Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



Major Professor

Leslie C. Gay Jr.

Committee Members

Rachel M. Golden, Alexandria H. Carrico


Bluegrass and old-time are genres founded on Appalachian music traditions, as mediated through the early recording industry. While initially considered performance genres, the styles have become the foundation for jam sessions across the United States. These jam sessions are participatory, inclusive spaces, in which anyone with a basic knowledge of the style and the proper instrumentation can, in theory, join in the musicking (as defined by Christopher Small, 1998). For the musician with a disability, these informal jam sessions, founded on musical sociability, demonstrate an alternative value structure, as they are mostly unregulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), an economic-based antidiscrimination law. As this leaves accommodation up to the discretion of the participants, the accommodations found within these settings portray a different perspective of disability—one which allows for possibility and participation. I term this as a participatory model of accommodation and, through ethnography and autoethnography, illustrate how this peer-based model promotes inclusion within the social model of disability. Drawing on Thomas Turino’s (2008) definitions of participatory music and Tom Shakespeare’s (2006, 2010) articulation of the social model of disability, I analyze the musical and social dynamics of the jam session, drawing on my own experience as a fiddle player with a hearing impairment. Further, using ethnographic research—specifically, interviews and participant-observation—of musicians with disabilities in these sessions in Tennessee, Washington, and Illinois, I illustrate the importance of interpersonal relationships, rather than power dynamics, in the jam session. Moreover, I demonstrate how the aging population of these jam sessions impacts ideas of disability, impairment, and mortality. Finally, I argue that this narrative of inclusion and practices of accommodation in jam sessions can change individual perspectives on disability.

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