Now, this wasn't like the last session at Cousin David's. No, indeed. That time, we had 17 or 18 pickers in the Tater Hill Tavern. This time it was different. How many pickers were there? Three.
Three musicians usually make a pretty thin jam session, but this time we had a good combination of people. Cousin David played the banjo, in his own unique old-time style. Our friend Jamie played fiddle at first, switching off later to banjo-ukulele (yes, such instruments are allowed in old-time music). I played mandolin mostly, but Cousin David had suggested that I bring my fiddle, and I picked that up for the last several numbers. And anchored by Cousin David's supernatural sense of rhythm, we played for a couple of hours and had a good time. We PAID ATTENTION and PLAYED TOGETHER.
So what did we play? We played a few tunes that the bluegrass people know, such as Soldier's Joy and Red-Haired Boy. We played some old-timey classics like Cowboy's Dream and Old Mother Flanagan. And we also played some pretty obscure tunes, like Blake's March and The Squirrel Hunters. And why am I talking about all this? Because the basics of a good jam are the same in all kinds of music. You can have a good session with only two or three pickers, or with 20, as long as everybody PAYS ATTENTION and PLAYS TOGETHER.
You might see people in jam sessions who aren't paying attention to anyone but themselves. These people sometimes play too softly to be heard, not because they're shy but because, I guess, they don't care about being heard (so why are they there?), and others might be playing too loudly all the time. Either way, they're not LISTENING to everybody else and PLAYING TOGETHER. Or, you'll sometimes find people who try to crowd everybody else out of the center of the jam, or deliberately play so loud as to drown out other folks. What does that have to do with PLAYING TOGETHER? Nothing.
Most of the people reading this blog know what to do in a jam session, partly because many of you have been in jams directed by Murphy or Casey. You can also practice listening and playing at the same time with our Murphy Method Slow Jam and Picking Up the Pace DVDs. But no matter where you are or whom you're picking with, always remember to LISTEN to the jam and PLAY TOGETHER!