Confession: I'm Scared of Jams


#1

I’m going to just throw this one out there:

I’m scared of going to a jam.

Yup, that’s right. I want to go so badly, but I’d have no idea what to do if I got there. This is my first instrument and I really have no clue what I’m doing musically. Sure, I can pick the songs that Ben teaches me, but even with that I don’t know how to take them to a jam.

Anybody else ever have this fear? Any tips for overcoming it? Anything I can do to increase my confidence?


#2

The best way to overcome the fear is to go do it. Simple but true.

I don’t remember where you are in the lone star, but there are jams all through central TX. In Austin, there is a regular “slow jam” which is specifically geared to those who might not feel like jumping in with both feet. Even in the high end circles, they don’t mind people joining who aren’t pros as long as people have good manners in the jam. For a list of the etiquette “rules” one can google and get a good idea, but in general, just watch what the seasoned gals and guys do and follow their lead.

If you are ever up around the DFW area, let me know and maybe we can meet at one.


#3

One easy thing to do is find one at a bar or service club and just have a beer and watch the first time. Note which songs and tunes they play, that way you can go back and learn a few that you know they know for the next time. Also you don’t have to play on every song, and you don’t have to take a break on every song.


#4

— Begin quote from “mreisz”

The best way to overcome the fear is to go do it. Simple but true.

I don’t remember where you are in the lone star, but there are jams all through central TX. In Austin, there is a regular “slow jam” which is specifically geared to those who might not feel like jumping in with both feet. Even in the high end circles, they don’t mind people joining who aren’t pros as long as people have good manners in the jam. For a list of the etiquette “rules” one can google and get a good idea, but in general, just watch what the seasoned gals and guys do and follow their lead.

If you are ever up around the DFW area, let me know and maybe we can meet at one.

— End quote

I’m in the Abilene area. And I would just drive to the DFW area sometime just to go to my first jam with somebody that I am even vaguely familiar with. My sister and best friend live in the DFW area, so it certainly could be a trip well spent.


#5

I am in Cresson, which is Southwest of the DFW area. There are a few options that come to mind. First there is the 3rd Saturday Jams at Oakdale Park (an RV camping park) in Glen Rose. Glen Rose is Southwest of the DFW area, and it looks like it would be a couple hours drive for you. I haven’t been since summer due to a bowling league I am in on Saturdays, but when I was there, it was pretty good. There were 4 or 5 circles going, and some really good pickers and singers. It’s a real friendly and welcoming bunch. They say they start at 1:00, but I have usually seen it get going about 3:00. Here’s a link:
http://www.glenrosebluegrass.com/monthly-jam-session.html

As I mentioned, I have a bowling league going and so I wouldn’t be able to stay too long. Also, their schedule varies in April and October when they have a BG festival.

Another option would be I could put together a picking group. When I get one together it’s usually quite a few beginners (and it’s not all BlueGrass) from my neighborhood, and it won’t be near the same experience as going to Glen Rose or Pearl. You won’t learn near as much with my neighborhood jams. I used to get them together pretty regular, but some other commitments have popped up in the last year and I haven’t had one for quite a while (I did do a couple Christmas song type jams, but that’s not very grassish). It sounds like you have options this way, but if you wanted to stay here, you’d be welcome.

There are other jam options available in the area, but I don’t have any experience with them, so I can’t comment on how good they would be. If you find something else that looks good, let me know.


#6

Ah, fear of jams is one of the few topics on this forum at which I am an authority. I went to my first jam a little over two years ago, so the experience is still fresh in my mind. I used the verneq method and didn’t play my first time. I didn’t even take any instruments so I couldn’t be talked into playing. I just listened and met a few nice people.

When I went back a few weeks later with my guitar, my heart was about to beat out of my chest and I probably would have hyperventilated if it hadn’t been for a couple of shots of liquid courage. Most of my anxiety was caused by the thought of singing in front of other people -something I had no experience doing. I worked up two or three songs that I figured I could make it through (not sure if I actually did because I’ve crashed and burned so many times since then I can’t keep track) and stuck to the script.

I continued on like this for probably the first six months -forcing myself to go despite my anxiety. Over this time I learned some things, though, and they were things I never could have learned picking in the sterile environment of my living room.

The first thing I learned was to not take myself so seriously. I was way more concerned with my flaws as a musician than anyone else was. So, I learned to laugh at the stupid things I did instead of freezing up.

I also learned how to play songs I didn’t know, just by watching and listening to other people. I remember being amazed at how fast some of the folks could pick up on a new song, but over time it seemed less amazing and more natural. If you are not a guitar player you should learn how to recognize guitar chords being played by someone else. And learn how to play simple banjo rolls over those chords. You’ll wind up doing this way more than you will play the fancy breaks that you’ve worked out ahead of time. I find that when I play dobro at a jam, people appreciate even the simplest of breaks, which for me is usually just playing banjo rolls over chords. As time goes by, you’ll figure out which songs are most common at your particular jam and be able to work out more complex variations.

Another valuable piece of knowledge I picked up on was how to select songs to play at jams. If I work out some awesome song with a complicated progression that sounds best if I sing in Eb, it’s probably going to fall flat at the jam no matter how good it sounds at home. On the other hand, an old standard with a simple three chord progression in a favored key (like G) usually works great, so much the better if it’s a sing along. I’m always searching Youtube for such songs and I save the more complicated songs or odd key songs for smaller sessions with friends.

Over time, I’ve learned how to play with pickers of varying skills. I’ve figured out how to sneak in quietly with very talented people who I can barely keep up with, and how to gloss over the rhythmic mistakes of new pickers. In short, I’ve learned how to be flexible, and enjoy making music no matter what might be going on.

I guess the point of this rambling post is that you can’t really prepare yourself completely for a jam. Like Mike said, you just have to jump in and do it. And you’ll probably embarrass yourself a few times in the process of figuring everything out. That’s just the way it goes, but you’ll wind up being a more complete musician (and you’ll have a lot more fun, too).

I’m two years into jamming once or twice a week consistently and I still get a little jittery before a jam, especially if it’s not my usual jam, but now I’d call the feeling excitement rather than anxiety.

So, jump in and get started. Once you do, you’ll probably wish you’d started sooner.


#7

— Begin quote from “beardedbanjo”

I’m going to just throw this one out there:

I’m scared of going to a jam.

Yup, that’s right. I want to go so badly, but I’d have no idea what to do if I got there. This is my first instrument and I really have no clue what I’m doing musically. Sure, I can pick the songs that Ben teaches me, but even with that I don’t know how to take them to a jam.

Anybody else ever have this fear? Any tips for overcoming it? Anything I can do to increase my confidence?

— End quote

Do you have any one that can or does play with you say on the guitar if not I recommend that you get a partner and learn some good simple tunes and then show case them with your friend at the jam.I am sure you will be joined by many in the group it is one way to break the ice but not the only way . Years ago I had to over come that and I had two other players that I practiced with and it made it so much better. Most county bluegrass people welcome you and warmly there are not many prima donna’s out there but you always run into a few /…now and again.


#8

I still get intimidated by jams, especially around these parts (Nashville).

I was asked by a guy that wanted to learn fiddle tunes to come to his place and join a few others in dong so…yeah right, they all could flat out play their instruments (Dobro, Guitar, Banjo, and Mandolin). The worse thing I seen from them in 2 hours was the Dobro passing his turn on a song he had never heard before, said “I’ll catch it after I hear 2 more instruments and the melody gets in my head”…we’ll he heard two more instruments and then we looked at him and off he went with the melody and nailed it.

The guitar player could sight read some tabs that the mando guy had and play up to speed on songs he had never heard…at 220 bpm.

I have not touched my guitar since then…there are some flat out amazing folks that are musically talented around this area and they can flat out play an instrument.

Now when I go back to Ohio and play I fit in, around here with all the musicians it’s hard to find folks on my level. Nearly all the jams around here when it comes to bluegrass is like playing with studio musicians.


#9

I imagine Nashville jams are quite a bit different than rural Florida jams. We usually only get 4 or 5 accomplished pickers on any given week. Mostly it’s just wannabe’s like myself.


#10

Yeah Larry, I am an “wannabe” myself. But after watching some of these guys I can honestly say that I could spend the next 10-15 dedicated to my guitar and maybe, just maybe get to their level. And if you ask them “How long you been playing” most all of them are under 5-7 years and most are under the age of 30.

I guess some “have it” and the rest of us will fight not having “it” and trudge along our path to enlightenment.


#11

Fiddlewood, Oldhat and Larry: I suspect ya’ll don’t need a pat on the back, but just in case… I have heard all of you play and I think you are fine musicians. To be blunt, I don’t listen to your music and ponder the things you didn’t do (for all I know you can pick out 1/8th notes at 300 bpm while crossing strings and simply choose not to do so). I just enjoy hearing you play. It would truly be a sad thing if any of you got discouraged and stopped making music with the skills you do have.

While I was still a teen I had already realized I didn’t have the abilities many players had at a similar age and experience level. So like you say… some people just have “it”, the rest of us can only hope those who have it use their abilities well. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve been slowly learning to enjoy the limited skills I have while endeavoring to learn new things over time. Come to think of it, most of my favorite music I have heard has been done by people who were far from the most technically gifted.


#12

I think we tend to be our own harshest critics. I can play things now that would have made me so excited a couple of years ago, but I’m still not satisfied with my playing. I guess that’s a good thing in some ways. If I ever think I’ve got the guitar figured out, I’ll stop improving.


#13

Haha, thanks Mike!

Yes I have been a bit discouraged as of late. Now it’s not like I want to ever become a professional musician or anything. My playing is purely for enjoyment. But when you start getting to that “player” level where you understand what you are doing at say a 70% capacity within music and should be able to do it but yet can not then it is a bit discouraging.

I mentioned it before but will again that I am a fairly decent “stick” at golf, played on the college level. A group of us have always stayed friends and play golf together. We have had the conversation about the “common bond” between good golfers and at the end of the day it was really on the same level as being an elite athlete, you had to be a good all around athlete to get good at the game. Elite in a sense that you could be a 3 point shooter, a point guard. A junk pitcher like Maddox, a runner like Lewis, a world class gymnast or even Bo Jackson of football/baseball. You have to have damn near “star potential” across several sports to be good at the game of golf and to boot damn near all of us are “sharks” on the pool table.

In music and having the ability to actually “play” competitively I have not found the magic potion or combination. I just had conversation with my wife yesterday regarding my playing (or lack of recently) and I told her my issue. I told her that if I could just find someone somewhere to show me the solution then I’d sign up for lessons tomorrow, but I don’t think they exist…In other words I think I just have a “lack of talent” when it comes to music or in being an artist.


#14

Jesse, it sounds to me like you need to get in on the collaborative 9 Pound Hammer… laying down some tasty licks will fix you right up :smiley:


#15

Yes on all of the above…great post and topic…at first i was scared horribly bad, very soon it got better, (i have probably more years at classical guitar than most posters are years old)…tabs, what is that? well i have changed to steel string and have not play my nylon for years…to help play and sing the melody with a song, i would rather have surgery, going to a jam takes courage for me but i have reached for a new horizon and it feels good.

My biggest problem is not knowing the song and trying to add an occasional strum, and stay together on the beat…next would be the speed and loudness many times becomes just a lot of noise even w/ music written out , …and lastly … times when a long boring work shop is called, just time wasted …that has very little value in harvesting a small bit of knowledge…the closing remark would be something like…“just play loud and fast, use the very hardest pick you can find.”

I am sorry for sour grapes…one should able to have fun, learn even a small bit of skillful practice, …i guess i must be getting aged, it does however turn more and more time to websites and just watching and listening to accomplished players. thanks all of ya, music and the study of it has become much of my free time…this is a terrific web site, as with the sport of golf, one will usually need an instructor, the best available to keep on track.

(i hope i am not the only one w/these feelings)


#16

The good goes with the bad at jams. Too loud/too many guitars is a near constant problem at my main jam, but people come to play so I don’t know how to fix that. Most of the jams I go to are a positive experience with a clunker thrown in now and then. If I couldn’t find folks to jam with I’d be a much weaker musician and I wouldn’t know nearly so many songs, so I try to tolerate the things that annoy me.


#17

I pick with 1-5 people if I play with others (one of each instrument). I don’t get out to jam very often but when I do I enjoy it. I usually end up playing Bass in jams, but have done so on the other instruments as well

It totally depends on who I’m picking with. The higher the level of musicianship the less choice I have on what instrument I’ll fit in on.

I would suggest finding a friend or two to pick with regularly. It is a much better situation to play in than an open jam. although jams can bo fun also.

It’s all about enjoying yourself…go forth and enjoy…or stay home and enjoy…it’s your choice…no big deal either way.


#18

Welp, we just moved to a smaller town and a place we lived a few years ago. A few people at the church we went/go to were really good pickers. Since leaving and coming back, several younger people have picked up instruments (couple of guitars, one fiddle, and me on the banjo). We all got to talking last week and it looks like we’re putting together a jam.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Inhale. Exhale.

Anybody got a brown paper sack?


#19

that’s great. have fun.


#20

Well alright!