Novice fears, nerves, and welcomes?

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Novice fears, nerves, and welcomes?

I have a background in a lot of different styles and a couple instruments, but I am new to organized jamming (other than with friends and a lot of familiarity with those in the living room). Most performing I have been involved with was well rehearsed, choreographed etc. My wife has just started to become involved with music, and I am new to bluegrass/folk and the routines that seem to be common.

We have been reading up on protocol and are planning to start hitting a few jams, open mics etc. to familiarize ourselves with the culture. One of my bigger concerns is how we, beginners, are welcomed, viewed and tolerated. My wife is easily embarrassed, but also easily encouraged. I, on the other hand have little fear of failure (try, try, again thing).

Is it common to find others helping those of us less experienced voluntarily, or is it usual for a fair amount of coersion is needed to find someone to mentor the newbies. I think you catch the drift here, we most likely will participate whole heartedly with encouragement, but, sometimes it is hard to get the introductions and acceptance to acclimate to the unfamiliar.

What can we expect and how do we go about initiating ourselves into the culture?

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Novice fears, nerves, and welcomes?

I guess the only time I felt excluded in a jamming session was at a bluegrass festival where inadvertently stumbled on a large group who were practicing for a show. Rather then tell me what I'd done they closed their circle tighter and kept playing. My reaction? If they want to hear me play they'll just have to buy a ticket from now on.

Jamming is inherently inclusive. Normally in my experience the better players tended to move to the center of the group. I'm guessing most are old and hard of hearing? Maybe not but sliding into a jam session and start playing is acceptable in almost any genre. Walk up with your instrument and somebody will give you a nod in. Trouble comes if your out of tune, don't know the tunes and play anyway, your off beat, you don't listen to others or call out tunes nobody knows. Most jams have a standard fair of tunes most everybody knows. For old timey or Irish you might hear Whiskey Before Breakfast, St. Ann's Reel, Irish Washer Woman and a few others. Bluegrass has their own set of standards along with vocals and ballads. Bluegrass also has the advantage of strong chords. If your familiar with the song's structure you can chord along. If the members are familiar with each other they might skip the standards and go into stuff they've worked up over the years. It's kind of a grab bag if you don't know the group. The best thing I guess is to listen for a while. If you know the majority of the tunes join in. Since I'd drag in a hammered dulcimer and a guitar I could cover most of the tunes. The most important equipment though was the tape recorder shoved underneath my chair. The months of January - March are spent working up tunes I don't know but heard around different sessions.


Joined: 20 Jan 2008
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Larrivee DV-09 Taylor

Larrivee DV-09
Taylor T5C2-12 Koa
'73 Granada Modified
Kids got the others

Thanks James, my wife and I are just starting to make the rounds, we attended an open mic session yesterday just to familliarize ourselves with the atmosphere, we've been doing some on-line searches for activities (that's how I found this site). It seemed that most of the few people there were well acquainted with each other (we felt a little like fish out of water), the weather wasn't the best so there was just a small group of people there. We seem to have a few more open mic sessions than organized jams in our area, but I have found a few jams listed. We went to one last week some 45 miles from here, however on arriving we found a sign on the door stating closed, but for a cover we could go to another address at a different time, which we choose not to, are cover charges common? There are several scheduled that we intend to search out to attend to just watch at 1st. Is it acceptable to just show up, or is it advised to register or call ahead? And, also is it alright to record (small pocket recorder), if we are not participating? Sorry if I seem anal about this, eventually we'll get the hang of it, but any help would be appreciated.

Novice fears, nerves, and welcomes?

I did a few of those open mike things and finally stopped. I'm not out to impress anybody. Besides, the groups that back up the guys who sing cowboy songs are comfortable with that genre. I waltz up with a huge hammered dulcimer and they get this deer in the headlight look. The backup is pretty awkward. The last time I did it I walked out promising myself the next time THOSE guys heard me play they'd have to buy a ticket. If your asked for a cover charge go somewhere else. You shouldn't have to pay to play. In the Irish circles tradition says the performers get a free beer.

I guess Scott has got to get the word out to folks in Florida about his jamming site. I know there's a few of my snow bird friends who hold their meetings in Florida. I could look around for you a bit. You might also check the local folk arts society using the yellow pages or the local library. Most larger cities have them.

I don't think anybody will have problems with your recording the jam session. The only ones who fuss about that are major recording artists. Actually they don't care but their agent will. To loose the buck 85 from an unsold album keeps them up at night.

I'll contact a friend of mine in Florida to see where the hot jams are.


Joined: 20 Jan 2008
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i have found the best way to join a jam is to walk in and see what is going on then deciede if you can join in type of music speed ect that only you can choose
as for paying some jams do charge to help cover costs involved i play at one "the great northern music hall" charges $4.00 at the door to listen and $2.00 if you go on stage they have several jams in the basement
if you come in the room i am in you will be welcomed with warm hearts
but some rooms are groups praticing to go on stage and want to be left alone
i guess the best advice i can give is check it out and you decide for yourself
keep pickin

looking for ,old rock, country ,bluegrass, gospel

Joined: 20 Jan 2008
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James, Thank you for your

James, Thank you for your insight, and help. I don't have to much fingerstyle and flatpick experience, and zippo bluegrass (mostly old soft rock, some folk). But I can pick up a beat follow a chord progression and strum along. The open mics we've been seeking out are pretty much folk, solos, maybe duets. But they certainly are not the bluegrass in the books my wife had me get for us. We have located a few jams we will be trying to visit and we'll keep going to the festivals, camps and open mics we source out of here, I figure we'll eventually hit it off with a group that we will feel comfortable with and learn some of their favorite tunes to participate with. I don't really mind a cover if I were to know what I was getting into, heck I'd gladly pay up for a group that felt welcoming.

Larrivee DV-09
Taylor T5C2-12 Koa
'73 Granada Modified
Kids got the others

Joined: 20 Jan 2008
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Thanks for your response, as

Thanks for your response, as I mentioned to James here, I have no problem struming and picking up a beat in progression, my wife with the autoharp on the other hand is going to take some coaxing. We've got her working a half hour a week to start, with a bluegrass player who we hooked up with as a teacher at a local music shop, real basic, but it's keeping her focused, not bad for me either. We will keep exposing ourselves to the functions we can find, and I'm sure we'll eventually work our way in. Seems like a familiar circle that the folk and bluegrass crowd runs with, at 1st glance it appears a lot of people know each other. Thanks for the encouragement.
Larrivee DV-09
Taylor T5C2-12 Koa
'73 Granada Modified
Kids got the others

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New to Jamming

Hi -- I have been successfully running a jam for the last 3 years. My suggestion to you for creating your own jam might be:

1-Go to jams or festivals in your area. Walk around and see whats going on. Generally you will find a group of folks that play around the same ability as you. That would be a great place for you to start. Just wait until they play a tune you know and just jump on in!

2-Invite all the pickers you know! Have them tell their friends to come too.

Here is an article I had published in the local bluegrass association newsletter several years ago that might be of help. Happing picking!

shelah spiegel
fiddle teacher/performer/jammer
southern california

Shelah Spiegel

This article is rewritten from an earlier one I wrote about 5 years ago for the SWBA Newsletter. It was a need that I felt should be shared due to actions I had first-hand seeing at the Blythe festival and thought that these views could be used to help with getting along better in jamming situations.

Since the decline in bluegrass festivals in the Southern California area, it seems that bluegrass jammers who are new to this genre of music have not had the opportunity to pick with other, more experienced musicians, or at the least, listen to a group of experienced pickers jam. As a newby to jamming, we have all come into contact with our own inability to feel comfortable joining a jam session for the first few times. Those leering, pinched-lipped pickers who make you feel unwanted or just tell you to play more quietly, can cause a feeling that you aren

Joined: 9 Jan 2008
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Check out Great Jam FAQs on (Not only banjos!!)

Novice jammers of any acoustic instrument will find WONDERFUL advice at Pete Wernick's website. There is a lot of banjo coverage AND info for pickers of all kinds of instruments. Here is the link:

He also hosts several Bluegrass Jam Camps around the country, many of which precede festivals. Check it all out:

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Good advice! I'll watch for

Good advice! I'll watch for the camps etc. may be a good way in :)

Larrivee DV-09
Taylor T5C2-12 Koa
'73 Granada Modified
Kids got the others

Joined: 7 Feb 2008
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Just GO !

Sometimes the best jams at a jam session are held outside or in another room. Grab a couple people and start picking. If you're going to look for a spot to 'fit in' you'll never find it. You have to take your instrument out first.

Got bluegrass in my blood, now if I can only get to my fingers.

Joined: 20 Jan 2008
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LOL! Great Idea, just take

LOL! Great Idea, just take it outta da case. Problem is finding a jam in this neck of the woods that seems to be thriving with any regularity. I have been doing a few solo open mics (which I have been really enjoying), I located through here. But in all honesty I've yet to find an active open jam that was actually happening when and where it was supposed to. Poor timing, bad luck, but just the same I am envious of those areas around the map that one can wander around in and take an instrument out of the case.

I'll keep showin' up but I doubt I'll be scheduling the day around many in the Gulf Coast area.

Larrivee DV-09
Larrivee L05-12
'73 Granada Modified
Kids got the others

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Any advice for percussionist (cajon) looking for jams?

I need advice on two things: First, can anyone tell me how I might find some acoustic musicians to jam with on my cajon. I know most people don't know what a cajon is. It's a wooden box the player sits on that has snares inside and, when played by someone that knows what they're doing, can sound like a cross between congas and a drum set. I'm starting to see cajons (cajones?) popping up more and more on YouTube in all kinds of music, including rock, folk, Irish, Bluegrass, Jazz, Latin, and especially Flamenco. As a matter of fact, I just saw one on TV last night on American Idol. I've been playing drums in various types of music since I was 12 and am experienced enough to know how to play whatever beat/groove/rhythm is appropriate to the music being played. So, my first question is where to find jams in my area (northeast Houston) and my second question is how should I approach a jam in progress? After reading the above postings on Bluegrass etiquette, I'm a little intimidated, especially being a percussionist. Try to picture this: you're playing in a smoking jam session and a guy walks up carrying a wooden box (you can see a picture of it in my profile)and sits down next to you. He picks up on the rhythm and starts softly laying down a groove. Would you be annoyed that he just started playing without asking? Do you think he should wait until the tune is over and ask if it's ok to play along? What do you all think? I welcome all opinions and suggestions. Thanks

Bluegrass and Cajon may not mix, but other styles will work well


I'm not certain that Bluegrass and percussion blend. They may, but I do not recollect seeing a percussive instrument at a BG jam session outside of the occasional spoon use or tapping the body of a guitar for effect.

Where I do see percussion is in more dance oriented music. Irish, Contra Dance and some Old Time. There is a band here in Kansas City called Dog Tree that uses a Cajon in nearly everything they play. (I believe one of their members is user "dogtree" on - send a PM). You might test the waters on Irish sessions and go down the path of finding dance music. Learning to match the sounds of a Bodhran as used in Irish music would likely make you quite popular in sessions.


Joined: 9 Aug 2008
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Bluegrass and Percussion

I suppose it's how you define the genre, but I've sat in on any number of informal jams in the back country and I can't think of any where somebody wasn't playing some kind of percussion. Everything from some kid thumping the end of an orange crate to the "one-too-many" guitar player setting his instrument on his lap (strings down) and playing percussion until one of the other guitar players got tired.

So jams no longer resemble what happens when people get together on the back porch?

I admit to having run into a few "you can sit in with your banjo, but if you take that jug in your bag, you gotta go" groups, but I usually save myself the trouble and look for another group.

It's probable that a jam labeled Old-Timey or Irish or acoustic or Scottish would be more welcoming. I wouldn't advise Celtic -- traditional it isn't, but (at least in the States) it's highly circumscribed. I know that none of the instruments I play while visiting friends in Ireland work with such people.

I've played with informal groups all over the world, and I've seldom found a problem with sitting down, listening for a while, and joining in ..... as long as I did it with a little humility and a big smile.

As an aside, I must admit to a slight confusion, Scott. People no longer dance to Bluegrass? I realize I've been out of town for a while, but I didn't think there was any traditional style that nobody danced to. Interesting. I've a lot of catching up to do.


Fair point

As an aside, I must admit to a slight confusion, Scott. People no longer dance to Bluegrass? I realize I've been out of town for a while, but I didn't think there was any traditional style that nobody danced to. Interesting. I've a lot of catching up to do.

That's a fair point Mike. In my narrow experience to the region around Kansas City and at the events I attend, this is typically the case. It's certainly not a hard rule.

I do agree that many folks beat on something for percussion in Bluegrass - chairs, creates, boxes, knees, spoons, sticks, bones, etc. What I'll call 'incidental' percussion instruments rather than 'dedicated' instruments are very common in all the folk genres I've dabbled in.

It really does come down to demonstrating silent respect for a while before jumping in at any unfamiliar jam, regardless of instrument.


Joined: 14 Apr 2009
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Jamming....with percussion?

Maybe I picked the wrong thread in which to pose my questions about where I could find acoustic musicians to jam with and how to approach them. I didn't realize that "Bluegrass" was such a pure art form. I don't want to be thought of as one of those "folks (who) beat on something for percussion in Bluegrass - chairs, creates, boxes, knees, spoons, sticks, bones, etc." Actually, if the person doing the "beating" is an experienced drummer, he/she could create a great beat that would enhance what others are playing. I once sat down on a park bench in Washington Square in New York City next to 2 guys who were playing old swing songs on acoustic guitar and tenor sax. I had a book that I had just bought in a paper bag on my lap and started swirling my hands over the paper bag, as if I were using brushes on a snare drum. It din't sound as good as a real drum, but it provided a swing groove. They both smiled and nodded at me and we had a fun little mini jam. My point is, GOOD percussion can make a jam swing, or rock or whatever verb you want to use to describe the feeling it creates. I realize that in "Bluegrass", the other instruments provide all of the rhythm that's needed, so I'll look for anything else that dosen't have that label. Surely, there are people who play other styles of acoustic music here. To me, the most exciting types of music are those that incorporate different styles. Hopefully, there are other people here who feel like branching out. When I found Folkjam on the web, I was excited. I figured this could be where I could find acoustic musicians in my area with whom I could try my new instrument. Unfortunately, I'm still trying to figure out how to go about it.

So to any Folkjam members in the Northeast Houston, Humble, Kingwood area: If you want to try something a little different on say,a Saturday afternoon, other than sitting around watching tv. Look at my profile and see if what interests me interest you also. If so, please let me know.

Bring the cajon to my jam any time


I'm a little far away in Kansas City, but I will say that I'd love to have had you at the swing jam a few of us had this morning. The percussion would have been more than welcome.

As to my note Cajon and Bluegrass what you'll find will vary by region and group. The term is pretty broadly applied, and for some it is very rigidly defined. "If Bill Monroe didn't do it, it's not Bluegrass" is perhaps the most rigid. For others, myself included, it's pretty open.

Have fun finding others to play with.


Joined: 23 Apr 2007
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I'm not a bluegrass purist by any stretch and I generally don't mind percussive instruments as long as they don't overwhelm and force everyone to play louder. Some jammers have a hard time maintaining a good rhythm and therefore need the percussive sounds of, say, a mandolin or a bass to help them stay in time.

But I can say that many traditionalist bluegrassers would probably frown on a cajon joining in. But then again trad grassers tend to frown if a dobro joins in. It's not always considered a trad bluegrass instrument.

I'd say take along your cajon, join in quietly and see what the response is.

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Out of morbid curiosity .......

..... and because I keep putting my foot in the goo when dropping in on jams whilst traveling .......

How are "traditional bluegrass instruments" defined? From some of the comments, it clearly has little to do with what one would have encountered on a backporch in the Southeastern United States in the early-to-middle part of the 20th Century.

A few weeks ago, I dropped in on a jam in a place that shall remain nameless. The leader of the jam passed judgment on each tune to ensure that "we don't get old-timey mixed in with bluegrass." Where does that particular line fall?

I'm old enough to remember Flatt and Scruggs having trouble being accepted in folk venues, so I suppose there's nothing new. For that matter, I can keep from laughing when a bouzouki, a daf, Northumbrian elbow pipes, and an English flagolet are presented as "traditional Celtic" instruments.

But I've been wanting to ask, and this seems to be a good, literate place to seek an answer:

When did it all get so dogmatic? Who made these borders, and where are they defined?

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To answer your morbid curiosity...

Old Time and Bluegrass were both once part of rural (country) folk music in the U.S.
Old Time was captured or "photographed" by the new technologies of recording and radio- many Old Time performances were recorded on 78 rpm records. But Bluegrass evolved in response to the new technology- radio shows like the Grand Old Opry,. The basic instrumentation of fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin was adapted in playing techniques to the new reality of no longer being accompaniment to a dance, but rather designed to attract and hold the attention of an audience. People that are dancing might not be listening too critically if the rhythm is good enough, but people setting on their duffs and listening or maybe even watching in the live audience have their attention free to be more critical.
I think Bill Monroe was very aware of what worked best in the new situation, and also assessed the market of country music listeners well.
People wanted to be dazzled with virtuoso playing. So break etiquette was borrowed from blues and/or jazz, and he got the best players on each instrument he could find. At some point bass and dobro were added.
Harmonica is acceptable in both Old Time and Bluegrass, but Old Time will usually be melodic "straight harp" and Bluegrass will be bluesy improv with a "cross harp".
Old Time as it exists to day is in some ways an outgrowth of the folk boom. After the folk boom went bust after the British Invasion and Dylan's Electrification (birth of folk rock?)some people continued to play and perform at small folk festivals. One frequent performer at festivals was Mike Seeger of the New Lost City Ramblers, and various other traditional performers performed as well. The New Lost City Ramblers songbook and records continued to sell and influence musicians. So basically what happened was that 60's folk players either went electric or went trad. Hardly anybody was interested in pop-folk stuff like the Kingston Trio or the Limelighters anymore.
There was also some urban interest in bluegrass started by the likes of the Greenbriar Boys, and that continued. When I went to college in Southern California in the early 70's, there was an acoustic jam on the lawn on Friday afternoons. Bluegrass dominated, but there was some Old Time and fingerpicking. Folklore departments like at UCLA and folk music classes like at my college acted as focal points for traditionally oriented folk musicians, and there were folk festivals like the one in San Diego. And fiddle and banjo contests like the Topanga Canyon Contest. All this allowed musicians to network.
In L.A. there were bluegrass, Old Time, and Irish music scenes going, and apparently some Balkan music too.
When you have college educated urban people involved in a music genre, you are going to have different approaches. Some people tend to take a recreationist approach, like if they are into bluegrass, they will seek to emulate the sound of Bill Monroe's band or the Stanley Brothers... then you have progressives that are more creative, draw on influences from other styles of music... and then you had Newgrass!

In Old Time you have a similar thing- you have people ("purists")at one extreme who are trying to recreate the sound on 78's from the 20's, or Library of Congress field recordings, and you have others who are more creative and allow modern influences. In Old Time one of the new things was that the large jams tended to produce a more modern style called "Festival Style" Old Time that has a bluegrass drive, usually enhanced by a standup bass, and a more syncopated, backbeat oriented fiddle style. Purists tend to dislike this style, as you might guess. Festival style tends to be more open to different acoustic instruments. Sometimes banjo-uke is used to do bluegrass like chopping (but a bit mellower in sound) and I know one group who recorded with a Caribbean bass box (I think that's what they're called)
and would probably be open to a cajon.

Bluegrass is a bit more complicated than Old Time, because the music retained some popularity in rural areas, and there is some influence back and forth between commercial Nashville-style Country and Bluegrass. Rural bluegrass fans seem somewhat middle of the road-
less likely to be obsessed with Monroe or the Stanleys, but also not into really edgy Newgrass stuff either.
Old Time events tend to be dominated by people with urban roots who may or may not have moved to rural areas, but have a fascinations for the older forms of country music. Sometimes they dabble in Bluegrass, but for many it's just too modern and not old-fashioned enough.

Anyway, before getting experimental at either an Old Time or a Bluegrass jam, I'd test the waters first. For instances, you could ask a question "What's festival style Old Time?" if you get a kind of negative answer (like it's somekind of plague) LEAVE THE CAJON in the car- and ask if spoons or bones are okay- and make sure you've practiced on them first! For a bluegrass jam, ask about the Stanley Brothers and Newgrass. If their answer shows they LOVE the Stanley Brother but think Newgrass is some kind of plague, leave the cajon in the car, and SIT on your hands! Or head for the exit, whichever you prefer...

There is also a more recent phenomenon where you get various hybrid bands: New Crow Medicine Show, the Duhks, Crooked Still, Devil Makes 3 and the like. Usually there is a mix of bluegrass and Old Time influences. I'm not sure, but I suspect that a jam that featured a lot of material by these and similar bands might be open to experimentation with percussion, but I think that people who were into this newer style would be more interested in forming bands than hosting a jam. The reality is that jams are often hosted by older people who've "settled down" somewhat, and that often means that their tastes will be more old-fashioned and predictable too.
You could also use some of these band names to test the waters.

Something for everyone

You bring up some great points, psalt.

Although I for one enjoy many different types of jams from the "bring anything you got" jam to the "strictly BGMBF" variety, I think it would be interesting to throw out a few counter perspectives/personal observations into what we have been talking about here.

I have been to plenty of jams where I have not felt totally welcome either because I didn't know the same repertoire, didn't play to the same level, or didn't follow the particular style in the same manner as those already there (e.g. Flatt & Scruggs vs. Stephen Foster vs. John Denver). In each of these cases, the people in the circle weren't being snobs per se, they just wanted work in a perticular musical vein that my playing at the time didn't compliment. This has especially been the case when the music being played was really tight and the players wanted to push themselves a little bit. In those cases, broad variety isn't the spice of life but focus on nuance and the details of the craft in a somewhat consistent framework.

The music that Bill Monroe played (agreeably the most commonly held benchmark of bluegrass) also wasn't exactly what you were likely to hear on the back porches of Appalachia at the turn of the last century. His music as well as that of Jimmy Martin, the Country Gentlemen, the Osbornes and others of that generation was not in the pure folk or even string band tradition but rather grew out of a honing and shaping of those influences into a tight (I would even say narrow) and highly focused form which required a great amount of skill and dedication to perform.

When jams are being "pure" about the instruments that they want in the circle and the tunes that get called, oftentimes they are doing that because they want to reproduce that same focused environment where they can put their hard fought practice to work with other people in a context that they all share without any prior coordination. In that sense, it's much the same as when classical players dig into a piece of Beethoven or Mozart. The player is going to follow the score of the music and the direction of the conductor but within that framework, they are going to put forth their best technical effort and attempt to soar in their own interpretation and coordination with the other orchestra members. Reaching for that type of feeling doesn't happen easily unless everyone playing is "on the same page" (and in the orchestra this is literally so).

I have fun pretty much no matter what is being played and I certainly don't want anyone to feel left out, but I also don't really fault a group that wants to dig deep into a particular tradition, e.g. [F&S] bluegrass, Irish, contra dance, old time, etc. I have been at a number of those jams and some of the most satisfying playing can be heard and shared within those groups. There will always be a place for the "come as you are and let's see where this can take us" form of playing music with others but the more focused groups have their own appeal and satisfaction which I believe can be enjoyed as well.

Play Well.

Something for everyone

Each jam pretty much has its own personality. In my experience, those which are "closed" tend to be attended by egocentric musicians who want to be heard practicing rather than to welcome others to their own precious little gathering. That's true even if you are up-to-speed with them and are familiar with their genre and repertoire. I'd be inclined to tell them that you didn't feel welcome (in an even-handed and diplomatic way) and then be on my way, never to return.

Jams where all are welcome regardless of musical leanings and experience are much more satisfying to me, because they're as much about socializing as the music. People want to go where everybody knows their name!

I regularly attend a jamboree that I feel that I've outgrown musically because I love the people there. Also, in some perverse way, it can be fun and challenging to sit there for 3 hours trying to play along with somebody who can't count to 4 consistently or is grossly off-key while waiting for my 2 turns at the mic that evening.

There's something American and wonderfully egalitarian about everyone having their turn, whether they are an experienced musician or a total newb who is slaying a dragon by stepping up to the mic for the first time ever.

Bottom line, if you feel welcome and appreciated, it's a good jam, and if you feel like an intruder or a "barbarian at the gate", it's a crappy jam and not deserving of your participation! :-)

Here, here

Well spoken, Johnny. I couldn't agree more.


Joined: 4 Feb 2008
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One of the best things I've

One of the best things I've done for my autoharp playing is to have the chord bars rearranged the way that Bryan Bowers has his bars done. Bowers' arrangement lets you change keys easily using the same fingering patterns for the left hand for any key. Good luck.

Joined: 3 Jan 2010
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Here it is..........


Jam sessions are like people, they are all different. You got your bad and good. Here is my suggestions to enjoy them.
1)Don't play along unless you know the song.
2)Practice your timing. Timing is the most critcal factor to others
when you try to mesh and fit in. Bad timing only serves as a spring board for other people's irratation. Why? Because those with good timing
are miffed by constantly having to adjust their tempo. Bad timing players can't figure out what or why they can't suddenly play the song
that last week went so smooth, because last week everybody else kept them in time. The problem comes when you get more than one person with bad timing.
3) Be forgiving and patient and ask for the chords if you don't know them. This shows your willingness to get better.
4) Never pay to jam!
5) Keep your own Song book collection of the songs words and chords.
6) If you plan on starting your own jam sessions you need to set your ground rules upfront, check your space availability, and limit the number of participants to sit comfortably in the space available. Also provide refreshments to your guests.
6) Do it for fun. But be aware of others and do it to your best ability. If it's not fun or too serious, avoid going back.
7)practice,practice,practice........the more you practice the better you get and the more pleasure and enjoyment you'll receive when playing with others.
Have a great day!

Joined: 3 Jan 2010
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Percussion in Bluegrass

Howdy again you all,

Percussion in folk and bluegrass does exist and adds new genre for your
jam sessions. I play the washboard, both with thimbals and steel brushes. It definitely helps everyones timing if you have that down beat sound coming through. Plus it gives a unique sound like a snare drum played with brushes that doesn't over power the other instruments.

Have a great day!
Mike Blaylock

Joined: 3 Jan 2010
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Define a Bluegrass band?

O'siyo again,


I reckon I'm prejuidice but the last time someone tried to pigeon hole
what instruments can be found in a Bluegrass band the top of the list was the upright bass. Which is what I play. Being raised in Kentucky (home of Bluegrass Music) and being over 50 years old, I can tell you their are no set definitions for instruments.
The true definition of Bluegrass music is music made by the common people for all people to enjoy. Hmmm? isn't that the same definition for Country, Western, Cajun, Folk, Gospel, Rock, Rock-a-Billy, and every other small group forms of bands?
The difference is interpretation of manor, style and arrangements.
In the Cincinnati/Kentucky area you'll find different combinations of
instruments in bands all labeling their bands as Bluegrass/Folk.
But I suppose if one wants to set a core and pigeon hole what is needed to make a bluegrass sound (there by stiffling creativity) you would find these intruments.........
Mandolin, Lead guitar, Rhythm guitar, Upright bass, fiddle, dobro, and banjo.
Soooooooooo, since jams are not bands, (thank God!)it is up to us jam musicians to carry on creativity by allowing and finding need for all instruments.
That's my story and I'm sticking with it.
Mike Blaylock

I'm with you about bass

I'm with you about bass being essential, be it a band or a jam. Somebody needs to keep the rest of us rhythmically honest.

Joined: 5 Nov 2007
Groups: Jersey Jam
A plea to those who echew Labeling

>>The true definition of Bluegrass music is music made by the common people for all people to enjoy. Hmmm? isn't that the same definition for Country, Western, Cajun, Folk, Gospel, Rock, Rock-a-Billy, and every other small group forms of bands?<<

Well, as long as you're's not the definition of Bluegrass music or most of the others. It is, however, the definition of folk music. Common 'folk' as opposed to trained artists.

This is a forum of written messages where we have to communicate with words. For that to be possible, we have to have common agreement on what words mean.

You can certainly make clear and compelling arguments about purism and whether a term still applies if you stretch certain assumptions about repertoire, instruments, and style, but wasn't the term "Bluegrass music" coined because of Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys? That means that any 'definition' of Bluegrass at least STARTS with the songs and styles that they played.

And while many of the songs came from folk music, The Blue Grass Boys were top end pros...certainly not 'common folk.'

It sounds all very free spirit-y and artsy to say that labels are stifling and you won't be limited by them, but if someone invites you to a Bluegrass jam and you show up and there are 10 guys with electric guitars doing death metal covers of Brittney Spears songs, wouldn't you feel just a tad mislead?

If you refuse to be limited by any labels, then please, don't use them. Don't call yourselves a Bluegrass band or a Country band or a Blues band...just call yourself a band, and then those of us that depend on language to communicate clear ideas won't have to to call you a liar.



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Groups: None

Michael, I see you recieved a lot of good advice from more experienced jammers. I would comment there is a world of difference in an "open mike" situation and a jam. I do not like "open mike" sessions if I want to play awhile. Normally, individuals have rehearsed a few tunes and plan on performing and then listening to others. A jam is a fairly long session where everyone plays, sings, or learns nearly every song. A lot more fun to participate in. If it is an advertised jam most of the time everyone is welcome. We recently started our own jam at a local night spot and are always scouting for more participants to spice things up. You can run into a few situations that are usually recognizable potential problems. For example, my instrument is bluegrass banjo (resonator and finger picks) and can potentially overpower claw hammer banjos at an "old time" session, unless I greatly tone down my volume. In light of the fact that there are too few places to get together everyone needs to get along. Participation leads normally into inclusion if you remain eager and polite.Everyone had to start somewhere and we have all felt the nerves of beginning. One fellow jammer once commented jamming was a great leveler, no one really cares if you are a doctor or a ditch digger. Your common love of playing music makes friends.

Joined: 25 Feb 2010
Groups: None
jammn in the blueridge

hellow my name is james t. i live in woodlawn va about 6mi from galax va ther r lots places to jam around hear if weather permets a little coffee shope called string bean opperated by derick davis WBRF98.1 it is free every tuesday at 7pm untell pickers from all over the world have detured to galax to jam and every one has ben a joy to jam with some with dobro,washtub bass,mandolen,pinney whisel banjo, fiddle,no fuss no grumblen,just a good time i thnk thats the way its suposed to b thnks keep on jamming

Joined: 2 Mar 2010
Groups: None
practicing before a show

As a child I too remember walking up to what I thought was a jam and it turned out to be folks practicing before a show.

Years later when I was playing my own shows we NEVER stood out back of the stage and practiced. Practicing is for at home.
If you need to practice your stuff right before you go on you shouldn't be playing a show. Your not ready.
I believe its as unprofessional as picking your nose on the stage.

Vinny Ray

Listen to my music at

Joined: 2 Mar 2010
Groups: None
new jammers

i was a newbee just 3 months ago! i play 3 diff. ukes and includes a banjo uke. i was nervis and worried about acceptance but i approached the guys and told them what i played and that i wasn't a pro. they welcmed me and i have been jamming 2 times a week! we have mostly guitars and 2 mandies and one dobro. we have a lot of fun. we take turns at solo and singing and dont worry if we are off key or dont play the right cord.i have learned a lot and now i am learning the tenor banjo. i'm 76yrs and having some great times wish i started sooner!

Joined: 1 Dec 2012
Groups: None
Any advice for percussionist (cajon) looking for jams?

"After reading the above postings on Bluegrass etiquette, I'm a little
intimidated, especially being a percussionist."
"Any advice for percussionist (cajon) looking for jams?"
Yeah, keep it far away from Bluegrass jams. Other than THAT, don't pound it, keep it more like a snare.

In these days of Craigslist, try looking under "Musicians" there.
Taking it to an Open Mic is a passable, but not great idea.
You might meet someone there who would let you accompany them before they go on, if you ask.

You might need to take it outside and demonstrate it. Or you can look for individuals who want to jam. Those listings show up all the time.
With Bluegrass, the first thing, and you may have already run into by now, is that if you take a cajon (or any other drum/percussion) to an actual Bluegrass Jam, you're probably going to get invited to put your hands in your pockets and keep them there.
There are no percussion instruments in Bluegrass. Percussion is played by the mandolin (chopping) and the banjo (vamping) when they are not soloing. Mandolins are muted on the backbeat by the left hand when chopping, so that it's more of a percussive sound than the tone of the actual chord.
You'll probably get by with a cajon so long as they think it's a stool, but it will only take a few seconds of you actually playing it (no matter how good you are) to get a bad reaction.

Joined: 1 Feb 2012
Groups: None
Percussion @ jams

If done tastefully can be acceptable but if it doesn't fit in can be the death of a jam. I have had a good time with a seasoned snare player sitting in, even though I usually share that chore with my mandolin chop. As a singer, if you came up behind me to add some "background" with spoons or a washboard, I'd call it an early night. Happens often enough that I cringe when I see them. I'm getting older (old picture from the start of this journey now 58, ears are going) having that behind me masks out everything else. The usual start of a string players jamming (background picking I spent many years doing before taking a break) doesn't usually work well for those a percussionist stands behind, especially if their timing isn't perfect. If you get a funny look, try a different spot. If too many people drop out, practice more at home before you try again. If your good (real good) the best place for you would be in the center of the circle, but I know many who would disagree. Hopefully we're all there for the same I try hard not to diminish anyone's enjoyment and if possible add something positive.

Be considerate and play it by ear!

Joined: 21 Nov 2012
Groups: None
Percussion at jams

I was at a jam recently, and, overall, had a great time. About 8 of us in a semi-circle. Guitars, fiddle and banjo. I was the only (acoustic) bass. There was also a guy beating on the side of a cardboard box that sounded like it was filled with broken glass. It didn't sound so good, but I think it helped put me, a first-timer, and perhaps others, at ease. The thought was, "hell, if that guy can beat on a box of trash, then I'm probably not in over my head."

Joined: 6 Jan 2013
Groups: None
great hearing from you

Hay Randy, I sure am looking forward to playing with you again.
Keep strummin.

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