I’m curious how other organizations conduct your open Jams. How do you go about keeping everyone together. Is notation an option or a call & response method . . . just how do you keep a group who aren’t familiar with the tunes and everyone from rank beginners to intermediate players together? Would appreciate any advice on the subject.
I'm curious to see what kind of answers people can give you. I've watched some of your jams on youtube an I really love them...wish there was something like that around here. I can say our jams in my area are so formal and the people that run them sort of authoritarian...no fun for me. Maybe they have to be that way to get people playing, I don't know.
Here's my 3bits:
It's a jam. Everybody should know that. Newbies should be in tune, and know the I, IV, V, in keys like G, D, A, & C. Everybody should be able to play in time. Oldies should know not to call jambuster tunes, especially in goofy keys. This also means, if it's a bluegrass jam, don't call out a tune from South Pacific. Some tunes are welcome in many styles, know some of these.
This ain't a classroom. This ain't band practice. In some respects it's very simple. But anything fun, shouldn't be entirely without structure.
The last one I went to was the kind where participants are allowed to pick tunes...they were all playing stuff in B, Bb, F or whatever....really fast tunes that took a lot of knowhow and playing experience. When it came to my turn to pick a tune, I said let's play Poor Little Turtle Dove. Nobody knew it...I said, no problem, it's I IV V only, in G I believe it was or some other easy key...well I was trying to fiddle and yell out the I's IV's and V's, because they couldn't tell where they went, and it all just fell apart and disentegrated and they sat there in silence watching me until I noticed, felt stupid, and just quit and said, ok...let's not try that. Who's next? So...these were experienced bluegrassers that play a heck of a lot of harder stuff than I'll ever play...but this was the kind of tune you learn in kindergarden...so...I was confused...no fun, felt stupid, decided I was done with jams...lol. I played their tunes...they'd never play mine.
groundhogpeggy I appreciate your kind words. We do have a good bunch of folks that enjoy our Jams and a great fellowship that’s been going on for some almost 40 yrs now, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that . . . i Was just looking for possible strategies that might improve on what we have.
Thanks again for your very kind words.
farmerjones Most everyone has the electronic tuners now which isn’t the problem it once was, but we try and instill the “3chords & the Truth rule, we do have the occasional Jambuster rear it’s ugly head. Usually most just stop & stare and that usually gets the message across. You make a good point,”anything fun should have some structure “, and that is exactly what I’m looking for . . . structural strategies. Without some structure it also soon ceases to be fun and some will lose interest.
Edited by - jefferylong on 12/13/2019 07:52:18
groundhogpeggy I feel your pain! I’ve had the same experience trying out a new tune. You’d think with an easy, repetitive 3chord tune everyone should catch on quickly, but that’s not always the case, especially when you have musicians that are not familiar with Oldtime fiddle tunes. One thing I do often that seems to help is singing the melody to the chords. Instead of singing the lyrics I sing the chords to the melody slowly in place of the lyrics. It doesn’t take very long to sing a verse/chorus and they seem to catch on quickly.
Chris Carney has an excellent way of teaching new fiddle tunes where he uses a method of call and response. Breaks each tune into simple phrases and has the learner repeat. Great way to chew up a tune into smaller bite-size morsels so everyone can learn. I saw Rachel Eddy do the same thing @ a Workshop I attended. She had 50 Fiddlers from all levels and had everyone playing the tune within minutes without any tabs, notes, or visual aids.
Wow...I should try it next time I end up at a jam!
I sympathize with you GHP. Didn't sound like those others wanted to play along/jam. Folks are funny/different. There're some that are short on skills in one area, and long in another. I'm always suprised, how most folks really can't find the key and pick up the melody, one time through. Most know the tunes they know from memory. Then some jams i look around and the majority have a book of chords and words, on a music stand in front of them. It's all good. But, Ok, so if nobody can play the other guys tune, how does this work? It doesn't.
Jeff, i would be reluctant to change the formula of a jam that's lasted for 40 years.
Something tells me there's maybe more than one spin-offs from such an established jam. This would be something i would more likely seek to customize.
Y'know classes, and slow jams aren't a bad thing, they just aren't the circle jam i know and love.
At the bluegrass jam that I attend, it is a mix of advanced beginner to intermediate players. Jam etiquette is important in keeping the group together. Each player gets a chance to select a song, announce what key it is played in, announce the chord pattern, such as I, IV,V, keep the volume low if necessary in order to hear the soloist during breaks. To keep things simple and enjoyable for all, we select 2 or 3 chord songs. We leave our egos at home and welcome all levels. It also helps that the jam is at an Irish pub, which is conducive to keeping things light.
Since I am the sole fiddle player, when it comes to my turn to select the song, I will ask our guitarist to lead the song instead, so that everyone can watch his chords and easily follow along.
Yes, there another consideration. Some call an open mike affair, a jam. There also mega-jams. Often hosted. I don't often jam in a group larger than 8 or 10. 3-4 members are better yet. Just my preference.
Edited by - farmerjones on 12/13/2019 11:05:48
Here at the jam in Dallas everyone is welcome to join in, regardless of level. Instruments must be acoustic, though. We get between 10 and 15 folks at each jam. We are fortunate in that many who do come are very experienced musicians, so we can keep things together-most of the time. There are some folks who need sheet music, and that is ok - as long as they recognize that the transcription may not reflect what is actually played.
The format is that we sit in a circle and each person can select a tune. This allows everyone to contribute and allows newer folks to call tunes that they know or that they are working on. No tune is off limits!! We typically play in D,G or A and we will stay in one key for a while IF a banjoist is present. One the rare occasion that no banjo shows up and the musicians are all experienced, we will do go to C, F or Bb and we may even get into really crooked jam busters and rags. Songs are ok, but at a jam, we typically only do one or two, if even that many.
The overarching philosophy is that we are there to play music in the old time repertoire and have fun. It makes no difference whether we are playing warhorses or some obscure Mississippi tune, the goal is to be in community with each other and treasure this unique moment that will never exist again.
I know that folks who come to the jam represent the broadest spectrum of religious and political views that you can imagine, but that does not mean that we cannot be civil and enjoy being together playing music.
Some other interesting tidbits. The typical distribution of instruments is: fiddle (4), banjo (1), guitar (2), mandolin (1), mtn dulcimer (1), bass (1). At a recent jam, we had 5 banjos and 2 fiddles, 3 guitars, 2 mandolins and 2 mtn dulcimers. This was a very fun jam!!
farmerjones I suppose you’re right . . . 40 Years together should account for something going right. I’ve been in marriages that haven’t lasted that long. We do have a good fellowship. You’d think though after 40 Years we’d sound a little better than when we started?
Originally posted by jefferylong
Fiddler Well said.
There's one other piece of information about our jam. We meet at Dallas Heritage Village. The nominal admission charge is waived for musicians. The benefit is that we provide entertainment in the Village twice a month which encourages visitors to the Village. The number of visitors is critical to their funding from the City of Dallas. The caveat is that we cannot limit who comes to the jams- which is really ok with us. They post information about the jam on their website and help promote us. I send out a reminder newsletter with a link to the jam lists, chord charts and transcriptions to those who come. We also have a public Facebook page. When we perform, we call ourselves the "Browder Springs String Band - also the FB page name. Browder Springs was a important water source for the City of Dallas in the 1800s/1900s and is located in the Village.
The benefit for us is that they provide a "neutral" site for jams near downtown Dallas that is inconvenient for almost everyone. The other benefit is that we are invited to "perform" for various Village functions. For some of the folks who have rarely performed publicly, this has become very important. In fact, we are playing tomorrow evening for the Village's Candlelight. It's one of their biggest annual fundraising events. There will be 15 of us playing! We're not the only performers - there are a plethora of folks adding their seasonal cheer scattered throughout the Village! Attendance to the event is up in the thousands!
I feel very fortunate to have a good relationship with the Exec Dir and many of the Board members. Many of us also have memberships to the Village. So, it really is a synergistic partnership.
Hmmm ... Some people just can't keep time . Others keep time well until they sing then all regular tempo disappears. Some players don't notice when their instrument is no longer in tune. Having a tuner makes little difference to these folks. I am always amazed by the players that call out a key then put a capo on their instrument thinking that they are still in that key. Then you have the ill mannered folk that can actually play a bit but have no concern for how they are drowning out the people on either side of them. Ahhh one of my favorites " I learned / wrote this today " .... let's see how does it go >>>>> To me these are the real Jam Busters .... I IV V with a II or VIm are standards with discernable formats. Call out the key using a word not a letter, announce that there is a minor, if in an odd key what tha minor is and set off. Each and every time I go to a jam I know it is just as likely to be a bust as a grand time. THere are just too many variables. So ... I accept the things I cannot change and play on. R/
I attend a monthly jam of mostly intermediate players at a local library. Going around in a circle, calling out tunes. However, each loop of the circle is done in one key. There is also a printed sheet with common tunes in each key, but we’re not limited to it. Seems to work out well.
I went to the big one around here...you have to sit in ridiculous traffic for a while to get there, and then it's so crowded...they play only ridiculousy fast bg...stuff I don't know at all, but I just would play the chords...I mean...not hard to get the gist of a tune on the guitar...but, it was so crowded my elbows would bump into others and I couldn't tell if I was playing the guitar, making any sound at all while I was rapidly slamming on it, unless I looked down at the strings and saw they were vibrating. That just wasn't fun for me. I hated that and hated the traffic...had a charlie horse by the time I got there because the grades on the crowded, clogged up interstate...you had to put it in first gear and didn't dare take your foot off the clutch for fear of rolling backwards, yet couldn't put it in neutral to give you leg a rest because it never actually stopped...just creep up the hills at 5 mph...doing that for 45 minutes straight didn't help my fun much either. Not worth it. I have more fun just pretending I'm the only one in the world with a love of playing music who exists...lol...i.e., back to the porch, the ol' lonesome porch.
Sitting in traffic is never fun.
We have the opposite from groundhog peggy-- not too much traffic, but to get to the jam at each others houses you need to have a decent 4x4 thats not very shiny or the branches stripe it. Good friends getting together for the past 25 years 2 times a month and the motto seems to be that about the time you figure an instrument out have the courage to learn something new. Our leaders played fiddle and I backed on guitar. then they went crazy for accoridans of all shapes and sizes a few years back and their willingness to learn and to teach inspired me and got me into fiddle. Problem is that its become a bit too popular and shifts to a performing rather than learning thing and people ask me to play something I know too often instead of suffering along with me as I learn. If you ever get up around glacier in NW Montana its 1st and 3rd mondays
finn mcc I know what you mean . . . this Jam was my first public attempt @ fiddle and they put up with that. I probably owe them something for that?
I enjoy the learning process myself . . . tire Quickly performing . . . same 15 tunes over & over . . . i Don’t see the fun in that @ all.
I have to remind them often this is a Jam - not a performance. I think because our jam is @ a public restaurant some feel inclined to perform. I go to learn and try out new tunes . . . stretch the boundaries.
Same here . . . if you’re ever in Tennessee we’re just a stones throw off I-40.
Hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re absolutely right . . . TRAFFIC IS NO FUN . . . whether it’s on the road or in a Jam.
Maybe that’s where they came up with that term . . . JAM???
I knew I never liked that term for some reason?
UsuallyPickin Good point . . . “Accept the things I cannot change.” Too many variables . . . @ least the food’s good?
I appreciate all your comments, suggestions, and support in allowing me to vent some of my frustrations. I can tell by your comments you’re all seasoned players, and I really appreciate and value all your opinions.
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