As of this writing, we are in the middle of the Covid-19 virus situation and everything is locked down, so why would I write something like “get out and jam”? Well, this lockdown is not going to last forever but going to large concerts or pub gigs might last longer than we might have hoped for.
However, the best time to get prepared for the lockdown to finish is right now. You will never have a better time to prepare than you have now. And when we do come out of lockdown it will most probably be in small steps so large gatherings won’t be allowed. That is why jams sessions are so important to your musical growth and mental health – small groups of musicians getting together to improve their abilities and have some fun doing it.
The best advice I could give any guitarist is to go to a jam session or jam night and play with people! But what if you say you are not ready, you can’t do it, etc., well I say now is the best time to get yourself ready so you can do it.
If you can play a few chords, strum even the simplest song, and get good time, you can find a jam where you can get up and play. If you wait until you are “ready” and you have perfected all the musical concepts known to humans, you will NEVER do it. If you are a first-timer – plan it now. If you have jammed before but haven’t done it in a while – plan for your next jam now.
The better prepared you are the easier and smoother things will go when you get with your musical friends. Change those guitar strings, give the guitar a polish, check all your cables are in good working order, maybe turn that amplifier on and see if it is working as it should, etc.
Playing with other people helps you: Build your confidence, learn how to communicate with other musicians, discover what you need to work on, and most of all HAVE FUN! While some jam sessions are private affairs, there is nothing like getting up on stage in any situation and jamming/playing for an audience. Make this a priority to do immediately. Don’t think about it, just do it. You will thank me later.
If you are in the beginning stages of development it would pay to try to find people to jam with that are around your level of experience. There will be people who are a bit more advanced than you and people with less experience but don’t let that bother you. Also, it is great to have good people there who will help and encourage you to improve your abilities and help take you further with your music.
It would also pay to brush up on those open chords, strumming patterns, blues progressions (most jams at this level start with a blues progression), and those songs that a lot of people in your genre of music like to jam on. Also, best to spend some time each day working with a metronome as nobody likes playing with anyone who can’t keep good time. In fact, anything you think might come up at the jam is a good thing to work on. When at the jam if anything surprises you then make a note of it to work on in the future – there will be some of these at every jam session.
When you are at the jam session then see if you can accomplish some of the things you have been practising. If you can accomplish a few things then you have grown musically.
What are the 50 most popular songs of the genre you play in? Get a list of them and learn as many of those songs as you can starting with the most popular and easiest ones, then working up to the more difficult ones. Also, it is a good idea to learn how to solo over those sections of the song that solos occur, practice the strum patterns of those songs and any other nuances that you might need to know.
When you go to the session see if you can play one or two of your favourite licks in every solo you play, or maybe a new chord voicing you can fit in here and there.
You most probably already know what to do, but you might need to brush up on more than one style of music as jams at this level can go anywhere at any time. Playing funk one track, jazz the next and blues the next, etc.
You also should have some things you want to accomplish like working in some new licks, fills, bubble parts, double stops, funky strums or similar. You also might need to learn some new songs or progressions that everybody is playing since the last jam you went to.
What about your creative soul? How can you reinvent some well-worn parts you have been playing for years and make them sound fresh? What about looking in your lick book for some new ideas?
Overall, when you go to a jam session you should have something you want to achieve. Jam sessions are not free for all’s like many guitar players think. When you have something in mind you want to achieve and you get it done, then when you come away from the session you really feel great. I think this is the most important part of jam sessions – knowing that when you go home you have achieved something musically. Whether the growth is incremental or huge doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is that you have done it and improved and of course had fun.
Kevin Downing is an internationally recognised guitar education specialist. His website is www.guitar.co.nz.