Jam Etiquette (Contributed by Scott Klamm)

  1. Come prepared to lead at least 2 songs or instrumentals, more if you want to play all night.
  2. To “lead” means that you must know the words and/or chord progression by heart. Written music and handouts are not acceptable! If you have to read, it’s not a jam - it’s a practice session! Solos are fine, especially for the singers who want to show off a bit. In general, though, you should find pieces that bring in at least one or two of the other musicians before the whole gang jumps in.
  3. Songs and instrumentals should be “standards” that many people will know or recognize (Amazing Grace, She’ll Be Comin ‘Round the Mountain) or have relatively straightforward chord progressions that can be picked up quickly. If you are jamming with a specific group, such as frequent band-mates, fellow bluegrassers, 70’s rock-n-rollers, or similar theme, more complex tunes may be thrown into the mix, since you already share a history of playing them.
  4. Pass the lead around the circle, so that everyone gets a chance to throw their tunes into the pot. When it’s your turn to lead, it is up to you to set the tempo, phrasing, and style that you want to play. Everyone else should do their best to follow.
  5. All players should be able to hear the leader during the song. If you can’t, you’re too loud!
  6. It is the leader’s job to call for instrumental breaks – not the pickers. Wait for the leader to give you the nod or call your part out.
  7. If you must noodle away on a lick “just to see if you’ve got it,” do it quietly, so that you (and everyone else) can still hear and follow the leader.
  8. If you get lost on a break or just following the leader, simply lay out for a round and catch it on the next verse.
  9. Watch for the leader’s signal to end the piece…a nod, a raised leg, a dip of the guitar, a loud shriek of “let’s stop this noise right now!”
  10. Have fun! Remember that you are playing real music by real people – not a symphonic production by a group of highly-practiced and coordinated musicians. Jam sessions are your chance to “work out your chops” in a low-pressure situation, so expect mistakes from others and take some chances of your own.
Posted by scott.mclewin: Posted 3 Sep 2006 - Last edited 2 Oct 2006

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