The Way We Jam

We keep the bluegrass and old-time musical traditions fresh and alive by jamming for four hours on two Sundays a month. A lot of creativity happens at these jams. A lot of fun, too.

CABOMA strives to be a welcoming place. People come to the DC area from all around, and we offer a musical home. The many accomplished amateurs and professionals at our jams know what it’s like to start out, and some are also teachers, so beginners can feel at ease here as well. We include a one-hour slow jam for beginners.

At our Sunday jams we break into smaller groups, with separate rooms dedicated to bluegrass and old-time music to allow for the different jamming styles, and for the slow jam. Once you’re here, feel free to move from one group to another. Beginners are more than welcome to stick around after the slow jam.

We care about making good music. That means constantly improving your skills and finding your voice while realizing that the group sound matters. You will have plenty of chance to lead tunes and play or sing your favorite solo in the key that suits you, but our jams are also built around what you do when the spotlight isn’t on you.

With the above in mind, here are four basic guidelines for jamming well:

  • Play in time
  • Play in tune
  • Play ahead
  • Play along

Play in time. Timing means everything. Play as slowly and as simply as you can to maintain a beat. Find the group where you are most likely to keep up.

Play in tune. Tune early and often. Keep a spare battery for your tuner. Change your strings as often as needed for them to hold their tuning.

Play ahead. Signal the tempo and kick off a tune boldly—not necessarily loudly. Play ahead also means you play through your mistakes.

Play along. This means listen. It’s easy to get caught up in your performance. Adjust your volume and backup style so the soloist can be heard and the group sounds good.

Again, there are many ways to participate. We take turns to call which tune to play. Once the tune starts, everyone gets a chance at a solo, or break. It’s up to you whether you want to dive in and give it your all, or hang back to strum quietly in the background, or just listen. It’s fine to sit out a tune if it’s unfamiliar or being played too fast for you.

Communication goes a long way in our jams. Be clear about such things as the key and the chords of the tune you are calling. Be clear about who will kick off a tune, who will sing lead, and—once the tune has started—who is up for a break, and when it’s time to end. Communication also means paying attention—to others and the music as a whole. Ask yourself, What can I do to make us all and each other sound good?