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New To Jamming With Others?

We are here to Help and Encourage!

Do you dream of being the next Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Trey Anastasio, Billy Strings, etc?

Sitting in your practice room and learning a song is great, but...

The real energy starts when you walk into a room with others, and this beautiful dance starts. You listen, you react, and before you know it, you are taking a break, and singing the chorus at the top of your voice (in tune or not, either way, doesn't matter) because you have bitten by the bug of playing live music with friends.  You haven't even finished the current jam, and you are already thinking of songs to work on, licks to learn, and off you go! 

If you are brand new to Jamming with others, here are some super helpful hints!

What are the roles at a Jam?

There are basically 5 roles at Jams:

  1. Leaders

  2. Singers

  3. Pickers

  4. Strummers

  5. Grinners

We will go through these in reverse order in detail, but we will encourage everybody to take a minute and read through our Etiquette page


These are the folks that are here to listen. We love this.  Please come and listen! But if you need to talk with your neighbor or take a phone call, just head out to the hall. Or if you are here, and you hear a song you know, jump in and sing the chorus with everybody else!

If you are SUPER new to playing and bluegrass, you may come to a few jams and leave your instrument in the case due to nerves.  No worries, we will encourage you to move to the Strummer role, but there is no pressure. 

We are glad you are here!


My guess is this is where you are if you are reading this.  You have your instrument, know a few chords, and are wondering how to fit in.  So let me give you some very tactical steps. 

What to bring/known:

  1. Your instrument and needed things for it. 

  2. A vibration tuner. I recommend the Snark Tuner, but any vibration tuner will work. 

    1. Pro Tip: make sure it is set to vibration. I had mine set to Mic and thought it was broken​

  3. A capo if your instrument needs it.  Banjo players don't forget that 5th string. ​

  4. Regardless of if you are are guitar player or not, know how to spot the G, C, D and Em chords. And what key we are in by where the capo is placed. 

Notice what I didn't say to bring sheet music.  This only is needed when you move to the next level. 

So what do you do? Well, at a perfect world, a circle of musicians should be no more than 10 people. And a decent chunk of those folks should be experienced jammers.  Here are the steps:


  1. Walk up to the circle and stop outside the circle a few steps

  2. Use your eyes and ears. 

    1. Is there a defacto leader?

    2. Is there somebody with your instrument who knows what they are doing?

    3. OR a guitar player who clearly knows the rhythm.

  3. Position yourself so you can see this person.

  4. WATCH and LISTEN, mimic there strum, there motion, them tempo

  5. If somebody takes a break, REDUCE your strum volume significantly immediately! 

I suggest all new strummers take a look at one of my favorite resources which is Tom's Guitar Cheatsheet (follow the link for PDF or GIF)  which is great for all instruments.  It shows the chords progression of all the most popular Keys. 

The key to bluegrass strumming is something called the "Boom Chuck".  It is literally the rhythm of Bluegrass.  It is the equivalent of "Stomp Clap". Now I could try and explain it, but instead I'm just going to link a super good video on how to learn this:

  • Guitar Players - You will be doing both the Boom and the Chuck

  • Mandolin & Fiddle Players - You will doing only the Chuck part (this takes practice)

  • Upright Bass - You will be only the Boom part

  • Banjo - Nobody puts baby in the corner.  You do whatever makes you happy. 

Bluegrass Guitar Lesson: The Boom Chuck Style & Sound with Bryan Sutton || ArtistWorks


This role has everything above, but you are comfortable taking a break. And not "break" as in nap on the couch, but "break" as in a solo over the chords.  

So this means you are super experienced and nail it? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The goal of a jam is to take risks and learn. 

Do you know the Major Scale or CAGED system of what Key we are in? 99% of the songs we play will be in G, A, D, C, and E.  Know the major scale in each. 

Here are the levels of a Picker:

  • Level 7: Noodle on the Pentatonic scale (CAGED system) of the Key.

  • Level 6: Noodle on the Major scale which gives you some extra notes to play with. ​

  • Level 5: Use the Major scale, but drop in some b3 and b7 for some lovely texture. 

  • Level 4: Learn the melody line (what the singers sing) and play only that, it sounds awesome!)

  • Level 3: Learn the melody line and then improves it. 

  • Level 2: Learn how to follow chord changes with your scales

  • Level 1: Combine everything above! 



These are the yeomen of a bluegrass jam. Without them, the jams go really flat really quickly.  But here is the secret. You don't have to be an awesome singer!  In fact, personal note here, since starting this jam, I've started to push myself into the singer role.  Before May, I would never sing in front of people, but now? I'm not great, but i'm better. Why? Because you all are willing to let me try, learn, practice, and improve. 

I encourage you to do the same.  Lean in.  Practice! Your voice is just like any instrument.  It takes practice. 


Pick a few songs that are super easy (see list below) and practice singing along.  Ask a friend who sings to help.  Or use an an App on your phone to teach you.  


If you plan on leading, make sure you know the words, or at least have it on your phone and you can put together the words and the chords.  Like anything else, it just take practice, and you have to practice "leading". The beginning, the ending, do you add a tag. 

Quick note about "Jam Busting".  Make sure if you are going to suggest a song, it fits the "mood" of the group. 

For example: 

  • If you are playing with folks that only want more traditional songs, don't suggest a Grateful Dead tune.  But if the bulk of the circle have Dead or Phish shirts on, then you might be ok with Friend of the Devil.  Just read the room. 

  • If mostly playing with beginners, don't suggest a song that has a ton of quick chord changes, or some strange chords. Stick with 1, 4, 5 songs. 

  • Try and stick with songs that either have a common structure, or folks know. The more off the path you go, especially with less experienced players, the quicker you will see the circle fall apart and folks stop playing because they can't keep up or are "into it". 



Generally speaking, there is somebody who is the de facto leader.  It won't always be the singer.  It is usually the most experienced jammer. Or the person who knows the most songs.  Sometimes it is organic, sometimes it is passed around.  But without a leader to drive the group forward it can. 

Usually who ever is singer becomes the leader for that song, and when it is done, everybody will look back to the "leader" for next steps.  Again, this is usually all organic. 

When I'm leading a song, before I start I like to ask who wants to take a "break" and make a mental note of who many. Is it 2 or 5. 

Then when it comes time for the break, make sure to make eye contact and make it obvious who you are looking at to take the break. Keep your eyes on that person so everybody knows who is breaking.  

If the strumming is too loud, literally use a large hand motion to quiet everybody down. Think of the motion you make to tell your kid to slow down running through the house.  

To end a song, you just put your foot up in the air on the last chorus/verse/etc. This indicates that this will be the last round. 

If you move the head of your instrument in a circle, it indicates that you are going to tag the song at the end by singing (usually) the last two verses of the chorus.

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