Bluegrass Jam Along podcast – free practice aid online

Matt Hutchinson is a British bluegrass picker who has come up with an interesting concept for a podcast that could be useful to others learning to play all over the world.

He has launched a new podcast called Bluegrass Jam Along, where he offers free backing tracks for popular fiddle tunes. Each tune covers three episodes, and delivers different backing tracks for you to practice with. The first is a typical backing track, him playing four times through the chords for you to practice the melody or variations. Next comes a track where Matt plays the melody four times through for you to practice accompaniment, and another where you and he trade off on the lead. He plays both mandolin and guitar.

Hutchinson also provides free chord charts on the podcast web site for each tune. Given the simple backing he provides on each episode, these would be suitable for practicing banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, or reso-guitar.

To date, he has only released two tunes, but says that he is very encouraged to see 400 downloads of those two. One is for Soldier’s Joy, while the other focuses on Whiskey Before Breakfast. The next four are already planned, and will feature the same format with Gold Rush, Cherokee Shuffle, Red Haired Boy, and St. Anne’s Reel.

So how did a guy in East London get interested in bluegrass, and consider starting a podcast?

“I didn’t grow up listening to bluegrass, but discovered country in my late teens via songwriters like Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Steve Earle. That led me to check out people like Hank Williams and, before long, I stumbled on bluegrass. Like a lot of people, I then got the bug as a result of O Brother… but I really started listening seriously when I was gifted a mandolin as a leaving present from a job in 2006 (pretty neat gift!).

I started going to sessions in London, which aren’t all that common, and learning fiddle tunes. Fast forward to last year and lockdown found me picking up the guitar a lot again after years of playing mandolin. I just found myself craving a fuller sound, now that I was playing on my own rather than with other people.”

For Matt, the Bluegrass Jam Along podcast  came after his own search for suitable practice tracks came up empty, and regional jams were closed due to COVID restrictions.

“That lack of people to jam with inspired me to make my own backing tracks, and I mentioned them on a couple of online groups. People really responded to the idea of the ‘jam along’ tracks in particular. So I started recording in better quality and releasing them.

I’m really hoping they’ll help more people jam along while sessions are mostly shut. I also hope the podcast will be a lifeline for pickers outside the US, who may have nobody to jam with. Unsurprisingly, the US counts for the bulk of downloads so far, but I’ve had downloads from 38 countries already, including Guatemala, Pakistan, and China, so it looks like there are bluegrass pickers all over the world!”

All of Matt’s podcasts can be accessed on either Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, or Stitcher. If you subscribe using one of these, or your favorite podcast aggregator, new episodes will download immediately upon release, and all you may need to do is get the chord charts from the Bluegrass Jam Along web site.

Hutchinson will be kept quite busy with this project, as he plans to create his standard three episodes for the top 20 most popular fiddle tunes. If you like his podcast, there is a contact form on the web site if you want to offer suggestions for future tunes.

Hat’s off to Matt Hutchinson for sharing his tracks so freely with the bluegrass world.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.