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Jun 24, 2021 - 6:08:43 PM
35 posts since 4/8/2021

Having played my banjo for a couple months now, and seeing as how we are just about to take our masks off in Oregon I decided to try to put together a jam for beginners. I. e. not just name a song and go but build a repertoire of songs that other beginners or beginner jammers can get into.

Does anyone have any ideas about how to put this all together?

Tips, tricks, things to avoid. Anything would help.

Jun 24, 2021 - 8:09:10 PM
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14082 posts since 10/30/2008

A young friend did something similar in starting a beginners' bluegrass jam in Hartford CT a few years ago. She worked at an arts theater, and they let her use the lobby for a gathering place (and sold concession food to the attendees).

Get a consistent, roomy, friendly place with parking.

Decided and announce whether alcohol is permitted (or not).

Lots of chairs that can be set up in circles. Some room for onlookers and those not yet brave enough join in.

Is jam both clawhammer/old time AND 3 finger bluegrass? Or just one? Make that clear.

Post a big poster board with simple rules. For instance, "No original songs" to prevent it turning into a songwriter's "pull". Well-known banjo songs only. Other instruments welcome to play along. Guitar and a bass fiddle are VERY HELPFUL to keep everyone together. Everyone in standard tuning. Play around the circle -- shake your head if you don't want to take a turn. Always announce the key and give everyone time to tune/capo up. NO NOODLING!!!!! (very important). "If you start the song, you end the song." Signal song endings with foot raised in the air.

It's good to have someone who is not playing be the "conductor" at the start of the jam until everyone sort of settles into the routine.

Before officially starting off on a song, have the person who selected it give a demo run-through, to help folks learn tunes.

Singing encouraged, again, no original material. Songs should all be banjo-friendly. It's not a singers' jam.

Make sure playing is done slow enough for everyone to have a chance; move to more advanced/faster stuff later in jam.

Have a poster board with a dozen or so suggested banjo "standards" and keys.

Everyone participates in clean up and putting chairs away, etc.

Good luck! May you be so successful that your jam gets too big.

Jun 24, 2021 - 8:09:11 PM
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2644 posts since 10/13/2011

Hiya -- I have been part of a monthly (well, except for the pandemic interregnum) private jam group for several years. A few campers met for the first time at banjo camp, and decided to get together for a beginner jam. We hired a local banjo teacher to act as "jam guru" (he would bring his guitar, as well as his banjo) to coach a bit and suggest a song of the week for us to work on. At the start, everyone needed to know at least G, C and D, that was our initial comfort level. I think we initially chose a few of the two- and three-chord tunes from Pete Wernick's website, to get us going. We eventually had at least 3 local teachers to rotate as "jam guru", depending on availability.

As we got better, we got tired of being an all banjo jam group. Feeling more ambitious, we contacted a couple of local teachers to look for similarly situated fiddle and mandolin players, and folks would invite people they knew from local open jams. We made it clear during the recruitment process that the group had a median age north of 50, jamming at each others' houses for fun and not to start a band, it was not for the pros to show off at, and that it was not the environment for young people looking for dates. Once we hit the intermediate level and were jamming OK without supervision, we retired the jam guru system.

Kept the jam non-public, so as to not have complete strangers show up at people's houses. Folks bring snacks & drinks, none of us indulge in more than maybe one alcoholic beverage.

We've also made it clear that folks who cannot host, are welcome without any pressure for not being able to host. Not everyone has room for a dozen people to show up with instruments/cases.

Oh, and we used Google Groups to compile an online song list of what we've done, although this system has sorta fallen apart as we got to the point that we just call out what we feel like. Using Google did come in handy for sending out group emails.

If you have a banjo teacher, s/he may have suggestions on how to plug into the local student community. Since your profile indicates you have a teaching background, you may know music teachers with students who'd also like to start a jam.

Good luck, it's great fun!

Jun 24, 2021 - 9:45:05 PM
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Players Union Member



26 posts since 12/30/2017

I started a simple jam once a week at my house with 3 friends from work about 3 years ago. All of us were engineers and pretty green. Our mandolin player was just learning, as was I. We started out with 2 guitars, the mandolin and one banjo. None of us had gone to a real jam so we just started with whatever song one of us knew then we all learned it. We had to figure out timing, how to do breaks, etc. Since then we know maybe 50 songs, have done a lot of real jams and actually played in front of others!! We have added people here and there over time. Hardest part is the singing...still hard to get a good lead:)

The key was starting with just a small song set and doing them well before adding more. We all progressed so much since we started playing together...I can't stress how much we learned this way.

Jun 24, 2021 - 10:04:54 PM
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Paul R


14708 posts since 1/28/2010

I was part of a Bluegrass jam that tolerated my clawhammer (and occasional three-finger) banjo, and guitar. It started off small, in an upstairs pub room, but eventually moved to a local Legion. Big mistake, the jam became too big and was flooded with guitar players, almost all of whom didn't know how to play proper rhythm.

Lessons learned:
1. Big isn't better. Better to have a small jam with everyone on the same page.
2. Guitars can be a problem, in that you will end up with too many. Muddy sound and off rhythms.
3. Pickers need to back off. Solos are one at a time and by consent.
4. No prima donnas. You're there to cooperate, not show off.
5. Listen! Listen! Listen! Listening is the most important skill. It's the ones who don't listen that wreck a jam.

At our jam there ended up being too many guitar players who were doing their own thing. It was better when some of us went to another room for a small, calm jam.

We had one fast rule: no electric instruments (and we had people who tried to break that rule). The exception was electric bass.

And Dick Bowden's "no original songs" is good advice. Not only do you get players who, as Tony Spadaro said, "Sing about their favourite topic, themselves", but you get endless introductions to the songs.

Establish your rules right away - and stick to them. No exceptions, or your jam will be disrupted.

Jun 25, 2021 - 4:45:59 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)


26070 posts since 8/3/2003

Years ago when we started our slow jam for beginners, we had most of the rules mentioned above plus a couple that haven't been mentioned: Only Acoustic Instruments, NO electric ones. No exceptions. Of course, ours was a bluegrass jam, so acoustic instruments were what we wanted. And decide whether you want children running around your house or a rule NO children. That's up to whoever hosts the jam. Our group said no kids unless they were players and with their parents and had to stay within the jam, not run around unsupervised. We also had a NO alcohol, drugs or smokes/chews.

Jun 25, 2021 - 8:34:27 AM
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6806 posts since 9/5/2006

FOOD ,,,thats all you need,, we use to have them in my garage out back and told everyone to bring a cover dish,,, we averaged 40 to 50 people,,, sometimes it got over 100 finally had to shut it down,,, it got too big and too much trouble and parking was an issue and we have 3 acres just around the shop. they would be inside and outside jamming in groups scattered every where.

Edited by - 1935tb-11 on 06/25/2021 08:36:15

Jun 25, 2021 - 4:10:42 PM
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35 posts since 4/8/2021


Ok so I have started making a list which I will share when complete.

So the obvious question is which are the standard beginner songs. My learning so far is songs I have learned from online courses. I'm open to all styles.

I am so glad I asked this question, I have a intense fremdschämen response to "original" songs, poems, etc. This probably makes me a horrible person.

Janice, are you telling me that my dreams of dating marrying and having small people with another banjo player is out of bounds? I was pretty sure that playing the banjo was going to make me irresistible.

Jun 25, 2021 - 5:42:04 PM

2644 posts since 10/13/2011

For a suggested list of standard beginner songs:

As for your dating, marriage and offspring plans, well . . . it's your jam, choose your own demographics! blush

Jun 25, 2021 - 6:05:16 PM
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3167 posts since 10/17/2009

As beginners, do what you can to get others comfortable, relaxed and safe.

Social media, perhaps like a facebook group that lists the repertoire... perhaps links to recording, chords, possibly tab; so that others can prepare at home. Simple and familiar songs, classic standards should be most of the repertoire. You want participants the feeling of more successes than failures and confusion; develop ease and confidence. As beginners, try to stick to that vetted list... rather than let anyone show up play whatever unfamiliar song they want.

Initially many might struggle to just get thru the song... but eventually want to get them to focus on listening skills; and working as a team. If possible try to enlist a solid rhythm player (or two)... for others to focus on; they don't have to be great, just have ability to keep and pound out strong obvious beat, and not get lost in the song.

One issue in beginner sessions is about feedback, critique. I think it's good, to discuss with others what doesn't seem right, what need to work on. Of course this risks some folks pride or feelings getting hurt. It helps to encourage the message not to take it too serious, mistakes will happen, smile and laugh... quote Red Green "we're all in this together".

One thing forgot to mention... is you referred to it as a "folk" jam. That term "folk" can be a bit ambiguous, so might think to clarify that to some degree. Of course listing repertoire might be a way to inform the range of type of music.

One other thought, from my experience... don't try and be anything and everything. Trying to please everyone... you probably can't... and in doing so might drive others away. So think about limits and parameters, what you would most like the jam to be... don't be afraid to say no.

Edited by - banjoak on 06/25/2021 18:14:07

Jun 25, 2021 - 7:31:37 PM

35 posts since 4/8/2021

Janice, Thanks for the song list. As to the other I hope you know that my tongue was firmly planted in my cheek. I'm fairly sure that Irish Catholic women who just took up the banjo is a very small demographic in my area.

Banjoak, I was thinking about how to handle the "Can I make a suggestion?" coming from a listener to a brand new player. I had an improvisation teacher once who always told his class that there is only one director at a time and in his class it was him. He did not allow anything from participants but praise. It made the experience a place to work and learn knowing that you were not being judged, at least not out loud.

I was thinking that the first session could be one where people come and share whatever they have been working on. Then have a couple easy songs to work on with the whole group having shared the songs, tab, videos ahead of time.

Jun 25, 2021 - 10:39:33 PM
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Paul R


14708 posts since 1/28/2010

Here's another perspective from a master, presented here on BHO:

About having a "folk" jam. This is where you need to set your own definition of "folk". One of our around-town festivals here has a "folk" venue. But it's 90% singer-songwriter. That doesn't fit a lot of people's definition of "folk". So, you should set your limits at the outset and stick by them. If you want trad material, specify it. Singer-songwriter material (self-penned or cover) will open the door to who knows what.

Jun 26, 2021 - 9:55:35 AM
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4 posts since 6/25/2021

Live in Magnolia,Tx. A local music store, every 2nd Saturday, there is an acoustic jam session. There are people that have been playing for 30+ years and players that have just started playing. No one is made unwelcome and everyone helps each other. We have guitars, banjos, violins ( fiddles ), dobros, bass fiddles, dulcimers and other instruments. Maybe there is a local music store that would participate? I seem to always make a purchase after the session. Good for business. steve104c

Jun 26, 2021 - 2:43:24 PM

35 posts since 4/8/2021

Speaking of where to hold the session. I had thought that the nice roomy indoor HOA facilities would be nice. I put some feelers out and the first reply was that we should hold this in a park.

My instinct is that indoors is better.

What say you?

Jun 27, 2021 - 9:26:23 AM
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2539 posts since 4/5/2006

Parks sometimes have indoor facilities that can be rented. Have you considered Grange halls?

Jun 27, 2021 - 1:28:32 PM
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2644 posts since 10/13/2011

Hiya Spencer:  I just remembered, there is a beginning/intermediate jam organization up in Portland, I know several folks who've had a great time learning with the instructors at Taborgrass:

If Portland is too far a drive for you, the teachers there might know people who live near you who might like to jam closer to home.

Jun 27, 2021 - 3:38:44 PM

35 posts since 4/8/2021

Janice, what a great resource. Portland is just a hop, skip and a jump from Woodburn.

Thank you, maybe I don't have to start my own group, or maybe I will anyway.

Jun 28, 2021 - 1:38:45 PM
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3167 posts since 10/17/2009

Covid concerns might make oudoors better option.

One thing to consider about the place is that many beginners might get added intimidation if too out in public, playing in front of others; esp non-musician audience.

Edited by - banjoak on 06/28/2021 13:46:24

Jun 28, 2021 - 3:17:35 PM
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Players Union Member



14221 posts since 8/30/2006
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I suggest a local friendly church with a recreation hall/kitchen/bathrooms and parking.

There are lots of wooden rooms left over in Woodburn, Canby and other places.

I was a board member of the Ninth Street Exit in Portland which is a performance venue, I never knew them to have jams. I also ran the Iron Gate in Newberg above the Rexall drug store. the Iron Gate drew kids from as far as Forest Grove and Beaverton with McMinnville not far behind.
We did however sponsor concerts in Mt. Tabor and Washington park. We also brought Portland performers out to Newberg in Hoover Park with our own generator.

I think once word got around, that people might drive from Wilsonville and Portland to check your jam out.

There will be one kid who knows Hotel California,

It is wise to seek out the Woodburn police who have enough on their hands, notify them, so they can bring their kids. You would have to deal ahead of time with issues like what's going on in a private property parking lot.
By having private parking, you control contributing to the delinquency of minors who may be present

Many coffeehouses here in Phoenix have open mikes and jams that are always ENJOYED by enthusiastic new players, who scream and shout and let it out. I mean high school level of volume with a PA>

Make sure you publish an acoustic jam, that way people are encouraged to limit their volume so others can be heard.

Try to recruit some local teachers and journeymen if you can.

Facebook is good for this type of project.

The Folk Alliance in your region will be MOST helpful and sympathetic, it's in their charter, make music.
They have all kinds of instructional material, they know the pitfalls and advantages. Contact them locally in Oregon.

Jun 28, 2021 - 4:26:36 PM

35 posts since 4/8/2021

Helix, thanks for the ideas. Most likely I will be hosting this at my HOA which has lots of rooms, open areas, a stage, etc. I'll have to set it up as a jam for the community but I think we can invite others. If that doesn't work out I'll see if the library can let me use a room, or a nearby church

Parking is plentiful and free.

Since I'm not opening this up to kids, unless well supervised I don't see a problem. Also, not inviting the police. The Woodburn police force does not strike me as banjo enthusiasts.

My goal is indoors, free, beginner focused. And "Hotel California" is way out.

Jun 29, 2021 - 5:10:39 AM
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Players Union Member



14221 posts since 8/30/2006
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Good job. Have fun. The Sun City Fire Commander plays a Gibson.
I don't mean uniformed police, they have interests, too. Woodburn is busy as mentioned because of the unique blend of culture.
I think you have a great idea of what you want to do ahead of time, that's a wonderful start.

Jun 29, 2021 - 7:34:19 AM
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2692 posts since 2/10/2013

I think an effective jam requires a jam leader. And as said earlier, jams need rules for behavior and playing. Players sit in a circle, and in a clockwise direction, each player is given the opportunity to select the tune of choice. After the people in the circle know what the tune will be, the jam leader tells players who want to take a "break" to raise their hand. That way, each player can look to their right, and see who will take a "break" and know when it will be their turn to play melody.

Some jams are for specific instruments. Only individuals playing that instrument will sit in the inner circle. And, they will be the only instruments taking lead breaks.

Some jams maintain a book with chord progression for tunes that will be played. I have attended jams that had a copy machine and for a small price, provided the ability to duplicate new tunes which will be introduced at the jam. If each player has a master chord progression book, nobody is "searching" for the correct chords.

Some jams have a fairly long break. Instruction is provided on a subject during the break.

If a jam has the email address of members, information on new tunes can be sent to members before the next jam.

Jun 29, 2021 - 7:51:45 AM
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436 posts since 3/26/2009

This has been passed around to the point of being a meme, but there is some good advice here. I don't know who to credit, I copypasta from a google search..

The Ten Commandments of Jamming

I. Thou shalt not ever forsake the beat.

II. Thou shalt arrange thyselves in a small circle so that thou mayest hear and see the other musicians. Thou shalt listen with thine ears to the songs and attempt to play in accord with the group; also, open thine eyes betimes to look about thee, lest there be some visual sign someone is endeavoring to send thee. Thou shalt play softly when someone lifteth his voice in song, when playing harmony, and when thou knowest not what thou is doing.

III. Thou shalt play in tune. Tune thine instrument well, and tune it often with thine electric tuner, lest the sounds emanating from thine instrument be unclean.

IV. Thou shalt commence and cease playing each tune together as one, so that the noise ye make be a joyful noise, and not a heinous tinkling that goeth in fits and starts, for that is unclean, and is an abomination. Whensoever a musician sticketh forth his foot as though he were afflicted with a cramp in the fatted calf, thou must complete the rest of that verse, and then cease.

V. Thou shalt stick out thine own foot or else lift up thy voice crying "This is it !", or "Last time !" if thou hast been the one to begin the song, and it has been played sufficient times over. If the one who began a tune endeth it not by one of these signs, then the tune will just go on and on, like the Old Testament, until the listeners say, "Hark ! It all soundeth the same."

VI. Thou shalt concentrate and thou shalt not confound the music by mixing up the A part and the B part. Most songs, but not all, proceedeth according to the ancient law "AABB". But if thou sinneth in this regard, or make any mistake that is unclean, thou may atone - not by ceasing to play - but by reentering the tune in the proper place and playing on.

VII. Thou shalt be ever mindful of the key the banjo is tuned in, and play many tunes in that key, for the banjo is but a lowly instrument, which must needs be retuned each time there is a key change.

VIII. Thou shalt not speed up or slow down accidentally when playing a tune, for it is an abomination. (See commandment I)

IX. Thou shalt not, by thine own self, commence noodling off on a tune the other musicians know not, unless asked or unless thou art teaching that tune, for it is an abomination, and the other musicians will not hold thee guiltless, and shall take thee off their computer lists, yea, even unto the third and the fourth generation.

X. Thou shalt have fun and play well.

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