I. Thou shalt not ever forsake the beat!
II. Thou shalt arrange thyselves in a small circle so that thou mayest hear and see the other musicians. Thou shalt listen with thine ears to the songs and attempt to play in accord with the group; also, open thine eyes betimes to look about thee, lest there be some visual sign someone is endeavoring to send thee. Thou shalt play softly when someone lifteth his voice in song, when playing harmony, and when thou knowest not what thou is doing.
III. Thou shalt play in tune. Tune thine instrument well, and tune it often with thine electric tuner, lest the sounds emanating from thine instrument be unclean.
IV. Thou shalt commence and cease playing each tune together as one, so that the noise ye make be a joyful noise, and not a heinous tinkling that goeth in fits and starts, for that is unclean, and is an abomination. Whensoever a musician sticketh forth his foot as though he were afflicted with a cramp in the fatted calf, thou must complete the rest of that verse, and then cease.
V. Thou shalt stick out thine own foot or else lift up thy voice crying "This is it !", or "Last time !" if thou hast been the one to begin the song, and it has been played sufficient times over. If the one who began a tune endeth it not by one of these signs, then the tune will just go on and on, like the Old Testament, until the listeners say, "Hark ! It all soundeth the same."
VI. Thou shalt concentrate and thou shalt not confound the music by mixing up the A part and the B part. Most songs, but not all, proceedeth according to the ancient law "AABB". But if thou sinneth in this regard, or make any mistake that is unclean, thou may atone - not by ceasing to play - but by reentering the tune in the proper place and playing on.
VII. Thou shalt be ever mindful of the key the banjo is tuned in, and play many tunes in that key, for the banjo is but a lowly instrument, which must needs be retuned each time there is a key change.
VIII. Thou shalt not speed up or slow down accidentally when playing a tune, for it is an abomination. (See commandment I)
IX. Thou shalt not, by thine own self, commence noodling off on a tune the other musicians know not, unless asked or unless thou art teaching that tune, for it is an abomination, and the other musicians will not hold thee guiltless, and shall take thee off their computer lists, yea, even unto the third and the fourth generation.
X. Thou shalt have fun and play well.
- Some key participants may have main influence over the choice of songs and who gets to do what. Be respectful of the situation. Fit in as invited.
- Instrumentalists, be mindful of when others want to solo or do featured backup. Give them space and take turns being featured. Don't compete!
- Regarding tuning: Wait your turn. If someone is tuning, avoid any playing, or perhaps (if you're sure your instrument is in tune) offer notes matching the open strings of the other person's instrument.
- In more advanced jams, often the "classic" arrangement of a particular number is followed, including choice of key, which instrument solos when, harmony parts, etc. However, if the classic version is in a key that doesn't work well for the lead singer, the singer calls the key and the others adapt.
- If you don't fit into one jam, look for another or start another, or just stay and listen. (Note if there are already enough of your instrument in the group, or if the speed or difficulty of the material is out of your league.) In some situations it's OK to play quietly in an "outer circle", not trying to be heard in the inner circle.
The Bluegrass jam runs from 2-7 pm on the first Sunday of each month. A group of long time members of the BCLI have offered to help out new players or player that like to play the tunes bit slower. If people are interested I will organize an early session based on peoples request. Please email me at if you are interested. These sessions are not intended to take the place of serious instrument lesson on your instrument. If you are looking for a teacher I can give you recommendations.
Some helpful learning tips:
- Buy a metronome and use it in your practice. Buy a small electric clip-on tuner. Guitar players must have a good capo. (shubb or better).
- Buy a handheld digital recorder so you can record tunes at the jam. There are many companies that make them. Tascam, Zoom, Sony, Olympus…. (I recently bought one that was $99.) It is also a good idea to record your playing. Listen back with a critical ear.
- Use Websites resources: mandolincafe.com, banjohangout.org, mandohangout.com, resohangout.com, flatpickerhangout.com, bluegrassmusic.com, thebluegrassblog.com, bluegrassbanjo.org, bluegrassjournal.com, bluegrasslyrics.com
– The #1 place I check for a tunes is on youtube.com.
- Try your best to learn these tunes/songs by ear. Get recordings and listen to them over and over.
- Remember this is a Bluegrass jam. Try to stick to Bluegrass standards or tunes that are in the style of bluegrass. This is not an oldtime, jazz, rock….Jam. If you stick to this almost all the players will be able to play with you even if they don’t know the tune 100%. Don’t play “Jam busters” unless you want to bust up the jam.