Ron from Florida writes on

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Attended my first jam session Saturday night at the Community Center in Longwood, FL (suburb of Orlando). Not many players but all were advanced. I played very little…vamping some chords where I could recognize them. I realized that I don’t know near enough songs…lead breaks or chords. And as fast as they were playing I couldn’t have been effective anyway.

Dear Ron,

Some great advice has already been given on the discussion list. But I thought I’d share some of my favorite tricks for dealing with jams that are over your head:

  1. Don’t let your mind run away with how you’re “not good enough”. You will be. It’s like you’re a fourth grader watching the 8th graders play basketball. Just accept the fact that you’re not ready yet, but you will be. Hang in there and use the learning opportunity.
  2. Bring a tape recorder. Situate yourself where you can see the left hand of the guitar player. (Make sure you know how to read guitar chords — not difficult at all, but important!) With each song, say into the tape recorder where the capo is, and name off the chords you see as they go through a verse and chorus or two. At home you can play the tape to study up on the chord progression, and even at fast speed, play along, work on keeping up, always being on the right chord. Play the chords the easiest way you know how, whether up-the-neck F or D or bar shapes, or simple down-the-neck shapes. This is a great form of practice!
  3. Use these jams as a recruiting opportunity. Look for other wallflowers with instrument cases nearby and see if you can strike up a slow jam at another place or time. Example: “I see you’ve got a guitar.” Yeah.” “How come you’re not playing?” “This jam is way too fast for me.” “Me too!…… Do you know Blue Ridge Cabin Home or Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” “Yeah, if you keep it slow!” “No problem! I wonder if we can find some space downstairs…”

I suggest you look up some things on my web site. Easiest thing is to go the Instructional section, where you’ll see an index of things especially for beginning banjo players, and also some articles for novice jammers, including a list of

100+ Top Jamming Favorites


Also, on the homepage you’ll see a list of the jam camps that I host in various parts of the country. Those are fun, and everybody starts jamming together the first morning.

I hope the suggestions help. As with many things, some of the early stages of learning are the hardest and most psychologically trying. The important thing is not to lose heart, as many would-be banjo players do. Chin up and keep picking!

Pete Wernick