View Full Version : uke for a bluegrass jam class?

12-19-2015, 05:58 AM
Hi All,

A local music studio will be doing a Pete Wernick bluegrass jam class this coming February - April, and I was wondering what you thought about joining with a uke. My wife and I are new players. She has a concert and I have a baritone. I like the idea of being forced to play with others, but Pete Wernick's website said that ukes and other non-trad instruments might be drowned out. Is this the case? I'm actually not particularly worried about that (I'm happy if I hear myself, but nobody else does), but wondered if you might have other thoughts, advice, or concerns as we consider this.


Rich B

12-19-2015, 06:21 AM
Having played next to only one banjo, you might find it hard to even hear your own playing. Especially true in a room full of banjos. Banjos are a LOT louder than ukuleles. Sounds like fun though.

12-19-2015, 06:32 AM
Having played next to only one banjo, you might find it hard to even hear your own playing. Especially true in a room full of banjos. Banjos are a LOT louder than ukuleles. Sounds like fun though.

This is soooo correct, just playing with acoustic guitars you get drowned out. That being said I attend two uke jams that have between 30 - 60 people and even with my loudest tenor I cannot hear myself when everybody is strumming and singing.

So just go for it, learn some new stuff and have fun.

12-19-2015, 06:48 AM
I've busked with a banjo player before. The banjo is a little loud, but what the heck, it didn't stop me. I'm with Dave. Just show up and see what happens. I think that you will learn quite a bit from the experience, by the way.

Doug W
12-19-2015, 06:53 AM
My wife and I play occasionally with bluegrass jams. In a jam situation, the other instruments just quieted down when we played. A whole room full of banjos is another matter. But I agree that you should go. Report back with the results.

12-19-2015, 06:57 AM
Sounds like it might be an excuse to buy a banjolele (or two) ;)

Seriously though, I think I'd find it very difficult to learn anything if I couldn't hear my own mistakes and, certainly against a crowd of banjos, fiddles or mandolins, all traditional bluegrass instruments, a ukulele will struggle to be heard.

You may also care to confirm the nature of any coursework that might be issued ... will you need to read conventional notation, for instance, even which keys will be most prevalent might be a consideration. Also, are you likely to be familiar with the tunes and arrangements. Being beginners, these are all factors that might affect your enjoyment of the class.

However, I do wish you luck. Having recently attended a series of classes on "The History of Music", from pre-medieval right through to the 20th century, I was fascinated to find how much I didn't know !!

Enjoy :)

Jim Hanks
12-19-2015, 09:56 AM
Do you have an iPhone or iPad? http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irigacoustic/
Clip that in your sound hole and wear ear buds. I'm sure you'll pick up other instruments but the uke should be loudest. If you wear both ear buds it should cut down on some of the ambient noise too - like your own personal in-ear monitor system. :D

12-19-2015, 07:22 PM
I've played with bluegrass and jazz jams with my ukes, and had no problems with hearing myself play, or fitting in. As long as you don't run into one of the "Ukuleles have no place in bluegrass" idjits, you will be fine.

When I run into those diptwads, I usually say "Yeah, you're probably right", play a Foggy Mountain Breakdown/Rocky Top" medly, then say "On the other hand, I think I have to disagree."

BTW, there's a YouTube video of Roy Acuff playing ukulele, for whenever you bump into the nay-sayers.Let them look it up.( Sure it was Country, not Bluegrass, but most of the people who claim that Ukes don't belong can't make the distinction.)


12-20-2015, 09:57 AM
Every Friday night I take an Eddy Finn Concert Travel Uke with Aquila Red strings(low G) to a BlueGrass Jam. Because I am higher up the neck than the guitars, the uke stands out. There are times I play a back beat, or chord above my 5th fret for a different sound. Intimidated about taking a knife to a gun fight? Nah!! I have a sawed off shotgun . Everyone is acoustic, so it is a level playing filed.

12-20-2015, 11:37 AM
I'm gonna read between the lines of the original post a bit and conjecture that perhaps in *addition* worrying about his playing being sound-overwhelmed by the typical bluegrass instruments, perhaps there's a little concern that he and his wife won't "fit in," either with instrument, style of music or playing ability.

While I can't address that particular jam class in that neighborhood, I have taken a bluegrass jam workshop in my neck of the woods (Northern California) and found it to be a great learning experience in every way. At the time I took it, I'd been playing ukulele about two years but just the strumming/singing kind of playing (frankly, that pretty much describes me these days, too. Sigh...). The instructor was at first a bit surprised to see a four-stringed instrument that wasn't a fiddle, but quickly moved into teaching and I had a great time (and the ukulele made for lots of friendly conversation-openers during class breaks). The instructor, in teaching jamming technique and protocol, was very careful to let my more-quiet instrument have its "turn" (if I so desired the limelight!). The classes will introduce the OP to a whole different kind/feel of music...and that can be really fun. As always, playing with others is a great motivation to play "better," too--whether with a bluegrass jam or an ukulele club/group.

After taking the "how to jam" workshop, I attended a local "folk music" jam. While it wasn't straight bluegrass, it was heavily tilted in that direction. I wrote about the experience here http://ukuleletonya.com/blog/2007/09/in-which-i-join-a-folk-jam-session and include a few tips (in short, get a capo, get really good at an E chord or become adept at an E chord substitution!).

I've also jammed with bluegrass groups up in Weiser, Idaho during their National Old-Time Fiddler Championship in June. Now *those* are definitely a bluegrass jam sessions! And, again, I felt welcome and the groups always acknowledged the ukulele as an addition to what they were doing. When an ukulele takes the lead, I found the other musicians played more quietly. But, more than likely, that's not going to be the OP's concern when he first starts the class...

My vote: Go to the class, plan on learning a new kind of music and don't worry about having the other instruments' sound overwhelm the sweet sounds of your ukuleles. It's about learning and enjoying making music with others, not who plays loudest or "best."

12-21-2015, 03:05 AM
Wow, great info from Tonya. Might be a good excuse to buy a banjo uke. They have a higher pitch and are loud enough to at least get you heard. I also think my Kamaka and Martin sopranos might be heard as well both in volume and pitch. Wish I could go there with you. Can't always make my uke club and have no one to play with.

12-21-2015, 08:46 AM
Hey, this is a good reason why I had a custom uke made in the style of a mandolin (mandolele), to fit in a bluegrass group. (It's a thought, I even installed a real mandolin tailpiece).

http://www.kohanmike.com/uploads/Mandolele chrome.jpg