Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why everyone needs a family band.

Why does everyone need a family band?  Well, I suppose they don't, but if you're reading this, maybe you do.  Here are our family's reasons:
  •  Shana - 
    • You get to hear your kids singing (at breakfast, playing, biking)
    • You and your kids learn to value music, practice, and hard work
    • You spend less time on TV and video games
    • Your kids really want to do something meaningful with you, particularly something that you're not good at yet and you can learn together.
    • You get to share music as a family.  As we all go through stages of closeness and separation, we can share the songs we play together.
    • You can play music with your friends and their families
    • It's great fun around a campfire.  So much fun that you'll have a campfire in your backyard just so that you can play music around it.
    • So that you can play back up and watch you kids play lead.
  •   Eric - Because it's fun
  •   Gus  - Because it's fun
  •   Huck - Because it's fun
Aren't you glad I asked them? 

No seriously, to quote Dan Zanes, "What is life without family bands or neighborhood bands or just people by themselves playing tunes?"

Speaking of Dan Zanes, he has an awesome set of videos on his web page.  There are videos showing you how to get started on guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, spoons, and many more.   Once you get some chords under your belt, you can print out any of his songs with chords.  They make great sing alongs for young and old.

Another great source of information if you're just starting out, or if you're looking for new tunes and ideas, is the ToneWay Project.  They have videos that will get you playing the song "Shady Grove" with just a G chord, and then just a D chord.  You can be playing and singing in 15 minutes flat.  Once you've watched their tutorials, you can browse through hundreds of songs and listen to sound clips.  

Playing with others - Music Jams

There was an Old Time Music Jam at our local art gallery last night.  There were guitars, fiddles, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, harmonica, and an adorable little banjo uke.  Huck, who usually plays washboard or spoons at jams,  played a couple of his fiddle tunes, Angeline the Baker, Old Joe Clark, and Bile Them Cabbage.  Gus played every song, whether he knew it before or not.  Eric and I chorded along using cheat sheets or watching other players hands.  We were surrounded by a beautiful display of quilts.  I can't imagine a lovelier setting indoors.
Old Time Jam at the Green Drake Art Gallery and Art Center, Millheim, PA

Tips about Music Jams
Music jams are great ways to learn about instruments, new songs, music styles, make connections with other musicians, and just to have a good time.  Some music jams focus specifically on one style of music, Old Time or Celtic for example, and others are open to whatever the participants want to play.
Jams aren't just for great musicians.  Anyone can go.  If you don't play an instrument or aren't comfortable playing with a group yet, you can sit outside the circle and watch and listen, or you can join in with a set of spoons or a rattle egg.  If you're just starting out and can only play a couple of songs, bring your instrument and when its your turn to suggest a song, suggest one of the songs that you know.  Often, if you know a couple of chords:  G, D, and A, you will be able to chord along with some of the songs even if they are new to you.  Bring a notebook and write down the names of songs that you like and pick one to work on for the next jam.

Jam etiquette varies.  Some are very relaxed and others are less so.  The best way to find out is to ask.  For example, at Old Time Jams everyone usually plays the melody (or chords) and improvising or soloing not encouraged.  The opposite is true at Bluegrass Jams, where everyone plays chords and the melody or "solo" is taken up by one instrument at a time around the circle.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Welcome to Three Songs After Dinner

Three Songs After Dinner is a blog about a family that enjoys playing music together.  Not long ago, our musical expertise included two boys, now 6 and 8, taking Suzuki violin lessons, and two parents who had been fairly average high school band members.  My oldest son has a passion for everything musical, especially fiddle tunes.  His fiddle teacher suggested that he teach us all to play instruments, so that we could accompany Gus.  We didn't have a good reason not to, so he loaned us a mandolin, we dug a guitar out of my in-laws attic, bought a small washboard at an antique shop, and embarked on a musical adventure.  

We've learned a lot along the way, had plenty of fun, as well as some frustration.  The blog is called Three Songs After Dinner because in our early days we tried to play 3 songs after dinner every night.  Since we knew 3 songs, it seemed a reasonable request, but we rarely made it through all 3 before someone got frustrated that the fiddle was too fast, the guitar too slow, the mandolin out of tune, or the washboard just too loud.  Fast forward a year or so and we can play and sing after dinner for as long as we want, and sometimes we do for quite a while.  We're not ready for gigs or anything, but we have a good time sharing music as a family, with friends, and at jams.

I started this blog as a way to record the adventures of our Family Band, share what we're learning, what's working, what's not, resources, songs, and stories.  I hope to find others who are playing music with their kids, their neighbors, their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  I hope to help others who want to play music with their family but don't know how to start.

Recipe for a Family Band
  • Any number of family and friends

  • Any number of instruments (including but not limited to guitars, mandolins, fiddles, banjos, washboards, spoons, harmonicas, pianos)
  • Some resources

  • The desire to spend time together doing something fun and rewarding!
  • One or more 100 day practice challenges

Combine ingredients, practice frequently, have fun, and stick with it!