I thought I’d give all y’all a weekly report on the Wednesday night beginners’ jam session I’ve started with some of my banjo students. (I’ve not added the fiddle students yet, but I’m thinking about it.) We jam for an hour, from 7-8.
The group is small yet, but I’m hoping it will grow. Tonight we had just three people: Logan, 16, our resident teenager, who’s been taking from me for about six years. Long ago, I told his mom I’d teach him as long as he didn’t cop an “attitude.” He hasn’t yet. He can play really well, and really fast, and knows lots of tunes and can even improvise, so he’s coming to this beginners’ jam mostly out of the goodness of his heart. And also because he likes to play and doesn’t have many opportunities. We also had two adults, Bob (the golfer) and Susan, the banjo fanatic. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone practice so much!) Bob’s been taking two or three years, and Susan about six months.
We started out with some warm-up tunes: "Cripple Creek" and "I Saw the Light". Feeling sufficiently limber, we then moved on to "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and "John Hardy".
Bob and Susan rotated the honor of starting the tunes, so they could set a comfortable pace. As the tune was passed around, the starter got a total of three turns, and everybody else got two. At first we instigated the jam rule of whoever starts the tune puts the ending on, but that proved to be a little too difficult (something else to think about!), and so I decided that for the final go-round, they could all play in unison and put the ending on together. That worked much better.
After the first few tunes, I got Logan to play "Wildwood Flower", which he has just learned out of C position. He and I traded breaks (me on guitar) while Susan and Bob watched. We then talked a little bit about how much harder it is to play of of C and why.
Then it was on to "Lonesome Road Blues", "Salt Creek" (which Susan loves), "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder", and then we closed out with a rousing version of "Boil Them Cabbage Down". Then for dessert, so to speak, I got Logan to play "Earl’s Breakdown", so that Bob and Susan would have something to “aspire to.” He knows all three breaks including that fancy walkdown that Earl does. I think they were “aspired.”
All of the songs were done in G (except the aformentioned "Wildwood Flower"). Perhaps later we will delve into capos but right now I’m all about keeping it simple.
We’ve been jamming now for a month and already the improvement is monumental. I’ve just started a brand new batch of banjo students—four to be exact—and I’m hoping to get them involved in jamming before too long. As I’ve come to realize, students need to start jamming as soon as possible. I’ll keep you posted.