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  1. #1

    Default Don't be nervous

    A lot of people report wanting to have a solid base of tunes or skills before they play with others, or maybe that they just want to practice something more or have more variations they can rely on so they won't be so nervous. I totally understand this.

    But what I want to tell people is that when you play with others in a welcoming jam situation (I admit not all jams are that welcoming, but a lot of them are), they really do want your contribution, even if you think it's not that good. Even it it's objectively not that good. It is hard to be the ones who always have to think up the next tune to play. It's hard to always be the ones to lead everyone else. Really, honestly, if you're a beginner and the old-timers say, "Whatcha got? Do you have a favorite tune?" They really mean it. They want you to belong. They want you to come back. They know you might be terrible at it and they actually really truly do not care how bad you might be. They are encouraging you for real. Even when you think at best they're just being kind and at worst they're putting you on the spot, what they actually care about is the music and for you to keep coming back to help keep the music alive.

    The only way to grow a jam is to bring up new members. Sometimes the only way to unlock the brain ##### of the old members is to have someone new start a tune. The best way to make it a party is to give everyone a chance to be a part of the whole.

    So relax. Embrace how much you suck and don't worry about it. We've all been there.

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    Registered User Dave Fultz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Yes sir. And nothing will make you better and/or inspire you to get better than playing with others.

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  5. #3

    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Even those of us who are lousy musicians generally have at least one song that we can kind of fake our way through, without making monumental fools of ourselves. At my first ever country/bluegrass jam I pulled out 'Blue Ridge Mountain Blues'. It was a simple three chord song, and since it is a traditional old tune with countless variations, and nobody can really say what the 'proper' words are - I could sing any relatively close lyric, and it it didn't make people fall over with laughter at my ignorance.

    Go to the jam, pick out that one tune, and run with it from there . . . in the long run, you won't regret it

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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    That's some really great encouragement there, sbhikes!

    Still...

    I'm only 6 months into my bluegrass mandolin learning journey, and even though I practice daily and I'm making good progress, the bluegrass jam nearest me tells newcomers this:

    Be advised, this is an intermediate to expert fast bluegrass jam. standard bluegrass reportoire expected with newgrass also acceptable. competent play is expected. beginners may listen and learn.

    Yikes. It's like one of those old maps that said, "Here be dragons" at the end of the known world.
    Not the most welcoming vibe -- although I completely understand why expert/fast pickers would prefer to play with people of similar skill levels.

    I've been wondering what to do. Maybe wait some more and get 10 tunes under my belt? Maybe just go next weekend and watch/listen without an instrument (it's in a cafe so I wouldn't be conspicuous without an axe) to see what it's really like and whether I could imagine myself there? Maybe if it seems OK after I scope it out, but is way faster than my comfort zone, I might still be able to go the next time and just chop rhythm to practice that and feel the groove, and break out of my isolation. I'm also thinking that if I at least show up, maybe I'd eventually meet other outclassed newcomers like me, and I could recruit them to pick with me and maybe start our own slow jam... anyway, advice is welcome.

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    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    I think your last sentence describes what I would do

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  11. #6

    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Ya, I mean if a jam bills itself as an intermediate-advanced level jam you should go listen and check it out, but it would probably not be a great space to acclimate yourself to playing in a jam. That doesn't sound super welcoming to newbies, which some jams aren't. Most jams are pretty welcoming, but if it is a high level jam and billed as such I would wait til you think you have the chops to take a shot at it.

  12. #7
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    My town has a weekly jam that has a different theme each week of the month. One week, instructed fiddle beginners jam, then slow jam, then regular jam, then pro led hot jam. It reduces consistency for hot pickin, but invites the learner to learn.
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  13. #8

    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    I wish we had bluegrass jams where I live. I guess I'll stick to the youtube backingtracks. On the plus side, backingtracks never judge haha.

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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    If the only bird that sings in the forest is the one that sings the best then the forest would be a very lonely place --Scott Mahan
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    From sbhikes - " We've all been there." BEEN ?? - You mean that there's somewhere else ??.

    A good post !. Do what i did when i started banjo,get out there & play regardless. Watch & learn from the other guys & gals.,& don't be put off. If they can do it,so can you (if you put the work in),
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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    I’m lucky because there is a Slow Session close to me. Welcoming, play at a manageable pace and let me pick tunes that I know! I the least experienced there and someone’s always happy to shout out the chord changes when I lost. That’s usually 5 bars in

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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    I've been playing 50+ years and I wouldn't feel welcome in a jam with that statement. Not because I couldn't keep up but because I wouldn't want to. Many years ago, when I was just learning an older musician told me that no matter how good I became and no matter how " newbie" I thought another was if I watched him long enough I would learn something. I've found that to be true. A jam IMHO is to have fun. If I'm too good to have fun with someone not as far along as me then I don't need to be in that jam. I played for years in a BG gospel band and I didn't want any one that hadn't practice with us to play a concert with us because we had worked things up a certain way. But a jam session is for fun and who knows what I'll learn from that newbie or what I can do that will help him on his journey, it's a mutual learning experience and fun.

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    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    See if there are any Old Time jams nearby. I've found that they tend to be slower and less stressful than other sessions I've been to (Irish, but some are killer fast).
    At Old Time and Irish sessions, nobody takes breaks like in Bluegrass jams. Everyone plays the same tune at once which is nice for newbies because you don't stand out as much. You often get a great cross genre selection of tunes,from Old Time to Bluegrass to Celtic.
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Hard to overcome but most do---to some extent ! Look at Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys ! He never did and finally quit touring because of it ! The more you play ( and sing) in front of others the easier it becomes ! I have made big improvements but that nervousness that affects playing is still there but I am not giving up ! At almost 72 years young I don't have much time to eliminate it !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

  23. #15
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Quote Originally Posted by callmegina View Post
    .....I'm only 6 months into my bluegrass mandolin learning journey, and even though I practice daily and I'm making good progress, the bluegrass jam nearest me tells newcomers this:

    Be advised, this is an intermediate to expert fast bluegrass jam. standard bluegrass reportoire expected with newgrass also acceptable. competent play is expected. beginners may listen and learn.

    I've been wondering what to do. Maybe wait some more and get 10 tunes under my belt? Maybe just go next weekend and watch/listen without an instrument (it's in a cafe so I wouldn't be conspicuous without an axe) to see what it's really like and whether I could imagine myself there? Maybe if it seems OK after I scope it out, but is way faster than my comfort zone, I might still be able to go the next time and just chop rhythm to practice that and feel the groove, and break out of my isolation. I'm also thinking that if I at least show up, maybe I'd eventually meet other outclassed newcomers like me, and I could recruit them to pick with me and maybe start our own slow jam... anyway, advice is welcome.
    I would consider showing up and watching/listening a few times to see who of the regular attendees may be approachable enough to ask (before or after the jam, or on a break) if there are any slower/beginner jams in the area they could recommend.

  24. #16

    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Quote Originally Posted by callmegina View Post
    Be advised, this is an intermediate to expert fast bluegrass jam. standard bluegrass reportoire expected with newgrass also acceptable. competent play is expected. beginners may listen and learn.
    Only one word comes to mind:

    'Jerks'.

    Actually, that wasn't the word that initiallly came to mind . . . but if I posted that word, I would have gotten into LOTS of trouble . . . .

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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    If there isn’t a jam in your area, just start one up. I went to a jam that was too far from my house to be a regular thing, met a guitar player there who had also come from near where I live and we decided to play at my house. Then I put an ad on Craigslist and four or five others started coming over. Then we decided to make the jam public — found a brew pub that was more brew than pub and welcomed the extra business. Now we jam there twice per month with from 8 to 20 people.

    I heard the other day that some of the better players at that jam have gotten together on the side to play, and our more intermediate group still gets together on the side as well. Awesome.

    If you are home alone wishing you had a buddy to play with — that person is out there. Craigslist is a great way to find them. I have a blast just jamming with one other person...that’s all it takes!
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Thanks for the post. I'm 2 years into my mandolin journey and one of my greatest obstacles is being nervous while playing with others. I'll play a fiddle tune at home fairly well but when I try it at a jam it's as if I've never played it before. However, things are slowly getting better as I attend more jams. Still have a ways to go though. Playing with others has really helped me to step outside that safe/comfort zone at home and try new things. I've also met a lot of great folks and very much enjoy the social aspect of it.
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  29. #19
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeZito View Post
    Only one word comes to mind:

    'Jerks'.

    Actually, that wasn't the word that initiallly came to mind . . . but if I posted that word, I would have gotten into LOTS of trouble . . . .
    I wouldn't make a snap judgement without knowing the circumstances and history of that jam. Like some of the higher-end Irish sessions in my area, this jam could have a history of people wandering in with a guitar, thinking it's a generic "acoustic jam" and breaking out the current Pop music song book. Or a Bluegrass beginner who expects the group to play at a beginner tempo, while the group has been together for years and enjoys playing at a rocking tempo.

    Not every jam needs to be completely welcoming to beginners, especially if its a group of friends who have been playing together for years. It can be a drag to slow down when you enjoy playing fast, and when the music itself needs to be played fast to get the proper feel. In some situations, like a jam or session hosted in a pub or restaurant, there may also be a quid pro quo arrangement with the venue owner, allowing the jam to take up valuable chair and table space in return for a minimum standard of music. A "slow session" or teaching jam isn't easy on the ears of the other patrons in the restaurant.

    The sense of entitlement when a newcomer approaches an existing jam or session in a public space can be amazing to behold. I've seen some very uncomfortable situations where someone has had to be politely requested to stop playing, because it was so disruptive for the rest of the group, and dragging down the level of music the venue was used to hearing. So I tend to be sympathetic when I see a jam described this way. They're just being more honest about it than most. And I'll bet there is some history behind it.

    Back to the OP, I heartily endorse the recommendation to get out there and play with others, as soon as you can. Depending on where you live, there may be many opportunities besides a high-level jam to have fun and start learning the dynamics of playing in a group. Finding just one other person to play with can also be a blast. I have a friend who before he moved away, used to come over to our house for one-on-one jams, him on mandolin and me on guitar, or sometimes dual mandolins. Tons of fun.

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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    I agree with Mike Zito and disagree with foldedpath. If the jam can't slow down or come off their high horse for a song or two or three to give a new player a chance then Jerk is a pretty good word to describe them in mixed company. IMHO or on this case maybe no so humble.

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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    I agree with Mike Zito and disagree with foldedpath. If the jam can't slow down or come off their high horse for a song or two or three to give a new player a chance then Jerk is a pretty good word to describe them in mixed company. IMHO or on this case maybe no so humble.
    We'll agree to disagree then.

    To my mind, there is no "one size fits all" rule for jams, where beginners should have automatic entitlement to participate. I believe advanced players have just as much right to have fun playing the way they want to, as beginners do. In an ideal situation, there will be enough venues and jams at different levels for everyone.

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  34. #22

    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    I would say in my experience most jams are more welcoming than that (most can't afford to be that picky). Whether that's a good thing or not is an open question sometimes. I do think that usually the mandolin is the instrument least likely to interrupt the flow of an intermediate-plus jam.

  35. #23
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Inspired by sbhikes and this thread, I headed down to the "Celtic Kitchen Party" this afternoon, only to find a group of confused people standing outside a locked pub. My sweetheart called the organizer, who said that he'd just arrived home, and he too was surprised to discover the pub closed. No one told him. Oh well, I'll have better luck in 2019, I hope.

    Regarding the quality of sessions: people have the right to play music, sports, games, or whatever at the level they want. However, if you want a tradition to carry on, you must allow people to join in. You can't have a session for only the best, and then complain that young people aren't carrying on the tradition. As I mentioned on other threads, I've heard of fiddle sessions in British Columbia, in which the tunes become more complex as the afternoon goes on, so that beginners can play with better players at the beginning, and the best players can cut loose at the end, while the beginners learn from and are inspired by them. That sounds good to me. There's nothing less inviting than a so-called "Celtic" session in which everyone sits in a tight circle with no one invited in. I'm all for the introverts having a good time, but this seems disrespectful of both newer musicians and listeners. I contrast that performance style with house sessions I've played at in Cape Breton, where everyone is individually asked to play, then complimented on their performance no matter how scratchy their fiddling. (Of course, they may have a few things to say after you leave. ) In my experience, the poorer musicians become skilled over time. If you're part of an elite jam, ask yourself how did I learn to play well with others, and what am I doing to help others who are less sophisticated musicians become skilled like me? Many newcomers may be better than you think, but are not used to playing with others, and just need a bit of the group experience. However, I'm afraid every group will have problems with the stunningly insensitive who play on despite their lack of skill or despite strong hints to sit out this tune. The organizer may have to take them aside, and let them know what's expected of them.
    Last edited by Ranald; Dec-30-2018 at 6:48pm. Reason: typo
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  37. #24
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Ranald you said what I was trying to say Thanks

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  39. #25
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Don't be nervous

    Ranald, you raise some good points here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    As I mentioned on other threads, I've heard of fiddle sessions in British Columbia, in which the tunes become more complex as the afternoon goes on, so that beginners can play with better players at the beginning, and the best players can cut loose at the end, while the beginners learn from and are inspired by them. That sounds good to me.
    I agree that's a good format. Out here where I live in the wilds of the PNW, there are one or two sessions like that, but most are at a "fixed" skill level, either beginner-intermediate or high level. That may be because it's a big time investment to drive back and forth to some of these sessions, and people naturally want to maximize the time playing at their preferred level. It's probably different in other areas, especially in the "heartlands" of the music in Cape Breton, Scotland, Ireland where venues may be closer together. But yes, that's a good format.

    There's nothing less inviting than a so-called "Celtic" session in which everyone sits in a tight circle with no one invited in.
    I can only speak for my area, but the high-level Irish and Scottish sessions around here are very welcoming to newcomers. You'll get a smile as a stranger walking in the door with a trad instrument. The only requirement is that you're able to play at their level, with their tempos and repertoire. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with that.

    In my experience, the poorer musicians become skilled over time. If you're part of an elite jam, ask yourself how did I learn to play well with others, and what am I doing to help others who are less sophisticated musicians become skilled like me? Many newcomers may be better than you think, but are not used to playing with others, and just need a bit of the group experience.
    That's a good point about keeping the tradition open to new blood, although this doesn't mean every session has to be a teaching session for newbies. A high level session can serve as example and inspiration too. It shows the music is open to skilled amateur players, you don't have to be a pro musician to have fun with it.

    In the end, I think the onus is on the newbie to do enough practice at home, and (with any luck) find a beginner or intermediate session to work on their skills before trying to sit in with a high-level session or jam. Attend those sessions and listen, to get inspired and see where you can go with enough hard work. This music isn't THAT hard, it just takes a while to get up to speed.

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