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Jamming Workshop Graduates


Ray’s Jamming Workshop testimonial

I had been playing banjo for about a year and a half, I thought I played pretty good and I figured it was time to play some bluegrass with others. The Bluegrass and Old time Music Association of New Jersey has “Pick’in in the Park” during the summer months, so one fateful Sunday afternoon I packed my banjo and headed for the park.

Now like most beginner banjo players I played almost everything in the key of G. (The banjo is generally tuned to open G, so this makes for an easy starting point for new players.) Well surprise, surprise, the regulars at the jam were playing in almost every key BUT G. Luckily I had learned how to use a capo, and a number of years of guitar playing allowed me to transpose to other keys, but most of the songs I had never heard before. I struggled through the afternoon; I honestly felt like I was in the totally wrong time and place. It was a scary and very humbling experience. The folks at the jam welcomed me with open arms, offered tons of encouragement and advice, but it just was not quite enough.

September rolled around and I headed out the regular season BOTMA stage show and jam. After struggling through the summer “Pick’in in the Park” jams, I decided to give the Jamming Workshop a try.

Not quite knowing what to expect I arrived with butterflies in my stomach and my right hand shaking from “stage fright”. I was met with smiles and warm welcomes, and “nice to have you here”! I got my name tag and all the tabs for the year’s songs, and a CD of those songs to listen to and practice. While the room filled up with guitar players, other banjos and a couple of mandolin players, I looked over the tabs for that year’s songs. I was very pleased to find that I had at least heard the songs before, a couple of them I had played before and one I even knew a break for!

It was not at all like any jam I had seen or heard about before, the song for that jam was “I Saw the Light”, I thought wow, I know this and I have a break for it! The workshop instructors, first walked us thru the songs chord progression, and offered suggestions on getting started together, ending together, when to play softly, so other instruments could be heard and when to play out loud and bold so you could be heard. Before we started we decided who would take the breaks (volunteers) and off we went. It was almost a total train wreck, I totally messed up my break (remember my right hand shaking from stage fright—it got worse) and we did not come close to ending together. But the workshop instructors were not detoured. They made more suggestions and corrections, offered much encouragement and enthusiasm. Well we played that song three more times, each time at a relaxed pace and each time it got better, by the time the day’s workshop was over, we really started to sound like a real bluegrass jam.

At the end of the workshop we were told what next month’s song would be, so we could prepare for the next workshop, the group dispersed and we talked among ourselves. I met Pat, another banjo player, and David, the Bass player. I think we were all thinking the same thing at this point, “we did not play great, but it was fun!” All the folks who came to the Jamming Workshop were friendly and helpful, and they all had the same goal, making music together! All season long we worked on different songs, always at a relaxed pace till we got it right, before stepping it up a bit. The instructors were always offering suggestions and corrections, but mostly encouragement and enthusiasm with the attitude of keeping it fun!

Over the course of the BOTMA season we worked on seven songs, and reviewed songs from previous workshops. At the end of the season the Jamming Workshop puts all their talents together and performs for the BOTMA stage show. It took a lot of dedication and some hard work, including extra practice sessions in the weeks before the show. But we pulled it off; a number of people who had not even met before September were playing together on stage like a real bluegrass band!

The unexpected side effect of the Jamming Workshop is the relationships that have developed. As the weeks and months went by I met Frank and Bob, both real good musicians. I always just figured that these would be people I’d see each month and play music with but I did not quite expect the friendships that have developed thru the Jamming Workshop. Pat, David, Frank Bob and I have become good friends, Pat hosts a jam for us once a month at his house, last summer I had everyone to my house for a cookout and Jam, and Bob is having a Party at his place this summer.

It was two years ago that I first went to the Jamming Workshop, and I believe that it has helped me in more ways than I really know in moving me along and jamming with others, and it had afforded me the opportunity to make friends with some wonderful people, I’m positive that some of these friendships will last a lifetime. Going to a new jam for the first time can be a bit intimidating, but since my experience with the Jamming Workshop I’ll never feel like I’m totally in the wrong time and place again!


THis is what David had to say about the Jamming Workshop

If it wasn't for the Jamming Workshop I don't think I would even be playing bluegrass music. No matter what your skill level you should come out and play, learn the unwritten rules of jamming, make new friends and have fun. You'll be glad you did.


Bob’s comments about the Jamming Workshop

For those of you who are not quite sure about whether you are good enough, play well enough, sing well enough, or just have courage enough to try the Jamming Workshop; I have three words for you - JUST DO IT ! If you can play three chords in the key of “G” and can sing even a little - DO IT!

I know it can be difficult to actually jump in and commit. I had two false starts myself. I showed up two years in a row; played and sang along for a couple of meetings and then chickened out. On the third attempt, I made it. The entire group was supportive and kind in a manner uncommon among musicians. When I made mistakes, they helped me. When I succeeded, they celebrated my accomplishment.

The monthly BOTMA jams are now a big part of my life and the small jams at members’ homes are wonderful. Among the unexpected benefits of the Jamming Workshop are the real friendships I’ve made with many of the members in our little group. I must especially thank Frank, Ray, Dave, Pat, Bob, John and Heidi for their support, encouragement; and most of all, for their friendship. Playing with these folks has allowed me to develop the confidence to “play out” - a dream I had all but forgotten.

So take it from one who has been there. The Jamming Workshop offers you a safe, supportive, encouraging, and positive environment to experience the sheer joy of making music with others. You will make new friends, improve your performance, widen your repertoire, and build self confidence. Don’t be afraid - JUST DO IT! I’ll see you all at the next jam!


Frank’s Jamming Workshop experience

I would like to thank all of the instructors of the Bluegrass Jamming Workshop for their encouragement, patience and dedication. Upon joining the workshop I was immediately made to feel at home. I now look forward to the 3rd Sunday of every month when we meet to play some great music.

I have also made some very good friends along the way for which I am extremely grateful. I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon than making music with friends. So I encourage you to get out that instrument and come and play music with some very fine people.