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Oct 23, 2021 - 2:43:06 PM
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1 posts since 10/23/2021

I have been taking lessons for a year or so and attended a couple of camps. I have the basic skills down (rolls, licks, pinches, vamping, pickup notes, etc.) but I still suck at jamming. I guess I don't know when to use the different skills in a real jam.

I have been to "jam camps" but most of them haven't been much more than jam sessions. The facilitator doesn't have time to focus on each student and give specific feedback like "in that situation, you could have used a cripple creek slide".

Does anybody know of a teacher who does something like that? Maybe I could simulate a jam session using Strum Machine and pick a song to jam to and get specific feedback? Maybe play the song over a couple of times and use the teacher's feedback to improve each time?

Any other ideas on getting good at jamming? How did you get good at jamming?

Oct 23, 2021 - 2:52:01 PM
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12427 posts since 6/2/2008

Wernick Method jam classes come highly recommended. There are also Wernick camps. Pete Wernick. Dr. Banjo.

Here's where to find classes. Nothing listed in North Carolina until next year.

Certified Wernick Method teachers are supposed to know specifically how to teach jam skills and lead beginners jams.  If Wernick Camp is what you've been to, I have nothing else specific to recommend.

With luck, some experienced teachers will chime in. Perhaps a teacher near you could offer helpful instruction.

Good luck.

Oct 23, 2021 - 2:52:54 PM
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12427 posts since 6/2/2008

Ira Gitlin is a Wernick Method teacher in the Washington, D.C., area. Maybe he can offer insight.

Hope you don't mind being tagged, Ira.

Edited by - Old Hickory on 10/23/2021 14:53:05

Oct 23, 2021 - 2:57:51 PM
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3951 posts since 3/28/2008

Not at all. Thanks, Old Hickory. Feel free to send me a private message, BadJammer.

Oct 23, 2021 - 3:08:33 PM
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Players Union Member

Helix

USA

14803 posts since 8/30/2006

First, welcome to the hangout, there should be somebody here.

Observing at the jam is a good thing. And yes, I think jamming with recordings you can keep up with is a great tool.

Otherwise, you've been referred. It's a growth process.

Oct 23, 2021 - 3:51:41 PM
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beegee

USA

22516 posts since 7/6/2005
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Find a jam. Find another jam. Find more jams. Go to as many jams as you can. Find some other pickers. Have a jam at your house, as often as you can.

Oct 23, 2021 - 5:02:46 PM
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2676 posts since 4/5/2006

Trying to jam to anything recorded is cheating yourself, in that you know ahead of time how many beats there are between verse & chorus, how many beats there are for an instrumental break, how many beats at the end of the break for a tag lick. Live music is not always that predictable. Some hot dog player may put a really showy tag, taking two full measures, at the end of his/her break. Everyone else has to mark time. Even though it wouldn't meter correctly on paper, no one else is counting measures. As long as everyone else keeps the beat going, it will be ok. The vocalist, for one reason or another, may not come in on que for the next verse. Again, the rest of the band covers by marking time. There is no predicting any of this stuff, therefore, no substitute for on-the-job experience.

There was a time when I was trying to figure out this kind of stuff myself. You have to be there & pay attention, watch the other players for visual clues. A jam is not a whole lot different from playing in a band, there are just more, less experienced, players.     

Oct 23, 2021 - 6:45:11 PM
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Fathand

Canada

11826 posts since 2/7/2008

Recordings can be good to help prepare you to jam. You will learn to determine the key and chord changes, you will have to play in time mostly, depending on the recording.
Once you get to a jam, there will be a lot of "variations" in people's playing you will have to learn to follow but at least you will have some tools to get you started.
The best thing is to usually find a guitar player to sit with and swap tunes.

Oct 24, 2021 - 4:54:41 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26546 posts since 8/3/2003
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I agree with Beegee: go to jams, look, listen, try to do some simple backup.

Are you able to hear chord changes? If not, work on that because that will help you with songs you are not familiar with. If you don't play guitar, ask a guitar picker to show you some basic chords on the guitar and in a jam watch the rhythm guitar picker and when he changes chords, you change with him. Eventually, you'll begin in "feel" a chord change coming up and then you'll know one is coming up and what it is.

The best teacher for learning to jam? Other jammers, other jams.

When I was first learning to play by ear, I used Band in a Box to help me with timing and ear training (hearing those chord changes). It helped, but jammin' with others helped more. Getting up the nerve to take a break, making mistakes, laughing it off and trying again and again will begin to help you more than any book or tab.

As far as what to do and when to do it: use the KISS principal at first and just do vamps and/or rolls, hot licks at the end of a musical phrase.

General rules, not carved in stone:
1. If the fiddle is taking a break, just to vamps quietly in the background unless you've discussed counter melody with the fiddler.
2. If the guitar is taking a break, again, vamps, rolls quietly.
3. If the mandolin is taking a break, definitely vamps as you're taking the mandos place in rhythm doing vamps
4. If the dobro is taking a break, soft vamps.
5. If the vocalist is taking a break, vamps and rolls softly in the background with licks when the vocalist takes a breath.
Get the idea: soft, in the background when doing rhythm.

When an instrument (or singer) is in a lower register, go high and vice versa. Seems to work pretty well

Again, general rules to start off using. You'll develop your own ideas as you progress and become better at jammin'.

Oct 24, 2021 - 9:13:53 AM
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2868 posts since 2/10/2013

For me it took more than one thing. I studied various instructionals. I listened and played along with lots of recordings. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I jammed with others. The first thing jamming taught me was the fact I had not spent enough time studying and practicing playing backup. Janet Davis' book did a lot to correct that. Studying her book and playing backup for recorded tunes.

Oct 24, 2021 - 10:47:22 AM

107 posts since 10/5/2019

Banjo Ben would be a perfect teacher for you I think

Oct 24, 2021 - 12:00:54 PM

217 posts since 5/21/2020
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quote:
Originally posted by BadJammer

I have been taking lessons for a year or so and attended a couple of camps. I have the basic skills down (rolls, licks, pinches, vamping, pickup notes, etc.) but I still suck at jamming. I guess I don't know when to use the different skills in a real jam.

I have been to "jam camps" but most of them haven't been much more than jam sessions. The facilitator doesn't have time to focus on each student and give specific feedback like "in that situation, you could have used a cripple creek slide".

Does anybody know of a teacher who does something like that? Maybe I could simulate a jam session using Strum Machine and pick a song to jam to and get specific feedback? Maybe play the song over a couple of times and use the teacher's feedback to improve each time?

Any other ideas on getting good at jamming? How did you get good at jamming?


So is this the sort of thing your looking for?  A camp where you study as well a jam. This was a recent banjo only camp but the majority of the Cabin Camps that Ben holds are mixed instrument where you get the opportunity to jam as well as study in a relaxed stress free environment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA42pjn5z6c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ngZz4CHdM0

Edited by - FenderFred on 10/24/2021 12:12:14

Oct 24, 2021 - 12:19:57 PM

217 posts since 5/21/2020
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Oct 24, 2021 - 3:00:10 PM
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3630 posts since 7/12/2006

I used to sit within earshot of jams and play with a mute till i felt confident enough to join in

Oct 24, 2021 - 4:05:54 PM
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2676 posts since 4/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

I agree with Beegee: go to jams, look, listen, try to do some simple backup.

Are you able to hear chord changes? If not, work on that because that will help you with songs you are not familiar with. If you don't play guitar, ask a guitar picker to show you some basic chords on the guitar and in a jam watch the rhythm guitar picker and when he changes chords, you change with him. Eventually, you'll begin in "feel" a chord change coming up and then you'll know one is coming up and what it is.

The best teacher for learning to jam? Other jammers, other jams.

When I was first learning to play by ear, I used Band in a Box to help me with timing and ear training (hearing those chord changes). It helped, but jammin' with others helped more. Getting up the nerve to take a break, making mistakes, laughing it off and trying again and again will begin to help you more than any book or tab.

As far as what to do and when to do it: use the KISS principal at first and just do vamps and/or rolls, hot licks at the end of a musical phrase.

General rules, not carved in stone:
1. If the fiddle is taking a break, just to vamps quietly in the background unless you've discussed counter melody with the fiddler.
2. If the guitar is taking a break, again, vamps, rolls quietly.
3. If the mandolin is taking a break, definitely vamps as you're taking the mandos place in rhythm doing vamps
4. If the dobro is taking a break, soft vamps.
5. If the vocalist is taking a break, vamps and rolls softly in the background with licks when the vocalist takes a breath.
Get the idea: soft, in the background when doing rhythm.

When an instrument (or singer) is in a lower register, go high and vice versa. Seems to work pretty well

Again, general rules to start off using. You'll develop your own ideas as you progress and become better at jammin'.


Nailed it!

The thing about back up is, #1. It's about complimenting/reinforcing the other(s), vocals, rhythm, lead, whatever.

Until you get a better feel for it, just listen to what everyone else is doing. Watch the guitar player, learn to recognize the chord shapes & associate those shapes with what your ears are telling you.

Bluegrass banjos are, by design, loud, & banjo players can easily over power to the point of becoming obnoxious! You'll need to learn to lighten up on your right hand. 

There are basically two kinds of jams, sitting, or standing. The sitting jams tend to be a single circle, the size depending on the number of musicians, randomly seated, clockwise rotation on breaks. Try not to sit beside another banjo player, as no one wants to hear two banjo breaks back to back. Bluegrass festival standing jams, on the other hand, tend to be multi-layered circles. The inner circle being the leaders, while the outer circle(s) are the followers, along for the ride so to speak. IF the circle opens, that's your invitation to step up & take a break,,,after which you step back, allowing the jam to proceed. Thank them afterwards for letting you in. 

Oct 24, 2021 - 7:18:50 PM
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125 posts since 7/22/2012

BadJammer, cool name (seriously)! Had not seen this video until after I read your post, some good jamming tips in it (you may know them but I enjoyed it regardless).

youtube.com/watch?v=H6lweoMdLTo

Also, you said, "Any other ideas on getting good at jamming?" One thing is to not be afraid to mess up. Seriously. It's okay to mess up, but you have to be willing to take risks (go for the solo, pick with people more experienced than you, etc.)...

As others have suggested, keep jamming. The friendlier the group, the better. If there's a more experienced banjo player, ask for tips. Watch what he or she is doing and, once in a while, feel free to ask them to show how you how to do it.

Also, listen the whole time, especially when you're playing. If you can hear what you're doing right and wrong, whether it works musically, you will get better and better. Those are some ideas off the top of my head. DON'T GIVE UP, KEEP PICKING!

Oct 25, 2021 - 8:05:19 AM
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75136 posts since 5/9/2007

You can't get ready to jam at home alone.
Invite people over,go to performances and go to at least 2 jams per month.A jam every week would be better.
Total immersion!

Oct 25, 2021 - 11:07:39 AM
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889 posts since 10/4/2018

I wonder why it is so difficult for most people to jam on banjo. I learned guitar before banjo and on guitar, you learned the rhythm part first, then you learned the solo, or the break. Jamming with others was just a matter of everyone knowing the tune, being in tune and playing in time. I use the same approach on banjo. I don't see the use of learning the solo before learning the backup, especially on songs as opposed to tunes.

Oct 25, 2021 - 11:16:13 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26546 posts since 8/3/2003
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quote:
Originally posted by Good Buddy

I wonder why it is so difficult for most people to jam on banjo. I learned guitar before banjo and on guitar, you learned the rhythm part first, then you learned the solo, or the break. Jamming with others was just a matter of everyone knowing the tune, being in tune and playing in time. I use the same approach on banjo. I don't see the use of learning the solo before learning the backup, especially on songs as opposed to tunes.

I think many people want to be able to make music; i.e., play songs and most think rhythm and backup is boring (it's not, at least not on the banjo).  When you're sitting home alone, trying to learn how to play, backup just isn't what you want to learn, not at first.  At least that's been what I've seen in my years learning and teaching.   Try to teach a beginner backup to a song and they will lose interest quickly.  They want to play music and to them, rhythm backup isn't music.  They only get interested in backup when they start to jam or want to jam and figure out that 90% of what you do at a jam is backup, not breaks.  

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:41:33 PM
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75136 posts since 5/9/2007

By going to jams players learn the importance of rhythm,timing,backup and lead.
One of the first Thomas Point Beach jams I attended got me an earful of "You shouldn't play lead breaks all the time."
Jams are the best way to learn the cold,hard facts of picking the banjo.

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:52:55 PM

ChunoTheDog

Canada

1143 posts since 8/9/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Good Buddy

I wonder why it is so difficult for most people to jam on banjo. I learned guitar before banjo and on guitar, you learned the rhythm part first, then you learned the solo, or the break. Jamming with others was just a matter of everyone knowing the tune, being in tune and playing in time. I use the same approach on banjo. I don't see the use of learning the solo before learning the backup, especially on songs as opposed to tunes.


I think most people gravitate to learning solos and breaks first because its more exciting to a beginner, and its what the untrained banjo ear hones in on when listening to bluegrass, OT etc.

In short, it grabs the attention far more than vamping or chopping for people very fresh to the banjo and how it fits into a jam.

Oct 26, 2021 - 12:48:07 AM

phb

Germany

3052 posts since 11/8/2010

quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog
 

I think most people gravitate to learning solos and breaks first because its more exciting to a beginner, and its what the untrained banjo ear hones in on when listening to bluegrass, OT etc.

In short, it grabs the attention far more than vamping or chopping for people very fresh to the banjo and how it fits into a jam.


It is not only much easier to listen to breaks than to backup but also to transcribe them, especially from old recordings with limited frequency range and a lot of noise. That's at least the reason why I find that I usually only transcribe breaks, I lack the time (ok, I'm too lazy) to do a complete transcription. This is probably the reason why there are so many tabs of breaks but relatively little information on the more intricate backup we sometimes hear that moves melodically up and down the neck and is so much more than vamps and rolling.

Oct 26, 2021 - 3:48:22 AM
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217 posts since 5/21/2020
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quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog
quote:
Originally posted by Good Buddy

I wonder why it is so difficult for most people to jam on banjo. I learned guitar before banjo and on guitar, you learned the rhythm part first, then you learned the solo, or the break. Jamming with others was just a matter of everyone knowing the tune, being in tune and playing in time. I use the same approach on banjo. I don't see the use of learning the solo before learning the backup, especially on songs as opposed to tunes.


I think most people gravitate to learning solos and breaks first because its more exciting to a beginner, and its what the untrained banjo ear hones in on when listening to bluegrass, OT etc.

In short, it grabs the attention far more than vamping or chopping for people very fresh to the banjo and how it fits into a jam.


Until fairly recently i.e the last 10 - 12 years there wasn't a lot of video instructional material on  playing back-up. Jack Hatfield, Janet Davis & Bill Knopf had some great TAB books but as a rank beginner it's hard to learn the structure of playing Back-Up from the printed sheet when you don't know a heck of a lot about playing banjo let along filling in the gaps. Jack Baker produced some great Back-Up TABs in TEF format which was great help to me during my early learning years.  As I recall Geoff Hohwald, Alan Munde, Bill Evans, John Lawless and Casey Henry were among the first to produce any quality video's on Rolling Back-Up a lot has changed since then. I am pleased to see other teachers now teaching some form of structured foundational back-up. As banjo players we are all being constantly reminded here on the BHO that the goal of the banjo player is to be able to improvise on the fly but that is no easy task especially for the beginner / early intermediate student. 

So how do we learn these foundational skills? Well we could do it the hard way and slow down records and TAB out the backup sequences by hand as was the practice in the past, or you could pick up a few licks and tips at a jam session if you can find someone willing to sit with you and teach you the ropes or you could do it the modern way and search Google / YouTube and look up guy's like Sean Ray, Jim Pankey, Eli Gilbert and  many others who are now teaching backup skills.

Here are a couple of clips of Banjo Ben Clark teaching Boogie Woogie Backup. These are lessons for the Intermediate/Advanced student but Ben has lots of lessons on Basic Backup more suited to the Beginner you will find samples on YouTube if you do a simple search. 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnunlOz3vxs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bv2dMXPoTso

Edited by - FenderFred on 10/26/2021 03:52:38

Oct 26, 2021 - 5:45:22 AM
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USAF PJ

USA

274 posts since 9/19/2014

Badjammer, I used to be really good at being bad at a Jam. I attended one camp, and also a weekend jam class but they essentially did not do a whole lot to enhance my playing, if anything at all. You have the tools and skills to participate in a jam, I am confident of that!

Now the question, "do you get nervous, freeze up, choke when you get ready to play, take a lead etc.?" That is quite different than to "suck at jamming". I agree w/ what has been said before but please evaluate how you feel playing alone vs playing w/ others. I have been a rock star by myself, but when first playing w/ others, I was a rank beginner and had no business playing w/ others.

Reach out to Ira Gitlin, I do not know him but he has advised me via the hangout and it has helped.

How did I improve? It was a mind thing, I adjusted my expectations, would ask for feedback and remained consistent in attendance.

Oct 26, 2021 - 5:22:32 PM
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2676 posts since 4/5/2006

Lack of confidence, stage fright, whatever you want to call it, can be a killer. This negative attitude pertains to anything & everything. If you don't think you're up to it, you've already lost the game before you even start!

The best teacher for learning to jam? Other jammers, other jams. Same goes for backup. The best prep course I know of is your ears. Put on something like Sally Goodin with Earl Scruggs, JD Crowe, or any other good banjo player, & listen to how they back the fiddle player, not the banjo breaks, but the backup! Listen to that stuff over & over, until you figure out what they're doing. Then get your banjo & play along. Sally is as straight forward as it gets. No hot licks between breaks, just one break after another. Listen to how Earl backs Paul Warren on the Carnegy Hall album. The one where Lester talks about the days when just fiddle & banjo was called a band. Earl never takes a break on that number, the whole thing is just him backing, complimenting the fiddle. No one else getting in the way, just Warren & Scruggs.

Bluegrass being structured the way it is, the listener is always focused on the lead, vocal or instrumental. You have to re-train your brain to focus on the backup. And like anything else, to get good at backup, you have to practice backup. And the best place to practice backup is a live jam session!

Oct 27, 2021 - 6:54:44 AM
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Players Union Member

pickn5

USA

1632 posts since 8/8/2012

All good advice here. The one that gets my attention, and need to heed, is go to jams and keep going to jams. Recently, a bluegrass, old country, and gospel jam started about 15 miles from me. I contacted the guy that posted the notice on Craigslist, the notice said all skill levels, he answered and said I was welcome. I'm at a beginner level, don't know anything about playing music with others, and I'm going to the next jam. I plan on attending the jams every other week when its held.

To learn backup, I'm using Geoff Hohwald's back up series and like his teaching method. Hopefully, my banjo picking will improve quickly. Keep picking.

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