10 Commandments of Bluegrass Etiquette

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Joined: 14 Mar 2007
Groups: None
10 Commandments of Bluegrass Etiquette

by Shelah Spiegel

1. THOU SHALT jam to thy left. Upon completing thy break, the fellow immediately to thy left shall partake of playing next. Shouldest thou choose the tune or song, the fellow immediately to thy left shall thereupon choose the next tune or song.

2. THOU SHALT play backup quietly. Shouldest it not be thy break, thou shalt play quietly. This manner of courtesy allows thy fellows to hear the heavenly melodies of the person in lead and thou mayest pick up some chops in the process.

3. THOU SHALT put thy strings in tune. It is an abomination to the angels shalt thy instrument be of faulty pitch. If thou canst do it by ear, use thy tuner. Intonation of thine instrument is to be held in the highest and will be respected by all.

4. THOU SHALT open thy circle. Allow thy fellow picker to enter the circle if they be of new and fresh meat. Part thy circle and make way for more music. If thy circle be of intimate content, courtliness in manners excusing the fellow from thy practice session is a kindly thing indeed.

5. THOU SHALT play thy break and step away. Do not hoggest the tune by sharing all thy musicality throughout the number loudly. Allowest other pickers opportunities to shine with the wealth of their harmonies.

6. THOU SHALT not turn thy back on thy fellow pickers. It be of rude and contempt toward thy fellow picker.

7. THOU SHALT let someone else be in charge. Since no one is of highest and mighty power and charged with leadership, thy jam be for one and all to call out new tunes.

8. THOU SHALT play thy kitchen, washing, blowing or honking items within a discrete distance away from a serious jam. Bluegrass instrumentation shalt be of stringed instruments only and any other that go before shall be with tolerance and foreboding and within the scope of acceptability of the jam as a whole acceptability.

9. THOU SHALT step away from thy jam if thou canst play the tune. If thou noodlest in the background until the closure of said musicality, rejoin thy jam and make merry with thine instrument.

10. THOU SHALT have fun. Play thy music, make good and beautiful sounds and take pleasure thyself in the sounds that eminate from thine instrument. Speedist not up in thy rhythm nor sing off pitch. Should thy be a fiddle or mandolinist, thou shalt play backup on the 2 and 4. Do not be discouraged by the loathsome 5-stringed demon who plays continuously and at alarming rates, but enjoy the challenge.

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What is the range of tolorance?

I'm starting to see a few elec. bass guitars show up with small or battery powered amps. It makes sense because they are much easier to tote around and less expensive not to mention they still sound good.

I pretty much only finger style on my acoustic and in groups of more than four people, have been told they can not hear my playing. Most jams I go to involve 10 - 12 people.

Recently I bought one of those battery powered amps that can sit under my chair. I use a 6 ft cord to plug it into the guitar and all seems well. I've had no issues, no complaints and always tell the folks to let me know if I need to turn it down. I follow all the other rules of etiquette as prescribed above, but wondering if it would be permissible to show up at other jams with this amp.

While the two jams I run are

While the two jams I run are acoustic, somebody with a gently electrified instrument is welcome. Rarely does somebody bring an amp, and the few times they have the sound has blended well. Electric bass and keyboard are both appropriate for my jams.

If somebody came in for their first time with a solid body electric guitar rather than an acoustic I would encourage them to show up with an acoustic on the next visit.

I suspect the range of tolerance is pretty wide and is not something to assume with a group where you are new.

Joined: 14 Oct 2008
Groups: Jersey Jam
The range of tolerance is... a range!

I suspect that most folks are understanding of those who are understanding. BUT if it's a professed hard-core bluegrass fast jam, I'd be wary of the BG Police looking to make an arrest, or at least a public humiliation. Yeah, I'd leave the Roland Micro-Cube in the car.

Some have noted elsewhere that such exclusiveness mostly happens in city areas, where the "nouveau BG hard-core" might try just a bit too hard, and I’ve seen tinges of it here in the suburbs of NYC. I’m told that at a real back-country jam, they're more likely to take you at face value.

Joined: 17 Aug 2007
Groups: None
Range of Tolerance

Depends on the jam. I suggest you call the host and ask.

If you were to call me, I'd say that our group sticks to Bluegrass standards or other songs that can be EASILY played and sung in Bluegrass style. Why? So that everyone can participate, whether or not they know the tune, and have it come out sounding decent.

We also enjoy the tones produced by unamplified instruments, and we often like to play outdoors; therefore, amps are discouraged.

Fingerstyle guitar is beautiful in the proper setting (usually as a solo instrument, often accompanying a singer), but it doesn't fit that well with Bluegrass-style music.

I guess that makes me part of the "Bluegrass Police." But I'm not enforcing any particular set of rules; I'm simply pointing out that your style of music doesn't blend well with a particular, established jam. You'd be better off starting your own jam with people that are more like you than we are.

Thanks for your honesty

Thanks for your honesty jwing. Even though I wasn't talking specifically about bluegrass, didn't even mention it, I've sort of felt the same way about my style of pick'n, then I decided if I couldn't adapt it to other styles I wasn't half the musician I thought I was. Case in point: I sat in with a mariachi band once. (some things just do not work well) In your kind of musical environment I rarely take a break unless I reach for my flatpick. However enjoy doing fingerstyle background embellishments without overshadowing the one who's doing the break.. if it fits; been complimented on it many times. If I don't feel comfortable with it.. I just do some rhythm.

Back to the subject matter..the amp. If you think about it, it's only purpose is to assist being heard.. kind of like using a PA system at your jam session and someone stepping up to a mic to take a break. I'm not talking about changing the face of a jam session by adding a bunch of effects.. just simple amplification so what needs to be heard can be. To many times in an open jam there is one or two guys that beat their guitars and just can't grasp the concept of how to back off.

Joined: 17 Sep 2010
Groups: None
I have no problem with people

I have no problem with people who are amped joining in. I'm a bassist, so I'm usually the quiet one in the background, but I feel like when it's one acoustic bass (me) and one electric bass, sometimes things can get awkward (maybe I have a bass ego. I think all bassists do at some point or another). It usually works, but when the electric is playing it in a non-standard way, we really can clash, and I play my bass in pretty much the most basic, straight-forward traditional way you can (with a few simple walks here and there for fun). As long as the amped musician remembers the roots of grassing, it's allll good.

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