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I don't think the average person can come along and play (the blues), because they don't understand the breaks in it... a guy that makes 'em hisself, he knows where the breaks is - Son House, Frets magazine

Author Topic: starting a local beginner acoustic jam  (Read 5234 times)

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arbarnhart

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starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« on: September 26, 2005, 08:13:47 PM »
My local blues org has a "jam", but it is really more of an open mike and unless you are good enough to get asked to sit in by others, you will get your 3-songs-max-set in one shot and that's it. There is alot of value in sitting and watching, listening and chatting with others, but I also want to play more and I am not all that good yet. So I am thinking seriously about starting a beginner acoustic (the big jam is mostly electric, though acoustic is welcome) jam with a different format. What follows are various thoughts that I would like to get feedback on. Also if others have suggestions about additional things to consider, please post them. I plan to organize, but probably not lead the jam.

1) Format. I am thinking a session lasting 2 or 3 hours; people might come and go during that time. Someone would lead the session, introducing a song and playing through some of it if needed and then have some or all (depending on how many people) play along and work around the room letting people solo if they desired. Sometimes songs might be played several times. Singing would also offered around as people desired. The song list would optimally be determined in advance so people could learn or brush up on songs. The leader would be prepared to lead in advance, not just picked at the jam. The best jams I have been to bear little resemblence to democracy.
Pros: This is a good learning format.
Cons: Need a good leader; not just someone adept at playing. Requires more planning.

2) Venue. I have approached a local coffee shop that sometimes has music about hosting it on a weeknight (Mon, Tue or Wed). The owner is mulling it over and will likely come back with a date in the future to try it and it will be up to me to get enough people interested so that he has people there. It's not that big, so I think it would be doable.
Pros: I don't have to worry about setting anything up, noise level, making it end at a certain time or cancelling it if something comes up.
Cons: Lack of control. It will be open to the public and you could end up with 5 harmonicas and a banjo one night, 10 guitars the next. If you have jerks (for lack of a better term; people who play too loud, talk too much, try to derail the session, etc) show up, you can't just not invite them the next time.

3) Promotion. This could be pretty easy. Sign up to play at the big jam and then make the announcement that I am forming an acoustic learning jam, play a short 12 bar sample, sit down and take names. Post notes at local music shops. Web forums, newsgroups, etc.
Pros: Might work
Cons: Might not.

4) Instruments. I am thinking acoustic only but not really specifying a list of allowable except maybe no drums. Not sure about horns. The leader should be a good guitarist (I know two guys who could and likely woud do it sometimes). It would be nice if I could find a good doghouse bass player.

5) Material. Rev Gary Davis and Blind Boy Fuller would have the local boy interest. This is the Piedmont, so it seems logical to have at least one Piedmont Blues selection each night. Probably also an old standard and I would want to let the leader pick a favorite.

other???

Offline Rivers

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2005, 09:25:58 PM »
Having been involved in organizing such a thing I would say "go for it". Once the stone is rolling that's when it gets tougher. I won't talk about the detailed implementation, just some high level principles.

Don't be too rigid about formats. These things tend to take on a life of their own and should be allowed to evolve accordingly. As the instigator your job is to inspire, motivate, get feedback, listen and just occasionally kick butt in the nicest possible way when things are clearly going off track.

I'd recommend coming up with a very broad "mission statement" that you can fall back to when the going gets rough, which it will from time to time. I'd also recommend co-opting one or more other people you trust to bounce ideas off of. It can get pretty lonely being perceived as the final arbiter.

Other than that I repeat, "just do it", your ideas are good, trust yourself and know when to step aside.

Offline Cambio

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2005, 04:13:53 AM »
My friends and I used to have something like this in Madison.  We'd get together once a week at a local bar that was acoustically friendly.  Because we all played country blues/ songster stuff, we would each have a set of solo stuff and then at the end of the evening we would do some songs as a band.  There were about five of us that were regulars and every few weeks some of the quieter folks in town would come out of the woodwork to play, or there would be a special guest rolling through town. 
We called it a Fingerstyle Review and we ruled it with an iron fist.  Our mission statement was simple, "We don't use no stinking flat picks!"    Since we had an audience that we wanted to keep and encourage to buy beer (that was the agreement with the bar owner), we were fairly exclusionary about who we let play.  We had to know that someone could play, or really was trying anyway, before they could get on stage.  We didn't work on tunes while we were on stage, we did that at home or in the parking lot of the bar.
There were a lot of good things about the jam.  It got us all out of the house once a week.  It made us all practice and get a repetoire in order.  It got people listening to our kind of music, which made it more viable to bring some of the national acts to town, and it started some people to playing the music.  It wasn't a democratic, all inclusive jam, and maybe because of that it lasted for about five years.  Eventually the club was torn down to make way for condos and artist's lofts.  Ironic.
We've wanted to get something going again, but some of us have left town, and we haven't been able to find as hospitable a venue.  I think it's a necessity for a healthy blues scene.

arbarnhart

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2005, 07:18:56 AM »
In my case, I am not really good enough to draw people in to hear me. I would be excluded from one like you describe. I am looking at a venue that is a small coffee shop that is acoustic friendly (and it even has Blue in the name, but that one could fall through) and is pretty empty on nights early in the week. The idea is to "be the crowd" rather than drawing and entertaining other patrons. There are a few acoustic jams (not all blues) very similar to what you describe in and around town. I don't have any beef with that; it's a different animal than what I am talking about and I want to be good enough to sit in. But I want an intermediate step between the front porch and the stage.

Plan B will be to check with local rec centers about getting a space. I attended an Irish learning session at a local rec center and they just asked $1 from each attendee for room rental. But there are other small commercial venues to try for plan A if the coffee shop doesn't work out.

-Andy

Offline uncle bud

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2005, 08:29:46 AM »
Yeah, I'd try and go the community center route for space. Unless you find a place that just doesn't do any business at all that night anyway. A jam that is not more performance-oriented like Todd describes but learning-oriented like you want may not be appealing to anyone not involved in it. So most of a cafe's other clients could quickly be turned off and head away. You'd have to make sure your crowd would always be bigger than any business the owner would ordinarily do over the evening. A community or rec center or the occasional church basement is made for these kinds of things. My two cents.

Good idea, BTW!

Offline Cambio

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2005, 10:12:36 AM »
In my case, I am not really good enough to draw people in to hear me. I would be excluded from one like you describe.
Yeah, sorry about that. ?I realized after I had entered my post that the subject was a beginner jam. ?Then I think that the community center, or someone's home or apartment is the way to go. ?Some friends set up a old time fiddle jam at a cafe a few years ago and although the owner was supportive of it and into the idea, the staff absolutely hated it. ?They would constantly be asking us, "Are you guys about done?"
One of the other things that was discussed when the subject of a Country Blues festival came up is that CB doesn't always lend itself for "jamming" as much of it is solo or duet material and, unless the musicians are very well versed in the style, can be difficult to play along with or follow, without homogenizing it. ?IMO it is most important just to get together with other people and play your stuff, listen to other people play theirs, and lend support and constructive criticism to one another. ?I think it's also good to get together with other folks to talk about the old records and swap stuff, and introduce new people to the music.
I have thought about throwing out the challenge to other Weenies, to get something like what you're discussing together in their respective communities. ?Sort of the "Think globally, act locally" motto.  ?If we all fashioned little CB communities, within our own, it would make something like a big weekend, camping festival possible. ?And then the mindless minions of CB fanatics can finally achieve our end goal of world domination. ?:-X

arbarnhart

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2005, 11:49:51 AM »
I think that the community center, or someone's home or apartment is the way to go. ?Some friends set up a old time fiddle jam at a cafe a few years ago and although the owner was supportive of it and into the idea, the staff absolutely hated it. ?They would constantly be asking us, "Are you guys about done?"
One of the other things that was discussed when the subject of a Country Blues festival came up is that CB doesn't always lend itself for "jamming" as much of it is solo or duet material and, unless the musicians are very well versed in the style, can be difficult to play along with or follow, without homogenizing it. ?IMO it is most important just to get together with other people and play your stuff, listen to other people play theirs, and lend support and constructive criticism to one another. ?I think it's also good to get together with other folks to talk about the old records and swap stuff, and introduce new people to the music.

I have mixed feelings about the community center versus business. At a community center, I might get lower attendance, but the attendees would be a bit more focused on the music. It would be nice to get a cup of coffee (or possibly other beverages) sometimes and having a few other patrons around would make it something of a bridge between practice and performance. I have 4 kids, so playing at the house can be difficult. That also makes it hard to have a strictly scheduled place/time. I think one thing that makes things like this fall apart is making every single get together require specific scheduling or making sure the host can be there. If it is at a business or rec center, whoever shows up can play even if the leader/organizer fails to make it.

I have thought about throwing out the challenge to other Weenies, to get something like what you're discussing together in their respective communities. ?Sort of the "Think globally, act locally" motto.? ?If we all fashioned little CB communities, within our own, it would make something like a big weekend, camping festival possible. ?And then the mindless minions of CB fanatics can finally achieve our end goal of world domination. ?:-X

"Well Finlands way too cold. Irag's got too much sand.
Sometimes I think I should have stayed at home, back in Dixieland.
I never thought it would be so bad to be standin' in my shoes.
But now I've conquered everything and I've got the world domination blues.."

 8)

Offline Rivers

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2005, 05:32:00 PM »

I have thought about throwing out the challenge to other Weenies, to get something like what you're discussing together in their respective communities.  Sort of the "Think globally, act locally" motto.   If we all fashioned little CB communities, within our own, it would make something like a big weekend, camping festival possible.  And then the mindless minions of CB fanatics can finally achieve our end goal of world domination.  :-X


Now there's an idea. Sort of like a franchise thing. The branding's there and so is the mission, something to do with barbecue, wasn't it?  :P

Offline waxwing

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2005, 06:19:58 PM »
Actually, I have already discussed doing just such a thing in the SF Bay Area with the Steering Committee. I've just been so busy since camp, moving into our new home, that I haven't had time to follow up. The primary idea is to create a sense of community among the CB players in the area and see where it goes from there. I'm not interested in being a promoter, just creating more of an audience and more venues for local players and, it would follow, touring players, who don't seem to feel that the bay area is a good market for country blues.

I think, in order to really try to bring folks together, it would be good to do an evening of country blues, featuring several players, and see who shows up. With the right promo here and on a few other forums, as well as Craig's List, and with the Weenie Campbell Mission in mind, we might get quite a few folks at all levels of ability. A variety of things could be born of this start.

But this isn't really what Andy is talking about. What you need to ask yourself, Andy, is would it work if everyone who showed up was at your level. On one hand, you seem to be interested in learning from those who are a little more advanced than you, and on the other you seem concerned about, mmm, undesirables. Especially as you don't seem interested in being the leader yourself (and believe me, I know how you feel) I don't think you should worry too much about the eventual outcome. Just get the ball rolling to see who shows up, and then what happens from there depends on the group dynamic. And there's nothing wrong with playing in a room full of peers. Someone will always know a little bit more about this or that and there will still be lots to learn. Don't let planning get in the way of getting started.

Dang, I need to heed my own advice.

All for now.
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Offline NotRevGDavis

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2005, 06:51:18 PM »
I tried at the beginning of May to organize a jam on Wednesday nights in the summer (see my post: Anyone interested in a local weekly jam?) but due to my location dead center of Silicon Valley the commute would have been tough for most. I have a huge backyard to host in so next summer I will probably try Sunday afternoons once or twice a month. Also thinking about a BBQ and getting beer from a friend who makes the best homebrew I've ever had.

I am in the same boat as you better than a beginner but not a performer. I'm someone who would benefit immensely from playing with others who are better, in the same style as the way the original blues players learned from their elders and peers. I  am lucky enough to have resources close by as soon as I am confident enough to play on a stage, Fridays my neighbors (electric blues) have a jam and Mondays a local club has a blues jam, both said they would welcome some acoustic blues.
Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.
Got the name, still workin' on the licks!

arbarnhart

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #10 on: September 27, 2005, 08:22:44 PM »
But this isn't really what Andy is talking about. What you need to ask yourself, Andy, is would it work if everyone who showed up was at your level. On one hand, you seem to be interested in learning from those who are a little more advanced than you, and on the other you seem concerned about, mmm, undesirables.

The "undesirables" I am worried about are generally decent players (better than me) who think they are awesome players. They don't make the "inner circle" at the advanced jams so they go to a beginner jam to perform and impress. I have heard a lot of stories of jams gone bad from that scenario. I would like some better players and fortunately I know a couple who would likely participate within reasonable guidelines. To some degree, I am just trying to expand my circle of people I play with because it is so small now that I don't get a chance to play with others as frequently as I would like. The two guys I play with the most leave me in the dust a lot and I really can't blame them. I can't expect them to continually play at my level. It would also be a good place to hang out with people who have similar interests.

-Andy
« Last Edit: September 28, 2005, 10:13:44 AM by arbarnhart »

arbarnhart

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2005, 07:43:51 AM »
I hosted a jam at my house and had 3 other players. It was good, but there were the frustrating times when a couple of the better players would go off playing something and leave me and another beginner in the dirt, though we would both play what we could; keeping the beat and in the key (well, usually) with something bluesy that wasn't necessarily from the song. For the next time, we are specifically selecting just 2 or 3 tunes and will listen to it, break it down, play it slowly and then play it full speed, probably multiple times. I plan to insist we do this with every song. Does that seem too rigid?

Offline Cambio

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #12 on: September 30, 2005, 08:02:54 AM »
You might want to do that with two or three songs and then let the other guys just do some of their stuff and follow along.  The quickest way to get better is to play with people who are better than you (and to practice of course).  As long as you like what those folks are doing and they're flexible and patient, you've got a good situation.
As far as the frustrating times, that goes with the territory.  It's hard to learn your instrument, the changes, the songs, etc., especially when it's all happening so dog gone fast.  If you keep getting together week after week, and you listen to the songs during your off time, you'll get a better grasp of them and you'll start sounding better.  You'll still make mistakes, but some of them will sound good and eventually you'll arrange your good sounding mistakes and call them "licks".

arbarnhart

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2005, 09:41:42 AM »
It seems that you are politely telling me that it might be too rigid. ;)

When the number of people is low, I could certainly go with going around and letting everyone have a turn selecting a song and "treatment" (breaking it down and learning it, or just playing). Maybe selecting 2 if they just want to play.

Offline Cambio

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #14 on: September 30, 2005, 12:46:09 PM »
I think that the approach of selecting 2 or 3 songs to work on is a good one.  But so much of becoming a better player is getting well versed with your instrument and the songs, and there's no better way to do that than to fly by the seat of your pants.  Don't worry about making mistakes, just do your best to follow along, eventually you'll catch on. 
If you are too rigid, you risk the chance that the other guys will get bored and stop coming.  Then you'll be stuck playing with yourself :(

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