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Thread: Jam etiquette

  1. #26
    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    Quote Originally Posted by archerscreek View Post
    ...
    One guy (always did classic rock) never gave any song info before his songs. I mean never. So I started asking him what he was going to do right after the previous song ended. Interestingly, he couldn't always come up with the name of the song he was going to play and wasn't always sure what key they were in. He was a good player, too. I guess he never bothered with such formalities.
    As a beginner, especially, this does make it very hard. Many folks don't say the name of the song or the key. On top of this they may not sing that loudly, so I find myself struggling to hear what song they're doing, then try try to figure out the key. They're halfway through the song before I've got it worked out.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    As for two people taking a break, not just splitting but at the same time, I will on occasion when we need one more break and everyone has already had a turn say "Hey Al (or John, or Mary, or whoever), let's do one together". It doesn't end up being dueling breaks, it ends up being a duet. I've never had one fall apart on me. Then again, it is easier when you're used to playing with that person.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  3. #28
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunnyf View Post
    As a beginner, especially, this does make it very hard. Many folks don't say the name of the song or the key. On top of this they may not sing that loudly, so I find myself struggling to hear what song they're doing, then try try to figure out the key. They're halfway through the song before I've got it worked out.
    Well, I certainly agree with you that it helps when the jam leader (or tune leader) bothers to announce the name of the upcoming piece, as well as the key, beforehand! That said, in some jams, folks sometimes just launch enthusiastically into the music -- especially well-known numbers -- without much prior warning. It does happen, and it will continue to happen, despite best intentions. As a beginner, though, you really should view this is an opportunity to learn some new and valuable jam skills!

    Here are some things you can certainly do. And the more you do it, the faster and easier it will get. Once you get the hang of things, you will no longer be halfway through the whole song when you finally catch on. Instead, you will be just halfway through the first few bars!

    1) Watch the guitarist. Look at his or her guitar! Is he or she capoed? If so, a capo placed on the second fret probably (not always) means that the tune is in A (or possibly in E). Similarly, a capo on three is often Bb, and a capo on four is likely B.

    2) Watch the guitarist. Look at his or her hands while playing. If you play the guitar yourself, you'll probably find it easy to recognize the chord shapes, and thereby determine the home key immediately. Even if you don't happen to play guitar yourself, learn to recognize the most obvious "cowboy chord" shapes, for basic chords like G, C, A, D, E, F, and so on.

    3) Is there another mandolinist playing along? Maybe you can pick up the key by watching his or her hands?

    4) Experiment with the chord tones quietly on your own instrument, and find out the ones that match. You can get the key that way.

    5) At home, try playing some audio recordings of songs you might encounter in a jam -- from sources like CDs, MP3s, YouTube, vinyl records, and so on. On your mandolin, try to find the home key for the music as quickly as possible after you start playing the recording. The, try to see if you can figure out all the chords, as well. Eventually, you will train your ears to do this rather quickly.

    It's all about getting better and better over time. But don't expect the world to slow down for you (very much, anyway), or for the jam leader to make it easy on you by explaining everything beforehand (very much, anyway) -- instead, take it upon yourself as a challenge to address and surmount obstacles in your personal growth as a player.

  4. #29
    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    sblock, thanks for the tips. I do try to follow the guitarist if I can see one and they are not playing up the neck. I also, noodle for a bit (quietly) to get the key. I haven't tried looking at other mandolinists, as I find it harder to see what they are doing and they are using closed chord shapes that I'm not so readily familiar (at least not well enough to spot quickly). With the wider neck and first position chords I can see better on guitar.

  5. #30
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunnyf View Post
    sblock, thanks for the tips. I do try to follow the guitarist if I can see one and they are not playing up the neck. I also, noodle for a bit (quietly) to get the key. I haven't tried looking at other mandolinists, as I find it harder to see what they are doing and they are using closed chord shapes that I'm not so readily familiar (at least not well enough to spot quickly). With the wider neck and first position chords I can see better on guitar.
    Closed shape (four-finger moverable) chords on the mandolin are vitally important in bluegrass music. Even if you're just a beginner, you should start working with these kinds of chords now if you attend any bluegrass jams. Yes, that infamous four-finger "big G" may be hard to manage at first, but it will come with enough practice -- even if you have comparatively small hands (I write from personal experience on this; my hands are exceptionally small). And you should learn to recognize this particular shape, right on sight, when other mandolinists use it. Take the pattern up the neck by two more frets and you have an A chord. Another fret gets Bb, and another gets B, and so on.

    Anyway, the best advice I can give is to practice finding out the keys of audio recordings by playing along with these. There are tons and tons of recordings on YouTube. Many recordings of familiar songs will be found recorded in many different keys, depending on the vocal range of the singer. How long does it take you to figure out the key once you start the playback? Or to find out all the chords, and play rhythm along with the playback? After a while of doing this, you will start to just "hear" the chord changes for all but the most exotic/unexpected chords. Most bluegrass and folk music will have five or fewer chords, and often just three. These will all be clustered nearby the root on the Circle of Fifths, as well.

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  7. #31

    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    If you miss it at the beginning wait till the second verse and check the guitarist. Just before the second verse is the time when he/she has a reasonable idea of what’s happening. It’s also then that they have a bit more time and will sometimes look up. You’re looking for the chord shape just then.

    Also, the guitarist will be happy to tell you the key, but once the tune begins you wont be able to hear him over the chaotic racket.
    Just take a good look at him.
    A mouth full of teeth followed by a closed mouth usually means he is screaming C major or E major, or D major, or G major, or B major.
    -just nod and smile, ‘thanks’.

  8. #32

    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    Excellent advice to play along with recordings, I’m trying and getting better but it’s tough. One thing I do is pick out the melody...once I have a few lines I can generally get the key then. Keep plugging along, the mando is great fun when it’s not hugely frustrating...
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

  9. #33
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    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    The very first OT slow jam I went to, I didn’t realise I also had to stop the tune as well as start it! So we went round and round until one of the more experienced players shouted “do you want us to stop this time round?” !! 😂 😊

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  11. #34
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Jam etiquette

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunnyf View Post
    At one jam I went to there are about a dozen quite experienced players. Several are retired pros, a few still gig regularly. But they are super friendly and welcoming. I'm going tonite again and do as bigskygirl said. They meet weekly at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant/bar and provide the entertainment for patrons. It's very chill but 90% of the players really know their stuff. It's pretty exclusively BG, but a tiny bit of old country sneaks in.

    The other jam is 50/50 good players to beg-intermediate. It's a jam in the park, also with an audience and is more old country than BG. Maybe 20 players, with quite a few pros and worship leaders. This group is even more welcoming and I worry less here about doing the wrong thing. P.S. there are a few very beginner players who get up and perform and they occasionally crash and burn, so I don't feel quite as intimidated.
    Wow, 12 or 20 people in a jam is too many IMO. If there is available room its a lot better to split into two jams of 6 to 10. If you can, arrive early next time and just ask one of the regulars how they do it. I know there are regional and genre-specific differences.

    In my area its pretty simple. We sit in a circle. Each of us in turn calls a tune by name and key. Then you have to repeat it again louder for those hard of hearing or not paying attention. The breaks go around the circle too, with eye contact between whoever is leading the tune and the next person in the circle with a quick nod or shake of the head indicating they will take a break or pass. Everyone should be watching the leader and following to know who's next.

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