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An inspiring weekend

Posted by rdeputy on Sunday, January 18, 2009

I have had a full weekend. I got invited to two jams; one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. The Saturday jam was with the same group of guys I played with back on December 27. I am able to keep up with them fairly well since most of their material is traditional Bluegrass and even if you don’t know the song, the chords and patterns are easy to follow. I had brought my guitar, banjo and dobro to this jam expecting to play a little bit on each like I did before. However, another banjo player showed up and he was really good so I decided to spare myself the embarrassment and stuck with the guitar. I had thought about picking up the dobro and playing for a while, but since I have not been practicing with that instrument, I left it in the case. But I did spend nearly 4 solid hours jamming on that Martin and I had a blast.
The Sunday jam was a somewhat different story, however. I got together with a new set of people, one of whom is a guitar player I met on Flatpicker Hangout. He did a good job of underselling his abilities in his e-mails to me prior to the jam, so I was feeling like I might be able to help this guy and share some of what I know. But, when I arrived and we started playing, within 5 seconds I became aware that I was going to be learning from him and working hard just to keep up. Then, the other players started showing up and it became apparent that I was playing in a league of pickers that was light years ahead of me. It was humbling and inspiring all at the same time. I sat across from a guy who has been playing banjo since the late 60’s and he was sitting there picking on a very weather-beaten 1926 Gibson Mastertone. Man, could he play and what a beautiful sounding banjo! I now see why those pre-war Gibsons are such prized possessions.
Unlike Saturday’s jam, the music we played was not always Bluegrass. I kept trying to steer them back to Bluegrass tunes, but this group works from a repertoire that is much broader than mine. I knew several of the songs they played, but I wasn’t always familiar with the chords, so keeping up was a chore at times. But, everyone was very nice and patient and I felt welcome and appreciated for my efforts, so it was a good experience over all.
What I took away from this weekend most of all is I need to spend a lot more time in the woodshed learning how to better play my instruments. I don’t have enough to offer up in the flatpicking world with the limited things I have been able to teach myself. I can keep a tempo, play chords with a walking bass pattern and I can pick some melody notes out of a song, but I can’t play the really interesting stuff – like lead breaks - but I know I could if I just apply myself and learn it.
Also, I really suck at banjo! I need to work on my licks and rolls, plus get better at playing backup and spend a long time working on learning how to get comfortable with playing farther up the neck. I was completely outclassed and blown away by the banjo players I saw this weekend. If I expect to be able to contribute more to jams in the future, I must move beyond my little comfort zone. I also must attend more jams and force myself to try new things and watch and learn from those I wish to emulate. I have my work cut out for me.

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