Preparation

Jam Camp requirements are simple, but preparation is important. From previous jam students:

“Have fun and enjoy, you’ll be very impressed how much you’ll learn during the camp.”
— Gerald (TX)

“Pete and his assistants will help and encourage you, and occasionally nudge you along. Some campers are a little uncomfortable or shy in the beginning but that’s expected, and once you get started you will see that it is easier than what you may have thought. Their job is to move you gently out of your comfort zone to learn to play bluegrass with others, and have an enjoyable time.”

“Far too many instruction methods teach a bluegrass instrument in a way quite isolated from what it means to be a functional bluegrass musician. They teach solos, to be read from a page, where playing bluegrass involves active use of (learnable) ear skills and awareness of/ involvement in a team effort.”
— Pete

“…we need reminding that how much we get out of the camp depends a lot on how much we put into preparing for the camp and how flexible and open we are to new experiences at the camp. Pete, Joan, and the camp staff are offering us an opportunity to have a great time singing and playing some great music with some great people. How much we get out of this opportunity depends mostly on our own willingness to make the effort.”
— Bruce (KY)

Category: Preparation
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Any time someone goes to a jam (or a Wernick Method class), bringing a song or two or three to sing is a very welcome contribution. To prepare, choose a few songs you like, and practice them in the keys you will sing and play them comfortably in. Try to commit the words to memory if possible, so you can confidently lead the song without hesitating or blanking out! … though it’s OK to still keep the words in front of you, for backup. What songs to choose? Pick some relatively easy ones from any of Pete’s jam videos or songbooks, or any other songbook. The 10 songs in the PDF you’ll be sent prior to class are all good choices.

One of the best ways to prepare is to try to find the melody of a song (that you know well enough to hum, perhaps one you will lead in the jam) on the neck of your instrument, trial-and-error style… and then fashion a solo based on that melody. If you can do that, it’s more helpful than learning note-for-note solos that someone else figured out.

Once you can find a melody on your instrument, tabs, books, and videos can provide ideas for embellishments. Learning someone else’s exact solo for a particular song or two can be helpful, to pick up new ideas. And learning solos like that can have an extra payoff if you can lift a phrase from one solo to put in another. If you can do that fairly spontaneously, it helps greatly when faking a solo at a jam.

There is no specific set of songs we cover. The goal is for folks to learn to deal with typical material, that they have not played before. Being able to handle unfamiliar songs is a skill needed at all jam sessions in the “real world” of bluegrass jamming, and we teach it.Your fellow jammers will learn the songs you bring and you’ll learn theirs — or at least learn to follow along. That’s how bluegrass jamming works, everywhere. “Preparation” is not expected, other than bringing a few songs, practicing chord changes if necessary, etc.

Shy singers are welcome to bring song sheets with words, for songs they like and can follow along on… or even lead a song by *talking* the words instead of singing. (See our FAQ on singing.)

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One of the best things to do is to learn new songs. We recommend our JAM Songbook with 39 songs in large print, with online playlists of all the songs, to help you learn any of them by ear. You will receive a copy of the book at your first Wernick Method class but, as with Pete’s earlier Bluegrass Songbook and play-along videos, working with one before class will help you prepare. The videos (which come with a downloadable lyric/chord book) will get you following new songs in real time, and learning them in the process.

It’s ideal to practice singing songs you like, and to experiment with different keys to see which works best for each song. Commit the verses to memory if you can, though it’s OK to have a page nearby for reference. If you can work out a solo instrumental break to start the song off, so much the better.

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There are no specific songs to practice. Practice some good ones you like, that others might enjoy playing too. Advance emailed class materials include a mini-songbook with some good choices. You’ll want to practice a few to do in a small group setting. Know the chords and practice the song (in-tune singing not required) with the words in front of you. Try after a while to not need to read the words. Most of the songs in the class will probably be new to you, so the skill in play will be: “learn new songs more quickly”.

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  • Songs to sing, whether memorized or in songbooks or any printed version. An iPad on a stand is a useful jam tool if you can get online to a lyrics website. A variety of good songs is the heart and soul of a good jam!
  • A clip-on electronic tuner – a “must”, $20 or less at music stores or online. Get comfortable using it. We recommend the D’Addario tuner, small enough to be left on your instrument full-time. Keep spare batteries. Tune early, tune often!
  • A recording device (can be your smart phone). Besides recording some of the teaching, it’s often useful to record songs as you jam – especially new ones you want to learn. You can play along with your recording later, with earphones or other amplification.
  • Banjo and dobro players must bring and have practiced playing with a thumb pick and two finger picks. Wearing the picks is necessary to be heard at proper volume.
  • Guitar and mandolin players must use a pick… a flat pick (standard), or a thumb pick.
  • A strap for your instrument (fiddles and basses excepted) allows you to play while standing. There will be times you’ll want to do that.
  • Banjo, guitar, and dobro players will need a capo for ease of changing keys.
  • A music stand for song lyrics or your recorder might come in handy. Not every person needs a stand as there are probably enough to share.
  • See this information about what will be provided to you.

What not to bring (as they won’t be used):

  • Metronomes
  • Instrumental technique books
  • Tablature
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