I recently obtained a copy of “Building Blocks for Bluegrass Jamming, Volume 1” by Wil Huckabay of Hardin, Texas.
As Wil explains in his introduction, this is a book not so much about learning to create a melody for a song as it is about learning to survive in a jam. Bluegrass Jams are among the most unusual social events around. Several people have written on the process whereby musicians who have never met can get together and be playing wonderful tunes in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.
To those unaquainted with Bluegrass music, this is a bewildering and fascinating thing, indeed! Wil Huckabay gets right to the point in his book and offers up a tried and true technique he calls the ‘Cut n Paste’ method. The name is new, but to any seasoned professional musician, these techniques are standard fare for becoming proficient with improvisation and jamming.
Wil offers a CD with the example licks in the book, plus something I’ve not seen in a banjo tab book before: cut-out lick cards: basically one lick per business card-sized card on thick perforated paper. These are handy as you are learning a basic repertoire of licks that are essential to survive in a jam. Although you wouldn’t use them in the actual jam, to have them on a card means you can drill on them to help get to the point of having them at your instant command later.
A good look at substituting licks is also presented and it clearly explains how not every lick can be married to just any other lick; the fingerings have to sync as well.
This is a good sized book for learning in a small amount of time; the entire book is about 32 pages and you could go through and learn these basic licks to add to your repertoire in a few days. If you’ve not mastered the basics of jamming, then this is the process to learn. And it’s all right here in a book specific to the topic of jamming basics alone.
I’d recommend this to anyone wanting to go beyond the basic techniques of 5-string banjo (3 or 4 rolls, G, C and D chords, a beginning song or two) and move into being able to effectively interact with other musicians in a jam.
You can find Wil’s book here at Angie’s Banjo.