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Thread: Playing with others of different skill levels

  1. #1
    high strung gfury's Avatar
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    Default Playing with others of different skill levels

    I play bluegrass and folk-type music, and I'm fortunate to live in an area where there are plenty of jamming opportunities.

    The skill level of the other musicians runs the gamut from beginner to professional. I've been playing mandolin for about 4 years (guitar for many more). I have a few fiddle tunes under my fingers and my chop is coming along nicely.

    If I'm in a jam with mostly beginners I'm often led astray when the timing is off. When I lead a song, I can usually drive it pretty well.

    If I'm with a group of advanced players, it can be demoralizing when I can't keep up. My playing falls apart and I'm often exhausted at the end.

    Both extremes seem to be detrimental to improvement.

    Any thoughts on which type of situation I maximize my time with? Thoughts on handling each situation?
    Greg Fury

  2. #2

    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Generally, if you play with people who have better skill sets, you will be inspired to improve your own skill set. I find that if I feel like I am being dragged behind in a jam it will motivate me to practice more, and yes, it is frustrating, but the more you play the better you will get. But pushing yourself to improve isn't a bad thing.

    I also realize that playing with those who cannot keep time is frustrating. if these are individuals who are interested in improving their skills, then it might be best to discuss the timing issues with the group. If they are just folks who are content with just getting through the tunes, then maybe it's not the group for you.

    Realize that there are some people who get to a certain level with their playing and advance no further. They are pretty much content with what they can do. Sometimes you just outgrow those situations, and it's ok to revisit these groups occasionally, but a steady diet of it can be pretty frustrating.
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    Registered User RandyC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    I am in the same boat as you. Playing mandolin for four years now and play in similar type of jam groups. To me it is all good and getting out and playing with others is always good. Bottom line is what are you trying to get out of it. With the beginner groups I come out feeling good because I can see that my skill level isn't as bad as I thought. When I play with the advanced group I get a little frustrated because I can't keep up but it inspires me to practice more.

    Either way I try o see the positive side of the experience. And bottom line I am out meeting people with similar interests and having fun.

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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    I guess it depends on what you want...you feel you’re being dragged in the beg group you may be the dragger in the advanced group. I don’t say that to be a jerk we all are one or the other at different times.

    I have a group I go to that has no concept of what a jam is...they don’t know how to pass a tune, play over other people, talk, etc but over time we have encouraged them and some have changed, some stopped coming.

    I also sit in an advanced group and try to jump in when I can...I’m the dragger there but the one thing I do is to have rock solid timing so although I don’t play a lot of solos due to the speed I practice rhythm and various chord shapes bass lines, etc.

    I think both are good, you are getting out and playing music several times a week/month and having fun. Don’t be too hard on the draggers and don’t be too hard on yourself...just enjoy.
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Keep playing with both and over time you will start gravitating toward the more advanced group, atleast that's how I progressed. I think it is important to take time to just listen and try to find the right chords at times. In advanced jams it is necessary to get a sense of how you are fitting into the mix, know that it is ok to pass a break, but also good to take a shot.

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    high strung gfury's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Thanks for the replies.

    I'm trying to improve and be the best that I can be. I think I'm still on shaky ground.

    I definitely don't want to discourage beginners (I was there). It's gratifying when someone asks me to show them something (happens more with guitar). I think it helps solidify my learning.

    Is playing for 2 hours when things are off, doing more harm than good?

    With advanced players, I've taken to sitting out some songs when I know I have little hope of contributing anything. Gives me a chance to rest my fingers too.
    Greg Fury

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Playing backup is a tremendously good way to learn to play with both beginners and and advanced players. With beginners it reinforces your timing and teaches you how to keep timing straight with people who don't necessarily do so themselves. With advanced players it allows you to come up to speed gently and reinforces dynamic volume control. With either group you don't have to take a break if you don't want to.

    I often hear people complain about playing with people who are below their level of playing, but in reality, learning to play with less accomplished players imparts flexibility and strength, and reinforces everything that more advanced players really want to know about. I think it's very healthy for everyone to play with people who are below their level at least occasionally.

    And, playing with people beyond our level pulls us forward tremendously, and honestly, it humbles us, which is also very healthy.

    In both cases, it teaches us that the important thing in both jams and in bands is to make everyone else sound good.
    -- Don

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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Also, between jams try playing along with YouTube videos. You can use the “gear wheel” at lower right to slow tunes down. Programs such as iReal Pro can provide you with accompaniment for any tune. Many “Parking Lot” tunes are available. It requires a bit of input if you want specific tunes that aren’t included, but it’s worth the effort. You can change keys and tempos with ease. It was recommended to me by a well-known teacher and multiple users.
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Playing with others, regardless of your or their ability, is IMO extremely important in progressing as a musician. There will always be players above and below your ability.

    Given a choice its better to play with players above your level. I participated in a weekly jam for a few years that was mostly all "permanent beginners" - players with little to no interest in learning anything new. I went for the socialization and the for the couple of guys that did try to learn.

    If you think you're pretty good at something, try teaching someone else. You'll learn even more.

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    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Same boat. I am trying to appreciate each group for their assets, and adjust what I am trying to get out of the session accordingly.

    When I play with the 'slower' group, I concentrate on keeping good time and modeling good jam etiquette. For breaks, I concentrate on tone production and all those other fundamentals that are best done at slower speeds.

    With the 'faster' group, I try to focus on playing the same melodic structures, but just less notes. Like, every other note of Bill Cheatum... still concentrating on quality rather than velocity. I can practice this playing along with MandoLessons videos with the speed adjusted if necessary.
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    I play with a beginner group once a week - most of them are "permanent" beginners who only seem to pick up their instruments when we get together, and as time has gone on, I've become the "go to" for how to start a tune, how to switch tunes and to give a pattern to those just trying to hold on by their fingernails. My biggest problem is the mandolin just isn't loud enough to drive the arhythmic into a proper groove, which can be frustrating. But being with the group does help me polish my triplets or tremolo or counter-melody. The downside is sometimes it's just -- well, boring. And frustrating. but we do get the occasional musician who brings new tunes, and that helps a lot. I don't plan on giving up the beginners because I do get to hang with some great people, and that's generally enough if the music is less than spectacular, and it's fun to encourage people.

    OTOH, I do play with three other groups of much more accomplished musicians, and i have tons of fun doing that. Playing with better musicians with new tunes has improved my own playing and my repertoire and helped me become more comfortable playing in public. If I screw up, which happens way more than I'd prefer (last week someone said 'let's play St. Patrick's Day but I can't remember how it starts' and I said "no problem" and then launched into Christmas Eve (!)) we all get a laugh. Each group (and yes, there is some crossover) has its own dynamics and i get different things out of them.

    At some point, you can always invite a couple of players nearer your comfort level to a private picking party at your home. Music isn't an either/or. It's both.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Large groups are nice for community but not always for quality music. Find some folks you like to play with and get together so everyone can hear each other in a small group. You sound like you are in the middle of the range you are describing so find some people you like and pick moderate tempi and work together to make good music. Otherwise, you're compromising yourself. That doesn't mean you have to give up the good things about playing with the either group if you can get something out of each.
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Yes, what Jim said...I have been getting together with a guitar player from one of the jams over the last year or so and we have great fun just playing tunes or running a tune by the other. We have introduced new tunes to each other and I’ve gotten a lot of experience playing backup for a guitar...
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Quote Originally Posted by gfury View Post
    With advanced players, I've taken to sitting out some songs when I know I have little hope of contributing anything. Gives me a chance to rest my fingers too.
    You will get a lot out of just listening, and eventually, sooner than you think, you will be able to contribute.

    As you probably already know, but for those who might not, it is good that they see you there, participating where you can, listening when you don't feel up to the task. Believe me it makes a difference in their motivation to help and encourage that they see you regularly working at it.

    As you doubtlessly have discovered, a whole lot occurs at a jam beyond exchange of music. You become a known quantity, folks will tell you about other jams, or invite you to private jams and parties. Folks will share resources (all our tunes are on this website, or these PDFs, or make a copy of this notebook). It is all good, and all part of it.
    Indulge responsibly!

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    Registered User Paul Cowham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Interesting topic, I've spent a lot of time playing with musicians informally in pubs over the years, and inevitably there is a range of skills at these "gatherings".

    My dad always said that the best way to improve at something is to work with people who are better that you. My wise dad also said that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I like both these ideas even if they are somewhat contradictory. This suggests that playing with both more advanced and less advanced people can be a good thing.

    One thing that I've experienced is that it is easier to play with good musicians than less good ones, mainly because the timing is more solid, so no need to be intimidated?

    For me though, the main criteria for someone that I enjoy playing music with is someone whose company I like. Eg I'd rather jam with a beginner who was interested and aware of their limitations than an "expert" who was arrogant and aloof.

    If you are at a jam with wide ranges of ability, then it has to be a good thing that everyone has made the effort of going there, and as long as you basically have a good time and hopefully learning something, then happy days .
    Last edited by Paul Cowham; Feb-02-2020 at 7:09pm.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    I really prefer to play with folks a bit ahead of me. I like a jam where I don't know about 2/3 of the tunes. I like being stretched.

    That said, it is only a preference, and I tend to play with anyone everyone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Cowham View Post
    For me though, the main criteria for someone that I enjoy playing music with is someone whose company I like. Eg I'd rather jam with a beginner who was interested and aware of their limitations than an "expert" who was arrogant and aloof..
    I think this is an excellent excellent point. Playing music is a kind of conversation, a kind of sharing, and has the same criteria as a friend or acquaintance. I find that those I can't seem to play with, are those I can't seem to get along with anyway.


    In today's politically polarized environment I LOVE how music lets me "be friends" and "get along" with and enjoy the company of many many people without having to agree with them or even know what they think about anything. This is a real respite from the world. Sometimes I feel like I am hanging on to music for dear life, with how angry everyone makes me.

    But for music I would be a curmudgeon.
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    high strung gfury's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with others of different skill levels

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    ...
    As you doubtlessly have discovered, a whole lot occurs at a jam beyond exchange of music. You become a known quantity, folks will tell you about other jams, or invite you to private jams and parties. Folks will share resources (all our tunes are on this website, or these PDFs, or make a copy of this notebook). It is all good, and all part of it.
    So true ...

    I've met many great folks, and learned about other playing opportunities. I've even been asked to fill in at some gigs (who? me ?).
    Greg Fury

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