Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Beginner's Jam

Last night was our Beginner's Instructional Jam Session. We have this every other Monday night. We had two basses, three banjos, two guitars and a fiddle. The songs we practiced last night were Dooley, Long Journey Home, Unclouded Day, Hot Corn Cold Corn, and Worried Man Blues.

The way this jam session works is everyone has to pick a song to sing. We do this because most beginners are not able to take breaks on songs yet, so instrumentals are out of the question. The songs preferably should have no more than three standard chords, and it makes no difference if the person is a good singer or not. I help each person figure out what key they should sing their song selection in, as this is one of the main reasons why people don't sing in public. I think you'd be amazed at how good everyone is able to sing when they sing in the correct key for their own voice. Participants don't have to sing and play at the same time, and they can have someone sing with them if they want. Everyone joins in on the chorus.

I go over chord changes to the songs, we examine the chord structure of the song, and we also determine if there are any "tricky" things about the song. During the two weeks that we are waiting until the next jam, I record everyone's selections in their designated keys and burn everyone a CD to practice with. Sometimes we will learn harmony parts to the choruses of some of the simpler songs.

Depending on the skill level of the participants, some participants take breaks or fake breaks. We also talk about how to start songs, various fill-in licks, endings, tags, and other basic things that are important to what everyone is learning.

Playing with other people is a key factor in becoming a better player. It's what most people want to do anyway! Too many students are focused in on learning to play breaks, but they don't know how to play with other people. They might know breaks to 10 songs, but can't play them with anyone. They don't even know what key they are in. Learning backup and chords is fundamental to bluegrass music. It is actually the easiest thing to learn and will allow people to play with others almost immediately. Check out what Pete Wernick has to say about this at www.drbanjo.com.

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