What is it?

Jim Penson's Bluegrass Jam Camp for beginners is designed to help those who are new to bluegrass to get involved as early as possible in playing with other people.
Bluegrass music differs from most other music forms in that is it largely participatory. Most people who are interested in the music also participate in playing it. Most folks that get involved in it want to start playing with others but fear that they aren't "good enough". In fact, learning a particular instrument, be it the banjo, guitar, mandolin, etc. is usually what gets people involved, but they soon find out that most of the music played at festivals and concerts are songs that are sung. Typically, an instrumentalist will go off by himself and learn a dozen or so instrumentals, get to where he thinks he's ready to play with others, go to a jam, and come home later disappointed that he didn't know most of the songs played. 
In our jam camp, the focus is on taking people who are new to jamming, regardless of their level of skill on the instrument, and getting them going in a jam.

This camp is not instrument specific. Bring your banjo, guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle or bass. This is not about learning how to play your instrument so much as it is about learning how to apply what you already know into a jam format.


The basic format of the camp is to emulate the setting of a bluegrass jam simplified and slowed down to some degree. The critical elements in being able to jam all have to do with timing, tuning, and song knowledge:

  1. Timing: No matter how knowledgeable you are on an instrument, if you cannot play what you know in time with others, you're ability to participate in a jam or band is very limited.
  2. Tuning is one of the greatest flaws I see in open jams. It only takes one instrument being out of tune to wreck a song.
  3. Song knowledge doesn't mean knowing all the words, breaks or licks involved in a song, but rather simply being able to recognize chords, chord order, and chord length.

In our group, we focus on these elements in a setting that allows players to participate to the level of their comfort. One of the major elements of jam camp is creating an environment that is comfortable for all students and that allows them to experiment. It is a "test lab" of sorts.