Bluegrass Music

A Look At Bluegrass Jam Tracks

In the arsenal of books, videos, and recordings that I have for practicing guitar, bass, mandolin, and fiddle, I have two CDs that I have used on-and-off for a while. The first, Band In The Pocket! #4: Country/Bluegrass seemed to be an afterthought by the company that put it out (Five Feathers Music), because most of its CDs were geared toward rock musicians. This CD has 10 selections, and they are generic arrangements of tunes ranging from Zydeco to alt-country to Gospel. There is really only one bluegrass selection on this disc – a breakdown backing track in the key of C.

The other disc is a bit more useful. Let’s Jam: 23 Country & Bluegrass Jam-Along Tracks (Watch & Learn Inc.) is more evenly divided between country styles and bluegrass. While the country arrangements are again generic, the bluegrass tracks are songs that are standards in jam sessions, such as “Nine-Pound Hammer,” “Old Joe Clark,” and “John Hardy.” A few of them are presented at two different speeds for beginner and intermediate practice. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this CD is available any more from the company ( but you may find a copy used through eBay or another source.

I have talked previously about the three bluegrass jam videos available from Pete Wernick’s website (, which are pretty good to follow along. Moreover, YouTube will always have some video that one can jam along with. Along with a number of instructional videos, the Bluegrass Unlimited YouTube channel regularly posts jam tracks of popular bluegrass songs in the most familiar key, and you can control the speed of the video for your own comfort (

One online resource to check out is GrassTrax ( For each song offered, one can select a recording with a particular instrument removed from the mix, be it guitar, bass, banjo, fiddle, or mandolin. The bundle package will include the selection played at various speeds so that the student can gradually build up playability at the normal speed. While a number of bluegrass standards are offered, there are also some more modern bluegrass songs available, such as “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Wild Horses.” Note that each download of a track will cost $1.99, but if you are on the email list, GrassTrax sends out a monthly free download from a song of its choosing. I have a few of these downloads on my computer, and I guess my only complaint is that the key is not always the same as either the most popular recording by a bluegrass artist or the most common at jam sessions.

Post-pandemic bluegrass jam sessions are not that plentiful. Add to that the cost of gasoline (at the time of this writing, a gallon of regular unleaded fuel is about $5.25 in Michigan), and it is becoming more difficult for bluegrass musicians to get together to jam. These jam recordings are helpful, but nothing beats working with other live musicians to feel the spirit.

Chew on it and comment.


By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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