April 16, 2006

#128: Which Jamming DVD Should I get?

Steve writes:

Hi Pete,

I'm a novice player thinking about buying one of your "jamming" DVDs. I've been learning by tabs for ~ 2 years now but have hit a standstill, fairly bored with just playing isolated solos. I thought your videos might give me a good start to trying to get jamming with others. I don't know which one would be appropriate though.

Is there a real skill level difference between "Bluegrass slow jam for the total beginner" and "A guide for newcomers and closet pickers"?

Yes, Steve.

The Slow Jam is truly for "total beginners" -- correctly labeled “ultra-easy/no-fail”. Literally anyone with fingers can play! The tempos are quite slow (60-75 beats/minute), to keep it easy for those slow at changing chords. The DVDs has 17 favorites, starting with several 2-chord songs, and moving up to 3-chord ones. The entire video uses just four chords: G, C, D, and A, but they are used for songs in keys of G, D, and C. All videos feature male and female lead singing in appropriate keys. There are no gaps provided for trying a solo. (view trailer)

On the Closet Pickers one, with the greenish cover, the tunes start slow and very simple, and gradually pick up speed toward the middle and end of the video. "Soloing opportunities" are provided, meaning the band goes into "backup" mode for one solo per song, and the viewer at home can try to put it a solo there. (view trailer)

At this point in your development, you should try mightily to see if you can make up your own solos to songs, even if they don't perfectly follow the melody. You're long past the time where you should have started trying this. Memorized solos don't get you to the place where you can really play the way "real" players play. In other words, you have to start learning, so to speak, to write your own paragraph, not just memorize paragraphs others have written.

I should note, this is not a simple task. It may take you a while to make up solos that follow some of the melody and come out in rhythm. But I assure you, this effort is worth it, because it's an absolutely essential skill for real-life bluegrass playing.

In real-life jam sessions, it's common for players to not have a worked-out solo for a song, yet the more developed players can always come up with "something" on the fly. This is in itself a skill, and indeed even if you have worked out a solo for a song, it's not always simple to suddenly retrieve it exactly the way you memorized it. So part of the skill of learning to play bluegrass is to be able to come up with something even when you've not prepared. You can practice this skill with the jam videos.

The Intermediate jam video has speeds a bit faster than the "closet pickers" one, but still moderate compared to many typical jam sessions. The tempos center around 100 beats per minute, and the chord changes aren't particularly tricky, though a variety of keys is used. On this DVD, the viewer is given *two* chances to solo on each song. (view trailer)

I hope this helps. What will really help is, once you've gotten comfortable jamming with the videos, to venture out into the real world and find a jam you can fit into, and start getting real life experience. For useful hints on how to connect with suitable-level players, go to the Jamming Tips page on my site, and click the blue button saying "Can't find people to jam?"

It's at that point that I think all your efforts will pay off and you'll feel like a "real" banjo player!

Best of luck!

Pete Wernick

Jamming DVD Comparison Chart


Slow Jam

Bluegrass Jamming

Intermediate Jam
Length of video Two hours Two hours Two hours
Number of songs 17 17 22
Speed 60-80 beats/min. 70-110 beats/min. 100-110 beats/min.
Soloing opportunities
(on-screen band plays backup)
none One per song Two per song
Jam instruction Elementary ground rules Soloing, harmony, capoing, lead ins, etc. Less instruction (more songs)
Level of challenge As little as possible. Just 4 chords needed. Starts easy, gets harder gradually Faster speeds add challenge
Recommended for Total beginners Beginner-intermediate Intermediates
Songbook included Yes Yes Yes
Capos used No Yes Yes
All videos have full length songs with solos by different instruments. Singers are both male and female, with keys chosen for easiest singing and playing. Chords are shown with on-screen enlargement of guitar player's chording hand.
At the start of the Slow Jam video, all six instruments show how they play the four chords (G, C, D, A) used in the video. Players of all instruments can start playing bluegrass with this video.
Song list Bile Them Cabbage Down
My Home's Across the Blue Ridge Mountains
John Henry
Pretty Fair Maid
Little Birdie
Shady Grove
Darling Corey
Roll in my Sweet Baby's Arms
Saints Go Marching In
Coming 'Round the Mountain (Medley)
You Are My Sunshine
I'll Fly Away
Nine Pound Hammer
This Land is Your Land
Amazing Grace
Wabash Cannonball
Will the Circle be Unbroken
Old Home Place
Blue Ridge Cabin Home
In the Pines
Footprints in the Snow
Salt Creek
How Mountain Girls Can Love
Soldier's Joy
New River Train
Sitting on Top of the World
Long Journey Home
Worried Man Blues
Hot Corn Cold Corn
Handsome Molly
Take Me Back to Tulsa
Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky
Blue Moon of Kentucky
Angeline the Baker
Lonesome Road Blues
Bury Me Beneath the Willow
Man of Constant Sorrow
Rabbit In a Log
Sweet Sunny South
Crying Holy
Uncle Pen
Molly and Tenbrooks
Gold Watch and Chain
Roll On Buddy
Columbus Stockade Blues
Dark Hollow
If I Lose
I Am a Pilgrim
Wreck of the Old 97
Roving Gambler
Just Like You
Paradise
Ramblin' Boy
A Beautiful Life
Bill Cheatham
Buy two or more items, get free postage!

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The one video that every new bluegrasser needs, as soon as they get their first instrument!

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Bluegrass Jamming, A Guide For Newcomers and Closet Pickers

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Intermediate Jam DVD

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Make Up Your Own Banjo Solos. Learn how to put together solos based on a song melody, and to create passable solos on the fly.