Just wanted to report that I have another group of Murphy’s Misfits who are meeting every week to jam. We’ve just started, so we have only two jams under our resonators (so to speak) but already I’m seeing great improvement.
You know, it took me a long time to figure out what is now as plain as the picks on my fingers. You can’t become a banjo player by just picking alone at home. Even if you’re learning by ear, using the Murphy Method. Sure, you can learn a bunch of songs, songs that even sound good!
But you’re not likely to pick up on all those other little nuances of playing that you learn from trading breaks with others in a jam. Most of this stuff involves simply being able to think fast on your feet. To be able to play a banjo tune and think about something else at the same time! How and where do I come in for my break? On every song I know how to play. What are the chords? To every song I know. How can I quickly get back into vamping after I’ve finished my break? What do I do if I forget my break? (Keep trying!) What do I do if someone else forgets their break? (Help them out! Play a little of the break and see if they can pick it up.)
That last reminds me of something one of my beginners told me about learning to jam. When she was next in line to play a break and the person in front of her got lost, she would often jump on in and start playing her break from the point that the person had faltered. I told her that was, in my book, considered bad jam etiquette. You can help a person out by jumping in—to show them where they should be playing--but when they recover then you should back off and let them finish. I told her that a person’s allotted time to play is sacred. Okay, sacred is not the right word, but sink or swim, it’s all theirs. And, yes, it is hard sometimes to listen to someone floundering. And it’s even harder to watch them come back in at the wrong place. But this too will pass, as my student and friend Bob Van Metre is wont to say. A student jam is all about learning. And I have learned the best thing to do is just grin, keep going, and come in at the correct place when it’s your turn. After all, somebody did this for me once upon a time when I was learning to play. Hope each and every one of you will make an effort to find somebody to pick with!