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An Introduction to Bluegrass Jamming:
Chapter 9: Bluegrass Jamming Signals

By Tom Barnwell

Editor's Note: This excellent article is a must-read for anyone interested in Bluegrass music. For readability, we have divided the article into 10 "chapters", as follows:

Chapter 1 Preface
Chapter 2 Instruments
Chapter 3 The Structure Of A Bluegrass Song
Chapter 4 Backup
Chapter 5 Breaks
Chapter 6 Lead Singing
Chapter 7 Harmony Singing
Chapter 8 Song Selection
Chapter 9 Bluegrass Jamming Signals
Chapter 10 Jamming Etiquette

Bluegrass Jamming Signals

Although at first glance, it may appear that everyone in a good jam session knows exactly what to do at all times, in point of fact usually there is a leader who is organizing the jam session, and the musicians are all communicating among themselves.

This communication is normally done by eye contact and a series of nods.

It is quite normal for the lead singer to control a particular song, but the leader may be anyone. What the leader generally does is choose when each player (and each instrument) will get a break. Normally if you want a break, you should make eye contact with the leader. If you cannot find the leader, make eye contact with someone.

When the leader is ready to give you a break, he will make eye contact with you. If this happens and you do not want to take a break, shake your head. If you do want a break, nod and take the next solo. In general, if you do not make eye contact with anyone, the group will assume you are just playing around the edges, and will not give you a break.

In jamming, I always live by the old Ted Turner saying, "lead, follow, or stay out of the way," only I reverse it to "stay out of the way, follow, or lead." I always offer to get involved (using eye contact), but if my offer is not accepted, I stay out of the way. If my offer is accepted, I follow the leader, and play the role assigned to me. Only if there is no leader will I take the leader role.

Notes

This article Copyright, 1997 by the SouthEastern Bluegrass Association.

The author would like to extend special thanks to Selwyn Blakely for his valuable input, and to Scott Woody, Mike Flemming and Gerald Hooke for their valuable comments.

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