Sometimes smaller is better. Although "better" is not quite the right word. (I just used that to get your attention!) Perhaps it's more accurate to say sometimes smaller is a different kind of fun. (!!) Last night we had four folks at the Tip Jar Jam--Kenney, Janet, Betty, and Doug--and we made some excellent music.
I knew Betty and Doug (banjos) would both be at the jam so my plan (which I was formulating during Kenney's lesson, which made me forget the chord changes to Farther Along!) was this: Since Betty is an Advanced Beginner (not improvising yet) and Doug is just plain old Advanced I figured we'd alternate our banjo tunes, doing one slow for Betty and then another fast for Doug. I mentioned this at the beginning of the jam so everyone would know they would be getting their turn. ("Getting my turn" is very important to me--the oldest of five sisters!) So for our first song, I asked Betty to kick off Banjo In The Hollow. Which she did. And let me tell you, she put some fire into it! As Hank Snow said, we were moving on! Kenney and Janet and I were shelled shocked because we saw Betty when she first came to the jam, knees knocking and finger trembling. Hence Kenney's comment when we finished: "Betty's slow isn't slow anymore!"
In fact I was somewhat astonished at how much Betty had improved in the last few weeks. It had been a while since we'd seen her in the jam ("mowing" she said), so I asked her, point blank, what she had been doing to make so much improvement. "I've been playing along with the Slow Jam DVD," she said. "I wish I'd had it as soon as I learned Banjo In The Hollow. It has really helped."
So, I guess I'll be pushing ("strongly suggesting") the Slow Jam DVD for all the beginning students now. I've actually got a number of students--on banjo and guitar--who are using the Slow Jam DVD now and I can see that it is making a big difference in their playing. I hope to do a whole blog about the "play along" DVDs soon. If you have one sitting on the shelf, get it out and start using it!
Ending licks was another thing Betty was working on last night. This is something I have learned from the jams: It's important to practice your ending licks with each song. It seems self-evident, but until you've actually practiced putting the ending licks on the songs, you can't do it under pressure. Note: You need to practice them CAPOED also, as Betty found out!
But here's a tip I shared with Betty: You're in the Key of A (or any capoed key) and you start to put the long ending lick on and you realize you have no clue where your up-the-neck markers are. What do you do, dear? (To paraphrase from one of my favorite kids' books, What Do You Say, Dear?.) You play the first part of the ending lick, the part that starts with the Cripple Creek slide and you let that serve as the complete ending lick. You make this work by playing it with authority, as if you meant to do it all along. (Smoke and mirrors, folks, smoke and mirrors!)
So Betty was bopping right along, putting on ending licks right and left when she was the boss of the instrumental. Then we come to Old Joe Clark. Since Betty kicked it off, she knew that she would be the one to put the ending on. Everything went swimmingly until we got to Betty's last break. There she was, playing along quite well, and then after the two A parts, she starts her ending lick. I think she's forgotten to play her B parts, so I start singing the B part, "Fare thee well, Old Joe Clark, fare the well I say...", because I am totally geared to keeping the song going no matter what. After I sang the B part twice, I put an ending on with the guitar.
Betty: "I didn't know that song had words!"
Me: "Why didn't you play the B parts?"
Betty: "You said I was the boss of the song, so I was putting the ending lick on."
Me: "Not in the middle of it! You've got to play the whole thing!"
Betty: "So, you can't do that! I just learned another rule!"
Further discussion revealed that Betty had thought Old Joe Clark was like Boil Them Cabbage--where you can put the ending lick on after either part. Janet explained that the two parts of Boil Them Cabbage (high and low) were actually one part, the same part, just played in different ways. But in Old Joe Clark the two parts were actually different parts of the same break because they have different chords. Betty understood immediately. Just another of those little things you learn in a jam.
We closed out with Amazing Grace, since Kenney has been working on 3/4 time on the bass. Janet took a killer guitar break, playing only the melody notes (no filler) in perfect time. Exquisite! Doug followed that with a lovely break on the banjo. I wrestled with my inner self but finally won (or lost!) and took another guitar break! You can take the girl from the banjo, but you can't take the banjo from the girl! (Interpretation: No matter what instrument I'm playing, I'm still a banjo player at heart and I will always take that extra break!)
Hey, there are still some open spots at Kaufman Kamp, coming up June 15-21, near Knoxville, Tenn. The always-amazing staff includes Ned Luberecki, Chris and Sally Jones, Becky Buller, Missy Raines, Roland White, and Annie Staninec (whom Kathy Kallick described as "the fiercest fiddler"). I will be there, of course, along with several of the Tip Jar Jammers. Hope to see you there. Staff concerts every night! And plenty of jamming, both slow and fast.
The Tip Jar Jammers will be jamming next week, both Tuesday and Wednesday, May 27 and 28, 7-9 pm. For the folks who have been asking, the suggested contribution is $20. If you come as a couple or with a kid, then the suggested contribution is $10 each. See ya there!