Jamming is one of the most important practices in music. It can also be one of the most daunting. Playing an unfamiliar song with people you might not know can be a challenge, especially for beginners. But it’s an essential skill to develop if you ever want to perform in a band.
Knowing the protocol is half the battle.
Keep these tips in mind and jamming will become less scary, and probably even addicting:
1) Play in tune.
Don’t join in until you’ve checked your tuning.
2) Pay attention to the rhythm.
Playing songs you don’t know is not an excuse to butcher them. Playing against the rhythm of the song will ruin the tune, so listen closely. (Hint: Look at the guitar player’s strumming hand).
3) Catch the key.
The vocalist (if there is one) will probably dictate a key he or she is comfortable singing in. If not, the leader of the song will call it. The key of the song is your musical road map. Make sure you know what it is (and know your scales!).
4) Maintain eye contact.
The leader of the song will let you know when to take a solo and when changes are coming, but you need to have your eyes up and not looking at your fingers to catch it.
5) Take a tasteful solo.
Make sure you are being directed to solo and you’re not playing over someone else’s turn. Once it is your turn, listen to the song to know when it begins and ends. Most songs follow an AB format (verse, chorus), so listen for the changes that lead you in and out of sections rather than inconsiderately blowing through a 40-bar solo.
6) Groove and feel is everything.
If you’re jamming on “I Shall Be Released,” don’t throw in a shreddy Metallica lick. Fit your style into the song. Oftentimes that can mean less is more. The silence you utilize can be just as powerful, or more so, than the 30 notes you stuff into a phrase. Fast is not always better and you don’t have to show off all your chops.
You need big ears to jam and you need to use them. Jamming is all about blending. If you’re not listening to the others, you have nothing to contribute.
8) Feed off one another.
Echoing and harmonizing can be powerful tools when used correctly. Learn to enhance the music by playing off of others in the jam, not by stepping on them.
9) Don’t noodle.
Don’t noodle during or between songs because it’s annoying to everyone. What you contribute to the jam itself should have arc and style. It shouldn’t just be a gaggle of notes. Between songs people are usually trying to tune or give information about the next tune, and by noodling, you’re hampering their ability to do so.
10) Thank everyone in the jam.
Be gracious and let everyone know you appreciate the opportunity to make music with them. The connections you make in the jam can lead to other projects (and more jams).
Have fun and jam on!