Bluegrass Jamming: A Guide For Newcomers and Closet Pickers

Published Reviews

Bluegrass Now, April 2001
by Cary Virgin

Playing time: 105 minutes

Dr. Banjo has done it again! If you’re a novice musician just starting your trek down the bluegrass trail or a picker who wants to build more confidence before entering a jam session, this is the video for you.

Realizing how important the “closet picker” and newcomer alike are to the health and vitality of bluegrass, Pete Wernick has been conducting “How to Jam” classes for quite some time now Helping Pete to get the message out are: Nick Forster (guitar), Michael Kang (fiddle), Ben Kaufman (bass), Sally Van Meter (Dobro), Eric Walser (mandolin) and Joan “Nondi” Wernick (vocals; Joan sings two songs while the other musicians alternate vocals on the remainder).

The eclectic group assembled here perfectly reflects the cross-section of backgrounds and playing styles you’re likely to encounter in a jam setting, whether at a festival, local bluegrass club’s regular meeting, pizza parlor, parking lot, or pickin’ party. For this lesson, they have intentionally selected standards that are generally played at slow to moderate tempos, so even a beginner need not worry about being left behind. Even someone fairly new to the music should recognize many of these 17 classics, including “Handsome Molly,” “Cripple Creek,” “Long Journey Home” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky”

Using a “picture-in-picture” shot of the guitarist’s left hand, Pete points out the value of this visual cue in deciphering chord changes. There are a wealth of such invaluable hints here. Homespun even throws in a handy lyric/chord sheet. Also covered are signals, harmonies, the “number system” and some all-important jam etiquette.


Ho-mespun Tapes

If your goal is to become a part of the informal jam phenomenon or you just wish to brush up on the finer points with the help of some first-rate musicians, you’ll find this tape the perfect resource!


Bluegrass Unlimited June 2001

PETER WERNICK–BLUEGRASS JAMMING (A GUIDE FOR NEWCOMERS AND CLOSET PICKERS), Homespun Video

Alan Walton

“Bluegrass Jamming” is essentially a play-along tape with lots of good advice thrown in. Peter Wernick is joined by Nick Forster (guitar), Michael Kang (fiddle), Ben Kaufman (bass), Sally Van Meter (resonator guitar), Eric Walser (mandolin), and Joan Wernick (vocals). The 17 bluegrass tunes are standards, all played at a pace slow enough to make it possible for the beginning picker (who knows chords and can play some) to join in. (The fact that “How Mountain Girls Can Love” is done at less than 100 beats per minute shows that serious thought has been given to making the pace suitable for the beginner.) Advice includes etiquette, how to recognize chord changes, choosing good tunes, the role of the instruments in a band/jam, faking a solo when you don’t know the tune, and a short description of harmony singing.

The sound quality is not the best; it is essentially a jam with microphones stuck in the middle, but this is true of jam sessions also, so one might as well get used to it. Split-screen technology is used to show the guitar chords throughout each song in the lower right corner.

Anyone who has been itching to jam with other players but has been unable to work up the nerve to take the plunge will benefit from this tape. The songs are standard, the keys vary, the pace should be just right, and the advice should make the experience a successful one. A winter of woodshedding with “Bluegrass Jamming” should have the potential jammer ready to jump in and kick off “Blue Ridge Cabin Home,” and 16 other tunes. Highly recommended.

AW


Flatpicking Guitar Magazine May/June 2001
Reviewed by Bryan Kimsey

Dear Editor Dan,

Sorry this review’s late. I got the video in the mail and watched it a couple of times. Then, I made the mistake of lending it to a mandolin student of mine and his guitar playing dad. I haven’t seen it since, and every time I ask for it back, they beg for just another week! And then next week comes and “oops! We forgot it again!” Fortunately, I watched it enough times to comment on it and in spite of their apparent forgetfulness, mando kid and guitar dad seem to have a pretty good memory of what’s on the tape, since they keep wanting to play those tunes! So, I sat them down last lesson and made them tell me what they thought about it.

We all agreed that it was a pretty useful beginner/intermediate tape. The songs are all bluegrass classics and start with easy 2-chord tunes like “Long Journey Home” to slightly more complex tunes like “Old Home Place” and “Salt Creek.” The pace is leisurely and even my students could keep up. Even though I’ve told them both over and over (and over and over….) about the various roles of instruments in a bluegrass band (the mandolin chops, the guitar strums, the bass thumps, and the fiddle chops or fills), having professionals like Pete Wernick, Nick Forster, Sally VanMeter, and others say the same thing seems to have finally made the concept stick. Each of the instrumentalists goes through his or her instrument’s role and explains what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. The players take turns suggesting and kicking off tunes, in concordance with good jamming etiquette. They demonstrate how to warn the jam of unusual chord progression twists and in the process present the all-important “1-4-5” Nashville Numbering system. Again, I’ve harped at my students for years about this and it just doesn’t seem to sink in, but after watching this tape, mando kid and guitar dad wanted to know why I didn’t tell them how useful the system is _sigh_. Pete and Co. discuss endings, tags, “potatoes,” and other jamming esoterica in between songs.

Another really useful thing taught on the video is learning to watch the guitar player to get the chords. Well, that’s great, except we’re guitar players and I know from jamming with you that sometimes neither one of us knows the chords (which reminds me a lot of two cats chasing each other’s tails). So, it’s good to watch the mandolin or bass player, too. One thing we all noticed was that there’s a little split-screen in the corner which is supposed to show the guitar player’s chording hand. Nice idea, except that sometimes Nick Forster (who’s playing Charles Sawtelle’s old D-28! Yeah!) is using a capo and the split-screen guy isn’t. It’s a little confusing watching Nick play a capo’ed G while the split-screen guy plays an open A. Oh well…details…. There’s also several places where the mic picks up somebody’s foot tapping and it’s not quite on beat and is distracting.

All in all, though, my students thought this was a pretty good tape. They had (“are having”, actually) a good time jamming along with the video, and watching for their cue to take a break. I asked them if they’d recommend the video to a beginner/intermediate player and they said “No!! No way!!!”. This kind of puzzled me until I explained to them that Homespun printed a bunch of copies of the tape and I wasn’t talking about their (my!) copy. Then they changed their tune (sorry!) and said “Yeah! Yeah! It’s a great tape. It’s such a good tape that we’ve decided to cancel our lessons and just stay home and play with the tape! Well. uh wait! So, Dan, thanks a lot for sending me “Bluegrass Jamming.” I was just wondering, though, that since I’m never going to see my copy again, if you could maybe find it in your heart (and budget, whichever comes first) to send me another copy. You see, I’m learning fiddle and every time I need to practice my bass playing wife finds something else that has to be done “right now,” usually out of the house, and I figured this video would great for that.

Your faithful and hardworking staff writer,

Bryan


Jamming: A Guide for Newcomers and Closet Pickers (Homespun)

Matthew F. Merta, The Bluegrass Journal

This video is fantastic to say the least. For any bluegrass picker who wnts to practice his chops before getting together with some “real” musicians, this is the video to get.

Hosted by former Hot Rize banjoist and International Bluegrass Music Association president Pete Wernick, he is joined by a number of well-respected musicians in the bluegrass field, each performing on one of the common bluegrass instruments, including guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, dobro, and fiddle. The ensemble performs 16 bluegrass standards in a “jam session” setting, with most of the performers taking a solo on a few of the songs. All of the songs also have parts that allow the viewer to solo while the band backs him/her up. Wernick also takes the time to explain jam session etiquette, informing the viewer what is expected as far as tuning, solos and backing up, basic vocal harmonies, and the Number System.

If possible, secure the DVD version of this video, as there are a number of benefits. Varying the ANGLE function on the DVD player allows for two different views of the performances: the first being the ensemble performing, and the second being a close-up of the guitarist’s fretting hand for easy visibility of the chord of the song that is currently being played. The menu of the DVD also allows for easier jumping around to the practice tunes and the instructions from Wernick.

A booklet is included that has the chord progressions and lyrics to all of the songs. Bluegrass jams are great ways for musicians to polish up on their skills, but a band is not always available at any given time. For the next best thing to having an actual band to practice with, this video comes highly recommended. For more information, go to the Homespun Video Website.

Posted on Great Lakes Twang.