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An Introduction to Bluegrass Jamming:
Chapter 10: Jamming Etiquette

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

Jamming Etiquette

If you have never approached a jam session before, you may find it a very intimidating situation. When you first come up to a jam session, particularly if you don’t make eye contact, you will mostly be ignored. This does not necessarily mean that the jammers do not want you there, but rather that they think you just want to play along. Playing along (that is playing backup appropriately and tastefully at all times) is a perfectly acceptable activity, and is great practice. In general, I always play along for a while as I size up the jam session. Many bluegrass jammers love to get involved with new people and are very friendly, but if you look like you want to be left alone, they will generally leave you alone.

After you have sized up a jam session and decided how you might fit in, offer to get involved either by suggesting a song on which you can sing or play lead, or by making eye contact. If I am ignored (which can be because I am not wanted or because the other jammers don’t yet know how I can fit in), I will often jump-in one time. This means that I will step forward and take a break when I get a chance, even though I have not been invited. This immediately shows the others what I can do, and makes my offer to participate very clear. Usually, after I jump-in, I am included in the session. If I am still ignored, I go somewhere else and find a better deal.

Another thing to watch out for is that after you are included in a jam session, you should not hog the session.

This is all too easy to do, since often you have been waiting sooooo long and you can do sooooo much. Good jam sessions are good for everyone, so if you are having a good time, try to make sure the others are as well. This is not always possible, of course, because sometimes the available pieces simply cannot be fitted together. However, one of the most wonderful things about bluegrass is the deep sense of community and even love which is shared by the participants.

Be considerate and open, and you will inevitably be welcomed to that community.

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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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