Get into a Real Jam

By Solis, Nicole | Acoustic Guitar, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Get into a Real Jam


Solis, Nicole, Acoustic Guitar


25 WAYS TO ENHANCE YOUR JAMMING EXPERIENCE

FOR THOSE OF US who spend most of our musical careers practicing by ourselves, jamming with other people can be a revelation. Jamming is social and interactive, pushing you to find out how to take that tick you've worked so hard to master and put it to good use. It can also be overwhelming at first. Rather than being solely responsible for the sound, you're suddenly just one part of the whole. You have to learn new songs on the fly. there's no stopping and starting when you make a mistake, and you're doing all this in front of other people.

Yet, it's not a performance. Those people are your allies, not your authence. "It's more like basketball than theater," says Jason Mclnnes, a guitar teacher who leads several regular jams at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. "Everybody wants the game to keep going, so they're going to do everything they can to keep it going."

By spontaneously making music with other people, you learn to be flexible and roll with the punches. Whether you're new to jamming or an old hand at it. these tips will help you better prepare for a jam. participate more fully once you're there, and maybe even expand your repertoire of tricks to show off at your next session.

BEFORE THE JAM

Find the right jam for you and make sure you're prepared for it.

1 MATCH THE JAM TO YOUR JAMMING GOAL. Different kinds of jams can help you work on different aspects of your playing, so think about what you want to get out of a jam. Jamming is a cornerstone of ifie blues, bluegrass. and jazz communities, so if you want to focus on one of those styles, you should be able to find a jam to sit in on. If you're ready to get a taste of performing, seek out a stage jam. where musicians actually play into mies, sometimes even for an authence. Though some stage jams limit the number of musicians onstage, many will let lurkers play in the back until they feel confident enough to step in front of a mie. Beginners can get their feet wet at slow jams (where songs are played at slower tempos), where they can get used to playing with other people and even switching off between rhythm and lead. If your main goal is just meeting other musicians, you'll be able to do that in any jam, though you'll get more out of a jam with musicians who are close to your playing level. However, playing with musicians who are slightly more advanced can help you grow faster as a guitarist. Just make sure you're up for a bit of a challenge. Knowing what kind of jam to look for will help you focus your search as well as your energy. If you get overwhelmed, remind yourself why you're doing this.

2 ASSESS YOUR STRENGTHS. 'Everybody has something to offer in a jam." Mclnnes says, "It's like a food analogy. If we're going to have a potluck. a simple macaroni salad can be just as useful as a big bowl of chili that took two days to make." You might bring rock-solid timing - the ability to lay down a metronome-like beai that the rest of the players can follow. Or you might know just the right fill to play at any given moment. When I went to my first bluegrass jam. I didn't know a single bluegrass song, but I can sing harmony easily-a helpful skill when nearly every song has three-part vocal harmony. Use your own skills - whatever they are - to contribute to the overall sound and help develop your self-confidence.

3 SCOPE OUT THE LOCAL JAMS. To find a jam you might want to sit in on, talk to fellow players, teachers, and music store employees. When you show up, check out the scene before you even take your instrument out of the case. Try to get a sense of the rules that they follow. Is there a leader who runs the show or do people go around the circle, each calling a song? Are there other people who p!ay at your level? Do the people seem friendly or fun? You might not find the perfect jam, but as Mclnnes says, "the most important thing is finding people who make you comfortable no matter what level you're at. …

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