Surviving a Jam Session

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

This from Susan, one of my Wednesday night Misfits:

I survived my first REAL jam session! My terror and anxiety were definite obstacles, but I stuck it out 'til the end! I knew NONE of the tunes. The jammers played standing up, mostly in the key of A, and definitely up to tempo. Since my anxiety dropped my IQ by at least 50 points, it took me about 45 minutes to calm down enough to think in any useful manner.

The first 45 minutes consisted of me only being able to think of moving my Key of G vamping chords up two frets. Vamp-vamp. I did not like the sound. Vamp-vamp, too high for my taste, vamp-vamp, but what to do? Vamp-vamp-vamp. New unfamiliar tune. Darn. Vamp-vamp. Oh, no, the guitar player I am following is confused about the chords, and I can't see any other guitar player's hand. Vamp-vamp. OK, move to another position so I can see a guitarist's hand. Move, vamp, move, vamp. Hope no one can actually hear me! Vamp-vamp.

Okay, just LOOK like you know what you are doing, hands in a position that LOOKS legitimate and facial expression relaxed. Vamp-vamp-vamp. Hold it! The Key of A!!! All I have to do is capo up 2 frets and play Key of G shapes! YES!!! Clamp on the capo and touch up the tuning and then relax into familiar territory.

WHAT?!? Is that an A chord I see him making? Oh, no! Now what? I only know G, C, D, F and E minor! Fantasy: Bang a guitarist on the head with my banjo and snatch up his guitar (which I've played for years) and nail EVERY chord known to man on the thing just so that I don't have to feel so incompetent! Back to reality: Think, THINK, T H I N K -- an A chord....... gotta be on this banjo somewhere......... Hmmmm. GOT IT! Bar the 2nd fret! Yes, anxiety must be subsiding somewhat. I'm beginning to remember the alphabet! WHEW!!!

Okay, let's get just a quiet roll going, nothing fancy, just stay on the correct chords and keep the correct timing. Timing. Are the jammers OFF or am I OFF. Hmmmm, timing has rarely been my issue in music, but, hey, I COULD be OFF, I guess. Still not sure, but I think that they are OFF!!!! How am I supposed to follow THAT?!? New unfamiliar tune. The guitarist I am following decides to call it a night. Here we go again. Where is someone I can follow? That guy over there looks like he knows what he is doing. He sees me watching his fretting hand like a panther getting ready to pounce. He quickly changes from first position chords to bar chords, just to throw me off, no doubt. (Or is that just me being paranoid?) Ha! You can't shake me off so quickly. I can follow those chords just as easily! And so the jam goes. I played no hot licks, just felt licked, until next Thursday when I try it all again.

[OR NOT, since Susan just signed up to attend Augusta Heritage! Where there is plenty of “real” jamming!]

Post script, jam details from Susan: There were around 18 people, mostly men. 1 mandolin, 2 fiddles, 1 bass, 3 banjos, 11 guitars. I didn't know any of the tunes/songs, so I can't list them. I did not know any of the players, however one lady did show up with her guitar that I knew from the dulcimer jam group, and we did talk awhile.

Post post script from Murphy: When talking with Susan about this jam before she attended she said, “I’m looking to be terrified again.” Guess she was right! It takes a lot of bravery to do what Susan did and I am so proud of her!

2 thoughts on “Surviving a Jam Session

  1. Crutch

    Susan…it sounds like that first terrifying jump into the pool is over and you’ll now progress little by little and enjoy playing the rest of your life. My first 3 or 4 “jams” I left the banjo in the car and just kind of hovered around, probably scaring people. Then one day (banjo in case, but I had brought it in) I saw a brave lady (like you) get out her fiddle and she stood way back, just kind of plinking, or whatever it is the fiddlers do. So I said “well I can plink with her back there”. Got my banjo out, stepped on and flattened one of my picks, got kind of caught up in my strap as I had never really stood up to play…and meandered over around her. Then I WAS JAMMIN’…course I just moved some chords around, not making any eye contact, would make a intelligible noise once in a while when one of my picks got stuck on a string…..but there I was…in public…with a banjo….jamming. I met some fine people that day…they even invited me to a slow jam next time…where we sat and I was more comfortable. One day I may even learn to take a break or two. Anyway, Susan, we’ve come a long way from leaving the banjo in the car. Let’s keep it up. Crutch

  2. Red Henry

    Good job, Susan. That mob of pickers can be intimidating to people who are starting out. You’re on the right track, so STAY WITH IT!


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