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Oct 28, 2021 - 7:41:12 AM
274 posts since 9/19/2014

I am grateful to have one fairly close by. However, often many of the tunes are unfamiliar to me. Merle Haggard, G. Strait, some old country, key of E stuff.

Have any of you experienced this? When I look through a list of tunes that many of us are familiar w/ I am okay w/ them, but it seems many of "those" are not on the radar for many of the other players. I then find myself more discouraged in my playing and question my ability.

Let me leave it at that for now. I am sure some of you can offer some tips. Suffice to say that yesterday I was second guessing as a result of my most recent experience.

Give it to me straight, may be more my issue. Thanks

Oct 28, 2021 - 7:57:07 AM
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4 posts since 7/14/2020

I truly believe jams have their own cliques and when a less accomplished picker comes by they automatically go off the standard bluegrass jamming list and go to other keys and what not. They are buttheads that should have met at their own place to jam by themselves..Don't be discouraged Bro...There are legends in their on minds.
But then again you don't want to step into a jam that you know you may not fit just yet, there is a place for you, just gotta find it..

Oct 28, 2021 - 8:07:16 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26533 posts since 8/3/2003

Around our area, it's normal to have old time country played at jams and the key of E isn't unusual at all. Many of the men in our jams sing in D and E and play a lot of country.

I had to learn to jam in the key of D, E and F because that's what many of the singers sang in. For me, I capo up to whatever and use the C, F, G chords because it's easier for me than using the D, F, G but personal preference on that will be what's right for you.

The more jams you go to and the more you force yourself to play in those keys, the easier it becomes. Now it's no trouble at all to capo and play in whatever major key is called out, but it did take a lot of woodshedding and jamming to get comfortable with it.

Was it worth the time and effort? Oh, yes. I also learned a lot of new (to me) songs and that's always a good thing.

Oct 28, 2021 - 8:10:52 AM
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2864 posts since 2/10/2013

First of all, I realize there are tunes I don't know and should not try to play. I belong to the Ultimate Guitar Website and download the chord progressions I need to learn from that website.
At each jam, keep a notebook and write down the names of the new tunes you are not familiar with. Be sure to get the key as well as the name of the tune. Ultimate Guitar software will let the member specific exactly which key the the chord progression will be played.

In order to get comfortable playing new tunes, I download the tune from Youtube. I use the "Amazing Slow Downer" software to control speed and change keys. Using the chord progression from Ultimate Guitar and playing along with the recording often has me playing the tune better than the person who introduced the tune at the jam. Chords are often missed by that person.
I sometime substitute chords as well.

Simple "3 chorders" are no problem though. Often though, new tunes are normally not difficult to play. Tunes by writers like Gordon Lightfoot and Herb Pederesen contain more complex chord progressions and are not often introduced. When a tune like this "pops up" at a jam, I go through the steps I described earlier. I practice playing the tune using "open" and barre chords.
A barre chord can add variety to rhythm, and be more appropriate for some tunes.

I would not worry about not being familiar with a tune. Nobody knows every tune. Keep a 3 ring binder with chord progressions of seldom played tunes you had to learn. Doing what I described will increase your chord vocabulary. So when Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" is played, you will be ready to go. I hear the simple Merle Haggard tunes often, but not his more complex tunes. I sometime just play the downloaded tunes to practice playing rhythm.

Oct 28, 2021 - 8:34:39 AM
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phb

Germany

3047 posts since 11/8/2010

Sometimes after a jam I feel like there is no point in trying and sometimes I'm quite content with myself. Unknown material, however, doesn't discourage me because I try to improvise everything anyway (I can hear standard chord changes and identify guitar chords so it's not that much of a problem to be at least on the right chord most of the time). Actually I welcome unfamiliar songs because playing the same songs all the time can get too predictable and some of those unfamiliar songs are really beautiful. In addition unfamiliar songs tend to be non-bluegrass material which usually means they are played at a little lower tempo which is handy for me because the faster I play, the less brain capacity I have left to think about what I am playing.

Oct 28, 2021 - 10:21:48 AM
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3988 posts since 5/29/2011

Nothing is more discouraging than knowing a whole repertoire of great songs and then finding out that no one else knows any of them. I played in bands for years and learned material from a lot of great sources because each band catered to different groups. So I learned stuff from Jim and Jesse, Jim Eanes, Reno And Smiley, Seldom Scene, Country Gentlemen, Hot Rize, Bill Monroe, Osborne Brothers... you get the picture. No one in this part of the country knows anything but Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs. They don't even know any J.D. Crowe songs.
I even had one loud mouthed twit give me a hard time because I didn't end Reuben the way Earl did. He used the phrase that I hate the most, "Earl didn't play it that way."
That's why I seldom go to jam sessions any more. Why waste a lifetime of learning an instrument when you can no longer enjoy it.

Oct 28, 2021 - 10:28:56 AM
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1253 posts since 1/25/2017

I have very little experience with the type of "jam" that I read about on here. I did go three or four times to a gathering that seems to fit the description.

My solution, when confronted with a song totally unfamiliar or with unpredictable chord changes, is to just sit it out and listen. If it gets intolerable, then I would just pack up and go get a beer.

Edited by - SimonSlick on 10/28/2021 10:31:55

Oct 28, 2021 - 10:47 AM
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2670 posts since 4/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by USAF PJ

I am grateful to have one fairly close by. However, often many of the tunes are unfamiliar to me. Merle Haggard, G. Strait, some old country, key of E stuff.

Have any of you experienced this? When I look through a list of tunes that many of us are familiar w/ I am okay w/ them, but it seems many of "those" are not on the radar for many of the other players. I then find myself more discouraged in my playing and question my ability.

Let me leave it at that for now. I am sure some of you can offer some tips. Suffice to say that yesterday I was second guessing as a result of my most recent experience.

Give it to me straight, may be more my issue. Thanks


I get no satisfaction playing with country people. It's not only the songs & the keys, it's the timing. Country music is too laid-back, & country pickers don't understand "pushing the beat". Many are totally clueless  of a "G-run" & when to use it. If the jam I tilted too far in that direction, I'll find another jam. This is supposed to be fun, not continuous torture, playing "somebody done me wrong, crying in my beer" music, I don't even enjoy listening to. Texas, or Maine, maybe, but not N.C.

Edited by - monstertone on 10/28/2021 10:49:02

Oct 28, 2021 - 10:52:37 AM
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889 posts since 10/4/2018

I love to jam but i hate jams. Give me one of each BG instrument and I'm happy. I don't really like the redundancy of organized jams.

Oct 28, 2021 - 11:02:37 AM
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2677 posts since 11/25/2003

I depends. We've *all* been part of a jam where folks played unfamilar songs. If you have a core group that wants to play Haggard ,Strait and the like - that's not likely to suddenly change. If you want to play more straight up BG /traditional you could find another jam or start one yourself. Cheers!

Oct 28, 2021 - 11:07:35 AM
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doryman

USA

1080 posts since 11/26/2012

Well, there are all kinds of jams and I guess you have to find the kind you like, or start one yourself. OP, the jam you describes sounds like heaven to me. On the other hand, a jam where everyone only played trad bluegrass would be my version of jam hell. To each their own.

Oct 28, 2021 - 11:18:07 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26533 posts since 8/3/2003

I like variety in jams. Not everyone wants to play breakdowns and super fast instrumentals. Some of us like to sing and some like to provide the harmony. Many prefer the vocals to the instrumentals and are happier when the jam is varied not only by songs and instrumentals, but by different genre.

I agree with Doryman: if only bluegrass is played at a jam, that becomes rather boring and variety is the spice of life .... and of jams. Just my 2 cents worth.

My jam from hell would be one in which the fiddlers took over and played just fiddle tunes and expected everyone else to bow down to them and let them do all the breaks. Yes, I've been in jams like that and never again. I'll pickup my case and walk away.

Oct 28, 2021 - 11:40:18 AM

USAF PJ

USA

274 posts since 9/19/2014

You all are the best!!!

Be kind of cool to have a BHO event of some sort in different areas. Maybe it already is happening.
I am getting close to trying to start a user friendly jam here, one where feedback is given also. I have been to jams where the fiddle played loud the entire time, nobody said a word, as I was new I did not think it my place.

Not straight BG but as many of us are older, a jam where each players ability is taken into account. i.e my wife plays Mando but when we all play Old J C it may not be at lightning speed, thus, that would be okay if we all were aware. Am I rambling??

Feedback/advice on trying to start something???

Oct 28, 2021 - 11:52:25 AM
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3988 posts since 5/29/2011

I agree with Sherry here. I prefer to be in a jam session where you have a few good singers that mix up the styles. I remember some jams back in Virginia where the people involved played one fast instrumental after the other. I also like to change keys frequently. Jam sessions where all the songs are in the same two or three keys get monotonous.
Lee Dunbar is a great banjo picker from Covington, Virginia who plays melodic style. I never could beat him in competition. On lightning fast instrumentals he is as good as they come but when he gets in a jam session that is what the jam becomes, all breakdowns and melodic tunes. I once told him that I wish I could play melodic style as well as he does and I was surprised when he told me that he wished that he could play kickoffs, breaks, and slow backup as well as I do. Enough of that rant.
A comfortable jam session to me is where one instrument or one style does not dominate. Jam sessions like that don't come along every day, nor do they happen in all areas.

Oct 28, 2021 - 1:40:48 PM
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2677 posts since 11/25/2003

I would say start small. For instance, are there other folks at the jam you went to who are like minded? Do you have friends or family members who play or would like to learn how to play and jam? Pete Wernick drbanjo.com would be an excellent resource.

Oct 28, 2021 - 2:33:55 PM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26533 posts since 8/3/2003

Many years ago I started a slow jam for those folk who were too intimidated to get in a regular jam. Rules were simple: all acoustic instruments (electric bass allowed), no smoking, no alcohol, no children. Jams were from 7 to 9 pm once a week. I tried to have a selection of easy tunes, both vocal and instrumental, for people to play. I had a big easel set up with lyrics and chords to the songs we were going to work on. Each person had a chance to take a break or not, no pressure. If they needed help with backup, help was given. If they needed help starting off a break, it was given. Usually, one gentleman and I ended up doing most of the singing and teaching since it was a beginner jam.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy it and some even ventured out into the regular jam after a few times at the slow on. You might be able to use some of my ideas if you want to start a jam of your own.

Oct 28, 2021 - 4:06:08 PM
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12424 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by USAF PJ

I am grateful to have one fairly close by. However, often many of the tunes are unfamiliar to me. Merle Haggard, G. Strait, some old country, key of E stuff.  Have any of you experienced this?


Sure. It's called going there without knowing for sure what type of jam it is.

So, what type of jam is it? It's clearly not a bluegrass jam. Is it a country jam? An everything goes Americana-ish acoustic jam?

The first and third Mondays jam I attended the most during my brief time in NYC the previous decade was officially named "Bluegrass and Beyond," described on its website as: "49% Pop/Rock, 49% Bluegrass/Country, 2% Folk (and other inert elements)"   So material from outside the bluegrass canon was more than allowed. It was welcome and expected. We'd get Beatles, Dire Straits, Traveling Willburys.  But I'd say the mix actually ended up mostly bluegrass.

Rules were pretty much standard bluegrass jam etiquette:  Songs had to be playable on bluegrass instruments.  Whoever called a song had to lead it, sing it (if a vocal), announce the key and quickly demonstrate the progression if it was not known by everyone. The leader also called the solos.

This jam was for intermediate and above. You needed enough of an ear and experience to pick up songs quickly and improvise solos to songs you did not know. Beginners were allowed, but were encouraged to simply play along and discouraged from calling tunes or taking solos. This was supposed to be a performance speed jam. So we weren't being mean in not wanting to slow down for learners.  There was a slow jam for them in the same venue second and fourth Mondays.

The jam here in Takoma Park (that has yet to resume) is an all-levels jam that will slow down a bit for beginners. But similar rules and jam etiquette as above apply here, too, and those inexperienced in jamming are also discouraged from calling songs.  The jam goes 7:30 - 10 and on a typical night, the beginners will have left by 9 so the final hour is more performance speed, or nearly so.  This jam is at least 90% bluegrass/folk canon, with the rest being cross-over material or newgrass/Americana/singer-songwriter.  There are multiple upright bass players, ranging from a guy still learning  play to Tom Gray, formerly of the Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene.

Frankly, I don't mind it when we play a little slow. My fingers aren't what they used to be.

As far as your trying to start something, go for it. I think a successful jam needs two things: 1 - A clear statement of its purpose -- including who it's for and what music it wants. And 2 - Experienced leadership.  A beginners' slow jam, in particular, needs a leader who can play and keep the music going.

Good luck.

Oct 28, 2021 - 7:39:03 PM

125 posts since 7/22/2012

My first reaction (perhaps useful, perhaps useless, heh!) is:

If they're nice enough folks, it sounds like a good jam to try some new things.

It's okay to question your own playing. (Earl did at times, so I read.) I'd think give it another go or two or three and see if you start finding some ways to make that banjo sound good with them. Sometimes less is more, just throw in some nice little fills. Whatever starts to work for you. If it starts getting more fun, great.

By all means find other jams that play a lot more of your kind of tunes, too. 

Edited by - Banjfoot on 10/28/2021 19:40:08

Oct 29, 2021 - 1:47:05 AM
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phb

Germany

3047 posts since 11/8/2010

The mere thought of living in a place where there are jams to choose from every week...

I now have three jams: the one I now organise in Berlin and has been running for a few years, a new one in Braunschweig (Brunswick) which is a little more than a two hours' drive away and an organised and paid slow jam organised by a banjo teacher. I attend all three.

I try to organise a session once a month but I haven't got a venue for the cold months now and corona makes it difficult to find one. "My" jam is pretty diverse in styles of music, we get a lot of folkie guitar playing types. I don't mind, there are many great Bob Dylan songs. The level of playing ranges from beginner to somewhat advanced but since we usually haven't got a bass player and only sometimes one fiddle (but half a dozen guitars and 4+ banjos, 3 mandolins), the resulting music isn't very good. At the last jam we had a problem with some regulars that for some reason turned into jam hogs that day and spoilt the fun for some beginners. They didn't announce chords but only keys (and only when asked) and took all the songs among three of them which bothered the more timid players that would have led a song if they had been given the opportunity. I need to impose some rules which worries me because I'm one of the worse players and can't "keep the music going", as Ken wrote above. I only sometimes lead songs and only if I can't avoid it.

The Braunschweig jam is new and takes place once a month and they do have a venue. The music is much more bluegrass centric with some old time but the songs are mostly standards so far. They write the chords to each song on a small chalk board placed in the middle of the circle. Quite a big crowd (20?), two basses, good fiddles... The musical level seems to be more uniform than at my local jam and all in all a bit higher. There are several pretty good players. Perhaps the self-declared beginners are just too soft to be noticed in the big crowd.

Both jams are friendly, lots of regulars you get to know over time or already know from some festival. Most of all both jams are tolerant (we did allow an electric guitar player once, the Braunschweig jam has a cajón player and I'd expect that at both jams we would try having other non-bluegrass instruments and see how it turns out).

The paid jam (6€ per session) is the easiest. Lots of plunky banjos and the teacher has to lead all the songs. All songs are really slow. Sometimes one of his students will play the intro to a song if they studied it during the lessons. This jam takes place today for the first time since covid19 started but is supposed to take place once a month. I believe I have outgrown it over the covid time but I'll go anyway because beggars can't be choosers. The banjo teacher plays fine but banjo is his second instrument after guitar (mainly Jazz but he teaches all styles, I think) and he does more Doc Watson songs and doesn't really play like Earl, Ralph or any other bluegrass banjo great played (which doesn't bother me but I wouldn't take lessons from him for this reason). There are sheets with the melody in notation, lyrics and chords for all songs that get played during the first half. Usually there is a less formal second half without sheets (unless you happen to have them).

What would be the optimal jam for me? One with one instrument each (perhaps a second banjo player so that it wouldn't all depend on me), everybody but me would lead songs, half of the songs would be standards and all of them played at medium tempo. The other players would be so experienced that they won't get out of time if I make a mistake or play out of time but they would still have fun playing with me despite all the mistakes I would make. Yeah, exactly... ;)

Edited by - phb on 10/29/2021 01:53:19

Oct 29, 2021 - 3:15:36 AM
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OM45GE

USA

110548 posts since 11/7/2007
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I would mush rather play with musicians I know and tunes I’m familiar with, but enjoy jams as well. Just making music brings me joy.

If the group is playing something I don’t know, I’ll strum of pick along quietly and try to suss out the chords and melody, listening to the others and watching their hands.

Oct 29, 2021 - 8:02:23 AM

USAF PJ

USA

274 posts since 9/19/2014

Again appreciative of all your comments. Thanks for the encouragement Sherry & Ken!

Oct 29, 2021 - 8:25:10 AM
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doryman

USA

1080 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by phb


At the last jam we had a problem with some regulars that for some reason turned into jam hogs that day and spoilt the fun for some beginners. They didn't announce chords but only keys (and only when asked) and took all the songs among three of them which bothered the more timid players that would have led a song if they had been given the opportunity. I need to impose some rules which worries me because I'm one of the worse players and can't "keep the music going", as Ken wrote above. I only sometimes lead songs and only if I can't avoid it.
 


Hi Philipp, I enjoyed reading the stories about your jams in Germany.  One thought about imposing rules at your own jam (above).  In most of the jams I attend, we take turns going around the circle to call songs.  Each person can call and lead a song or decline and pass to the next person.  There is no calling tunes out of order!  In fact, we kind of make a game out of it, if someone calls for a song when it is not their turn (almost always because they lost track of the order, not because they are a hog), we tease that person for hogging the songs and neglecting poor Sam, or Bill, or Nancy...or whomever's turn it really was, all in fun and we get a laugh out of it and no one feels awkward.  We also very much encourage everyone to try and call and lead a song, no matter how new they are (unless of course they are very new and shy).  And then we support them as much as possible.  In this way, new players become better players.  I was very shy at first to lead a song.  It's a difficult thing to do, you have to be a player, a singer and a band director all at once!  My apologies if all of this is already obvious to you. 

Oct 29, 2021 - 1:03:10 PM

2670 posts since 4/5/2006

You gotta start somewhere. When you're a newcomer to the area, or to the bluegrass community, it takes awhile to gain footing, to know your way around, to get it in on the "pipeline". It takes a lot of leg work, scouting out every lead on anything & everything.

For those unfamiliar with the greater Los Angeles area, It's huge, taking up all of Los Angeles county, the San Fernando Valley, spilling over into Orange, Riverside & San Bernardino counties.

The first BG festival was thirty plus miles from home, but the payback was a couple newfound BG banjo & guitar pickers close to home. After a few picking sessions together, one of those new pickers took me to my first jam. Once you break the ice & get on a first name basis with other pickers, it becomes less intimidating. You get out of it, what you put into it. Eventually, some of us put up flyers in a couple music stores & started our own jam.  As time went on, it continued growing & expanding.

Oct 29, 2021 - 5:33:28 PM

cevant

USA

290 posts since 2/5/2020
Online Now

I actually like playing fiddle tunes, and just came back from a six hour jam at the beach playing mucho old timey fiddle tunes, a few gospel tunes, maybe a John Denver or Hank Williams tune thrown in.   Johnny Cash might've showed up too.  About 75 degrees in the shade, and we all sit under a giant tree. It's all good to me. We have a lot of very good fiddle players here. After doing this for a while I'm getting to know all the tunes pretty well and I feel like every time it gets better. It's a good group of people that also tend to sing a lot of the tunes.   We have an audience of seniors that like to show up for a listen, including one 99 year old wwII vet and  his wife. That's the Friday old time jam. Saturday is bluegrass at the park and it's a similar situation. The range of players goes from kids just starting out, to old timer's nearing a century of living. Some days are better than others, but mostly it's just a lot of fun. There are even times when it sounds a lot like music. We have an old steam train that we have to compete with, but that's okay. Lots of good barbecue right across the street. smokinjsrealbbq.com/ (right next to the micro brewery).

Next weekend is the train song festival. poway.org/Calendar.aspx?EID=1898

Lots of steam, with all the bells and whistles... literally. Not to mention all those screaming kids..

It's a blast. I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing.  And if a banjo makes a mistake when the train is rolling by it doesn't make a sound.

Edited by - cevant on 10/29/2021 17:48:39

Oct 29, 2021 - 10:34:33 PM

Paul R

Canada

15149 posts since 1/28/2010

I was part of a Bluegrass jam that got less and less Bluegrass over the years. The change of venue didn't help, either. It attracted beginners, all guitar players, and seemed to become more and more of a support group than a jam. I got more and more frustrated as newbies (and others) didn't seem to know what Bluegrass was. I got to trying to just keep a basic Bluegrass rhythm on the guitar, to get everyone in time. We also had players who would solo over everything.

I don't mind a mix of styles, but when Bluegrass becomes the minority style at a Bluegrass jam, well ... . And the size of the jam was too big. The best times were when some of us would break off and go to another room.

On the other hand, we had a legendary (to us) mandolin player drop by, and he played at warp speed and most people couldn't keep up.

There has to be a balance maintained.

Oct 29, 2021 - 10:59:19 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

60459 posts since 10/5/2013

I can learn from any jam ,, crummy, too fiddle-heavy, country/folk. If you play an instrument it’s good to mess around with all kinds of music, whether you’re a die-hard bluegrasser or not.
I attend a jam in town here that a lot of bluegrass musicians scoff at because it’s mostly slower country and old folk stuff. I can practice my slow backup there & try slow solos, not easy on banjo, & something I don’t do much of at home. Sometimes it gets dreary teejus so I’ll wake everybody up with a medium fast bluegrass song.
It’s a Zen thing…... cool

Edited by - chuckv97 on 10/29/2021 23:04:08

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