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September 2023
Vol. 22, No. 12

Bluegrass Corner

Bluegrass Jamming

by Dwight WordenMarch 2019

Why is jamming such an important part of bluegrass music? Here’s my take on some of the reasons:

– Bluegrass music, compared to jazz, pop, rock, or most other genres, is participatory. At bluegrass festivals you will find as many folks jamming informally in the parking lot as you will listening to the stage music. Many of the jammers do nothing but, and never attend the stage music.

– The bluegrass culture, with its origins in southern hospitality coming from rural Appalachia, is open and welcoming. Even top performers mingle with the crowds and make, as they say, “shake and howdy.” The entire culture of the music revolves around playing it, not just listening. Jam sessions are typically very welcoming to all levels and ages of players.

– Much of the music is accessible. Much of the bluegrass repertoire, including many of the great standards, is readily accessible musically. At jam sessions you will hear the same songs many times, whether you’re at a session in California, Arizona, Tennessee, or somewhere in between. Even a beginner can learn a simple three-chord song or two and successfully join in the jamming experience as much of the repertoire is comprised of songs with three chords, standard progressions, and simple lyrics.

– Jamming is fun! This may be obvious, but it is true. Jamming with friends or with folks one doesn’t yet know is great fun. It is a way to communicate with our fellow humans in a common language called music. It’s a way to show our stuff, to learn new stuff, and to meet new people. Wrap all that in the fact that jamming cuts across age barriers. You are likely to find a 70-year-old banjo picker standing next to a 16-year-old guitar player. Jammers typically check their politics at the door and discussions focus on music, making jam sessions generally politics free. There you have it: the ingredients needed for big time fun.

How to successfully participate in a jam session. Here are a few simple rules to follow to ensure that you have a rewarding experience.

– Listen to a group before joining. Is the ability level right for me? Will my instrument fit in the existing mix of instruments (you don’t want to be the fifth banjo! Or the second bass).

– Ask to join. While not strictly required by the prevailing etiquette, it never hurts to ask–“Okay if I join?”

– Follow the rotation. Typically, jam sessions rotate through the group with each player taking a turn to select a song and key. Have a song and key in mind so you are ready when it comes your turn.

– Solos rotate. Likewise, instrumental soloing passes around the circle. You have two choices when it come your turn to either play a solo or ”pass” to the next person. If you are going to pass, tell the person next to you BEFORE it is your turn–nothing is worse than trying to pick up a lead after it has started.

– Don’t be too loud. As a general rule if you can’t hear the lead you are too loud. This is especially important when someone else is soloing.

Della Mae Coming to Del Mar!
Top-notch national and international touring band Della Mae is coming to the new Del Mar Town Hall on Sunday, April 7.
The Del Mar Foundation is presenting this stellar group as part of its Bluegrass and Beyond series. Grammy-nominated in 2014 for their debut album on Rounder Records, and awarded the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artists of the Year Award in 2013, Della Mae was named among Rolling Stone’s “10 bands to watch for” in 2015.

Since forming in Boston in 2009, Nashville-based Della Mae has established a reputation as a charismatic live act comprised of some of the finest players in bluegrass, Americana and beyond. Della Mae is: Celia Woodsmith–vocals, guitar; Kimber Ludiker–fiddle, vocals; Jenni Lyn Gardner–mandolin, vocals; Courtney Hartman–guitar, banjo, vocals; and Zoe Guigueno–bass, vocals.

For tickets and information:

Julian Family fiddle Camp.
The Julian Family Fiddle Camp is a five-day acoustic music camp for people of all ages and musical abilities, held each April at a rural family retreat center near the historic mining town of Julian. All meals, instruction, and evening concerts are included in a single fee. This year, instruction is offered on guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, cello, fiddle, and vocals. This is a great experience for adults and youngsters alike, or even better, for the whole family.

For information:

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