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Thread: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

  1. #26
    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Congratulations Sherry! I’m glad you found some people to make music with! Say Hey to Laurie!

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    ..........

    Basically, a person who has some, but not a lot of, skills, should get out there, find a group at his/her level to start, then move on when ready to test additional skills.
    Exactly. Nobody’s born full grown

    And there’s fun at every level.
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  5. #28
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Glad you could make it to the jam today, Sherry. Thanks for the observations. I'll look into them, as well.
    "If your memories exceed your dreams, you have begun to die." - Anonymous

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  7. #29

    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Yay, so glad you went. I can’t wait for my group to start up again.
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

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  9. #30

    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Glad you went, Sherry! Definitely bring your mando next time, you’ll quickly find that you can fit right in. Playing with other musicians really makes your musicality take off. You belong!

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  11. #31
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    So, if you don't normally take a break, but a tune is played where you can, how do you communicate that you'd like a solo?

  12. #32

    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Well, each group can be different. Since your new id just ask the leader how they do it.

    In some jams the person starting the tune will ask who wants a break before the tune begins that way everyone kinda has an idea of who will play.

    More commonly is as the tune is going around the circle you communicate with the people next to you so...if a tune begins and it goes clockwise it’s gojng to be coming from your right, look at the guy/gal to your right as he/she should either nod or shake their head as to if they will take break. If they are not paying attention sometimes I just flat out ask - are you taking break. Then you know when it’s your turn, also look to the person on your left who you will be passing the tune to and nod or shake your head so they know when the tune will arrive.

    Songs can be different, sometimes the singer will actually call people for a solo and may ay verse or chorus.

    So again, just ask - they all know you are new and will help you out.
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

  13. #33
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    I attended this jam today. I didn't take my mandolin since my husband had returned home yesterday from a short hospital stay and I didn't want to stay long. Was glad to make some observations.

    There were about 15 musicians: 9 guitars, 2 dobros, 1 each fiddle, ukulele, banjo, and my friend Laurie Baker with her mandolin. Half of them had music stands and appox half of them took a turn at the lead. Maybe a third played a solo. This group was not intimidating at all. I can play easily from written notation, and with others having music stands feel I can hold my own. One of my challenges has to do with timing - turning over the lead and taking it back.
    I went to another jam yesterday. Basically, it was the same group as last week, except last week's jam was gospel only, whereas yesterday was any genre. The group was smaller yesterday at 10, and there were 3 of us with mandolins. The other 2 were WAAAY past my level of play. See below for my notes on the experience.

  14. #34
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Quote Originally Posted by hogansislander View Post
    I'm not totally sure where you are starting from, but I will assume you can play at least basic chords in common keys.

    This the progression I recall from learning how to survive in a jam:

    Phase 1: Playing along with the chords for simple(r) tunes. No breaks, no song-leading.

    If you can do this, you are successfully participating in a jam! The key to this is knowing what the key is, and what chords are being played. Generally the song leader should announce this, and at least point the basic chord progression. One extremely useful thing to do is position yourself so that you can see a guitar player and learn how to read from their hand position what chord is being played. Obviously this is easier if you already play guitar a little bit. If you don't play guitar, this is still a skill worth learning and you can definitely pick it up. You can also watch another mandolin player, although a lot of players use chord variations and due to the size of the instrument it can be harder to see what others are playing. Part of this is also learning what key you are in by looking at the guitar player. Capo second fret, playing G,C,D chords - ok that is the key of A. This little bit of music theory goes a long way.

    Developing your ear for chord changes, in addition to the visual cues, will start to happen as you jam more, and will make things simpler. There are also only a handful of common chord progressions that cover 80-90% of jam tunes and you will start to recognize these over time.

    In order to successfully play along, you need to be able to play in different keys. So this means learning the 1-4-5 chords at least in the most common keys (G, A, D to start, B,E,C, Bb next, other keys are less common in bluegrass/folk etc). You can do this with movable chords so it's a lot simpler than it sounds. If it's a bluegrass jam, the basic chop chords are the most useful.

    The only way to get better at this is to practice - I would encourage anyone to just go to jams as much as they can and just try to chord along and keep up.
    I've been told before to watch the guitar players. I don't play guitar, but I figured out rather quickly which chords the guitarist I chose to watch was playing. When she figured out I was watching her, it was obvious she wanted to help me. Afterwards I learned my friend Laurie had been watching her too. I'm pretty good at hearing chord changes. Watching the guitarist helped me figure out which chords, then I saw there was a pattern. That was cool. For most of the jam I played 2 finger chords, which I can do easily. Later on, with some slower songs, I played 3 fingers. I'm pretty slow at changing those, so that's where I need some work.

    Quote Originally Posted by hogansislander View Post
    Phase 2: Taking a break

    For this, the key is to a) learn to play a scale and b) be brave Learn the basic scale in the keys mentioned above (G, A, D) and wait for a simple song in one of these keys. When it's your turn.... just dive in and play something. If you know and can play the melody, that's great! Otherwise, just stay within the scale, and try to end on the root note. It is totally ok if you suck at this the first time, or the first 50 times you do it. I still suck after 100s or 1000s of times Eventually though you will get better and better at creating something that sounds ok.

    Personally, I think it makes it harder (at this point) if you try to memorize a break for a specific song, however if you can do this it and it works for you, give it a shot.
    I didn't try this yesterday. I've been told playing notes in the pentatonic scale works best. This I need to work on, as I really want to take my turn at solos. Nearly everyone in yesterday's group took a solo, some more successfully than others.

    Quote Originally Posted by hogansislander View Post
    Phase 3: Leading a song or tune

    This is the hardest one and can be nerve-wracking. The advice to be brave also applies here! Pick a song you know well. Think a bit beforehand how you will manage other people's breaks in your song. If there are 10 people in the jam and 2 verses, then you can fit 5 breaks after each chorus, for instance. From the previous phases you should be familiar with the etiquette in your jam about how breaks are managed. Most jams seem to go around the circle and give everyone a chance to play it. The song leader is usually in charge of this - look at the person to your left and make eye contact just before their turn to see if they want to take a break.

    Practice playing the song beforehand and make sure you practice playing sections without words to allow other people to play breaks. Humming the words to yourself under your breath can help you keep your place in the tune.

    One tip for picking easy songs to lead are ones that have the same chorus and verse chords. This makes it simpler to remember which part you're on during other people's breaks
    I didn't want to miss my opportunity to do this! I lead with "In the Highways" and "Jambalaya." I was nervous about "assigning" the breaks, but everyone seemed to follow my signals. I believe I got so absorbed in the solos, though, since my friend Laurie whispered to a me a couple of times that I needed to sing the next verse. It was really pretty funny, to me anyway. That humming trick really helped me know when to come back in (when I remembered). What I'm wondering, though, is when does the one with the solo know when to stop???

    Quote Originally Posted by hogansislander View Post
    There's no rule or timeline for these phases, and they might not apply to everyone of course.

    Good luck.. and the most important thing is to have fun !

    Edit: one point to the original poster, in terms of skills to develop - by far the best way to practice jamming is to jam. All of the playing skills are things you can use at a jam, but you only get better at playing with others by playing with others. Certainly practicing repertoire so that you can contribute to a jam is helpful and important, but that is really a means to an end.
    I did have fun, hogansislander! Today I start working on next month's songs.

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  16. #35

    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    I am also glad you had fun, Sherry! It sounds like it is also working to help you improve your playing. How cool is it to do something that is fun that also helps you?!

  17. #36
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Quote Originally Posted by SOMorris View Post
    I am also glad you had fun, Sherry! It sounds like it is also working to help you improve your playing. How cool is it to do something that is fun that also helps you?!
    Pretty darn cool!

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Yeah, it sounds like you made some leaps and bounds! You go!

    I think it's great you had your friend Laurie with you. Always nice to have a wingman (or woman).

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  20. #38
    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Sherry, I’m happy you found a group to make music with!

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  22. #39

    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Way to go Sherry! Sounds like you did great, learned a lot, and most importantly, had fun!

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  24. #40

    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    I'm so glad you had fun and had some success! That's fantastic.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    What I'm wondering, though, is when does the one with the solo know when to stop???
    Haha sometimes they don't Generally the form is one verse though, i.e. once through the chords. If it's a long verse, or there are a lot of soloists, you can say "Let's split the breaks" and then each person plays half. This takes a bit more brainpower to manage as the leader of the song though. If there aren't many soloists, or you just feel like it, you can also tell them "take another one" to play over the form again. This is also polite to do if the person missed their cue and didn't know it was their turn or .. dropped their pick during the break or something.

    I have definitely mistimed it and played longer than the break is supposed to go - in this case usually the next person just starts their break anyway and I know to gracefully stop

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  26. #41
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    As newbie who was lucky enough to start mandolin just as Covid hit, just last week was my first time playing with others. I was wandering back to my apartment after practicing my mandolin when I heard a great musical ruckus coming from the foyer of my dorm. I left caution behind and went over to find a banjo, gitar, mandolin, OM, and electric bass all practicing for an upcoming talent show. Even though they were already a band and practicing for a performance, they invited me to join and I had a blast. It took a while for me to figure out their chord progression (thank goodness for chop!), but it was incredible to be able to play with them.

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  28. #42
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Reywas View Post
    As newbie who was lucky enough to start mandolin just as Covid hit, just last week was my first time playing with others. I was wandering back to my apartment after practicing my mandolin when I heard a great musical ruckus coming from the foyer of my dorm. I left caution behind and went over to find a banjo, gitar, mandolin, OM, and electric bass all practicing for an upcoming talent show. Even though they were already a band and practicing for a performance, they invited me to join and I had a blast. It took a while for me to figure out their chord progression (thank goodness for chop!), but it was incredible to be able to play with them.
    How cool is that!

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  30. #43

    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Congratulations Reywas!
    There’s nothing quite like playing with others. I’ll never forget the first time I got up the nerve to play with “strangers”... it was only about four years ago and I was watching a guy play guitar and sing at an open mike night at the brewery. He took a break and I walked up and told him he sounded great on some blues he was singing, then worked up the courage to say “made me wish I was playing some harps with it”. He said “you play harmonica? Do you have them with you?” “Yeah, in my truck.” ... “Go get ‘em!’ And then we played for an hour since there was nobody else waiting to play open mike. When we finished he said “where have you been hiding?” and invited me to join him at an upcoming gig. And... we’ve been gigging ever since, and ultimately led to me picking up the mandolin about eight months ago.
    It’s life-changing.

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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Sherry, do you/can you sing a song and play chords? I think this is a great place to start. Fluidity of changes, hearing changes, listening.
    And...knowing the lyrics by memory. This is important. Singing as an exercise in playing, imho, can help you feel confidant to anchor a song. No need for breaks, etc, just key and tempo and flow that you are comfortable with.

    And, try to play along with any record. Find the key, find the chords. Listen and try to play what you hear, and what you think is nice. This is primarily a listening and rhythm exercise. Often its hugely difficult at first. It gets easier, but you must persevere at trying to hear whats going on. Be aware that some older recordings were sped up about half a tone, so while g might sound close, you may need to retune.

    As for intimidation, sometimes all you need to start is to show up, with your instrument and go from there. Its ok to float in the back until you gain confidence. But...IF you can sing a song and play, you’re more than halfway there! Its ok to choke. Everyone does. But, its a process. Youll need to know a song, then learn to hear all the new distractions without it derailing you. It may take a few attempts. In this case it IS all about you, to start.

  33. #45
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Quote Originally Posted by David L View Post
    There is a great book about jamming and jam etiquette, "Play Well With Others: A Musician's Guide to Jamming like a Pro", by Martha Haehl.
    I find that name pretty funny. Not the first part. Yea we need to learn to play well with others.

    But the second part, Jamming like a Pro. About the only professionals I can think of that jam are the great jam bands, Grateful Dead, Phish, String Cheese Incident, etc. I don't think that is what they mean.

    I have not noticed that professional performing musicians are to be idolized at a jam. In fact often enough the opposite. But yea, I know what she means.
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

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  34. #46
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevedenver View Post
    Sherry, do you/can you sing a song and play chords? I think this is a great place to start. Fluidity of changes, hearing changes, listening.
    And...knowing the lyrics by memory. This is important. Singing as an exercise in playing, imho, can help you feel confidant to anchor a song. No need for breaks, etc, just key and tempo and flow that you are comfortable with.

    And, try to play along with any record. Find the key, find the chords. Listen and try to play what you hear, and what you think is nice. This is primarily a listening and rhythm exercise. Often its hugely difficult at first. It gets easier, but you must persevere at trying to hear whats going on. Be aware that some older recordings were sped up about half a tone, so while g might sound close, you may need to retune.

    As for intimidation, sometimes all you need to start is to show up, with your instrument and go from there. Its ok to float in the back until you gain confidence. But...IF you can sing a song and play, you’re more than halfway there! Its ok to choke. Everyone does. But, its a process. Youll need to know a song, then learn to hear all the new distractions without it derailing you. It may take a few attempts. In this case it IS all about you, to start.
    Steve, I do attempt to play chords and sing. My singing is not good, though. A friend has worked with me, so improvement is a work in progress. I don't know lyrics from memory, which I think is OK, considering the jam group. Probably half have music stands, so i'm comfortable having my own.

    I'd love to try playing along with recordings. The challenge for me is fitting so many different things needing work into an hour each day. As I prepare for this Saturday's jam, I'm working on 3 different gospel songs. My focus has been on moving smoothly from an intro to the first note of the melody, and playing an advanced (for me) chord rhythm. Today is the first day the chord rhythm wasn't a train wreck.

    Add all that to perfecting "All of Me" for the Newbies March tune of the month and exercises my teacher has me doing for planting first finger, etc., there's little time. Oh, and I spend 10 minutes memorizing Home Sweet Home with crosspicking. Sorry if more than you wanted to know!

  35. #47

    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Hey thanks. It is great to know what you're working on.

    let me suggest, from my own experience with music stands, and performing, (i used music stands as a fall back, as sometimes a new environment magically empties ones head of things thought committed to memory) . I now really try to memorize my stuff. It too is a skill. i sing everyday, will write out lyrics to memorize, and often, in the wee hours before or after sleep, review lyrics in my head.


    when i read music, instead of having stuff memorized, it engages a part of my brain that could be better off in the moment musically. And, I'm a slight bit behind timing, as I'm processing what I'm reading into playing or singing.

    the best analogy i can think of is trying to read a road map while you're driving. Imagine, if you know the route, musically, the timing, and you're fully present, then you can mess with lyric phrasing, emphasis on words, dynamics, all easier because you already know what's coming and where you're going, and, importantly, how you can get creative but stay within the needed structure, timing of the song. you can shorten a phrase, lengthen an important word and hold that note, or even play with the note.

    speaking for myself, the difference in power and fluidity and interest when im not reading is noticeable.

    keep up the singing. With practice and confidence (and some technique) you can become a force!!!

    yes theres a lot to process and juggle.

    best of luck at the jam.

  36. #48
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Steve, you are so the diplomat! I admit I can be thick headed, resisting even the best of advice. I'm fishing today, so it really is a perfect day to take your advice. As I read the lyrics, they're so simple and i've sung them a hundred times! Thanks for hanging in there with me.

  37. #49
    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    ..........The challenge for me is fitting so many different things needing work into an hour each day. As I prepare for this Saturday's jam, I'm working on 3 different gospel songs. My focus has been on moving smoothly from an intro to the first note of the melody, and playing an advanced (for me) chord rhythm. Today is the first day the chord rhythm wasn't a train wreck.

    Add all that to perfecting "All of Me" for the Newbies March tune of the month and exercises my teacher has me doing for planting first finger, etc., there's little time. Oh, and I spend 10 minutes memorizing Home Sweet Home with crosspicking. Sorry if more than you wanted to know!
    That's a pretty ambitious schedule, 4-5 tunes in a week. Make sure it stays fun or you'll burn yourself out.
    Play it like you mean it

    Not all the clams are at the beach

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  38. #50
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to Jam – A Primer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    That's a pretty ambitious schedule, 4-5 tunes in a week. Make sure it stays fun or you'll burn yourself out.
    Bill, it's the same 4 or 5 every week! That is, until after the jam when I select 3 new gospel songs for next month.

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