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Surviving Your Next Jam Session

 Remaining calm, cool, and collected ...


by Ian R.




Just the idea of going to a jam session can be a scary thing. You might imagine yourself messing up and being laughed at, or getting up on stage only to forget everything you’ve learned.


The truth of the matter is that everybody there is nervous - it’s not just you. All the stuff you’ve ever learned and practiced was to prepare you to play with other musicians.


It really is the ultimate prize.


It’s also where the real learning takes place. Learning things like scales and chords is great, but the real-time interaction with other musicians is where you’ll learn to put all your skills together and truly become one with your instrument.


Let’s take a look at some tips for how to survive your next jam session!


Come Prepared

Make sure to bring all your essential gear. You can’t count on the venue having everything for you and there is nothing worse than showing up and not being able to play because you don’t have a guitar cable.


You’ll want to make sure you bring along a tuner, guitar cable, picks, a guitar strap, your guitar, and a small backup amp to keep in your car if you have one.


You might be tempted to try and borrow somebody else's guitar but there a very good chance it will feel completely different from what you’re used to and that might throw off your playing.


Know Some Standards

Whatever genre of music the jam session is centered around, some popular songs in that style will probably make an appearance. In fact, lots of jam sessions ONLY play well-known songs so if you show up not knowing any you’re probably not going to have the best time.


If you are going to a jazz session it’s a good idea to to know some classics like Autumn Leaves and All The Things You Are, and if you are going to a funk session you’ll want to know songs like Chameleon and The Chicken.


Aim to have a good grasp of around 6-10 popular songs in the genre.


If you play bass, it’s also worth knowing some commonly seen blues walking bass lines and sequences.


If you are unsure of what songs to start practicing, go to one of the sessions just to watch and write down all the songs that come up. You can also ask the house band what songs they recommend that you be familiar with.


Practice Getting Back On Track

To best prepare yourself it’s good to practice jamming to tunes you don’t know. Throw on a backing track for a tune you’ve never played before and try reading a chord chart to stay on track as best you can.


When you inevitably get lost, try picking back up wherever you can without restarting the music.


When in a jam session you won’t have the luxury of starting the song over. You’ll have to go with the flow if you mess up or get lost, so the more you can prepare for that the better.


Learn To Read Chord Charts

Perhaps the easiest way to quickly learn how to keep up with a new song is to jot down a chord chart. Before you even learn how to read music, learning how to read chord charts is a must.


It’s very common to see chord charts at jam sessions so that everybody can make sure they are on the same page. Make sure you are familiar with the basic structure of written music and what things like repeat symbols are.


In addition to being great for jam sessions, chord charts are an excellent introduction to reading music. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to learn a song with a full tab, but having access to a chord chart will still allow you to learn a big chunk of the song with little effort.


Know Some Stock Intros And Outros

Getting in and out of songs is a great skill to have if you are playing with others. In each genre of music there are some very common phrases that are used to both start a song and end it, and you’ll see it appear on almost every album in that style of music.


In blues you’ll usually hear the last couple bars of a progression being played during the intro and outro of a song. The main difference is that the the intro will end on a V chord letting your ears know that there is more to follow, whereas the outro will commonly end on the home (I) chord.


Being aware of this and some other common intros/outros will make sure you are ready should it pop up during the jam.


Go ahead and google something like “common blues intros” to start with and get practicing!


Listen To And Watch Each Other

The more you play with others the easier it can be to anticipate what the other musicians are going to do next just by using your ears. Unfortunately this just comes with time and experience.


When playing with others for the first time, the best thing you can do is keep your eyes open for any cues. If you have your head buried in your instrument there’s a good chance you’ll miss any cues the others might have when it comes time to switch things up or for you to take a solo.


Try to find the person who takes the lead role the most and is the most communicative and keep your eyes locked on them for any hints as to what’s to come next.


Keep Your Solos Short

Consideration for others can go a long way in making sure you are welcome back to another jam session. Nobody likes the person who goes on a 5 minute solo while others stand idle waiting for their time to jump on stage.


A short solo will keep everybody interested, engaged, and will make sure that things don’t drag on for too long.


A great practice routine is to use a looper pedal to lay down a simple backing groove and try linking together a few phrases to create a short solo. Focus on being able to “wrap it up” and end the solo in a way that will easily cue others in.


Keep Going To Jam Sessions

This one is important. The more you can get yourself out there and exposed to playing with other musicians, the faster you will grow yourself and the more you’ll enjoy your instrument.


Most of your nerves will be gone after your first session, so going to the second should be much easier and you’ll have a much better idea of what to expect. You can show up more prepared and confident which will show in your playing.


You’ll also make some great friends along the way who share a common interest, and you’ll have connections with people who you can potentially start a band with on the side.  -HC-





Ian R. is the founder of BassGuitarGuide, a blog for bass players featuring buyer’s guides, how-to articles, gear reviews, and much more. Ian has been a bassist for over 20 years and wanted to make it easier for bassists to find the right gear for the job and solve everyday problems they face.


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