I secretly took this video perched on the second floor of the Blacksmith Shop on a pretty typical evening at the Folk School. Who are these folks? A new hot old time band? A group of old friends playing from a chosen repertoire? Nope. They are a group of students, instructors, and Folk School folks who heard the word at dinner that a music jam was happening that night in the Blacksmith Shop. I am sure that this particular group had never all played together previously and have never practiced this tune as a group.

Observe, below, jammers in their natural habitat:

OFM027HYou might ask: How can this be? How can the tune sound so good? This is the magic of a jam! Musicians of all levels can come together to play music and create magic. You can find string/acoustic jams all over the place, not just at the Folk School. From small towns to large urban cities, there are thriving jam communities all over the map. There is most likely one in your area too.

Jams are a fun and unique way to connect and communicate with other musicians. It may seem intimidating to jump in and join the group, especially if you don’t know the tune. The Folk School is offering a great line-up of classes to get you playing well with others. Gain confidence to join in jams, learn about keys, tunings and chord changes, and understand etiquette. Take a class focused on playing with other musicians, and soon you’ll be jamming with confidence!

Here are four upcoming classes to consider:

Old-time Jam Camp

Michael Ismerio  and Ben Nelson • May 10-16

Join us for an old-time mini-festival! Working in large and small groups, we’ll explore the world of Southern Appalachian old-time social music: dance tunes, songs, ballads, gospel numbers, children’s songs…maybe we’ll even dance some squares! Our focus will be understanding the subtleties and unspoken rules of jamming with others. Learn to hold a steady rhythm, hear chord changes and melodic patterns, play in alternate tunings, and catch variations “on the fly.” All string instruments are welcome. (Level 3; Intermediate – can play 10 or more tunes, perhaps not quite up to tempo.)

Michael Ismerio (on fiddle) plays the Friday night concert at the Folk School:

Surviving and Thriving in Jam Sessions

Lorraine Hammond and Bennett Hammond • May 31-June 6, 2015

Jam sessions can be intimidating. Learn how to hold your own, recognize keys and chord changes, and fit right in. We’ll also cover the etiquette and guidance of jams. We’ll help you play “off the page,” offer some individual coaching, and mostly we’ll play, play, play! All acoustic folk instruments are welcome. (Beyond-beginning; Levels 2, 3 & 4 – for those who can play at least a few tunes on their instrument and feel comfortable with it.)

Dance Musicians’ Week

Sue Songer, David Kaynor, Peter Siegel, & Betsy Branch • July 5-10, 2015

A Dance Musicians' Week band plays in the Music Studio.

A Dance Musicians’ Week band plays in the Music Studio.

Enjoy this fun-filled week devoted to learning and improving techniques of playing and arranging music for traditional contra, square, and couple dancing. Class time includes slow-tune jams, ensemble playing, instructor presentations, tutorials, discussions, and dancing. Instructors and students also play for public dances on four nights. Instruction is oriented toward those who can play or accompany some tunes on their instruments and who are familiar with contra dance music (Levels 3 & 4; Intermediate to Advanced).

Here is a video of instructors and students playing for the last dance during Dance Musicians’ Week 2014:

Playing Bluegrass Music in a Group

Geoff Hohwald & Rick Taylor • August 23-29, 2015

Class in the Music Studio in Davidson Hall

Class in the Music Studio in Davidson Hall

Ready to jam? This class is for intermediate pickers of guitar, three-finger style banjo, mandolin, acoustic bass, and other bluegrass instruments who want to learn to play well with others. We’ll work on instrumental solos, back-up, harmony singing, and stage presence (i.e., jokes!). Comfort with your instrument is required. (Level 3 – can play 10 or more tunes, not quite up to tempo.)

Music Levels

OFM026FLevel 1: Beginning (no experience required)

Level 2: Continuing (can play a few tunes slowly, a beginning fiddle class is advised prior to taking this one.)

Level 3: Intermediate (can play 10 or more tunes, not quite up to tempo)

Level 4: Advanced (you feel comfortable with the instrument)

Cory Marie Podielski
About Cory Marie Podielski

Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes. podielski.com