© 2011 Donna Hébert,fiddlingdemystified.com. All rights reserved.
developed for Tri City Trad’s “Jam/Sing/Thing” 1/14-16/11 in Troy, NY
Let’s start with some guidelines and then move on the questions at the heart of this discussion.
Bottom-line non-negotiable basics: TUNING and KEEPING THE BEAT.
My motto is “Tune it or die!” No excuses, buy a tuner and learn how to use it.
And if you can’t keep a beat, play softly so you don’t throw off other people’s rhythm. If you’re guilty of this, you’ll know because usually someone at the jam will look at you with a panicked gaze or someone else will start slamming their foot into the floor to keep a stronger beat to counteract yours. Less skilled players should always play softly. Sing along with a tune to pattern it in your brain. Pay attention, play softly and you’ll learn.
- Play louder than everyone else
- Grab the limelight repeatedly
- Shut people out with tunes no one else knows
- Play tunes outside the jam theme (i.e., Bluegrass at an Irish session or the reverse)
- Start a tune and then fizzle out. If you’re going to start a tune, know it well enough to finish it.
- Talk while people are jamming. Leave the circle with your conversation.
- Keep your instrument in tune
- Your practicing at home
- LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN!
- Ask how the jam works
- Follow the group rhythm
- Come prepared with a set of tunes to share
- ALWAYS ask before recording
- Play more softly if you’re a less skilled player
- Keep an open mind and heart
Remember that a jam is just a group of people, and people organize themselves differently. Most jams have a core group that helps to organize the session. See how you fit in with them. Some questions to consider about yourself and the jam . . .
Who are you musically? – What’s your style, skill level, repertoire, harmonic tastes, personal, political and social comfort levels, competitiveness or lack of same? Know your own skills and style before jumping in.
When are you practicing on your own? Is the jam the only time you play? If you want to improve, spend more time with the instrument alone and practicing in smaller groups with others. Come prepared with repertoire under your hands. Do your homework and you’ll have more fun at the jam. Andy Kuntz, (jam leader and webmaster: The Fiddlers’ Companion www.ibiblio.org/fiddlers/) suggests new jam members come with a set of tunes they can introduce if called upon. Be ready to start each tune and play them at a grooving tempo.
Where are you jamming? – Before jumping in, observe the group. What kind of music is the jam about? Is there a leader? What are their social boundaries around the music? Are they really a ‘house band’ and you’re jamming with them, or is the jam more circular and open, with input from others? Jammers talk about the “jam hog” who gets going and plays tune after tune from their own repertoire, shutting out the rest of the players. The rules for getting along in kindergarten pretty much apply here. Share. It’s nice. ASK before you record someone. Professionals at the jam might prefer you not record their jamming (especially if it suddenly shows up on Facebook or YouTube without their knowledge – a definite NO-NO!). So ask first! You’re much more likely to get a ‘yes’ answer. I request that I see any video recorded of me before anyone posts it online. No exceptions.
How are jam decisions made? – How do tune choices seem to happen? How long do they play a tune? Do they play medleys? Do they arrange or improvise on the tune? How open to new people are they? Every group has a structure and jams are no different. Take the time to figure out what’s going on before you jump in. Ask questions. And remember, unless it’s your jam, you’re visiting, so act accordingly . . .
What are your goals in joining the jam? Are you here to learn? To have fun? To get a chance to practice in a larger group setting? To showcase yourself? To teach and inspire others? To have fun grooving with some of your friends? Hey, it could be the free BEER! You can choose to come for different reasons each time, but be aware of why you are there. The jam is not there just to serve your needs. At least part of your reason should be social, to enjoy the group, as well as the music.
Why are you there? Why are other people there? – When the answer to both questions is roughly the same, you can have a great jam. What expectations did you walk in the door with? You might want to lose some of them and let things flow and enjoy the good fellowship that jamming provides. Remember – a good time can’t always be scripted!
© Donna Hébert, 1998
Don’t be afraid
Just let go
Take a deep breath
and look into
each other’s eyes
Friend and peer
Tuck your fiddles
and raise your bows
ready to share
Enter the sound
Let its will
back and forth
Magic carpet ride
Roller coaster tune
A journey round your ears
and every so often,
your eyes – softly shut
to better hear the music
in your head –
open wide, and you catch a
of another soul