Monday, June 28, 2010

Instructional Beginning Jams: Our Focus

We've had a definitive change of focus as of late in the jam sessions.  One of the hardest things to do in a jam is to learn how to come in correctly for instrumental breaks.  This is particularly hard, it seems, for the banjo players.  In an effort to give everyone more chances to do this, I have changed the format slightly.

First of all, we are doing more easy instrumentals.  We have been playing Cripple Creek, Banjo in the Hollow, Bile Them Cabbage, and Blackberry Blossom.  Speed depends upon the session and experience of the players.  I have been calling on students to play, but mixing up the song.  For instance, one person plays Part A of the song one time, then I call on someone else to play the repeat of Part A.  I call on yet another person to play Part B the first time, and another to play Part B the second time.  This means that playing through the song one time allows four different people to take the break.  When we practice the vocals, I have been having the singer sing one verse or one chorus (not both together) and then picking someone to play the break.  Sometimes we play breaks back to back, sometimes I split the breaks in half, and other times I have the singer come back in after one break.  Sometimes I have all the banjos as a group play together or all the fiddles as a group player together.

Another thing we have done in the more advanced of the two instructional jams is that I have been teaching the banjo players breaks "on the fly."  We have been working on using familiar licks and how to combine them to create breaks.  We have also been learning how to pick out melodies in "C" position instead of the standard "G" position.  Songs we have been working on include Nine Pound Hammer, Bury Me Beneath the Willow and Somebody Touched Me.  I plan on adding a "C" position break to several other songs.  What's the purpose of learning songs in "C" position?  This is very useful for playing out of the keys of D, E & F.

I've heard very good feedback from this new format.  Now everyone has many more chances during the course of the jam to take a break or part of a break.  It demands that every person pay particularly close attention to what is going on.  You also have to know the songs VERY well because you don't always come in on Part A or the beginning of the break.   

I am very proud of everyone who has been taking a part in the instructional jams.  Everyone is doing a great job!

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