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Developing a Tunelist for a Jam

Posted by bj on Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm still trying to figure out if starting the jam made it easier or harder to develop my tunelist. It seems to be growing pretty fast, and in unexpected ways.

It's also growing unevenly.

What I mean by that is that when playing (mostly) alone, I had the luxury of working on a tune until it was at least bearable to listen to. Now, it's true that I'm picking up tunes faster these days, but I also don't seem to have the luxury of working on one until it's solid. I have more than a half dozen right now that I've learned within the last week and a half, and though I can play all of them well enough to jam away on them,  I wouldn't consider a single one of them "solid". They sound okay when lost in the happy cacophony of the average jam, but if I play them solo they sound like doodoo.

That worried me at first, but since I run the jam the 2nd & 4th Tuesdays, and there's now a hiatus since it's the end of a month with 5 Tuesdays in it, I have some time to bring these tunes along, and maybe add a couple G tunes in the meantime. I may not get all of them to the point of being "solid" but I can at least firm up a few of them and keep working on the rest in the meantime.

I also find myself in serious Hunter mode, as the recent OT G Tunes thread on the forum shows.

One of the things I've become aware of in running this jam is that if you're going to go into a tuning you need at the very least a half dozen tunes to play in that tuning to make it worthwhile. And since you don't want to play the EXACT SAME half dozen tunes every jam, it's problematical if there are only a half dozen on the list. Yes, I want people to learn all the tunes and we do have some beginners we're bringing along, but we also have experienced people who will get sick of playing the same ol' same ol' every time. So I'm trying to find that balance.

I'm thinking along the lines of  3 or 4 of the "original" tunes in a key, the ones everyone, including most of the beginners, knows, then play one or two we don't play that often, then learn a new one. And not in that order, necessarily, we'd mix it up some.

And that's why I'm in tunehunter mode. I only had 5 solid G tunes on my list up until last jam. I'm heavy on D tunes and A modal tunes. Less so on A tunes.

I should probably mention that going around the circle asking for tunes was an unmitigated disaster since none of the beginners have a clue what key their tunes are in, which led to a mad scramble by the banjo players to hunt for capos or retune. Geez, I remember making that same beginner mistake! And truth be told, I still screw up a key now and again, though I've gotten much better. My solution was to just call out "Who's got another D tune?" and the more experienced players sometimes come up with one. If they don't, and they start gabbing (which happens more often than I would have thought) I just start playing a tune off my list, and someone will pick up the thread and it catches on.

I've gotta say, it can be frustrating trying to start tunes we haven't played before at the jam. Some of the fiddlers can't follow me when I'm playing, since I'm not all that crisp and clear yet in my playing, which is definitely a downside to starting/running a jam if you're not an experienced player. Luckily I found out that Dave, who works in the town I live in, has no problem that way. It's like his ears are tuned into novice fiddlers. Probably because his son is learning fiddle. So the one tune we played last time that was new to the group was one I had taught to Dave in our one on one playing session the week before. That helped a lot, since they could follow his playing easier than mine. It also helped that one of the other fiddlers knew the tune. But I also know Dave isn't going to be there every jam. We'll see how things go when he isn't there.

And the Beat Goes On . . .

5 comments on “Developing a Tunelist for a Jam”

FiddleJammer Says:
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 @7:23:51 AM

"Never be afraid to start a tune you don't know."
-Terri Lukacko

FiddleJammer Says:
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 @7:35:31 AM

Some accessible A tunes...
Benton's Dream
Falls of Richmond
Greasy Coat
Liza Jane
Old Joe Clark
Sandy Boys
Sourwood Mountain

bj Says:
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 @8:24:11 AM

LOL! I've been doing a lot of starting tunes I don't know! The problem arises when no one else knows them either!

Thanks for the A suggestions. We're doing a few of them already, Greasy Coat, Sourwood Mountain and Old Joe Clark. I had started working on Falls a few months back but had put it aside since I wasn't ready for it. I'll have to pick that one up again. And Sandy Boys is one I've been listening to and I'm probably ready for. I play a skeletal version of Liza Jane, I'll have to flesh that one out a bit.

Anyway, tunelist is here, though I have to update it to add the ones from last jam, so it's not quite complete.

robinja Says:
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 @1:14:29 PM

Coupla thoughts after having seen our jam in Atlanta thrive, dwindle, and somewhat re-kindle over the past 5 years. I think your #1 goal is to keep the good experienced players, especially fiddlers, happy. If they're happy, they'll keep coming, and their presence will keep everyone else coming. The #2 goal is to make everyone welcome, including the beginners. And I do think that going around the circle is one of the ways you accomplish both. This allows the good musicians to play tunes not necessarily newbie friendly (but the newbie gets to listen, watch, record), and it allows the newbies to call tunes they are working on or want to learn and possibly start the tune at a reasonable pace for them. When newbies at our jam call a tune that is not in the current key, we gently correct them and offer to play the tune when we change to that key or at the next jam (if we've already passed the key.) Then we'll offer them a tune list to pick from in the current key. We historically kept to a schedule of G for an hour, D for an hour, then A for an hour, with some flexibility, depending on the crowd.

Regarding the ever-expanding list of tunes, at 5 years in, I am still in your boat. The tunes are coming at me faster than I can keep up, but it does seem that my old tunes get better, even if I haven't played them in a while. There are a few more difficult tunes that seem to require practice to keep up to snuff. I think this is the curse of the modern fiddler. Back in the day, you played the tunes that the fiddler knew. Today, it seems like the other musicians expect the fiddler to know every tune. Some quality suffers in this equation.

FiddleCat Says:
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 @1:21:28 PM

I wouldn't get too worked up about it. You have a pretty good list going. Just keep adding to it. You don't need to start the group off every time. If you don't know it mabey someone else will. Just say I don't know it..but anyone of you others can start it off. I myself as a newbie don't expect to have to call out tunes. I sit back and wait to see what comes next, and try to pick it up. I think that half the fun is learning songs I don't know. If I really like one that comes along I go home and work on it so mabey I can play it next time.

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