Do what gets you the most musical fun the soonest. Easy is good, as long as the music is good.
Learn chords and basic timekeeping first. Start by playing along with 2-chord songs, then 3-chord songs.
Practice jam skills at home. Play/sing from a songbook. Play along with recordings and videos.
Keep it slow at first, about 70 beats per minute.
It’s easy enough to be in tune, so make it a practice to check tuning regularly.
Jam in a circle. Groups of 4-6 are best for bluegrass, 8-10 unwieldy. When possible, divide into smaller groups.
Soloing is optional, and is easier once jam skills are learned. Instrumentals are difficult for novices. Stick to songs.
Song leading is a necessary part of a jam. At least one person in a jam, but preferably more, must have this skill.
Students may not read chords from paper in a jam; read a guitar player’s left hand. If no guitar player knows the chords, the song leader first teaches a guitar player the chords. There is usually no need to call out chords.
Ear skills are needed for bluegrass, tab and music reading skills are not. Cultivate ear skills.
Learn about bluegrass basics, and work on them first.
Learn the typical ground rules and protocols for jamming.
Respect bluegrass sensibilities and traditions.
Go for Liftoff
Learn to control your backup volume.
Practice singing so you can carry a tune and sing in a jam. For each song, choose the key that’s best for your singing, one that you and your fellow jammers can probably play in.
Learn the number system, for following chords and transposing keys quickly.
Learn choruses by listening/singing. Only a lead singer needing the words may have a book open.
Learn to reinforce the pulse effectively.
Learn “placeholder” soloing, do it when appropriate.
Learn more chords so you can play more songs, in more keys.
Help others stay on track.
Learn the basics of using a capo. Players of non-capoing instruments: learn to read capoed guitar chords.
Learn “filler content” soloing as an upgrade to simple placeholder soloing.
Learn how to find melodies and build simple solos that include them.
Playing exactly memorized instrumental solos is difficult, and not necessary but optional in jams.
For Extra Participation and Respect
Learn to lead songs.
Learn to take good-sounding solos, including kickoffs.
Learn to sing harmony, and practice adding harmony on the fly.
For Respect and the Success of the Group
Work with the limitations and preferences of your fellow jammers.
Share the spotlight—give others a chance to show off.
Bring good material to the jam that you are prepared to lead.