You've been looking forward to do some picking for a
whole week and tonight is the night. Usually it's a lot
of fun, sometimes not. Here's how you can make sure
each time is a great time:
Every one, regardless of musical ability, should be
invited and encouraged to join the jam circle.
The circle - stagger the players so there's balance
and variety: don't have two of the same instruments standing
next to each other.
Keep your eye out - make room for new players so they
can enter the circle at any time and feel welcome to do
Too many of the same instruments? Tag team time:
leave the circle after playing a few tunes and encourage a
sideliner to take your place.
Every one in the circle plays the same tune or song
at the same time.
Announce the song's key before starting each tune or
Announce the chords if someone is not familiar with
Breaks go around clock-wise. Each player, regardless
of musical ability, gets a turn.
The tune, or song, is not finished until each
musician in the circle gets a break.
Players may skip their turn at a break at their
discretion - not at the discretion of others. Signal your
pass by taking a step back or shake your head.
Passing your turn means passing your turn for this
break only - a new turn comes up with each rotation around
If a player falters during a break: he/she is allowed
the opportunity to recover before the next player in the
circle takes over. Other players keep the song going while
the breaker tries to recover - a "miss" is never a
strike-out. Once recovered, the break reverts back to the
Players should clearly signal the next player in the
circle if they want him/her to take over.
Other players lower their volume while some one takes
a break. Pay particular attention to lower volume instruments
like dobros, dulcimers, open back banjos etc.
When the player next to you does not know the chords
and you do: tell them quietly.
Groups that have split off from the circle should
sit/stand far away enough and lower the volume of their
playing so they don't interfere with the circle.
Anyone playing along who is not in the circle does so
at a lower volume and does not "compete" with the
Jams are not freebie music lessons. Don't ask other
players how to play a certain lick during a jam. Save it for
a one-on-one lick trading session later, or a
Make sure not all songs are hundred mile an hour
instrumentals, allow for a change of pace and pick a few
slower ones to give every one a breather.
Tune your instruments! If your instrument is out of
tune it'll drive other players bonkers and easily distracts
them into playing mistakes. If you don't know how to tune,
ask someone to help you or buy an electronic tuner-they are
easy to use gadgets you can pick up for as little as about
twenty dollars and up and properly tuned instruments simply
Jams are not closed band practice sessions, no one
gets excluded by weird tunes nobody but a select few
A portion of the jam gets allocated to be
beginner-friendly to encourage sideliners to become more
proficient players and to afford them the opportunity to
apply newly learned tunes/skills/licks.
Food for thought: "a person with whom one shares close ties
of liking," or: "a person who is often in the company of
another," or: "a person whom one knows casually." Guess what,
these are the dictionary definitions of the word friend - treat
your fellow jammers accordingly and enjoy!
Latest update Feb 24, 2004. I've had a lot of comments on
this article. Non-profit clubs or organizations may freely
reprint it, no need to ask for permission.