Pass The Jam Please
I have to be perfectly honest, of all the things I love about music I really love a good jam. Not a traffic jam, nor a jar of jelly but a good old fashion, mash it hard stomp the ground jam session. You know, where musicians get together to exchange new licks and songs. Jam sessions have long been a huge part of my learning and maturing as a musician. They can form just about anywhere and the more the merrier but, you have to have at least five musicians before I consider it a good one. So what is a music jam session and how does it help us become better musicians? In this blog I will try to share some of my experiences at jams and explain how I feel a jam session every now and then is good for the soul.
Jamming is a spontaneous musical collaboration. Instead of playing just one song, jamming is when a musician can find a groove or melody and improvise with each other. While jamming each musician has the freedom to try new things. Work on new songs or hot licks. Learn new material from other players and make a musical connection with all who attend. Keep in mind that many good bands have started or formed at one of these sessions. Like anything else worth doing there are some things you need to know before you jump in knee deep at your first jam session. Remember most of us old timers and yes I am in that age group of players with over 50 years picking under my belt that had to learn the hard way. Trial and error is a rough way to learn.
The first thing you have to convince yourself before attending your first jam is it’s ok to make mistakes. What? A teacher said it’s ok if I make mistakes, Yes I did. In my music dictionary there is a word I teach to all my students. It’s very important that each of us understand it completely and know the true meaning of this one word. According to my dictionary when a musician makes mistakes it’s called LEARNING. So, yes it’s ok to make these mistakes and learn from them. That’s one of the better advantages of a jam session. We can all laugh at our mistakes and learn together how to correct them and ALL OF US will make them. So don’t be afraid to try. Your going to make mistakes but you will learn so much from doing so.
Tuning is always a problem. You should know the proper way to tune your instrument before you venture into your first jam session. I like the old saying that banjo players live by, We tune because I care. Even though it hurts me to say this, banjo players for the most part are the worst at breaking the tuning rules. Seems banjo players along with fiddle players have to always be re- adjusting or constantly tuning. I don’t know why. I use to do this very thing but I’ve gotten better over the years. The important thing is to tune, not when someone is talking or trying to tune them self. If you need to tune during those times be polite and walk away. Step aside and retune and then rejoin the group. Always respect the players who are in your jamming circle.
It’s your turn to kick off a song of your choice. This responsibility usually goes in a clockwise circle at a jam. Now it’s your turn to pick a song to play. Well, Hoping you carry a list of your best tunes with you or you have done your homework and prepared your best songs for this moment Annonce the song you wish to play. The title and the key you wish to play it in. Most songs have what's known as a standard key that everyone knows. Sometimes tunes are played in different keys to match the singers voice. Other times the key or progression is change to make the song easier to play. Let everyone know what your intentions are with each song you kick off.
Once you start the song give lead breaks to anyone in the group that wants them. Don’t hog the entire song . Share the spotlight. A jam session is supposed to be an egalitarian or communal event where everyone can feel free to play and enjoy. No one enjoys it, however, when one person takes all the solos or decides to solo for 2-3 minutes straight. If someone doesn’t know the piece you have chosen they will pass on their turn or they will try to improvise the tune the best they can. Some of the hottest licks known to mankind have been discovered in a jam session by someone who never heard the tune but tried to play his turn.
After everyone in your jamming circle has had their shot at your song and it comes back around to you it;s your job to end the tune. By now you have worked on some of those hot endings and your ready. There are many ways to signal the other players that your intentions is to end the song. I guess over the years I have seen hundreds of ways to do this but the universal sign for ending a number is just sticking out your leg and foot during your last few measures of your break.. I have seen this technique done from amateurs to professionals on and off stage and it works. Everyone knows it’s true meaning and you intentions of doing so.
Learn as many of the standards in the genre of music for each jam. If you're going to a bluegrass or country jam you might want to learn the standard tunes for each. Don’t feel like you need to memorize hundreds of songs before your able to jam because you don’t. The purpose of a good jam is to once again here’s that word, to LEARN. Enjoy the songs you know and make a list of the tunes you hear repeated at several jam sessions for future learning material.
Last but most important of all, learn all you can about music theory. While studying theory may seem like the key for good improvisers seasoned musicians quality musicians know that music theory is the secret weapon that helps them adapt in any jam. Knowing song, chord and scale structures allow you to figure out songs on the fly because you can quickly predict where the songs going. Chords are not smashed together randomly. There are certain principles and formulas that dictate what sounds good and how each scale interacts with certain chords. If you want to be a quality jam player, you need to do your homework.
Most of all attend your local jam sessions, learn everything you can and have fun doing it.
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Playing Since: 1972
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Banjo, Guitar, Mandolin, Bass and Violin
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Last Visit 2/12/2020
Bluegrass Musician, Teacher. Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin, Bass and Violin NOW OFFERING ONLINE LIVE LESSONS ON SKYPE www.terrystrange.com Specializing in Multiple Genres with over 50 years in music.Teaching Since 1978 Now offering ONLINE LIVE LESSONS ON SKYPE www.terrystrange.com
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