Reply To: Questions & Answers

Todd Borger


Thanks for the answer. That helps a lot. I am just reading the response now, but it is interesting that I went to a bluegrass jam last night so all the events of last night are fresh in my mind as I am reading your answer. Here are my observations from what happened last night.

1. There were several banjos and at least one mandolin for much of the evening. Mostly guitars, one bass, and one fiddle. I was the only dobro. When I was chopping, I was aware that I might be playing on top of the mandolin, but in a setting like that, everyone is playing on top of something, so I don’t think it was a big deal. There were times, though, went I could hear us getting out of sync. The mandolin player was the one leading the group, so I knew I had better get out of his way! I had a very good, and very loud, banjo player sitting next to me. When I played my rolls, I knew I was going to get in his way. He was hard of hearing any way, so I don’t think I bothered him.

2. Honestly, what I was doing much of the time was figuring out the song and how I could play through it. I kind of quietly played through the chord patterns, finding the melody and how I could roll through the patterns. Then when they had me do a break, I basically did what I had been doing, but louder. It was a good learning experience in that regard.

3. There were a few slower numbers that I tried to do a counterpoint with the vocalist. I think I have a pretty good ear for harmony and melody (if that’s okay to say), and so this part of the instrument is perhaps my favorite and comes the most naturally for me.

4. Finally, one perhaps humorous story. They kept asking me what song I wanted to do. I said no thanks. No thanks. No thanks, again. Finally I broke down and said, “Well I’ve been working on Tom Dooley.” Immediately I heard, “Which one?” “Kingston Trio or the mountain version?” Before I could say anything, the man next to me started singing the Doc Watson version. Another man yelled at him, “No, he wants the Kingston Trio.” Finally the leader told me to just start playing and they would follow. At that moment, I forgot everything I ever knew about the dobro. My thumbs couldn’t find any gaps between the strings.  My picks started to fall off.  I tried to start it three or four times and finally said, “I think we’d better move on to something else.” They obliged.

5. So, one more question. If I am starting a song, am I playing just the bare melody at the beginning? If I am doing Tom Dooley, for instance, would I play the break from your lesson right out of the gate, or am I saving that for later? Should I just sing the first verse to begin? And is it my responsibility to call our the breaks and end the song, etc.? I guess this is a question about the music, but also about jam etiquette, I suppose.

This went on much longer than I anticipated. Sorry to hog the space.

And finally, a very Merry Christmas to you all.


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