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Struggling with jam session

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Struggling with jam session

Postby skunk » Tue Jun 06, 2017 10:12 pm

So I'm brand new to playing music and I got my banjo last October. I play it every day and have been getting better playing solos from Ben's site (you may have seen some of the videos I posted recently). In order to properly round out my playing, I want to be able to play with others so I've also been practicing Ben's backup lessons and I recently started going to a jam group.

Unfortunately, the jams thus far have felt like an exercise in frustration and futility. I struggle to keep up with the basic melody and am not remotely close to being able to play a break on my own in the group even though I could play one by myself if it was one of those I practiced from Ben. I don''t know exactly what it is but I have a lot of trouble getting the chord progression down. Also, we tend to work off a song book but then some more experienced players there will switch things up and play in a different key -- then I'm totally lost. Most of the time I'm just sitting there for 2 hours playing the same chord and barely ever getting the chord changes right. I could go on but you can probably sense my frustration...

What else should I do? The current group jam option I have is not working for me. Should I just try playing along to Ben's backup tracks? I have basically done nothing with those that Ben provides. Perhaps I'm answering my own question here and just venting but I'm curious what other input folks have.

Thanks!
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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby mreisz » Wed Jun 07, 2017 3:30 pm

I love the fact you are stepping out to play with others early! You don't have to be Earl to make some enjoyable music.

It takes time to put it together in playing with others. If you are playing with a fairly inexperienced group, then things are kind of all over the place. But if you play with more experienced folks, they truck right along. Learning progressions takes more time than most want to give to it. Ben's tracks are solid on tempo, but quite often in the real world it can get loosey-goosey (tough thing to handle for a tempo nazi). After a while you get to where you "hear" chords instead of having to think or read them. All those things take time. Even if you were polished and super fast, playing with others is a transition. Think of a basketball player... he can shoot and dribble in his backyard for years, but when he first plays with a team it will take some time to get used to playing with others. The best way to do it is to keep doing it. Keep building chops, knowledge and more songs with Ben and keep trying to make music with others. If you have a "slowgrass" group available (typically a group of beginner to intermediates, often with a single more experienced gal or guy as a facilitator) that would be a great option. Unfortunately they are hard to find. The next best thing I would recommend is getting with a more experienced group and just work on backup... stay in the background and play quietly when you are getting the hang of it. Start working in some little fills at the end of a phrase when you get the rhythm thing going. When I was learning mando, I went to a festival the weekend after I got it (I had played a little before that and was comfy on guitar). I played nothing but rhythm all day and had a blast. When I didn't know a progression or chord, I'd just mute it and chop percussively. The next time I went, I knew a few more songs and had a bunch more confidence from the experience of just chopping that first trip.

Hang in there! When it starts to come together with others, it is a bunch of fun.
Mike

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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby bluenote23 » Wed Jun 07, 2017 5:00 pm

Here are my thoughts for what they are worth.

First, I've been playing for four years and never jammed. I spent much of my youth playing keyboards in bands and that kind of cured me of wanting to play with others or in bands.

So I have not spent time on trying to learn backup.

I applaud you for your bravery and your initiative. On the Banjohangout, many players say that playing with others is the thing that taught them the most the quickest. However, I know that musicians, especially good ones, are not a thoughtful or kind lot. Most banjo players seemed to have started jamming very quietly, in their own corner just vamping along (so pinching chords). No rolls, no breaks, just playing very, very simply.

Of course, a big problem is that if you have spent most of the time learning songs, you don't really know a lot of chords. If you play a song in G and then they decide to play in B instead, you don't know any of those chords so you're kind of stuck.

Personally, I have found that after 4 years, I can start to understand the concepts of backup.

For me after only nine months (the amount of time you've been playing), when I watched Ben's backup videos, I went 'um… okay, I sort of get it' but I really didn't.

I really feel that you need to know a lot to play backup. You have to know your chords and chord shapes and then you have to be able to roll over these easily, everything being done without thinking about it. I don't know if you can 'learn' this. I didn't. It came to me after playing bunches of songs over and over again so many times that I was playing them without thinking about what I was doing.

So then you just take that and apply it to different situations. Easy to say…

One thing you could try is to get together with just one of your jam mates (the least experienced guitar player) and try to play just the two of you together. It will be less chaotic. You can set the keys and agree upon things. Simpler.

The whole point (unless you have a bigger goal) is just to have fun. But this is a difficult instrument and at least for me, just took a long, long time to learn how to play.
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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby skunk » Thu Jun 08, 2017 1:51 pm

Thanks guys. I'm going to keep working on my own for now.

My current plan is to play backup along to Ben's rhythm tracks for a few of my favorite songs and really get them down well on different speeds. So far I've just been using the Y position (aka F shape) for a G, C, and D chord. I also know the positions for the X position (D shape) for G, C, and D but I can't quite switch between the Y and X position quickly enough for that so I'm working on that too.

I also started Ben's 6th Interval Backup and plan to work on that more. Once I feel more comfortable playing with Ben's rhythm tracks, I might give the group jam another shot. Seems if I can't conquer those rhythm tracks first, it'd be a lot harder to jump right into a less-reliable group setting.

Oh, and regarding "hearing the chords" -- I'm definitely not there yet. I can tell when I am not playing the right chord based on what others are playing but I cannot yet identify a played chord and say "That's a G", etc.
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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby mreisz » Thu Jun 08, 2017 2:52 pm

skunk wrote:Oh, and regarding "hearing the chords" -- I'm definitely not there yet. I can tell when I am not playing the right chord based on what others are playing but I cannot yet identify a played chord and say "That's a G", etc.


There are perfect pitch kind of things: like hearing a note and knowing what it is or being able to sing an F# without a reference. While that would be cool, most people don't get that capability (and it wasn't what I was talking about). What I was talking about is just knowing where a progression is going without being told or having it written down. For instance, the other day "New River Train" was on the radio. I grabbed a guitar and a capo and started playing along with it. I was using a G shape for the root chord. When it got to the first chord change I went to a D shape. In my head I could hear it was going to the D without having knowingly played the song in the past. I'm not always right with predicting where a chord change will go to, but the more you play, the more it becomes instinctive and useful.
Mike

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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby Tertom » Sat Jun 10, 2017 11:06 am

jam sessions can be intimidating no matter what level you are at. We move into a different state when we play with or in front of other people. Does your area have different levels of jams at a bluegrass association? Ours has ultra beginner, beginner, intermediate and hot pickers.

Pete Wernick's site has dvd's available for beginning jamming and one step up. You can play along with him.
He also has them about learning to solo and you don't necessarily have to do a melody solo but some nice rolls, called placeholders. They sound nice generally have some melody because you are following the chord progression. I very often will use one when unfamilliar with the song.
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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby skunk » Fri Jun 16, 2017 11:27 am

Tertom wrote:jam sessions can be intimidating no matter what level you are at. We move into a different state when we play with or in front of other people. Does your area have different levels of jams at a bluegrass association? Ours has ultra beginner, beginner, intermediate and hot pickers.

Pete Wernick's site has dvd's available for beginning jamming and one step up. You can play along with him.
He also has them about learning to solo and you don't necessarily have to do a melody solo but some nice rolls, called placeholders. They sound nice generally have some melody because you are following the chord progression. I very often will use one when unfamilliar with the song.


The jam I've been going to is labeled a "beginner jam". I'm going to work on some things on my own (like this DVD you mentioned) and then maybe try it out again.

I think I would just benefit from a much smaller group at first rather than having 15 people.
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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby 5stringpreacher » Sat Jun 17, 2017 9:32 am

Tertom wrote:...
Pete Wernick's site has dvd's available for beginning jamming and one step up. You can play along with him.
He also has them about learning to solo and you don't necessarily have to do a melody solo but some nice rolls, called placeholders...


Speaking of DVD's, The Murphy Method has a DVD out for beginners at jam sessions that's based around the same theory as it seems Mr. Wernick uses. They call their rolls "Roly Polys". My wife got me the DVD but I haven't jumped into it yet.
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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby Harv » Wed Jun 21, 2017 11:08 am

Hi,
Let's see if this helps.
Most bluegrass songs only use 3 or 4 chords. Still annoying when they are flying past you, and you can't decipher which one is in play.

Here is a handy graph that helps pin down the likely chords.

IMG_20170621_081112.jpg


A great help when you can limit the search.

Many songs you play are in 'G'.

If you locate the 'G' on the graph, you will notice that the neighboring chords are 'D' and 'C'.

These Chords.. D, C and G... Along with Em......
Are the family of chords in the key of 'G'.

When you play a minor chord, chances are, it is an Em or an Am.
Again, two chords right in that small area of the chart.

Pretend this is a map of a moble housing development. You live in the moble home with the address 'G'.

You can't find your frying pan.. and begin to search. Play.. 'G'….. then look in the garage...play 'Em'... (Nope.. not there either) .. how about next door to the left? ..play 'C'....... let's try 'D'...
Oh, I remember... It's in my pantry... Play 'G'

Your search took you from G to Em to C.. to D and back to G


Rather that concentrate on the names of the chords, let's look at the direction of the search.

That would be... Home... To the garage.. then left.. then right... Then back home.


At this time, we are going to move our mobile home to a different address..

It could literally be anywhere on this circle and it would work the same way.. except some chords are easier to play than others.


So let's move to 'D'

Again, we lose our frying pan. We go on a search with the exact same steps.


We begin at home in 'D'... The garage for 'D' is 'Bm'. Next would be 'G'. Then 'A' then home to 'D'.



Listen to the Bass note. It will cue you which chord to play. (The name of a chord actually comes from the Bass note.)

Hope this helps,

All the best,


Harv
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Re: Struggling with jam session

Postby 5stringpreacher » Wed Jun 21, 2017 4:46 pm

Harv wrote:Pretend this is a map of a mobile housing development. You live in the mobile home with the address 'G'.

You can't find your frying pan..


:lol: Hahahaha! I don't know about Oregon, but that is a SERIOUS problem in the south. Instead of playing the banjo, you'd be getting whacked with the banjo.

Great illustration, by the way.
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