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.

Bluegrass Music Musicians

Bluegrass Jamming

Another Casino Guitars video, another comment from me.

This time, Baxter and Jonathan discuss ways that musicians can meet other musicians to jam with or form bands. They recommend the usual options, such as guitar stores having a bulleting board, open mics at bars, and searching the internet. They also suggest hitting community colleges that have music programs and talking your friends into learning an instrument.

My one and only gripe about these guys is that they are too electric-centric. They never really look at the acoustic side of guitar music. Within the video, they talk about finding the local blues music society for seeking musicians. Now Casino Guitars is a store located in North Carolina, which is in a region big on bluegrass music. There are loads of festivals in the area, and there is a rich bluegrass history from North Carolina (Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson for starters).

As for bluegrassers, we are a well-informed community regarding musicians. Even up here in Michigan, which is definitely not a hotbed for bluegrass business, there is still enough communication going around to know what is out there. There are three viable bluegrass associations in the southern part of the Lower Peninsula that spread news as well as make available to their memberships scheduled jam sessions.

Best of all, bluegrass festivals are a fantastic resource for musicians looking to play with others, whether it be to just jam or perhaps start a band. This has been going on for decades, and will surely continue now that restrictions from the pandemic are slowly being lifted. Bluegrass festivals are unique regarding these amateur parking lot jam sessions. You never see anything like this at rock, country, or jazz festivals. People go there to listen to the music, period. Bluegrass audiences have a high percentage of people that also play musical instruments. Many show up at the festivals with the only intention of jamming, not really caring if they see a band on stage.

I have mentioned it before, that the professional bluegrass musicians performing on stage also like to walk in the parking lots and jam along with the amateurs. There is a great bond with professional bluegrass artists and their audience members. They all get to know each other personally, and part of that is jamming with one another after shows. That is something you do not see at other music festivals.

A few weeks back, I posted a video of a jam session at the SPBGMA conference that happened in January. This is a great example of what makes bluegrass people unique. Music is in the blood, heart and soul of bluegrassers. At SPBGMA and IBMA conferences, jam sessions happen in every corner of the sponsoring hotel. Rooms are set up just for late-night jamming. Old friends reunite, and new friendships are created continually. I miss the early days of the Americana Music Association’s conferences. There would be a number of jam sessions going on, but that seemed to disappear as the organization grew. Fortunately, jamming is still encouraged at SPBGMA and IBMA.

Jamming has become so much a part of bluegrass that Pete Wernick, whom we all know as Dr. Banjo, created three jamming videos and has established a classroom setting program to instruct people on the principles and etiquette of bluegrass jamming.

So if you are beginning to learn guitar, banjo, mandolin, or violin/fiddle, and want to learn what it is like to be in a ensemble situation, consider bluegrass music. We bluegrassers are a welcoming community. I leave you with a great example of this community feeling. Alan Bibey (mandolinist with Grasstowne) is having a great jam session with some very young pickers.

Chew on it and comment.