The ToneWay® Project: helping people play music

Become a Jam Coach! (locked)

NOTE: This page is out of date in some ways. We now have most of the core functionality incorporated into, and also we have simplified the hosting-a-jam process.

Helping people learn to play music together can be deeply satisfying. As a jam coach, you are a powerful catalyst for the musical growth of others. Just as importantly, helping others helps you discover steps you have overlooked in your own musical journey.

Not a teacher, you say? No problem. Most ToneWay jam coaches have no teaching experience—in fact, most of our Santa Cruz jam coaches only have a couple years of music experience themselves! Yet the service they provide for beginners is highly valued. Just listen to some of the actual feedback these Santa Cruz jam coaches have received:

The environment at the JamShop is wonderful. Thanks so much for leading us all! —Shannon

It's wonderful to play with others like this. —Marilyn

We were encouraged to experiment and also got to play along on a song we didn't know. It was a great experience. —Suzanne

What a wonderfully fun, welcoming place to share music. A very safe place to be a beginner! —Lanakila

[You] were very patient, encouraging and helpful. I really appreciate the opportunity to play together and get feedback. —Sue

Playing music with others is something that I always wanted to do. Now I'm doing it. —Eric

As a Jam Coach, You Can Lead JamShops

The most valuable service jam coaches provide is to organize JamShops in their communities. JamShops are not classes but guided jams, divided into three levels to suit everyone, from the absolute beginner to the more advanced. These create a safe and easy path to “real-world” jamming. Check out the JamShop video if you haven't already:

And, You Can Introduce Music to Others

Jam coaches can also teach ToneWay “Get Started” group classes in their community. We'll give you our easy, “no-brainer” curriculum and all the materials you'll need. For an example of this, see our online “Get Started” workshop video—this presentation models a real-life “introductory class” very closely.

Our Goal: A Jam Coach in Every Community!

Our proven framework, which has been in constant development for past few years, is being made available free of charge to interested volunteers. As a jam coach for the ToneWay Project, you will receive:

  • All the materials you'll need to lead JamShops and teach ToneWay “Get Started” classes, plus general guidelines compiled from years of hands-on experience with jam coaching and teaching.

  • A page to help organize your meetings.
    (See the Santa Cruz JamShop Meetup page for an example.)

  • Our continued commitment to your success.
    Support is always just an email away!


The rest of this article describes the ins and outs of what jam coaches do. It also covers a lot of subtle points about JamShops and ToneWay classes that would not be otherwise obvious.

First, a little “research” is in order

Mountain Music JamShops in Santa Cruz Meetup page

If you haven't already done so, check out the Santa Cruz JamShops Meetup page. This is the longest-running JamShop group. Make sure you read the JamShop Overview on that site. It will give you a good overview of the JamShop from a participant's perspective.

By the way, notice that this group is hosted by This paid service makes organizing and scheduling JamShops and classes much easier. We will help you set up your own Meetup page, and the ToneWay Project will pay for the service as long as the group remains active (as determined by the amount of activity on the Meetup page). Your group will also be linked from on

The “How and Why” of the JamShop

We have refined the structure of the JamShop to give the optimal experience for the new and growing musician. Like our home page says, our success rests on the three pillars of Method, Repertoire, and Community.


JamShops require is little (if any) explicit “instruction.” The goal is not to teach people music! JamShops are a way to learn through doing—on-the-job training, in other words. In fact, “teaching” in a JamShop often does more harm than good! All the jammers need to do is play, play, play… to consolidate what they already know cognitively until it becomes second nature.

The Five CommandmentsThat said, sometimes a jam coach will need to answer questions like what chords are being played, how to take breaks, etc. In these situations, jam coaches must comprehend and follow the “ToneWay way.” That means using the 1-4-5 system for chords, a Picking Pattern-based approach to playing melodies (as opposed to tablature and so on), etc.

Why? In the JamShop's “learn through doing” environment, consistency is essential to avoid misunderstandings and the ensuing loss of confidence and cohesion. Introducing anything else will only complicate things; mixing paradigms confuses and dilutes.

If you're not yet familiar with the ToneWay Method, we recommend both a) ordering Get Started Plus: Core Songs Edition, and b) watching the free online workshop video.


Song selection in a JamShop is limited to the 100 Core Songs. We've found this to be essential for success. Having a shared repertoire does away with much uncertainty and chaos, and makes it easy for everyone to participate, and most importantly, enjoy!

A few words about style

The musical style we've based the ToneWay Project on (“mountain music”) is loosely defined by intent. Mountain music is not bluegrass, old-time, folk, country, or even strictly American, per se. It encompasses all of these things, yet is restricted to none of them.

Yes, a moderately standardized musical aesthetic must be maintained in order to make jamming enjoyable. However, the desired aesthetic is not one of style, but of discipline: pitch, rhythm, volume, and so on. The limited selection of instruments (guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, Dobro, bass) and common body of pre–electricity-age songs further define the “genre” and help maintain group cohesion.

The key here is flexibility. The jam coach should avoid imposing their personal musical aesthetic preferences on the jammers. In fact, we must take care not to belabor references to any particular musical style—even bluegrass. Keeping definitions fuzzy lowers the pressure and helps to avoid elitism: the death knell for common participation.

The forces of the commercial market also serve to constantly narrow the focus regarding what is “good,” “better,” and “best.” This can be very discouraging for anyone of average talent wanting to participate.

The ToneWay Project is all about modeling a broad-based music aesthetic that appeals to the largest range of people—this is “big tent” people music!


An essential part of any jamming community is maintaining group cohesion. More cohesion means more fun and more learning. In general, group cohesion is strengthened by a tradition the group shares in common. In the JamShop, group cohesion is reinforced by a common tradition in approach, etiquette, style, and repertoire. The introduction of other styles, repertoires, techniques, and so on, weakens cohesion.

This weakening can happen even with seemingly harmless, spontaneous comments from a jam coach. Saying that, “this band/lick/style is the greatest” can be more divisive than you think. One can soften these kinds of comments by making them personal: “I like listening to so-and-so a lot.”

People music can function almost as a “religion without spiritual dogma,” in the way that it brings people together. Success lies in being alive to what strengthens and weakens group cohesion. Just as dogma makes a religion cohesive, a common musical repertoire, method, etiquette, and style makes our people music cohesive.

ToneWay “Get Started” Classes:
An Introduction to the Method and Mountain Music

For folks new to the ToneWay Method, offering an introductory class gets everyone on the same page—again, helping with group cohesion. We can send you the materials you'll need to give this class to a small group of folks: guidelines and examples to review, and outlines and posters to use in class. The class is designed such that it is most effective when the instructor follows the curriculum very closely. This makes it easy to teach, so long as the instructor has the discipline not to get carried away with tangents and “rabbit holes.”

Our online “Get Started” workshop video models a real-life “first class” very closely. We have prepared some additional curriculum to fill out the first class and follow up with a second class. Beyond that, the students just need to put their knowledge into practice at JamShops.

Fees for JamShops and Classes

As a jam coach, you have the choice of hosting your ToneWay classes and JamShops for free, or asking for a small fee or donation. Charging money can help filter out the less interested players, if that becomes an issue. In Santa Cruz, the going rate has been $5 for a JamShop, $15 for a ToneWay class. That said, they started out free of charge, and we recommend doing the same in your group. Initially, you may actually be learning more (about coaching) than your jammers (about playing). Heck, perhaps you should pay them for being your guinea pigs! ;-)

The Book Requirement

Participants of JamShops and ToneWay classes will need a copy of Get Started Plus.

We have found the JamShop works best for everyone, both coach and participants, with this basic requirement. It ensures that everyone has some essential resources and a common repertoire. When everyone is 'on the same page', everything runs much smoother. A successful outcome is more certain.

Having folks order the book online and review it for a few days before they attend works best. Naturally some won't get around to looking at it much beforehand, but at least they will have the repertoire, and the resource to answer the questions they are bound to have afterward.

In a “introductory class” situation, having students receive their copy at the first class works fine. However, for this to work, coach must buy enough materials ahead of time. Note: We can offer an attractive wholesale price (a 50% discount) for a package deal which includes: 1) Get Started Plus: Core Songs Edition, 2) the companion CD, and 3) an MP3-CD of all 100 Core Songs, or the Core Songs 5-CD Set. (Wholesale pricing for individual products is not currently possible, due to high production costs.)

Summary: Essentials to Remember

Key Requirement: Jam coaches will need to build a gut-level understanding of the basic concepts in the ToneWay Method: the Five Commandments, the number system, the Patterns, etc. One effective and fun way to do this is to use the Method to learn all the instruments that the Method covers. (Note: here, “learning” does not mean becoming a skilled player in each instrument. Simply knowing how the Method applies to them is sufficient.)

Key Approach: Knowing when not to say something (“teach”) is by far the most important skill one can have. That allows folks to stumble as a child (the Fourth Commandment). Just imagine if you'd had parents that hovered over you as you learned to walk, correcting every misstep. Not fun! Not helpful! Not efficient! Doing it ‘wrong’ is an essential part of finding how to do it ‘right’. Robbing folks of that opportunity, while it may feel helpful, actually hinders. Stay out of the way, and it's hard to go wrong.

Interested? Here’s what to do:

  1. Read through this whole article—just saying that in case you skipped ahead ;-)
  2. Obtain a copy of one of our ToneWay Method books
  3. Sign up for the JamPool, and register your book on our web site
  4. Contact us!

We look forward to hearing from you!

The Abbott Family

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