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A Satellite of the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association



Note:  the listing of these detailed reminders is intended to help our members be comfortable in a variety of jam situations that extend beyond the small Satellite gatherings.



Jamming is:

  •  One of the best and most pleasurable ways of improving your playing
  • Where you find your real limitations, and are free to exceed them
  • A kind of “conversation” between musicians…in a language most people don’t really know, yet understand on a variety of levels
  • A group participation and is not meant to impress others with individual talent or noodlings.  Not a competition for speed or loudness
  • Jamming is an exercise in sharing, give and take and cooperativeness.  Be as ready to give up your turn as you are to take it. You need to have ego enough to join in and take part, but not so much as to think people came just to hear you.
  • Requires some structure and therefore some rules of etiquette.  This etiquette will differ from jam to jam and from different types of music groups (Bluegrass, Old Time, etc) Expectations will vary as to what the proper behavior is in a jam session, and you have to be aware of what type of session you are getting into.  Ask someone.
  • Common sense and courtesy.  Figure out if the session you are thinking of joining is an “open” session at which anyone is welcome or a “closed” session where the participants want to play only with each other.
  • Best  arranged in a circle so participants can hear offerings and see visual clues

General Musts:

  • Tune tune tune your instrument well before jam, and then check the tuning periodically
  • Keep the beat…don’t speed up or slow down accidentally
  • Avoid noodling between tunes
  • Play softly “back off” when someone sings or takes an instrumental break.  Backup players must take care to not drown-out a solo turn (singer/instrument or group specific instruments… (as in “now, let’s hear melody from just the dulcimers”)
  • Look around for visual signals such as foot raised by caller to indicate approaching end of tune
  • Don’t’ try to impose your own arrangement on the group unless you are teaching it
  • Play a tune multiple times.  Repetition gives participants a chance to hear the tune, learn the tune, play variations on the tune, and play back-up and harmonies.
  • Listen as you play …interesting things to hear, things to learn
  • Encourage and be helpful to newer players who are braving the jam.
  • Make sure it’s an open jam, and, don’t enter in the middle of a song. It’s just like butting in on a conversation.
  • Be aware of who is leading the jam
  • If it’s an acoustic jam, don’t amplify!


Which Jam? (If there are several  in process)

  •  If the playing is out of your range, (speed or difficulty or tune choice) respect that and learn from it.
  • If you don’t fit in a particular jam, look for another, or start another, or just stay and listen.
  • If you walk into a jam session and there is magic happening, be sensitive to whether or not you can add anything to this magic.
  • Bad jamming etiquette and lack of creativity among participants can drive many new players and/or the more experienced players away because they are not fun to participate in.  Self-attitude checks are always in order.

If you are a new player, you can always:

  • Mute your strings and practice strumming, or play chords if you don’t know the notes.
  • Record the tune so that you can go home and work on it
  • Play along softly in the background
  • Choose your seat wisely.  If there is one circle, sit in it.  If there is an inner circle with others around, sit around it
  • Choose to sit next to someone of whom you know you can ask questions.

Calling a tune:

  • If it’s your turn to call, you can call, or pass, or you can request a specific tune for another to start.
  • The caller announces the name, key, and structure (AABB etc.)  to be played in,  and begins playing.  Start with an intro strum or tag to set the rhythm for the group.   Others may want to listen for the first time through before joining in, or they may jump right in.
  • If you are calling the tune, always try to play material aimed at the group of people you are jamming with so you don’t alienate anyone with obscure or hard to play “jam buster” material. Ask the group.

Don’t be a jam hog. Share the circle and let everyone have a chance at calling or leading.