Homemade Music Etiquette

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Homemade music etiquette: The do's and don'ts when gathering in a group to make music.

Learn these simple but helpful homemade music etiquette rules when joining a community music group.

Homemade Music Etiquette

As one who has made every dumb mistake in the book, I’ve come to some conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. (Example: I took a tambourine to my first bluegrass jam and played it enthusiastically for hours. This didn’t work.) Here are some observations:

• All jams are not equal. Some are strictly instrumental, some mostly singing, straight-ahead bluegrass or wildly eclectic. Some jams don’t welcome beginners, some do. Find or start a jam that’s right for you.

• Learn the rules and standards of your jam. Some have rigorous rules, others are free-form. Observe before you barge in. When in doubt, ask questions. Listen. Appreciate. This doesn’t mean every jam has to take place in hushed silence, but courtesy and respect do matter

• Jams are supposed to be fun. Don’t worry about the competition, except to the degree that doing so keeps you on your toes mastering new material.

• If you play a novelty instrument, remember it’s called “novelty” because it’s unusual. If you play your saw or bodhran or glockenspiel all the time, it isn’t novel or, probably, even very musical.

• Collect songs in a notebook or binder. Credit the songwriter or source when you can. Write down chords, words, fingerings, time signatures — anything that will help other musicians figure out what you’re doing. Know your songs’ keys. When you can, memorize your music: Memorizing songs is better than gingko to keep your mind agile.

• If someone is using a chord you don’t recognize, or does a cool fingering you’d like to learn, ask them to show you what they’re doing. Musicians are usually exceedingly generous.

• Don’t pick up someone else’s instrument and start noodling around on it without permission. This is clueless and disrespectful.

K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. A huge fan of the food chain, from molecules to meals on the table, K.C. is passionate about the idea that most of what we need to be healthy can be found in the garden. Find her on .

Read more about becoming part of a music group: Making Homemade Music.

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