People come to these "jams," "singalongs," "song circles," "hoots," - or whatever you want to call them - with different expectations . . . for some, those expectations are based on previous experience and for the newcomers, they may be based on what they have seen at festivals or other events. Or maybe there are no expectations. Our system is rather simple: If we have a very large group, we are likely to use a sign-up sheet; if the group is small (say, under 12 or 15 "performers"), we are likely to go around in a circle. We do NOT use a "free for all" system (i.e., jump in when you feel like it).
If we use a sign-up sheet:
It is everyone's personal responsibility to get his/her name on it (listeners, please don't sign up ... it's rather awkward when you are called on and you don't have a song to share - though you are welcome to request a song). Those who show up late often end up getting fewer turns (it's not fair to those who were there on time for you to expect to "make up" for your absence by taking extra turns). If you have to leave early, be sure that the leader knows so that he/she can make sure you get your turn before you exit (but that doesn't mean that you should get extra turns to make up for the time you will miss by leaving before the end of the evening).
The leader also works to get all the songs people want to perform scheduled into the format (7:30-9:00ish, break, 9:30ish-11:00) - it is not appropriate for us to just stay longer in the host's home because we have one more song to do! Will everyone get to present the same number of songs? Probably not. If you do a 10-minute piece, chances are the leader will not call on you when there is only a 3-minute time period to fill. But if you don't speak up and you have a song you really want to play, then that is your fault. Often the "sign-up" sheet is abandoned after break if we have lost a large number of people before we resume (then it is likely that the format will go around in a circle or even be a "volunteer if you have something to share" method). Note: if we are going around in a circle and you change seats, do not be surprised if you get missed (however, some people try to get additional turns that way, and that is quite inappropriate!).
How to get "more" turns:
1 - bring singalongs (ideally without a bunch of song sheets for things we've never heard of, unless they are very simple - time is lost when songs sheets are passed around) - try things with easy choruses or songs we all know in keys that are familiar to most (B-flat may be comfortable for the voice, but the autoharpists and dulcimer players may not be very happy).
2 - keep songs within a reasonable time frame (3 to 5 minutes is normal; though there are exceptions for great singalongs that everyone is getting into and involve a lot of breaks for the musicians).
3 - don't tell us you are unprepared or that you have nothing for the theme (the leader will likely skip over you since you have already told us that you aren't in a position to be part of the group).
4 - be a good sport, even if you have a "better" version of the song that was just presented, keep that to yourself (note: if the theme is "summer," it's a good bet that at least 3 people will come with "Summertime"; consider alternatives for that eventuality).
5 - keep your intro within reason (we do not need to know every bit of history about the song; but some background is interesting and may add to the understanding of the lyrics - especially how it fits the theme); rule of thumb: if the intro is longer than the song, it is too long!
6 - communicate: do you want people to play along? (if so, be sure to tell us the key) Note to musicians: "playing along" does not mean hogging the spotlight - unless you have been expressly given a break, your involvement should not be louder than the person who is presenting the piece (exception: when the presenter makes it clear that it is a total group effort, not "his/her song" or that he/she is lost and is looking for help).
Most people who attend these are coming to share their selections and that is their primary interest. There is nothing wrong with that and we especially welcome newcomers who are interested in getting practice playing for and with a group. However, please be considerate of everyone else: refrain from noisy searching through your music selections while others are playing or getting up to leave when someone else is playing just because your turn is done.
When people work together to support, network, and enjoy the activity, these music gatherings can put us on a "high" that will last for days. Let's all do our part to make the experience uplifting for everyone!