Jam Etiquette

(There is a moderator ... except for ensuring jam etiquette is followed, he/she will likely stay out of everyone’s hair.  Because COVID remains with us, you must be fully vaccinated and free of all recent symptoms to participate.  We will abide by the venue’s requirements regarding masks and social distancing.)

Woody Points


1.  We sit in a circle.  The larger the group, the larger the circle, and vice versa.  Atmosphere is friendly, and intimate.  Focus is musical communication.  Don’t be shy!  Introduce yourself to those around you.

2.  Players in the circle determine the songs played, moving clockwise around the circuit.  Please respect that.  When it’s your turn, call your “tune” so everyone can hear.  Let ‘em know what key you want to play it in.  If it’s gonna be tricky,  explain it (see #5 below).  Make sure everyone is on board before you pull out.  It can be very distracting to hear people whispering, “What key is he/she in?, or What’s the name of the tune?” once you’ve begun your number . 

3.  One of the joys (and challenges) of sitting in a circle is the opportunity to step up and take a lead.  For the experienced folks, this is no big deal, it’s how they perfect improvisation.  It’s called plunging boldly into the unknown.  Sort of like Star Trek.  For the less experienced, it can be a daunting leap.  Trust us, we’re not gonna be funnin’ on you.   Just give it your best shot. Sometimes you’ll go down in flames, sometimes it’ll be magic.  At all times, you’ll get something out of it to make it worth your while.  We all get butterflies.  They never go away.  Learn to appreciate them.  The late Jerry Garcia referred to improvisation as “Diving for pearls.”  There’s a reason for that.  Sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re not.  The only secret you need to know about music is to “learn by trying”.  If there’s a disaster, the moderator will call a halt, and we’ll start again from the top.  Eventually, you’ll get it to sound the way you’re hearing it in your head.

4. Leads:  If you’re calling the song, take command of the group.  See who wants to take a lead before heading out.   Eye contact works wonders.  If a song has already started and you want in, look to the song caller and nod your head.  Shake a polite “no” if you don’t.  You might also let the person to your left know, to ensure continuity.  Oh,  and don’t forget to modulate your volume, particularly when someone else is singing or playing a lead.  For example, if someone is on the other side of the circle singing or taking a lead,  back it down so you can hear what they’re doing.  Be forewarned, courtesy is reciprocated, more so if  already extended.   

Now friends, I know some of you are just starting out on this journey.  No need to be nervous or afraid, we’ll support you.  If you’re too shy to give it a go,  pass on to the next person in the circle.  Your time will eventually come, and you’ll know when you’re ready.

5.  Who calls the songs?  If you’re an individual sitting in the circle, and playing an instrument, you can call a song.  If you come in as a duo, or trio, your pair or group can call one song per rotation.  Come prepared, it’s smart to have your song list figured out ahead of time.  As friends, we’re patient, but as a friend, you should be courteous.  When it’s your turn, take charge, speak up loud and clear, and in thirty seconds or less, spell out what you’re going to do and tell how you want us to support your effort.  Remember, we’re not trying to stump each other here.  We’re all up for new and different adventures, but if you decide to spring one on us take a few moments to talk us through it, provide an overview on the song, spell out the chords (especially if they’re off the beaten trail), and describe the layout (verse, chorus, variations).


Harp Art




Never forget, you are there to play American Roots Music.   I personally play the Beatles catalogue, as well as Hendrix,  and I’m OK with Hip-hop, and even Elton John.  For the most part, they’re not American Roots Music.   PLEASE, try to be clear on that, and respect the “Program”.  Again, if you must challenge us, do your homework, write it up, and pass copies to the group to ensure they’re with you.  Lastly, if you don’t understand what the song caller wants, ask questions.  You’ll never get foot on that train if you don’t even know where it’s at.  Whatever you do, remember this golden rule of jamming.  “It’s doggone impolite to expect everyone in the room is gonna figure out what you’re doing when you didn’t have the courtesy to bring them in to begin with.”   That’s a good way to get personally acquainted with the moderator.

6.  When your song has run its course, you’ll want to signal folks the end is fast approaching.  Nothing complicated, a common trick is to kick your foot out as you start the last cycle.  You can also just say, “bring it on home folks”.  If you don’t do this, you might just find opportunity to witness what we call a “train wreck”.  No problem, we’ll pick up the pieces and put it back on the track.

7.  Always be mindful of jam courtesy.  The person who’s up is Hamlet.  There’s no room for two Hamlets on the floor.  There will be plenty of opportunities to chat and chatter, to trade and exchange.  Just remember when one of our friends is setting up a number for the group,  or performing a song, he or she deserves our undivided attention, and support.  Next to listening, knowing when to be quiet is the highest of jam courtesies.  It is also the one most ignored!

8.  The good folks at Tacoma Public Library support this effort, and we reciprocate.  Respect and protect the facility.  Rules prohibit coffee brewing and preparing food on site,  the preferred beverage is bottled water or its equivalent.   Cookies are fine if you choose to bring (and share) them.   We usually have both on site.

There you have it.  Those are the rules which guarantee a quality experience.  Not too much to ask, all things considered. 

Any questions, email “Billy” at
(Ignore/delete the Z’s) ZbluemuserootsjamZ@Zgmail.com

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Suzy