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Author Topic: starting a local beginner acoustic jam  (Read 5230 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.
Johhn C.
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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 :(

Offline Johnm

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #15 on: September 30, 2005, 02:55:52 PM »
Hi all,
While in theory it is good to seek out playing situations with people who play better than you do/know more than you do, in practice, at a certain point, you have to say, "What is in it for them?", particularly if they have to slow everything down and explain it as they go.  I see a problem with things as you describe them in that it sounds like the more experienced players are at the jam to jam and the less experienced players are there to learn and be taught.  The fact that someone wants something different than what you want or envision doesn't make them "difficult" or a "jerk", it just means that they want something different.
With your desire to emphasize learning in the group music-making situation, it sounds like it would make sense not to even call it a jam, but rather to try and find some kindred spirits who are similarly interested in working through and analyzing songs and building skills at the same time, and who are at a roughly compatible level in terms of skill (not better, or at least not much better than you are).  Once you've located your core group who share similar goals, you can work things up, rehearse and hone them, assign homework to figure out tunes and teach them to the other members of the group, etc.
Calling the event a jam just confuses things, I think.  All of the jams that I have been in that were satisfying either in terms of playing or listening involved people who were at very compatible levels of music-making.  If the most skilled people are unable to operate at their highest level because of the need to bring people along who are not ready to function there yet, the result doesn't work for anybody.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Richard

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #16 on: September 30, 2005, 03:51:46 PM »
I think that is very well put as certainly in the jazz world it gets the best out of everyone if the musical abilities are well matched.

As for my guitar playing, I try to play with another blues enthusiast once a week-ish and he can play - hence, whilst we have fun and it could be losely described as a jam, I actually view it as learning session with a glass of vino!

Maybe, it's just the word "jam" that is out of context.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline uncle bud

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #17 on: September 30, 2005, 08:35:13 PM »
I guess it depends on the level of players in question. If the jam features people like Orville, John Miller and Grant Dermody, for the sake of exaggerated argument, and then some keen fellows at an intermediate level, I'd have to go along with John. If you've got some relatively advanced players and some intermediate players, I think Todd is right: you can learn a lot by going with the flow or sitting and listening for awhile.

Part of the problem is the concept of the "jam" as well. A lot of this has been discussed in the Thinking about Festivals thread, which is worth revisiting as there is a great discussion to mine there: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=74&topic=407.0

I like Todd's concept of a loose arrangement of various people playing solo tunes, some duets, combined with more group efforts. It also depends on your numbers. Most of the jams I witness with more than 4 people or so playing at once are usually a good party but not necessarily great music.

arbarnhart

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #18 on: October 01, 2005, 06:00:28 AM »
A lot of my thoughts com from experience in bluegrass circles. There is a store nearby that holds BG jams:

http://www.zeppmusic.com/specials.htm

Near the top oof that page, they have links to a public jam held one night that is advanced playing and a learning jam. There are blues jams nearby for advanced players, but nothing equivalent to the learning jam.

I don't think all better players who just want to play are jerks. But at Zepps, and other similar set ups, they do occassionally have people who try the advanced jam, and then go back to the beginner jam and try to take it over. Zepps has strict rules and a strong leader and they don't let that happen and it is a great begeinner jam. Other jams often sour from exactly that scenario. I don't mean rarely; it is really common. Threads about how to avoid it and war stories about it pop up on BG forums all the time.

I think I may just try to do more informal for a while, but so far this has been very inconsistent

Offline uncle bud

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #19 on: October 01, 2005, 08:37:41 AM »
Country blues ain't bluegrass. That's a whole other playing culture.

dabluz

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #20 on: October 01, 2005, 11:06:34 AM »
i particpate in a weekly playing session with three other players. we range from a rank beginner to a player who actually performs routinely at local wineries/coffee shops and has a couple of cd's he has recorded. we have been playing together for six months. some of the elements which have made this a good experience are. 1. we put together a "song book", we work from that format. 2. aside from that concept we have no "rules". 3. we have fun. 4. we introduce a new song to our "song book" every few weeks. 5. we have fun  6. we sip wine or beer. 7. we have fun. 8. we are religious about being there  9. we record with a simple digital recorder with a mic and convert to cd that we listen to during the week. 10 we have fun.

in six months the rank beginner has progressed light years in his playing. the performer has added to his set and is really greatful for our help in "working out" some of his thoughts against us. the two intermediates (myself, the only country blues player in the group) and the other intermediate have really grown. we have a 5 song set that is really strong and half a dozen growing songs. we have a nice growing song book. the wives have transformed from sitting in the kitchen drinking wine and saying "are you guys done yet" to actually listening to us (while they drink wine of course) and saying " you guys are good".

so in closing, i have found that all levels of players can be involved,  all can learn and share and most importantly all can have fun and enjoy the experience.  find a common meeting ground, find a common playing ground. work in a mutual direction. record, and have fun.

Offline Richard

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #21 on: October 01, 2005, 11:25:07 AM »
Dabluz, that is the way to travel  :) rather than playing the ubiquitous fourty-seven thousand chouri (latin?) at ever increasing volume of  some old chestnut which I can't name for fear of  being targeted by fans of some famous personage  who I won'tt mention either  ;)
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline NotRevGDavis

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #22 on: October 01, 2005, 12:17:07 PM »
My idea of a "jam" as far as what I was trying to organize is what we do in the dorms at PT till the wee hours of the night. I learn a lot from watching and playing with everyone in this situation, I can jump in when I'm comfortable and bail (and play rhythm or watch) when it gets too advanced.
In a loose sense it is kind of like a bluegrass jam as far as everyone usually takes a turn at the front but that is about the only similarity. Bluegrass jams are kind of rigid.

dabluz weekly playing session pretty much nails what I would like to do.

Thanks everyone for all the info!
Got the name, still workin' on the licks!

arbarnhart

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #23 on: October 01, 2005, 07:35:09 PM »
I think Da Bluz has my ideal jam also. We are doing a song list now. There were 3 of us for a few informal jams, we added a 4th last time and one of the original guys may drop out. He is a nice guy and a really good player, but he keeps insisting on dragging his amp over to porch pickings. He can burn up the fretboard on his electrics and even a good acoustic makes him look almost human, so I can understand his preference, but the rest of us are choosing to try to do some acoustic stuff.

I keep going back and forth on ideas of hosting or seeking a better place. I might be out of town in a couple of weeks, so I won't host. I bet they don't make other arrangements. There is a chance I could make it depending on how things go, but there probably won't be one.

arbarnhart

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #24 on: October 18, 2005, 01:13:24 PM »
I have kinda gone full circle on this. The electric is not being kicked out; he will host the next one and will play electric when he hosts and acoustic when he visits. The amp will be small enough so as not to drown out acoustics. There is no set play list, but there are a few songs that we have agreed to work on and they will probably be played at some point during the evening with some starts and stops to explain things the first few times. I am finding that going with the flow is making it a better experience with this group. My attempts at structure were acceptable when it was my turn but pretty much ignored when it was somebody else's. I have decided to just enjoy it as a social outlet and a facet of my learning, but not try to make it the focal point. My playing is improving noticably and the jams help; best not mess that up.

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #25 on: October 18, 2005, 02:09:53 PM »
Sounds like you found the right path, arb. Just having a group that meets regularly is a victory.
All for now.
John C.
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Offline Rivers

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Re: starting a local beginner acoustic jam
« Reply #26 on: November 10, 2010, 06:40:50 PM »
arbarnhart, did this ever take off?

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