Recipe for a tasty jam

Jam etiquette has been discussed here a few times over the years, but we've got a lot of new folks coming over regularly now. Susie and I felt that we should say a few words about jam ettiquette at our weekly jams.

Following are some notes on jam etiquette that we have collected over the years from various sources. Some of the ideas have been re-worded or tailored to meet the specific needs of the Pegram Jam. I personally feel that the prime directive of the Pegram Jam is to HAVE FUN. We have some basic guidelines in place already, such as the person who starts a tune stops it. Here are some other ideas that might help us keep fun at a maximum.

- Arrive on time. Our jam starts at 7 p.m. and runs through 9:30.

- Come ready to play. Many folks who attend our jam have time limitations, but would like to play as many tunes as possible when they attend. So we ask all jam participants to please show up ready to play. If the jam is already underway, consider tuning up in a separate room. This is especially true if you have multiple and/or hard-to-tune instruments. It can be disrespectful of everyone's time to delay the jam while you tune up three instruments.

- Honor Thy Kickoff. The person who selects the song may choose whom they'd like to have kick the tune off. Please be patient between tunes until the majority of pickers in the room are ready to start the next song choice. Some folks will want to change instruments or tunings. When it's your turn to kick off the tune, make your intentions clear to everyone before commencing, not just your closest neighbor. Take your time establishing a steady tempo before you take off.

- Keep the tune moving. Most tunes can go around at least four times before they begin to lose energy --- the first round to recall the tune, the second round to remember how you like to play it, the third round to lock in on it, and the fourth to enjoy playing the tune. Three rounds seem to be enough for longer or slower songs, such as some waltzes.

- Know when to quit. Near the tune's end, give a foot signal if possible at the beginning of the last round, and again as the tune ends. Let the last notes ring out a bit.

- Play a tune if you know it and hear it. However, if you don't know a tune yet, sit back for a few minutes and listen to those who do know how it is supposed to sound. Give yourself and others a chance to hear and study the melody and phrasing before joining in.

- Try to play to the ensemble sound. LISTEN to the total sum sound of the other instruments in the ensemble. Try not to focus simply on the sounds your own instrument is making; instead, try switching your attention back and forth from your instrument to the ensemble sound. Listen for the music the entire ensemble is creating and see what your instrument can CONTRIBUTE to that sound. Playing this way increases your ability to support the ensemble and decreases the chance that you will "step on" other folks' playing.

- Try to refrain from noodling between songs. Endless noodling around on your instrument can be highly distracting to the person who is trying to conjure the next tune's melody line. If you are trying to recall an intro or melody line, do it quietly while paying attention to the ensemble, so you can know when the group is preparing to start the next tune. Please do not start a tune via noodling; start a tune once you have gained everyone's attention.

- Always err on the side of playing too softly, as opposed to playing too loudly. If you can't hear yourself at all, possibly the whole ensemble may be thrashing too loud. The worst thing you'll get for playing too softly is a request to play louder. Be respectful of the ensemble sound.

- Pay attention to dynamics. Use loud and soft passages to create more variation in the piece. Most songs have loud and soft places. Consider playing one time though at a reduced volume and feel the difference.

- Choose reasonable tempos even if you practice at a faster speed. When someone starts a tune 20 BPM faster than everyone can play cleanly, we always crash and burn. Tempo is an individual choice from tune to tune and player to player, but everyone seems to know when a tune was played too fast or too slow. Don't play the game of "the fastest picker wins." If you are unsure of a reasonable tempo, ask the group for opinions or let someone else kick the tune off until you find an appropriate speed. Practicing with a metronome will yield great dividends. Try setting the metronome to the backbeat for tunes in 2/4 time. The count sounds like one-AND-two-AND one-AND-two-AND... The back beat provides the "lift" in dance tunes.

- Let the group know if you'd like to practice a kick-off. You will be fully supported and given as many "do-overs" as you need. Don't be shy about asking, but please don't practice kickoffs without allowing the group give you a calming moment to start the tune.


The Bottom Line to good jam etiquette is to Pay Attention and allow others to Pay Attention. The more we listen to each other, the more fun we'll have.