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The Four Barriers – Why People Quit

Starting to learn music is no problem. Here at JamAlong we’ve see literally hundreds of people begin their musical journey, full of enthusiasm and confidence. Armed with a new banjo, or perhaps a free lesson offer, they are the picture-perfect student. They take copious notes, schedule regular practice hours, and usually come back to the next session with an impressive array of accomplishments. And then, maybe three months down the line, maybe even a year, suddenly they drop out. All of that ardent devotion they displayed, all of the inspiration and discipline…gone, like the hollow streets of a ghost town. Yes, Starting music lessons is no problem at all, anyone can do it. But continuing them, for the long amounts of time necessary to become good, well that is a different story altogether. So if you have begun the journey yourself, or are considering it, please take this article to heart. It may save your musical life! We would hate to see you join the legions who have begun and then fallen away, all of…

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“Street Theory” – Where Chords Come From

Just like many areas where science and art intersect, there is a preponderance of theories and formulas in Music Theory. From the classic Theory that you will learn as a music major in just about any college, to the more obscure theories that you have to know to play jazz, music theory has many branches. What is unfortunate as is that the majority of how Music Theory is presented is often not useful to the performing musician. While standard Music Theory is great for passing a test or impressing a fellow music nerd,  rarely does it help when the rubber meets the road. This is where “Street Theory” comes in, our term for the Music Theory we have learned over the decades in the process of actually playing music on stage and in Jam sessions. Street Theory is the stuff that will get you out of a pinch when you have to transpose a song last minute, or when you are presented with a tricky song at a jam session and need to be able to guess the chords, or even when you are composing your next hit song and not sure of what to strum along under your vocals. This…

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Learn to Read Music the FUN Way!

Few subjects in music have the same ominous portent as the phrase “reading music”. Sadly there are many of us who have nothing but bad memories on the subject, like a spectacle wearing piano teacher forcing us to memorize “every good boy does fine”. Or being in highschool band and having to sight-read awful marches from pages stained with the tears of former members. And to be truthful, there is an unfortunate cast system separating those who can “read”, and those who don’t. The music-readers often look down their noses at those who don’t read music, and the non-readers sometimes feel inferior. Or in many cases, non-readers actually feel that they are more authentically musical by this very fact. There is an old joke where a jazz musician is asked if he can read music, and he replies “not enough to hurt my playing!”. The truth is, you can be a great musician whether or not you read music. And if you don’t, we encourage you to continue having a great time creating music by…

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The Science of Musical Posture

Often the last thing we think about when learning an instrument is our posture. In the excitement (or torment) of practicing, our attention is drawn to “battle zones”: aching fingertips, bad sounding notes, difficult passages that we are struggling with, and so on. Posture and form go out the window, and understandably so. Here at JamAlong we teach Musical Posture early on, because we believe it is very important not only to the playing ability of our students, but also their long-term physical health as well! Think of it this way: if you hold your body in a position that is a strain on your muscles, over long periods you could cause minor damage, or in the least make your playing experience less comfortable. So let’s start from the beginning, where the rubber meets the road…our chair. (brief disclaimer: there are folks that play practice standing up, and we certainly don’t discourage this, if you are one of these types these types just skip over the chair part, the rest of this article still applies…

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Unlocking Scales on the Banjo

  Unlocking scales on the banjo is the secret to breaking out beyond bluegrass, and being able to sound great in all kinds of new music. Let’s say you are a decent picker, and can play in Scruggs Style and know how to play backup and lead. Perhaps you even have some melodic style fiddle tunes under your belt, or some hot single-string licks. But your playing still sounds “bluegrassy”, and there are times when you lay awake at night thinking “what else is out there? Why cant I play more blues, or rock, or jazz on my banjo??” Well it all starts with re-thinking the role of the banjo. In the traditional bluegrass model, we follow the Gospel of Earl Scruggs: play Boomchucks for backup and then use Rolls and Licks for lead playing. This gives us that classic banjo sound which is great for bluegrass and country music. But this doesn’t always work when we apply it to other forms of music, as many of us discover when we stumble into a non-traditional…

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A Dozen Tips for Proper Practicing

Practice does not make perfect…only proper practice does! Yep, it’s true. You can practice all you want, but unless you are doing it the right way, you will not see much results. Knowing what to practice is not as important as knowing how to practice, and no matter what musical instrument you are learning to play, these savvy practice tips will help you to triple the results of your practice sessions… 1 – Your Jam Zone First of all, have your practice area set up nicely. They say “practice makes perfect”, but in actuality it’s more like “effective practice makes perfect”, and to be effective you need to be organized. When you sit down to play, you want to have everything you need right at your fingertips, so you don’t spend valuable practice-time looking for stuff! To see our guide for all the things you’ll want in your “Jam Zone” visit our Live Lesson page HERE, and scroll down to “Setting Up Your Jam Zone”. 2 – JamAlong Binder To be a good student, be…

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Improve Your Musical Memory

Memory is often a big issue for jammers, because so much of playing music involves memorizing stuff! Whether you are trying to recall a lyric, or what chords go with a bluegrass fiddle tune, being able to memorize these elements will make your music-playing life so much easier. Yes, there is a time and place for sheet music or TAB, especially in such musical styles as classical or trad jazz, but for most of the music we encounter in jam sessions, the more you can play by memory the better. So, how do we learn to commit more of our music to memory, and stop relying on piles of TAB so much? Well, the first step is to learn a bit about how our memory operates, so we can stop doing things the hard way. The very word “memory” comes from the Latin “memoria”, meaning mindful. So, if we pay attention and open our minds to knew ideas, we are on the path to a more effective memory. Let’s begin by going over the three…

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You Can Compose Music!

When most of us hear the term “composer” we see a dude with a white poofy wig holding a quill pen, etching notes onto a parchment, usually by candle light. And even if we have a more modern image in mind, we think that surely we would need to be able to read and write music notation before we could ever compose music. How else will we get the music onto the page? Well, prior to Thomas Edison inventing the phonograph in 1877 this was certainly the case. In other words, before the advent of recorded music, the only way to preserve your composition was indeed to get it onto paper. So either you had to fill up your quill pen and get to work scratching out notes, or hire the poofy wigged guy to write them out for you while you played your new cello sonata over and over again, note for note. Not a great way to make friends with the folks in the cobblestone hut next to you. But now that we live…

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How to play songs “by Ear”

  Imagine if you could show up to a jam, sit down and play along with every song…without knowing them!! Imagine if you didn’t need charts, but could listen for a few minutes and then jump in, hitting all the right chords…is this possible? Absolutely. In fact all of our instructors here at JamAlong Music are expected to be able to do this, you can see an example of this with our instructor Brae teaching Wagon Wheel “by ear” on YouTube HERE. And yes, you too can be this quick! This can be done when you know how to “play by ear”, when you’ve learned to follow along just by listening and you don’t need to worry about having any music, or pestering the guitar player to tell you the chords. And if you want to learn this awesome skill, we have some good news and some bad news… First, the bad news: learning to do this does take some time. Now don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be years, in fact if you follow our…

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Understanding “Licks”

One of the most mysterious and misunderstood elements in Folk, Bluegrass and Country music is the “Lick”. Explained simply, a Lick is a short phrase of music, usually composed ahead of time, that is used to ornament the song that you’re playing. No, it’s not a scale or arpeggio, it’s like a miniature composition that is designed for a specific key or to highlight a particular technique. Most Licks are two measures long, but there are also scores of Licks out there that are one measure, or even four measures. For the record, when a Lick gets to be longer than four measures it is generally considered to be a “run”, or a combination of smaller Licks. All good players end up collecting Licks that they like, often from the playing of musicians that they admire, or made up using a certain technique on their instrument. We can then use these pre-learned Licks to spice up our playing at a jam session, or to work our arrangements of songs that we like. As any Google…

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