A student named Abe asked me during a recent office hours session, “Do you have tips for how to fiddle at jams? Even just well enough to participate? I’m struggling to step into the level of sitting in at jams.

So there is not a single, clear cut way to approach playing with others. But there are some principles and strategies to guide you. One overall strategy: Listen deeply. What is happening? What does the music ask of you to do? How can you add to it?


Strategies and principles for playing at jams

Most of these ideas are not just for jam situations, but general

  • Prepare
    • Stretch and relax the breath
    • Take a casual attitude
    • Warm-up before the jam or session with scales, bowing exercises and easy tunes
    • If possible find out what tunes will be played; listen and learn them beforehand 
  • Learn the vocal melody
    • Transpose it to other keys
    • Add variation to this melody
    • Play fills
  • Play the chords
    • Don’t be afraid to ask people what the key (scale) of the song is
  • Learn to play quietly…
    • So you can experiment without throwing others off
  • Imitate parts on other songs
    • This doesn’t have to be a fiddle part; it might be a cool guitar part
  • Pause frequently to just listen 
  • Don’t overplay
    • A lot of fiddlers tend to overplay
    • If you are technically more advanced, avoid showing it too much
    • Try to find a simple thing you can do to make the music sound better
  • Find friendly people to play with
  • Seek out slow-player sessions 

Further learning

How to play Chord Backup

How to make Scales Fun

  • This is a series of lessons on how to practice scales in creative ways

How to Play On Songs

How To Play Fiddle On Songs – The Hitcher


This micro-lesson is an excerpt from an office hours webinar I gave on February 25, 2020. View the entire live-stream with indexed questions here.

Do you have a fiddle or violin question? The office hours live-stream happens on the last Tuesday of the month. 


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2 responses to “How to fiddle at jams?

  1. Great tips!!! However with no jams happening now I wonder if apps like face book, Skype , or Zoom etc could be used for an on line type of gathering/jam session. I’m not computer savvy so just an idea??????

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