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The Jamming Workshop

The Jamming Workshop was started by me, Heidi Olsen a few years ago. I never felt confident enough to jam with the ďbig boys.Ē So I was always at the very outer edge of every jam. I knew there must be other people like me out there who loved bluegrass music, but couldnít play at a breakneck pace, so I started the jamming workshop to help myself have people to play music with. It worked! Now I have lots of people to jam with. And itís been going great guns ever since!

When I decided to start the Jamming Workshop, I knew that I needed the help of more experienced pickers and singers. I have two great people who help guide us along the bluegrassical way: Bob Nowicki and John McCarthy. They have many years of playing experience, plus they want to help others become better bluegrass jammers. Together we act as the bluegrass police, and make sure you are jamming using the right rules and regulations. We will gently guide you to the right way of singing and picking in the bluegrass way. I think of bluegrass jamming almost like a secret society. There are definite rules and regulations to follow. If you donít, you could end up with a ticket from the Bluegrass Police! We will help you avoid getting that ticket.

The jamming workshop takes place at every BOTMA jam in Little Silver. It is offered free of charge. You only pay the regular admission to the jam. (Right now that is $4 for members, and $5 for non-members.) The Jamming Workshop is a place for you to learn how to play and sing bluegrass music at a slower-than-usual pace, under the guidance of experienced pickers. If you are a beginning to low-intermediate players who does not yet feel ready to participate in full speed jams, then this workshop may be for you. The only requirements are that you play a bluegrass instrument: guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro, bass or fiddle. You must be able to change chords comfortably between G, C, D and A. If you are a fiddle player, you will need to know which notes fit into each chord.

The way we structure it is that we have a BOTMA ďseason.Ē It starts in September and ends in May. At the beginning of the season, we have a list of core songs that we will be learning. They are songs that you will hear played at jam sessions. I ask for volunteers, and each song is assigned to one person, who gets to sing it the whole season. They get the experience of singing and playing, and the rest of us work on our skills of playing along and taking breaks. We usually learn 6-7 songs each season, including one instrumental. The culmination of our season is the on-stage performance in May. Thatís when we invite family and friends to see us perform those songs weíve been working on every month. Itís a lot of fun, but also a bit nerve wracking, being on-stage for the first time. Most importantly, nobody has ever died! Iím proud to say that we partner with Eddie Collins,; who provides us with tablature for each instrument, plus two versions of a basic track, slow and fast, for playing along with and learning the songs. Heís been a great supporter of this program. There is no cost for these learning materials, but you do have to be a current member of BOTMA to receive them. Membership is $7 a year.

2014-2015 Songs Columbus Stockade Blues, key of Bb; sung by Lorie
Will the Circle Be Unbroken, key of G; sung by Nick
Bury Me Beneath the Willow, key of A; sung by Marie
Ashokan Farewell (instrumental), key of D
Old Home Place, key of A, sung by Andy
Cabin In Caroline, key of G, sung by Phil
I Saw the Light, key of D, sung by Peggy
Wreck of the Old '97, key of D, sung by Bob

In addition to learning the specific songs, we usually have a moderated jam session every month. This is where we have our instructors on hand at the jam, to make sure that it runs smoothly. This is a great place to learn how to sing in front of other people, hand out breaks, kick your song off by playing a lead break, and ending smoothly. And the nice thing is, everybody is really worried about what mistakes they are going to make, so chances are they wonít notice yours!

We hope that youíll come to the moderated jam with a song or two to sing for the group. We donít expect you to sing and play your instrument at the same time if youíre not that advanced yet. Just bring an easy two or three chord song, and weíll provide the rest of the instrumentation and make you sound great! Itís not enough to hide in the background, here weíre trying to encourage you to be in the foreground, and be an active participant in what happens in a jam circle.

Here's a link to some good jam-friendly songs:

Dr. Banjo's Bluegrass Bluegrass Jamming Favorites

Our usual schedule

12:00 p.m. The doors open to the auditorium. There is a refreshment stand, and you can relax in the main hall until our jam room is ready
12:30 p.m. Go back to the Jamming Workshop room. Walk towards the stage, through the door on the right. Then make a right, and walk down the long hallway. The Jamming Workshop room is the last room on the right.
1:00 p.m. Weíll start jamming and going over our current songs. We are limited to having 20 people in our jam room. If we have more than 20 folks, we run a second session to make sure nobody gets left out. Admission is based on a first come, first served basis.
2:00 p.m. Second jamming session, if necessary.
3:00 Moderated Jam
4:00 Sometimes we have a workshop in this time period. If no workshop is scheduled, the moderated jam just continues until 5 p.m.

Continuing Education

In addition to the Jamming Workshop, I regularly run an 8 week jam class. It meets for 2 Ĺ hours each week, and is designed to get you up to speed quickly. It includes much of the same information that we cover during the jamming workshop, but in a much more concentrated form. Check out and my name, Heidi Olsen, to check on current classes.

Wrapping Up

Music is so much more fun when you play with other people. Consider bringing your instrument out, taking a risk, and joining us at the jamming workshop. Itís possible that you will find people who will become your friends for life! I only say that because it has happened to me.

This information is just a general guideline. Things may change, and I may forget to update this information. If you are thinking about coming, please send me an email and I can fill you in on any questions you have, and make sure you have the current information.

Please feel free to sign up for my Jamming Workshop email list. I will keep you posted on all the happenings on a monthly basis. You can reach me at


Jamming Workshop Graduates


There comes a time when youíve learned what you need to learn and itís time to move on to the next stage in your musical journey. Youíve found new friends, youíve learned new songs, now thereís a jam waiting for you down that musical road that you started down in the Jamming Workshop.

Click here to read the stories of the Jamming Workshop Graduates in their own words


Jamming Workshop Photos


Congratulations to everyone who appeared on stage for the culminating event of the BOTMA 2007-2008 season of the Jamming Workshop! Check out how we looked up on stage. Then click on the link to listen to our rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." My thanks to our seasoned musicians who got us through, in alphabetical order: Ken Jewell, John McCarthy and Bob Nowicki. Without their help, support and guidance our performance would not have been possible. In case you missed them, because it was a VERY crowded stage, here's a list of everyone who was up there: Frank, Pat, Bob M., Ray, Bob N., John, Heidi, Julie, Maddy and Steve. That's 10 people on a tiny stage. We packed 'em up there, and played our hearts out! Enjoy the pictures and the audio link. I hope that you can join us when we start up again in September.


Click here to view the photos of the Jamming Workshop particpants on Stage


Click here to hear the Jamming Workshop group do "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" on Stage


Jamming Workshop MP3 Files


Ken Jewell has provided these mp3 files of Jamming Workshop tunes. For each song there is one recording that is fast and one recording that is slow. Please keep in mind that there is a bit of silence at the start of each recording so give it time to start. You should be able to double click on the link to play it in the MP3 player that is native to your computer.

Click here to play Blackberry Blossom Fast
Click here to play Blackberry Blossom Slow
Click here to play Lonesome Road Blues Fast
Click here to play Lonesome Road Blues Slow
Click here to play Bury Me Beneath The Willows Fast
Click here to play Bury Me Beneath The Willows Slow
Click here to play I Saw The Light Fast
Click here to play I Saw The Light Slow
Click here to play Fireball Mail Fast
Click here to play Fireball Mail Slow


The Jamming Workshop Instructors

Bob Nowicki

Bob Nowicki

In 1975 Bob's wife wife dragged him, kicking and screaming, against his will to the Bean Blossom (Indiana) Bluegrass Festival.† The next day he bought his first banjo, a $150 Kay (Japanese) that didn't even have a tone ring.

Two years later he formed his first band, Valley Grass, in central Pennsylvania.† His bluegrass performing career was temporarily interrupted when he foolishly decided to go to law school, although the career switch did make it possible for him to upgrade to a 1926 Gibson RB3 conversion that still serves as his main instrument (he also owns a Stelling Bellflower that he plays occasionally).

Over the intervening years Bob has played guitar, mandolin and banjo--with varying degrees of incompetence--for several bands. He is presently the banjo player and tenor vocalist for Piney Blues, a bluegrass band that appears regularly at the Albert Music Hall in Waretown, New Jersey.

Heidi Olsen

Heidi Olsen

Heidi Olsen started the Jamming Workshop to have a place to play bluegrass music.† She worked in a music store after high school, and one of the instruments in the store was a banjo.† One day a customer named Rusty picked it up and played it. Once she heard him play that banjo, she was hooked and couldnít get the sound out of her mind.† She finally decided to buy it because it was such a terrific sound.† She still has that first Aida banjo.

That banjo sat around for 10 years in the closet.† She finally took it out and started taking lessons from Tony Trischka about 10 years ago.† During that time she also bought her Stelling Bellflower.† She hasnít been the most dedicated student of the banjo, but plays it as time permits.† The JAMMING WORKSHOP has been her way to play bluegrass on a regular basis.† She wants to provide a forum where people can come to play, enjoy and learn.† Itís through through her efforts and the efforts of Bob Nowicki, Ken Jewell and John McCarthy that the Jamming Workshop is a success.

Heidiís goal is to help keep bluegrass music alive.† She does that by hosting Bluegrass Jam on Brookdale Public Radio, 90.5 every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. along with Randy Bailey and Ken Jewell.† She is active with BOTMA, attends live concerts and hosts the Bluegrass Festivals at Albert Music Hall twice a year in Waretown, NJ.† She has a second goal to one day play well enough to perform on stage as a regular member of a local band.

To E-mail Heidi please go to our Contact Us page. Scroll down and you'll see a link with her name on it.

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John is a transplanted New Englander who started playing in the late '60s when he first heard the finger picking guitar styles on a friend's Peter Paul and Mary album. He quickly went out and bought an inexpensive nylon string guitar (the beginning of a lifelong obsession with acquiring stringed instruments) and with the help of a book of PP&M tablatures he progressed rather rapidly for a while as he watched his grade point average slip in his senior year at college.

During that time he found a series on the Boston PBS TV station called "Rainbow Quest" hosted by† Pete Seeger. It was here that he heard the 5-string banjo for the first time and knew he had to have one of those too. This remarkable program was a real inspiration and featured the likes of Elizabeth Cotton, the New Lost City Ramblers, The Greenbrier Boys, The Stanley Brothers and many others. It was on this show that he first heard a then relatively young Doc Watson and his eyes were opened by what could really be done with a flat pick and a steel string guitar.

The pursuit of graduate degree in Chemistry led him to New Jersey in the mid '70s where in addition to meeting his future wife, he was lucky to hook up with some accomplished bluegrass players one of whom introduced him to the melodic banjo styles of Bill Keith which set off another period of obsessive playing to compete with his academic career. He was among the early BOTMA members in 1978. Somehow during that time, he added mandolin and fiddle to his addictions. With the completion of his degree, he headed back to New England for a number of years until the pull of long distance romance lured him back to New Jersey in the late '90s where he and his soul mate finally tied the knot† a few years ago after an 18 year whirlwind courtship.

Back†here in NJ, he rejoined BOTMA at the first opportunity and also got involved with the Barnburners, the same group Ken Jewell is involved with, and added Celtic music, which he had only dabbled in earlier, to his compulsions. During the last 8 years or so he has been taking a much more serious approach to his playing and has been struggling to come to some sort of uneasy truce with his fiddle.† He has also been working out some traditional Irish fiddle tunes on flat pick guitar.

He says that playing with the Jamming Workshop participants has caused him to think a lot more about the subtleties and mechanics of guitar playing and stringed instrument music in general and that he has benefited a lot himself in the process.