View Full Version : jamming advice

Cary Fagan
Feb-06-2004, 4:40pm
This week a new weekly jam session has started up in my neighbourhood and I was delighted to be the one mandolin player there. I had no trouble suggesting a tune and then kicking it off, but with tunes I don't know I am at the very earliest stages of figuring out how to create a break. Unless it's in G, the key I'm most familiar with, all I can do is plant my first finger on the root of the key and play around with the pentatonic scale. I would like to be able to do a passable break ust to hold up my end rather than pass and stick to playing rhythm. (I want to do better than that over the longer term, of course.) Does anyone have advice? Do you suggest learning a few chord-based licks? Is there a book or video that helped you particularly?

Feb-06-2004, 4:47pm
I suggest listening and playing along with a lot of bluegrass (or other) CDs. Start trying to figure out the melodies while you're listening to them. Don't start out with 8th notes right away, but with simple whole notes based on the melodies. Once you're able to start picking out the basic melody, then start working on embellishing it with the "in-between" notes. This is where you can start taking the pentatonic scale (etc) and work that in in those extra notes. It'll likely seem like you're getting no where fast when you start doing this, but its teaching your ear how to hear the melody and teaching your fingers how to find it on the fretboard. Not sure if this will work for you, but it did for me.

Good luck!

Feb-06-2004, 4:50pm
I'm not sure what kind of music you're talking about here, but I'll give you a short answer from a bluegrass standpoint: Stick with the melody. Work on being able to reproduce the melody of the song first and foremost, and worry about more fancy variations later. If you're doing things right, within two measures of hearing just your mandolin solo, somebody should be able to tell what song you're playing. If somebody pulls out a song wihtout a melody -- a banjo tune, that is -- that's where the chord-based licks will come in handy.

Coy Wylie
Feb-06-2004, 5:58pm
I am in the learning stages as well. One thing that has worked for me with the group that I regularly jam with is when they play a tune I don't know and I pass, I am sure to ask the name of the tune. Then I run to Co-mando or elsewhere for the tab, hopefully in tabledit form. I work on being able to play the basic melody at speed and then either go back to the tab for the extra embellishment or create my own or some of both. By the next time they play that song, I can at least pick out the melody when I get the nod. This is really helping me build a good working knowledge of basic bluegrass tunes.

Feb-06-2004, 6:46pm
Sitting in with guitar players made me learn the EMaj scale, as they like their ringing bass strings
C F D G A and E will cover most folk & country songs keys.

hum what you hear, and play what you hum.

Cary Fagan
Feb-07-2004, 5:57pm
Thanks to the replies so far. They are very helpful. I had a chance to play with a guitar player today and at least start to put it into practice. I can't wait till next week's jam.

Feb-07-2004, 8:57pm
Very, very good topic!! I've been struggling with this for a looong time, even if I don't even have any jams to go to..(or maybe that's why I don't go to the closest jam)

Feb-11-2004, 9:35am
I play at a weekly jam which 3/4 of the people are of the singing cowboy persuasion. A lot of them like to play in Eb or F. Then they give me the nod like I'm supposed to play some fancy break. It drives me crazy.

(I will not use a capo; I will not use a capo...)ad infinitum

Feb-11-2004, 10:00am
Great topic! I've been playing for 10+ years and still need to improve my improv when it come to songs in a jam that I don't know. I keep telling myself that it's all about melody, but I'm stuck in the rut of just playing cool licks out of chord positions. My very sincerest advice is - learn to pick up melody lines fast and easily before you dive into chord licks. I sure wish someone had told me that early on. I kick butt on those banjo tunes though!

Coy Wylie
Feb-11-2004, 10:59am
One thing that helps me on an unfamiliar song is instead of always chopping along is to try to play the melody quietly as the singer sings it. Then when it's my turn for a break, I can get most of the basic melody while adding in a chord-based lick or two for fun. It's getting easier and I'm having a blast. I appreciate all the good people here and those that I play with regularly who have been so supportive and informative.

Michael H Geimer
Feb-11-2004, 12:34pm
Last night was rehearsal for the folk group I play with and we were working out some new tunes. Nothing fancy, just some run-of-the-mill Eagles tunes. But it was really cool when I got tossed a solo, and was able to find the melody line, and since The Eagles always had nice melodies, the solo came together quite nicely. If I was in doubt a little pentatonic stuff filled in the gaps 'till I could get back on the melody.

I guess what I'm saying ... all this advice above really works. The guys even commented that it was one of my best breaks ever. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

- Benignus

Tom C
Feb-11-2004, 1:19pm
I too have a lot of work to do inthis area. Usually I need to sit and work up a break
before hand. It is much harder to create a simple break for something you do not know than it is to memorize and play a difficult fiddle tune. Knowing what chord is being played at any given time is the trick -which for me is lots of thinking (and practicing)

Feb-11-2004, 3:56pm
Something to look at is John McGann's Developing Melodic Variations on Fiddle Tunes # (http://www.elderly.com/books/items/02-98557BCD.htm)Mandolin edition. I've been working on his concepts and am amazed. John breaks each tune down, five ways. First is the basic melody ... then it goes up embellishments, then turning the melody around - then on and on. This is done with an accompanying CD on eleven basic / foundation country / BG tunes.

I like the assortment of keys and even time signatures. So ... as you play your muscles and ears learn what's possible... Even for a mandola player.

Feb-11-2004, 4:23pm
What is a chord lick? Sorry, I'm not stupid - I'm just Swedish! (I probably know what it is when I hear it)

Feb-12-2004, 8:47am
I know this isnt exacly what you are asking , but think how easy this actually is.

just draw out your scales on a fingerboard sheet. if you have to look up the scales, then so be it.

when your scales are mapped out,, circle the notes that make up the CHORD. try this with G.
write out every note in the scale, then circle in your G chord shape,

then you see the scale around, inside, and outside your chord shape,

think,... 7 tones in a scale.

3 or 4 tones in a chord.

so by doing it this way, instead of learning a seven noted scale, you simply "add -in" the notes outside the chord-- basically learning 3 or 4 new notes instead.

pracitse the scale alone, and inside the chord, try to play the chord and do scale licks while the chord is still sounding. practise going from the G scale to the D scale, and G to C.

I would try to learn a new scale every week, but dont cram your mind, if you are not ready to move on , then dont.

go all up and down the fingerboard with these charts until you have learned the whole neck. its ok, if it takes you a year.

some people will argue that while charts give a good visual reference , they dont really train the ear. this is true, to some extent. in my opinion, learing the interval recognition and ear training is more of an "advanced stage " in lessons,
most students dont seriosly tackle this stull until they are in college. (and been playing since they were 7 yrs old!)

I would say, learn where to plant your fingers first. learn where not to plant them. think of scales and arpeggios as your "musical vocabulary". they make up the system. when these are ingrained in you, you will start using your ears by default when you begin to recognize melodies for their "scale-arpeggio" skeletons.

Keith Wallen
Feb-12-2004, 8:52am
Cary - I think the most important part is to just try it and not worry about messing up. Trial by fire is the best way to start teaching yourself to find the notes that follow the melody. If you know the words to the song try to sing along in your head with your break. The people you are jamming should all be ok if you make mistakes because its just a jam session.

Feb-14-2004, 7:40am
Question - when taking a break on a song, does it matter if you play the verse or the Chorus???
Lot of times by the time the person finishes the chorus, i've forgoten how the verse went. Old age setting in, ha.

Cary Fagan
Feb-14-2004, 3:20pm
Thanks everyone for the additional replies. You're being very generous. I jammed again this week and did work at picking up the melody. I could see how this would work, as well as combining the melody with some licks. I'm just at the beginning stage of course but this week it didn't seem impossible. I do think keeping things fairly simply is best for now too. And not to be afraid to take risks.

Feb-18-2004, 9:05am
Question - when taking a break on a song, does it matter if you play the verse or the Chorus???

Usually you would play the verse but on occasion the chorus may be used as well. Just make sure everyone is on the same page. The person calling the song should indicate which. Usually the first person taking a break will know which to play so when it's your turn just follow suit.