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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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How to Improvise Better with a “Mental Menu”

Improvisation: the Final Frontier for every jamming musician. Now that you have reams of TAB memorized, more hot licks than you know what to do with, and piles of scales and arpeggios ready for battle, how do you make that leap to actually “saying something” when you improvise? It is one thing to be able to keep a stream of notes emanating from your instrument, but another thing entirely to create solos that have personality. One of the things that we notice when we listen to the greats play improvised solos, is that every solo they take is different from the previous one. Each solo sounds like it was written ahead of time, it is so smooth and logical. How do we develop this same ability? Well, the answer is twofold. First, the “bad news” is that, you guessed it, many hours of wood-shedding are necessary to be able to “speak” freely on your instrument. You have to get to the point where you don’t have to think about your hands anymore, and instead your…

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How to Play Your Song at a Jam – The Rules of Effective Song Leading   

It is one thing to go to a jam session and play along, but another thing entirely to actually offer up and successfully play your own song. To ensure that you have an enjoyable experience doing this (and get asked back to the jam!), take some time to study these important rules of jamming etiquette… Be aware of the type of jam                                                                                                                                                 By and large, most jams will involve a mix of folk music, bluegrass, country and some classic rock. This is just the way it is, may as well deal with it. Oh yeah, there are specialty jams, like traditional Irish sessions,…

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Playing to Learn

Ever since the first caveman heard his buddy thumping out a rhythm on a mammoth bone and had to stomp along, jamming was a part of our very humanity. Wolves howl together, and city dogs cant resist chiming in whenever a siren wails in the distance. From the cro-magnon era to modern kareoke bars, folks have always wanted to play music with one another. It is as natural as getting up in the morning and wanting coffee. And if you could ask most of our folk music heros, like Doc Watson or the Carter sisters, they would probably say “well shucks, I just learned by sangin along!” Many of these folks never had music lessons, or often even read music, and developed their talent by singing in Church or jammin around the cook stove. So it really is a silly notion to assume that the only way you can learn music is my “studying”, by taking music lessons with a serious teacher who admonishes you to practice long hours by yourself. Sure, sometimes you have…

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