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Creative Tension??
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60 posts
Nov 28, 2016
4:57 AM

Learned a lot from the 'Big Amp Small Amp' thread on this forum. Most of the discussion was around the need for volume and I have come away with the impression that 'defeating' inconsiderate; guitarists, bassists, drummers and sound men is the main justification for a Big Amp. This seems to be normal?
(Hopefully a similar discussion about the tonal differences will ensue soon).

As someone who is working up the nerve to get up there in a jam this is most discouraging. I expect to be out of my element and feeling quite vulnerable and do not need to be in some sort of fight. I spend too much time in the day job taming rowdy idiots!

I also play a bit of banjo and playing Duelling Banjos with my mate on his guitar always ends in chaos. I think that song is a clever duet creating the impression of competition. He doesn't seem to be able to control himself. I'm a bit fed up.

I often read here on MBH of experienced players who won't do loud gigs / jams. They often cite hearing protection but I suspect that they are just fed up with the idiots.

I have long felt that music should not really be competitive. Cooperation and teamwork are the keys. I hear the good stuff when a conversation is taking place.
Don't get me wrong there is a place for competition, tension and even aggression. But not within a band - they might give that outward impression to the audience but shouldn't be fighting amongst themselves.

I probably will do an open mike / jam thing when all the planets are aligned but I am not expecting to enjoy it:-(

Am I an idealist? Should I just wade in or confine my harpin' to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with the kids at bedtime (probably a Small Amp)? Am I just looking for reasons to avoid getting on a stage?

Your thoughts appreciated.

Last Edited by bublnsqueak on Nov 28, 2016 4:57 AM
234 posts
Nov 28, 2016
6:05 AM
It's all about finding like minded people to play with. Not every open jam is a loud brawl, but some are. It sucks, but that's the nature things - jammers (here in the states) tend to be mostly non-pros, and that brings a lot of problems to the table. Of course there are exceptions, there are some very well run jams that often have pro players hosting and sitting in, and who knows, you may live close to one of these.

The least painful way to suss out the situation is to find the the local jams and go listen, leave your harps at home. No pressure, just sit, watch and listen, see how things go. If the environment appeals to you, you can always go back with your harps next time, or whenever you're ready. This also gives you an opportunity to see what the set-up is for harp players so you know whether or not they provide an amp, you should bring your own, or possibly just a mic. Feel free, on a break to go up, talk to, and ask question of whoever is running the jam, it's usually fairly obvious who that is.

If you can't find a jam that suits you, there's no shame in that, plenty of players, good and not so good alike, don't care for the whole jam experience. Sometimes it's a lot more satisfying to simply cultivate a group of like minded players who would prefer to meet at someone's house, or a park and play good music together, rather than have the need to get up on stage and "show their stuff".
1900 posts
Nov 28, 2016
7:05 AM
bublnsqueak - I totally agree with you. Making music is about music, all the other stuff I can do without. Unless you are a professional - a real pro I mean, whose making a living out of it. Unfortunately some amateurs do seem to get hung up on establishing the pecking order - human nature I guess. Just depends on the particular people.

But on the big amp/small amp/volume issue there is an effect which is not to do with competition. Bands tend to get louder during a session. I believe the reason is to do with having individual amps, where each person tends to nudge up their amp to get heard (playing a solo or whatever) and neglect to turn it down again or not as much. So you get a slow upward ratchet effect. This happens with every band I've played in anyway.

To manage it, you can consciously reset everyone's volume at some point when you notice it. Problem is if you're the one with a little amp vs the others' big amps the imbalance creates a problem more often.

In a jam setting you may get this effect, with no one to reset it or manage it, and as the owner of the little amp you may get swamped - without any malice on the part of the other people. As the newbie harp player I expect you won't be able to ask everyone to turn down a bit. Plus, lots of people like really loud live music, I can't understand why they aren't deaf.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Nov 28, 2016 7:13 AM
224 posts
Nov 28, 2016
10:01 AM
LSB's advice is spot on.
Phil Pennington
225 posts
Nov 28, 2016
10:01 AM
LSB's advice is spot on.
Phil Pennington
4313 posts
Nov 29, 2016
2:07 PM
Yeah it shouldn't be a battle. I was talking to Ron Sunshine earlier this year and asked him for advice on playing jams where guys played rock beats and left no space. Ron was succinct; "stop going to those kind of jams".

(He also suggested listening to the Tbirds, stuff like 'sugar-coated love'.)

Seriously that is the deal. The harp is not such a mainstream instrument even in blues which now seems to be dominated by allman's and srv inspired sounds where there just isn't much space unless they are making a point of the harp.
You can still learn a lot in those kind of situations but it's mainly about dealing with frustration.

The private jam I go to is much more satisfying than trying to play on a stage where there is no sensitivity or collaboration.

there is only 1 public blues jam in this town and it is only 45 minutes, between sets at a blues gig. Sometimes there is only 1 person wants to play. The band of the day provides personnel to help that work. Sometimes that works out really well. Often it's not so good. Sometimes 3 or 4 or 5 guys turn up and do something they rehearsed. I don't call that 'jamming' and it's pretty hard to get involved with if you're not already in the gang.

I'd really like to have a gig which is basically a jam, where there is a competent house band to keep things running smoothly and folks can show up and play. Something like a Sunday afternoon session.

That's kinda what we do in the private jam I attend. Every 3 or 4 weeks, Sunday afternoon, a couple of beers and a comfortable clean garage. There is a core of players and some established repertoire but visitors and new songs are always welcome. And if you ask to turn down they'll sometimes do it, if you can manage to get them to hear your request. I only have that problem if I'm late to the party.
I do have to put up with instrumental surf music though. I think it's revenge on me for refusing to sing all those stones songs.
61 posts
Dec 01, 2016
11:39 PM
Thanks for the replies.

In the last couple of days these thoughts have developed. I have taken a bit of a leap and got a couple of guys together to see if we can't get some sort of blues vibe going.

One is my chaotic guitarist chum, the other is a timid bassist (who seems to be terrified) and myself (nervous, self taught etc).
The final member is the drum machine on my Zoom B3.
No singer as yet.

If I can keep chaos boy under control I reckon we can pull something together.
I want to get a good groove (culture) going before inviting others in to move it along.

I think we have the technical ability between us and the motivation. The main challenge is going to be keeping everyone barking up the same tree!

Some early wins will help: I thought we would start with WH's Easy and LW's My Babe.

Any suggestions, anything I've missed?
1902 posts
Dec 02, 2016
3:04 AM
Good move, and I hope it works out. I did a similar thing, and I'm delighted with it. I don't go to jams as well as that - I've only so much free time. There's pros and cons to that but one of the big pluses with your own thing is you can keep the music to the maximum and all the other nonsense to minimum.

So much of MBH is about playing to the public, or jams which are an emulation of that. Or busking for money. What happened to the simple idea of friends getting together to make music?

Some ideas...

I wanted to get out of it was to play actual songs rather than loads of generic stuff as a substrate for solos. So from the start I wrote out lead sheets (chords, lyrics, verse-chorus-solo structures etc.) and kept them as a book that we all share. And kept adding to it so now we have a big repertoire.

Even if you don't plan to gig, it's great to work up a 'fantasy set list'. Gives some motive for the sessions.

I'd recommend recording yourselves from the outset if you have something to do it with. Then you can chart your progress which is good for the soul. I expect you'll get other people joining at some point and you can marvel at how much better you sound with the extra person.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 02, 2016 4:02 AM
63 posts
Dec 03, 2016
12:05 AM
Taking the lead was always looking like a option.

I have attended quite a few start up music groups (but not many established jams). I have found that leadership is what is lacking. Two scenarios:
Some group leaders know about music but have no idea how to manage a group.
Others understand group leadership but do not know much about music (I'm one of these)

In the ensuing chaos egos can see an opportunity. I was once told "we don't do keys" after asking for the key (imagine the eye rolls round the room). Sounds daft but it is just someone trying to impose order (for whatever reason) and not recognising that they are out of their depth.

What is really required is a music teacher!

Anyhoo - my plan is to start small and get a couple of songs started before backing off and letting the chaos in. Same each week. Repeated quick wins.

I'm very conscious of MTG's "pecking order" comment: I don't really want to be too dominant but these guys need help!

Wish me luck!

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