songs a session. So many tunes.....So little time

tunemakers - Posted - 08/31/2012:  12:19:44


As to "fitting in" I had the same fear. I did not want to be labeled as a "lousy player" before I had a chance to find my footing.
My approach was to sit toward the outer parts of the circles and try to play the little I knew as quietly as possible. My thinking was it is better to add nothing to a jam than to drag it down or move it in an unacceptable direction.
If I had no idea of what the song being played was I would "chunk" quietly, muffling the strings with my left hand and seeking out the rhythm. Once I felt comfortable "in the groove" rhythmically, I would find the root note for the key and work from there.
I still use this approach. I'm never the star of any jam but I'm not the goat either. I enjoy being surrounded by the music and I'm comfortable adding a little to mix.
I will admit that I have the most fun when I absolutely know the tune well and I can help be the force pushing the tune firmly along but that would mean that I could only play one or two songs a session. So many tunes.....So little time

sazji - Posted - 09/01/2012:  04:47:54



To the original question of how to play clawhammer in an oldtime group - I don't get much chance to do it living where I do. But I love to listen to lots of different groups and especially to how the banjo player is playing. Some tend to really stick close to the melody that the fiddler is playing (and of course the fiddler may play around with the tune as well). But what really draws me - and makes me enjoy banjo so much - is when the banjo player plays more "around" the melody, following the main lines but adding licks and chords within the rhythm. It adds so much depth to the music. Embellishment is a really hard thing to qualify exactly, but it exists in so many traditional music forms, and to me tends to define real mastery in many of those forms.



One example might be really far flung, but I think it's actually quite helpful, at least the way it was explained to me:



Years ago I studied Khmer traditional music. When you listen to it, you first notice that the musicians are definitely playing the same piece but if you listen to any individual musician (except the singers, which are in unison), you'd be hard pressed to define just what the melody is. Our teacher explained it this way: "Say we're all going from Seattle to New York, each in our own car, and we agree that everyone can go their own way, except that every four days we have to be in the same city, here's the list. In the music, the "list" is defined by the main (and to a lesser degree, the second) downbeats of the melody." (Here's an example if anyone's interested youtube.com/watch?v=0hY6Ezc5iq...=related.)



Though we might never actually think of it in exactly those terms. and there's the added element of chords//harmony, I see a very similar thing happening in old time playing: If there's an actual song, that's the least flexible in melody. The fiddle tends to play that melody but with some embellishments and variations in the non-sung sections especially. As for the banjo, it follows the melody but often in a "skeleton" sort of way and (allowing for different clawhammer styles) fills in the melody with other notes in the appropriate chords. But often two notes will get joined by a little run, or (especially when there's lots of drop-thumbing going on), there will be syncopation on those note. So the overall impression is people playing the same tune, and they are, but definitely not in "unison." Here's one example from Rayna Gellert and John Herrmann - sometimes he's almost in unision, sometimes he simplifies it, but at other times adds his own licks. youtube.com/watch?v=9DKAz6HE5t...sp;  And another example with John Herrmann: youtube.com/watch?v=-tO4WFj0Bs...bsp; ; I can't speak for how he thinks of it himself of course but I love how he uses a lot of variety in his playing while never competing with the fiddler.



Edited by - sazji on 09/01/2012 04:56:54

Roosterick - Posted - 09/01/2012:  13:14:58



 



Another great description of old time jamming. And all the way from Turkey! I enjoyed the video of the Khmer music and dance as well as the analogy your teacher used to describe the process.


 


I love John's playing. He plays the banjo like a drum with strings on it, which really is what the banjo is. Sometime around 1997 i went to a workshop John was leading at a festival. It turned out to be more of a private lesson than a workshop because only two people showed up, me and a young kid named Matt Brown. Matt was about twelve years old at the time and was already a good fiddler. John really helped me strengthen my right hand technique. I had been messing around with banjo for a couple years, but what I was doing was more like flailing than frailing. A few years later John and his brother Joe spent a few days at our home. John and Joe hadn't played together for a number of years and it was a lot of fun listening to their brotherly banter and banjo - fiddle interplay as they reminisced and swapped tunes. I had a lot of fun backing them on guitar and bass as they played up a storm. Great old time jam!


banjopogo - Posted - 09/03/2012:  12:21:20



quote:


Originally posted by freddfish




When I first started to play the banjo, I couldn't find anyone to play with in the old-time style, and so was relegated to bluegrass and folk jams. Nothing (much) wrong with that, but now that I have found a few old-time jams, I am trying to figure out how to fit my picking in with them. So far I have just stayed in the background and played chords, but that is kind of boring. In a bluegrass jam, I got into the habit of chording or playing quiet melody until someone gave me a break, but that doesn't seem to be the way OT folks roll. I don't see them taking breaks, at least not like I have seen bluegrassers do.



-Does one play melody all the time in a song they know, just altering the volume as needs dictate?



-The songs seem to be driven by the fiddle, as they are based on dance tunes. Does one need to know the melody to every song in order to hold their end up?



-I also play the bones, and have had no bad reaction to them in my regular jam. When played quietly, are they more or less welcome in OT?



 



Thoughts, folks?








1. Banjo players can go either way with melody or accompaniment chords, but for many, melody is preferred- however, there are different ways to approach the melody- some banjo players in a jam or band play melodically, and try to play every note the fiddle plays.  I find this a bit boring rhythmically, and sometimes the phrasing doesn't match, which can cause the groove to wobble, and that's a BAD thing.  An alternate approach to melody for a clawhammer player is to just play the skeletal melody.  This mostly means that your fingernail is going to me hitting the main melody notes, while the thumb is going to play accompaniment notes of some kind, whether fifth string or drop thumb.  Playing the skeletal melody isn't that hard technically, but it can take a while to learn the trick of hearing what the skeletal melody should be if no one is actually playing it.  One hint is that if someone sings a verse to a tune part, THAT is the skeletal melody.  Part of the reason for focusing on the skeletal melody is so you can focus on the rhythmic groove.  In this way the role of a clawhammer banjo player is a lot like the role of a bass player in a lot of modern bands-  most of the other players in the band are happy if the bass player plays simply, but is totally focused on the groove.



2. Since this is dance music, there is really no need to alter the volume, except that you want to strike the balance of not being too loud (so you drown others out or give them a headache by aiming the head of your loud banjo straight at their ear) and not being so soft that neither you nor anybody else can hear you.  Much of the dynamics in other jams are driven by the need to not drown out the singer(s) and the need to be louder for breaks.  So unison playing with few to no lyrics does away with the need for that kind of dynamics.



3. Bones or spoons.  Problematic.... very similar to a bodhran player in an Irish session.



They're all easy to play either very badly, or too loud, or even in an almost competent but rather inflexible way that forces the other players to conform to YOUR PLAYING, when you have the simpler task, they have the more complex one, and you should be conforming to THEM.



So, you'd better be GOOD, and a GOOD LISTENER, and FLEXIBLE in conforming precisely to their rhythm.



Even then, it's a matter of taste and you should ask first, and maybe demo your skills to the jam leader on the side.



I personally would enjoy playing with a good bones or spoons player... it would be much like playing for a clogger, IF they were good.



Unfortunately, bad bones, spoons, and bodhran players are common, because they foster the illusion that they are EASY to play, when they are only EASY TO PLAY BADLY.



Because bad players are so common, it leads to prejudice against them which closes the door to the good ones when they actually show up!!!


banjopogo - Posted - 09/03/2012:  12:51:57



quote:


Originally posted by Roosterick




 



quote:


Originally posted by Clawdan





Everyone plays in unison - no breaks, clawhammer preferred though pick-less fingerpicking in the old time style is quite acceptable, no bones please. And yes, fiddle melody drives the tune.







 


The term "oldtime music jam" to describe this type of gathering is a misnomer. To jam means to improvise. A jam session is where a group of musicians get together to discover new ways to play familiar and unfamiliar tunes.







 






While you may be correct in terms of the original usage,  the popular usage has changed. In my experience, trying to correct a usage once the popular usage has changed is a lost cause, and not worth the effort.   In the U.S, a jam is any temporary, experimental musical agglomeration where the playing is for fun, not pay.  In Ireland,  the U.K. and probably most of the Commonwealth, the term is "session".  Exactly how experimental things get depends on the genre involved.



While there may not be melodic improvisation at such a jam, there may be a LOT of other adjustments going on as people try to play with people they've never played with before, or only play with seldom.  It can and does knock you out of your ruts as to how you conceive of a tune, and how you phrase it.  Slow and bouncy?  Fast and driving???  Downbeat accents?  Backbeat accents? Extra parts?  Extra CROOKED parts?  Lots of fun challenges to stretch both you and your approach to a tune.



Jamming is to being in a band roughly what dating is to marriage- they are temporary experimental relationships which can be used to test for the suitability of the more committed relationship.   Being in a band, resembles being married in that there is a committment involved, you spend more time together, and you should have paid attention to any possible incompatibilities, because with the stress of practicing and gigging, you WILL notice them a LOT.  And band break-ups can be traumatic, too.


banjopogo - Posted - 09/03/2012:  13:13:21



Roosterick, Marc,



You make a lot of interesting points, some of which I agree with.  While I play Old Time, there's not much in the way of that locally- so I've learned to get experimental at folk jams, and trying to fit in at Bluegrass jams.  And I've learned to enjoy myself in both situations, although what they were getting in my breaks was more often than not something reminiscent of what you could hear on an Old Time string band 78.



But the fact is that the OP is going in the OPPOSITE direction, and is pondering a "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." situation.  The question isn't what Old Time music WAS, it's what the "Romans" of Old Time music are likely to be doing TODAY in the "Rome" of an Old Time jam TODAY.



IF that Old Time jam is in fact pretty narrow, the Old Time contributors to this thread would not be doing the OP any favors by not preparing them for that fact.



And I think Old Time jams ARE fiddle tune oriented, unison oriented, and DO have a rather narrower view of what constitutes Old Time music than may have existed 80 years ago.



The thing is, that narrowness isn't unique to Old Time-  I had to learn that Bluegrassers take their break etiquette SERIOUSLY.



And Irish sessions tend to be even more rigid than Old Time jams as far as unison playing, dance music orientation AND instrumentation.


banjopogo - Posted - 09/03/2012:  13:14:55



Roosterick, Marc,



You make a lot of interesting points, some of which I agree with.  While I play Old Time, there's not much in the way of that locally- so I've learned to get experimental at folk jams, and trying to fit in at Bluegrass jams.  And I've learned to enjoy myself in both situations, although what they were getting in my breaks was more often than not something reminiscent of what you could hear on an Old Time string band 78.



But the fact is that the OP is going in the OPPOSITE direction, and is pondering a "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." situation.  The question isn't what Old Time music WAS, it's what the "Romans" of Old Time music are likely to be doing TODAY in the "Rome" of an Old Time jam TODAY.



IF that Old Time jam is in fact pretty narrow, the Old Time contributors to this thread would not be doing the OP any favors by not preparing them for that fact.



And I think Old Time jams ARE fiddle tune oriented, unison oriented, and DO have a rather narrower view of what constitutes Old Time music than may have existed 80 years ago.



The thing is, that narrowness isn't unique to Old Time-  I had to learn that Bluegrassers take their break etiquette SERIOUSLY.



And Irish sessions tend to be even more rigid than Old Time jams as far as unison playing, dance music orientation AND instrumentation.


Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 09/03/2012:  14:12:10



quote:


Originally posted by banjopogo




Roosterick, Marc,



You make a lot of interesting points, some of which I agree with.  While I play Old Time, there's not much in the way of that locally- so I've learned to get experimental at folk jams, and trying to fit in at Bluegrass jams.  And I've learned to enjoy myself in both situations, although what they were getting in my breaks was more often than not something reminiscent of what you could hear on an Old Time string band 78.



But the fact is that the OP is going in the OPPOSITE direction, and is pondering a "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." situation.  The question isn't what Old Time music WAS, it's what the "Romans" of Old Time music are likely to be doing TODAY in the "Rome" of an Old Time jam TODAY.



IF that Old Time jam is in fact pretty narrow, the Old Time contributors to this thread would not be doing the OP any favors by not preparing them for that fact.



And I think Old Time jams ARE fiddle tune oriented, unison oriented, and DO have a rather narrower view of what constitutes Old Time music than may have existed 80 years ago.



The thing is, that narrowness isn't unique to Old Time-  I had to learn that Bluegrassers take their break etiquette SERIOUSLY.



And Irish sessions tend to be even more rigid than Old Time jams as far as unison playing, dance music orientation AND instrumentation.






I think Dan Levenson answered the OP's question perfectly - and I agreed with his answer in my first post in this thread. Thus, I think the OP was answered already, and I therefore felt free to add the further observation that the current "etiquette" of Old Time "jams" leads to a so-called jam session that is of little interest to me, personally (i.e. Playing a whole lot of dance music is of little interest to me, and listening to it is of even less interest). I wasn't trying to suggest that anyone else should share my opinions, nor was I trying to persuade anyone else away from playing the kind of music that they like to play.



However, the kind of Old Time music that I personally find far and away the most interesting are the songs - especially songs that tell stories.  Thus I find it unfortunate that what I consider to be the most interesting elements of the old time genre seem to be gradually disappearing from the landscape. I wasn't trying to suggest that old time jammers who enjoy the current etiquette should be changing their approach, but I do think that an important subcategory of the music that is of great value is being lost - and I bemoan that loss.



Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 09/03/2012 14:16:13

banjoak - Posted - 09/03/2012:  15:25:50



quote:


Originally posted by Marc Nerenberg






The kind of Old Time music that I personally find far and away the most interesting are the songs - especially songs that tell stories.  Thus I find it unfortunate that what I consider to be the most interesting elements of the old time genre seem to be gradually disappearing from the landscape. I wasn't trying to suggest that old time jammers who enjoy the current etiquette should be changing their approach, but I do think that an important subcategory of the music that is of great value is being lost - and I bemoan that loss.






They ain't being lost. There are plenty of folks who incorporate lot's of singing and songs into their old-time. Certainly in performance, but also in jams. The jam I host, I encourage lot's of singing, and I think folks should sing more. In my observation, (jams, performances and recordings) songs are becoming more apparent in the general OT world than was 30 years ago. Many OT and Irish performers have figured out that audiences desire to hear the human voice (tunes just run together). Ironically though modern audiences don't always care about following a story. (could be an attention span thing, could be growing up listening to rock and country) - as well many performance contexts are not about a quite audience glued to every word of a singer; and they often want more of just the overall "feel" of the music; and IMO just the presence of the human voice helps draw them in a little.



I definitely think folks should sing more. So you have to keep in perspective the environment, context of what the music is being played in; and there are different song models. Some songs, narrative story, ballads, are not particularly a good fit for many jam situations (sometimes not even for performance. While I doubt anybody disputes the ballad having a place in OT music (and Irish music), they are more individual pieces. The emphasis (for the listener) requires more attention to the words, and story. So in some situations, neither the listener, nor the other musicians are there for that. As mentioned before, there are different OT jams; the one you are perhaps thinking is a larger group (often with more beginner/intermediate level), and one that isn't focused on any soloists. The musicians (in many OT and Irish jams) are there to interactively participate, as much as possible, many have little desire to sing, for the most part they want to play the melody - fiddle, banjo, mando... and for many, playing those instruments is a lot safer ground with limited skills; singing is like being exposed; They don't want to think about arrangement;  tunes are what they can participate in - and they are not there to participate in a show and tell swap. That said, many songs can work well; IMO, are ones that contain what those others want to do, you don't have to follow the story, retain the strong rhythmic feel, still allows for more continuous participation; from fiddle tunes with words (Fly Around, Cluck Old Hen...), to simple verse (like Darlin Corey, Little Maggie, In the Pines, Fall On My Knees; Bravest Cowboy, Nobody's Business...). There are still some story/ballad type songs that are played quite a bit, like Pretty Polly, Little Sadie... the thing is, they allow quite a bit of the (fiddler, banjo) to just keep on playing the tune, the singer sings over the top.



Again, there are different OT jams; different mixes of tunes and songs. As well, listening to the recordings and concerts of top musicians, one can see that there is no sense I get that the song component is at all at risk of being lost.



 



 


Roosterick - Posted - 09/03/2012:  17:11:15



As this thread unraveled (or raveled?) I think it became apparent that when Dan said "unison" he did not mean to suggest that a bunch of people all playing the same thing was an ideal or desirable approach to play old time music. I think it also became apparent that a lot of people do, and that's fine, but I think the first few posts in this thread were giving a very narrow view of what happens when people get together to play old time music. I related some personnel experience and anecdotes to let people, who have little or no experience jamming, know that this is not the way old time music was traditionally played nor is it the only way it is played today. I think some of the subsequent posts, especially those by banjoak, gave  great descriptions of what happens when good players get together to jam.



 



If you notice I used the phrase "I think" a lot, that's because these are my opinions and I don't mean to suggest that there is a "right"  or "wrong" way to play old time music.


 


 


As far as bones go, no one wants to play with a bad bones player. Bad playing on any instrument will bring a jam crashing down. I'm a bad bones player, I would never subject a grooving jam to my endless succession of triplets (that's all I can do), but I have jammed and performed old time music with some excellent bones players including my friend Steve Brown who went to Ireland a few years ago and won the bones world championship. I have jammed with him, provided music for his workshops, and invited him to perform on stage with our band. He is perfectly capable of tastefully accompanying  an old time band. If you are a competent bones player, ask the jammers if they would mind you joining in for a tune or two. If they say yes don't over stay your welcome. Probably a 50/50 chance you will be welcomed at an old time jam while the chances of being accepted at a bluegrass jam are much closer to zero.


 


 


 


 


banjopogo - Posted - 09/03/2012:  23:44:25



quote:


Originally posted by Marc Nerenberg




quote:


Originally posted by banjopogo





Roosterick, Marc,



You make a lot of interesting points, some of which I agree with.  While I play Old Time, there's not much in the way of that locally- so I've learned to get experimental at folk jams, and trying to fit in at Bluegrass jams.  And I've learned to enjoy myself in both situations, although what they were getting in my breaks was more often than not something reminiscent of what you could hear on an Old Time string band 78.



But the fact is that the OP is going in the OPPOSITE direction, and is pondering a "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." situation.  The question isn't what Old Time music WAS, it's what the "Romans" of Old Time music are likely to be doing TODAY in the "Rome" of an Old Time jam TODAY.



IF that Old Time jam is in fact pretty narrow, the Old Time contributors to this thread would not be doing the OP any favors by not preparing them for that fact.



And I think Old Time jams ARE fiddle tune oriented, unison oriented, and DO have a rather narrower view of what constitutes Old Time music than may have existed 80 years ago.



The thing is, that narrowness isn't unique to Old Time-  I had to learn that Bluegrassers take their break etiquette SERIOUSLY.



And Irish sessions tend to be even more rigid than Old Time jams as far as unison playing, dance music orientation AND instrumentation.






I think Dan Levenson answered the OP's question perfectly - and I agreed with his answer in my first post in this thread. Thus, I think the OP was answered already, and I therefore felt free to add the further observation that the current "etiquette" of Old Time "jams" leads to a so-called jam session that is of little interest to me, personally (i.e. Playing a whole lot of dance music is of little interest to me, and listening to it is of even less interest). I wasn't trying to suggest that anyone else should share my opinions, nor was I trying to persuade anyone else away from playing the kind of music that they like to play.



However, the kind of Old Time music that I personally find far and away the most interesting are the songs - especially songs that tell stories.  Thus I find it unfortunate that what I consider to be the most interesting elements of the old time genre seem to be gradually disappearing from the landscape. I wasn't trying to suggest that old time jammers who enjoy the current etiquette should be changing their approach, but I do think that an important subcategory of the music that is of great value is being lost - and I bemoan that loss.






Ah... okay, I see.



Yeah, I'm a singer too, and I like the old songs... but I can understand how they can be hard for some people relate to.



They reflect the culture, give a window into the culture in which they were written, but that culture seems strange and alien to many modern Americans.



For instance, I could imagine a PETA supporter having a REALLY hard time with "Groundhog"!!!!  But an instrumental?  No problem!



And other people, myself included have a hard time getting into murder ballads, even understanding the historical context that they were something like news accounts and were also a warning to young women to slow down and be prudent when it came to "courting" young men.



And then you have people who... just can't sing!!!



Then you have people who can sing, but....



say they have a strong accent... like say maybe a Bronx accent... and can't get rid of it, even when they sing.



THAT could be.... INTERESTING.



Then you have people who try and sing in what they THINK is the correct accent, but exaggerate and otherwise don't do very well... that could be.... EMBARRASSING !



And then there is the issue of vocal style-  are you going to do little slides and squeaks and such that the original singer did... and maybe sing with a bagpipe like tone???



You have to love the old songs A LOT to want to make your way through such a mine field... and maybe a little foolhardy!



I have great respect for anybody who manages to wend their way through and comes out with a version that is respectful yet captures some of the flavor of the original.



In contrast, none of the above is even an issue with instrumentals.



So I can understand why there are bunches of people showing interest in the instrumentals, and not so many in the songs.


banjoak - Posted - 09/04/2012:  00:56:11



quote:


Originally posted by banjopogo




 




Then you have people who can sing, but....



say they have a strong accent... like say maybe a Bronx accent... and can't get rid of it, even when they sing.



THAT could be.... INTERESTING.



Then you have people who try and sing in what they THINK is the correct accent, but exaggerate and otherwise don't do very well... that could be.... EMBARRASSING !



And then there is the issue of vocal style-  are you going to do little slides and squeaks and such that the original singer did... and maybe sing with a bagpipe like tone???



You have to love the old songs A LOT to want to make your way through such a mine field... and maybe a little foolhardy!



I have great respect for anybody who manages to wend their way through and comes out with a version that is respectful yet captures some of the flavor of the original.



In contrast, none of the above is even an issue with instrumentals.



So I can understand why there are bunches of people showing interest in the instrumentals, and not so many in the songs.






I think some of that represents a modern idea of singing (and somewhat playing music, fiddling, banjo)



I think of the older way of is just be yourself. Don't worry about capturing the flavor of the original (whatever that means), just capturing the flavor of the song or tune, an go ahead put your self into it, from your perspective, what the song tune means to you.



I do notice at many of the cliche big OT jam, folks who; 1. like to play it safe, and you can get by easier in safe mode just playing the notes; and 2. an idea of a less personal input; the idea needing to be true to the original (as recorded or as written). I don't think was particularly prevalent prior to the 1950s.


Roosterick - Posted - 09/04/2012:  15:21:36



 



On another thread; I posted a link to The Field Collectors Collective, this is a site/organization that was founded about ten years ago by the late Ray Alden. Ray was, hands down, the most knowledgable person I ever met when it comes to the history of, and the subtle nuances, of Southern old time string band music. Here’s what he had to say, in a 2003 interview in Banjo Newsletter, about singing in “modern old time” music. 



 



BN: What about singing? On Mt. Airy USA, and other recordings of the older folks, they seem to sing a lot. BUT the younger folks seemed to be only interested in the instrumental tunes. How did this happen?



RA: The New Lost City Ramblers started and continue as a singing band. A change occurred when Alan Jabbour and the Hollow Rock String Band began their playing and research, the music became all instrumental. The neighboring Fuzzy Mountain String Band continued the Hollow Rock tradition, issuing two influential all-instrumental LPs on Rounder. Although the Highwoods String Band sang, the lion's share of old time revival musicians, who I suspect didn't grow up in a singing environment, remained rooted within the instrumental faction. For myself, I love to hear the human voice and enjoy tremendously playing in that situation.



Roosterick - Posted - 09/04/2012:  15:58:02



I just realized I misread the title of the original post:



"How to play with ohters in an old-time jam"  Posted by Fred Fish,



I wonder if he was really looking for more of an aquatic take on jamming? 


josephryanevans - Posted - 09/04/2012:  17:25:03



This is an interesting post that is answering some of the questions that I've got. I'm more interested in the practical application than all the ideas and theories about jamming and learning music etc. The question of what makes a good jam is fun but it doesn't do me, and probably a lot more people, a whole lot of good. The reason for this is because many of us don't have the choice between a bluegrass jam, a folk jam, an OT jam, or anything in between. Where I'm at there is really only a bluegrass jam that leans a little too much to folk usually. So, my question is about how to play the music that I want to play, round peak old time, within the confines of the jam that I attend.



I have learned a bunch of tunes from Brad Leftwich's book on Round peak clawhammer. The tough part is that they are arranged so very differently than what bluegrass jammers are used to.  They don't even give me the chords for the songs. I assume that this is because the tunes are to be played in "unison" with fiddlers etc. So what happens is that I try to play these at the BG jam and I play the tune through two or three times and try to pass on the break because that's what they are used to and then the tune kind of falls apart.



Any suggestions for those of us who want to play OT but are stuck with only BG jams?


Clawdan - Posted - 09/04/2012:  18:19:04



That should be an interesting discussion Joseph, but perhaps a new thread specifically for that would be in order? I for one, would (and have) start an old time jam for likeminded folks, but if you are happy in your situation, no worries. Might look for the Old Time Fiddlers' assoc folks (I know a bunch up there) but also at least at one time there was a vibrant old time (the way we are restricting it yes,) community there in Spokane. I did a clawhammer workshop up there for about 20 folks. No old time there anymore?



Dan


DoubleG - Posted - 09/04/2012:  21:34:28



To me personally, a GOOD Jam is where a group of musicians get together to discover new ways to play familiar and unfamiliar tunes. To listen and compliment the ideas of others, stretch out a little and experiment. Otherwise it's not a Jam, it's a rehearsal. I never play the same tune exactly the same way twice and I like it that way, makes it exciting. I would hope that at a true Jam I will be inspired by the playing of others enough to reach for more to add to the mix, instead of playing the same thing I brought last time. 



I also agree with "Banjoak" about more singing being incorporated into Jams. While I have not been to many yet, the ones I have attended I am not hearing much singing. These songs have great stories and it's what most of us love about this music in the first place. Most people would gladly join in the chorus if someone would get things started. Even though I'm new to this music, and I'm not a bad singer, I need to step up to the plate and start doing it more. Which means anyone out there with a decent voice should learn at least a couple songs and practice them to be ready to contribute. Thanks 'Banjoak' I'm going to do it!


Edited by - DoubleG on 09/04/2012 21:34:48

minstrelmike - Posted - 09/05/2012:  07:14:29



quote:


Originally posted by josephryanevan


Any suggestions for those of us who want to play OT but are stuck with only BG jams?





Before you start the song, tell the jammers you want to play it old-time style with everyone playing in unison. Explain what _you_ mean by Old-time style.



We do that quite a bit at our jam. Some folks know how to do it; some don't but that's pretty much true regardless of what genres or songs we try.



I have found _most_ jams are far more open to different music than the jammers think they are. Folks never speak up, never offer up a new song or a new style or a new key, and then think the other folks are limiting the options.



Offer it up and see what happens. If a couple folks shut it down, wait until some day when they aren't there and offer it up again. Standard human response in a group is to think the person who talks first or talks most is 'in charge' when that is often not true.



HINT: If you want to take over a jam, speak up. "Who's next?" "Who's got a song?" "What key y'all want to do that in?"



Seriously. I know a lot of folks who complain how 'they never tell me the key' but frankly, if no one asks. I'll assume everyone can figure it out. I don't read minds and I don't think most other people do either.



It's jes people sitting around playing music and drinking beer.

It ain't church and if you treat it as such, you yourself put everybody else on edge. (well we gotta do it this way and we gotta do that and where's the official song list and ...)



Speak up and at least give the other folks the opportunity to agree or disagree. Don't assume you can read their minds.


Jim Yates - Posted - 09/05/2012:  10:45:47



A few years ago the bluegrass group McCormick was interviewed for a local Arts magazine.  I stated that while I love playing bluegrass, I would go crazy if it were all I could play.  I feel the same way about old time music (or jug band, classical, swing...).  The late Zeke Mazurek and I used to meet once a week and play music purely for our own enjoyment, not rehearsing for a performance.  Some of it was playing written arrangements.  I like writing harmony lines for fiddle tunes.  Zeke liked playing classical violin duets and since I suck as a fiddle player, we would play them as mandolin duets.  We would also play swing tunes where I would play sock rhythm and occasional lead breaks and sometimes we'd just jam the blues.



Old time banjo/fiddle tunes formed a big part of the tunes we played.  Some of these tunes (Old Molly Hare) we would play in unison.  Others (Soldier's Joy), our arrangements differed enough that we'd take turns playing the lead.  Others (Weave and Way) I would play a harmony to his melody.  Perhaps we wouldn't be welcome at an old time get together, but we had fun and, I think, we made some pretty nice music.



Edited by - Jim Yates on 09/05/2012 10:51:45

tunemakers - Posted - 09/06/2012:  14:28:56


So the question is "How do I get other people at a jam to play the songs I alone know?" That is a definitely a horse of a different color.
My experience with introducing songs that others have never heard is that I have to first expect very little co-operation if it is outside of what ever the jam sees as normal. If the song ever gets to fly depends on how well the other folks enjoy it. I've had songs that started as WTF's and ended up as the tunes others most requested from me.
I always tell the players I'm doing a new song. I ask them for patience as there is always the chance I'll mess it up a bit the first time. I tell them the key and I'll tell them if there are unusual chords or pauses or "crookedness" coming up. People will listen for a few bars and then try to fit something in somewhere.
I find people are willing to give a new song or even a new style a fair shot. That doesn't mean that all the new songs I try end up being a part of the jam. Some take off like a rocket and some just die. I still keep learning new songs and bringing them to the jams because I have to learn new stuff or I won't play music ever again.

josephryanevans - Posted - 09/06/2012:  20:50:26



Thanks folks,



That fairly answers my questions.



 


matechik4 - Posted - 09/06/2012:  22:41:23



quote:


Originally posted by minstrelmike




quote:


Originally posted by josephryanevan


Any suggestions for those of us who want to play OT but are stuck with only BG jams?






Before you start the song, tell the jammers you want to play it old-time style with everyone playing in unison. Explain what _you_ mean by Old-time style.



We do that quite a bit at our jam. Some folks know how to do it; some don't but that's pretty much true regardless of what genres or songs we try.



I have found _most_ jams are far more open to different music than the jammers think they are. Folks never speak up, never offer up a new song or a new style or a new key, and then think the other folks are limiting the options.



Offer it up and see what happens. If a couple folks shut it down, wait until some day when they aren't there and offer it up again. Standard human response in a group is to think the person who talks first or talks most is 'in charge' when that is often not true.



HINT: If you want to take over a jam, speak up. "Who's next?" "Who's got a song?" "What key y'all want to do that in?"



Seriously. I know a lot of folks who complain how 'they never tell me the key' but frankly, if no one asks. I'll assume everyone can figure it out. I don't read minds and I don't think most other people do either.



It's jes people sitting around playing music and drinking beer.

It ain't church and if you treat it as such, you yourself put everybody else on edge. (well we gotta do it this way and we gotta do that and where's the official song list and ...)



Speak up and at least give the other folks the opportunity to agree or disagree. Don't assume you can read their minds.






This is good advice (especially the part about beer and music).  Reading this thread made me realize how fortunate I am to have good jams around my town.  Variety helps, but variety can include simple old time songs that are played in unison.  A good method we use at our local jams is we start with simple songs that most folks know, and often times everyone plays the melody.  Eventually we work in some more complex songs, sometimes a few blues songs are even played.  The beauty is everyone gets to have fun with the familiar songs, but then everyone gets to be challenged with the new songs.  We do sometimes use breaks, but it is not done like a BG jam.  Usually there is a lot of non-verbal communication and when we are all amazed by a particular person, we let them take it away.  



In regards to the banjo's role, I personally find that it varies by song.  Some songs really depend on the rhythm so I emphasize that, while other songs need a little more melody.  It s also important to consider what instrument are in the jam.  For example, if there is just a rhythm guitar player, you can probably sacrifice a little rhythm and incorporate more drop-thumbing or melodic notes.  If you find a good jam, people will accept whatever you can contribute.  I have found that the banjo's role changes depending on who you play with because everyone has a different style (even though some would rather homogenize everything).  The good news is most jams I go to have awesome people that are willing to offer advice.  So if you don't know what your role is, just ask.



Beer, Banjos, Boats and Biology



 


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