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10 Reasons Jamming Will Make You Better

Posted by bennettsullivan89 on Thursday, March 20, 2014

Playing with other musicians is a great way to improve on any instrument. Here are 10 reasons why you should make jamming a priority and part of your practice.

You practice listening

When you play with a group, there are several different things you can practice listening to. Sometimes it can be really fun to listen to yourself, but it's incredibly important to develop your ears so you can listen to several things at one time. Jamming forces you to open your ears enough to at least hear the beat and play in tempo with other people. That's the first basic step. Then you can actively pay attention to other things in order to develop your listening skills.

Here's some things to listen to:

  • Yourself
  • Your "inner ear" (melodies or chords you want to play)
  • any of the other instruments
  • chords
  • melodies
  • tempo
  • different rhythms

It makes you a better improviser

In a jam setting, you'll hear melodies that you've never heard before, and you'll probably hear them several times in one night. The cool thing about improvisational music such as bluegrass or jazz is that there is a common vocabulary. All of us banjo players have studied Earl Scruggs, so we're going to play a lot of similar stuff if we're playing straight forward bluegrass. It may be played with a different touch or intention, but the essential vocabulary will still be present. 

As you get familiar with the different songs played at jam sessions, you'll notice the many commonalities between them, and you'll begin to intuitively mix and match some of the vocabulary. An Earl lick in Worried Man Blues may work great in Foggy Mountain Breakdown! 

The more that you actively listen to what other people are playing, the more you will learn about what you like/dislike, and the more prepared you'll be for creating your own vocabulary, and ultimately forging your voice as an artist and improvisor.

It helps you see and choose what you need to work on

I like to use jam sessions as a time for me to play, have a really great time, but also make mental notes of things I need to work on. It's often very eye opening to play with people. As you have probably noticed, you play different in front of your teacher than you do by yourself, or in a jam, or on stage. 

Taking note of what feels funny in a jam setting helps prepare you for a more important setting, such as a performance.

It helps you become a better performer

Getting comfortable playing in front of people at a jam is a great way to prepare yourself for performing on stage. There is less pressure, and you can imagine yourself playing a live performance easier than just practicing in front of a mirror or no one. 

You learn jam etiquette/vocabulary

There's a unique etiquette that goes along with the jam territory. It differs now and then, depending on the jam, but for the most part it's the same. For example, everyone gets a chance to pick a song to play. You're not obligated to do so, but the opportunity is there. Also, you'll be able to watch people as they lead songs.

Do they communicate when it's time for a solo, or time for the chorus? What do they do? Nod their head? Say something?

Musicians speak to communicate different song forms or chords to each other using standard vocabulary such as "A section" or "verse" or "chorus". It's beneficial to start hearing these words and associating them with the songs you are playing, so you can be a better song leader when it's your turn.

You learn songs and tunes

There are going to be musicians at the session that you don't know, and they are going to have their own set of songs they enjoy playing. By merely listening and figuring out the chords, you're developing the foundation of learning songs on the fly faster.

If you really like a specific song someone plays, don't be afraid to ask the name of it. Learn it and ask to start it at the next jam.

Some people will actually record songs that they like, so they can learn them later. This, and making a list of songs to learn, are both great things to do. The more songs and tunes you know, the more fun you'll have, and you can more readily practice improvisation over them.

You meet other musicians

There is bound to be another musician or two right at your skill level at pretty much any jam session. They probably have similar questions and a similar repertoire to you, and are just as eager to learn. Making friends with others at your level is fantastic for many reasons, but one being because there can be a friendly competitiveness that can drive you to learn things quicker and better. You want to keep up with your friends, and they want to keep up with you. 

It challenges you

Jamming gets you out of your comfort zone in many ways. Playing in front of people, improvising, playing on songs you don't know, etc. It's all great, and it's totally fine if you don't sound good. Generally people don't care. If you are fun to hang out with, don't have an ego, and you are looking to learn, the more experienced musicians will usually share their knowledge. 

Remember that you are there to learn, and be challenged, and if you don't sound good, there will always be another jam session for you to practice at.

You get to test out what you've been practicing

Let loose and take chances. You are not performing. You're at the session to have fun, learn, and try things out. When it's your turn to pick a song, choose one you are working on and take the lead on it. Take mental notes of what went well, and what didn't, and be sure to practice them after the session :). 

It positively reinforces your practice

Playing music is fun by yourself, but it is so much more fun when you are interacting with one or more people. By enjoying music, and by enjoying what you are playing, you are positively reinforcing the fact that you play music. You're having fun, which is due to all of those "hard" hours of practice you've put in. 

Practice is essential because it allows you to relax, let your creative energies flow, and have a great time when playing with others.

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