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Our first Pickin' In The Park jam session was held on Sunday, May 11, 2003 at Thomas Square in Honolulu. Over three dozen musicians brought banjos, fiddles, mandolins, guitars, resophonic guitars and upright basses to the all-acoustic jam session. The "pickers" took turns improvising breaks on instrumentals such as "Salt Creek", "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and "Jerusalem Ridge", and harmonizing on tunes like "Angel Band", "Paradise", and "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms."

Two bluegrass bands on O`ahu, the Down Boys and the Wild Orchids String Band, contributed their talents to Sunday's jam session. Musicians from local traditional jam, contradance, and hootenanny groups also played at the event.

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Musicians with unplugged traditional instruments, playing acoustic bluegrass, newgrass, mountain, roots, traditional country, Hawaiian, Americana, folk, Western, Celtic, and Irish music, are welcome! Here are some tips to jam by:

  • KEEP IN TUNE, preferably with an electronic tuner! If you're having trouble with this, ask someone to help!

  • KEEP IN TIME! Many traditional styles have their own rhythmic structure and pace. Try to synchronize your rhythm and pace with the others. If you find this difficult, please play quietly and/or a bit away from the group, or you may throw off the rhythm of the other jammers.

  • BLEND IN, DON'T BARGE IN! Unless you're singing lead or playing lead, your job is to support the others. If somebody else is singing, or playing an instrumental break, back off a bit.

  • LEARN BY IMITATING someone else who plays your instrument the way you'd like to play.

  • TAKE TURNS CALLING TUNES! Please don't try to dominate a jam by picking every song it plays. If you do, you may find that people are reluctant to jam with you. If the group asks for a song suggestion, consider the kinds of songs and style they've been playing. After your tune is played, invite somebody else to select a tune!

  • TAKE TURNS WITH VOCALS! There are a maximum of four or five harmony parts on most tunes: lead, high baritone, tenor, baritone, and bass. Try not to dominate any single vocal part! Give your voice a workout by singing another part that is close to your range.

  • INVITE INSTRUMENTAL BREAKS! If you're the person who chooses the tune, don't forget to invite people to take instrumental breaks after you sing the choruses in your tune! You can do this by calling out instruments, or names.

  • CHOOSE APPROPRIATE TUNES! If the group asks for a song suggestion, consider the kinds of songs and style they've been playing, and try to keep your suggestions within the same genre.

  • KEEP PICKIN'! If you make a mistake in the middle of a song, don't go back to do it over; just go on to the next thing in the song along with everyone else.

  • LOOK AT THEIR HANDS! Learn to "read" the hand positions of the guitar players so that you can anticipate chord changes. After you've been jamming for a while, you might even want to learn the Nashville Number system, which helps jammers communicate chord changes quickly and easily.

  • BREAK AWAY AND START YOUR OWN JAM! The big group at our jams seems to naturally focus on bluegrass, traditional roots, and old-time acoustic music. However, the parks we jam at are huge! Feel free to break away and start a NEW jam, if you'd like to focus on a particular style or pace, especially one that is different from the main group.

  • JAM UNTO OTHERS! If you're new to bluegrass jamming, the best thing to do is to watch the other people in our group, and take your cues from them. The bluegrass community is known for being very welcoming and tolerant, and our gang will put up with just about any gaffe or rudeness committed by a newbie--but boorish behavior gets tiring in ANY group after a while. Nobody wants to be the kind of jammer that can clear a room!

  • PLEASE LEAVE YOUR DRUMS AT HOME! Sorry, we recognize that there is plenty of room for discussion as to whether bluegrass should or should not include drums, however the problem for us is that for jam sessions which are not amplified (as all our sessions are), drums are just too loud, drown out the softer instruments (guitar, autoharp, ukes, etc.), and generally make everyone feel that they have to play as loud as possible just to be heard. Cardboard boxes played with brushes are ok (we think), but the general consensus of most of us is that we'd be happier not having to play against a percussion rhythm section.

  • JAM WITH ALOHA! Remember: everyone is here to have fun! Please be kind, helpful, and friendly to your fellow pickers!

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