Introduction: How to Be a Good "Jam" Musician
Summer is the perfect time to hang out with your friends, start a garage (or park bench) band and jam. During recent jams it struck me how not all good musicians can jam well. If any of you have jammed before you have probably experienced someone who can pull out ripping licks, but they don't play WITH the band. They just kinda do their own thing, failing to see the big picture musically. It is the musical equivalent to trying to do a relay race with your eyes closed. You still run, but don't contribute to the team effort (plus your partner is like .............)
That being said, how does one become a good jammer? I will give my ideas and tips in this instructable, feel free to comment any additional ideas.
In my opinion, jamming is the art of faking, so it does not take a seasoned musician to jam (fake) well, a novice can do it. Don't be afraid to jam because you have only been playing guitar for 2 months or because you dont play an instrument. Anyone with any instrument can learn to jam, I will gear this instructable however to the guitarist.
Remember, everyone can play the washboard. ;)
Step 1: The Truth About Jamming
The truth about jamming is that it is REPETITIVE. This is a good thing and a bad thing.
It is good because that means in most jam sessions you will only need 3 to 4 chords. This appeals to both beginning musicians and more experienced musicians because the beginning musicians can comfortably rock out with the chords they know and the more advanced ones can focus on the fun stuff like chord transitions, solos, and making good sounds (i.e. feedback)
If you get bored with playing the same three chords over and over again, add something new, be creative. DONT, however, forget that you are a team player and not a diva. I will cover this more thoroughly later.
If you are an artsy musician who likes time signature changes, modulations, and funky rhythms every other measure, jamming is not for you. Get some sheet music and join an advanced jazz ensemble.
Step 2: Get Yourself to a Jam Session
You cant jam without other people! So get it out there that you want to jam. Join a band! Talk with local musicians.
Starting a jam session can be tricky if you don't know a lot of musicians but give it a whirl if you want.
Step 3: What to Jam To
The easiest, most universal, and rocking thing you can jam to is the 12 bar blues.
When you are jamming it is ALL ABOUT THE BLUES. blues blues blues blues. If you don't know the blues: EAEBAEB, there you know the 12 bar blues.
My point is that the blues chord progression of:
I IV I V IV I V (repeat n times)
is easy to pick up, but can be very technical, melodic, whatever you make it.
If you want examples of melodic, technical, fast, soft blues listen to:
Stevie Ray Vaughan (technical, fast)
B.B. King (melodic, slow)
Jimi Hendrix (melodic, technical)
Eric Clapton (a little bit of everything)
They are widely regarded as great bluesters. Although there have been MANY others (see John Lee Hooker above)
Very few people can play a Hendrix blues note for note, that is not the idea. Just listen to it for ideas what a blues master does.
Step 4: Expanding on the Blues Progression
The blues are above all versatile. You can play a pentatonic scale above it (youtube minor pentatonic blues if you don't know what I'm talking about). Many artists have expanded on these 3 chords (see Led Zeppelin's "Bring it on Home" off Led Zep 2) Incidentally, the repeating guitar riff in the beginning of the afore mentioned zeppelin song is, in my opinion, the main guitar lick for starting off the blues.
Even if you are only playing the root chords ( E A E B A E B ), you can still vary things up between repeats. Make one go real soft and the next one loud, for starters.
Up to this point I am assuming that you are playing blues in E, the most common blues jam key. You are not limited to this though! Give A a try! ( A D A E D A E )
Step 5: NOT Being a Diva
What I mentioned before in the intro can ruin a jam session. This is most common among electric guitar players. Here is a list of DON'Ts that will annoy other musicians during a jam.
-- dont try and do a tapping guitar solo , it is annoying, selfish, and annoying and chances are your not doing it right (I'm not bagging on fledgling tappers, keep it up, but leave it outside when you jam.)
-- keep the tempo ! It is better to stop playing and regain your place than losing the tempo. Also be on your guard against speeding up esp. on the guitar.
-- if you're playing with beginners, dont outdo them too badly. Its rude.
I feel i should explain the image. The woman in it was an opera teacher while I was in high school. I stood in the back row struggling to sing tenor 2 while she sang a big ol' aria. Heh.
Step 6: Adding Other Instruments
Other instruments are.......INSTRUMENTAL to a jam. Ha. But seriously, a harmonica, a sax, a violin, piano, string bass (rad), drums can really change the sound of your music. Give it a try, but avoid the harpsichord and the didgeridoo.
I should say, however, that beginning piano players and beginning guitar players don't mix. Pianists all want to jam in C and Guitarists prefer A or E.
Step 7: Other Material to Jam To
There are a lot of songs that EVERYBODY knows (or should know) that, in my experience, are fun to jam to, and easy to pick up.
Riders on the Storm -- The Doors (plus violin equals awesome)
La Grange -- ZZ Top
Smoke on the Water -- Deep Purple
Purple Haze, Hey Joe, Wild Thing -- Jimi Hendrix Experience
Wipeout -- The Ventures
Highway to Hell, You Shook Me All Night Long -- AC/DC
Money, Comfortably Numb -- Pink Floyd (Comfortably Numb is a bit tricky)
Just What I needed -- The Cars
Hotel California -- Eagles
Stay away from Metal unless it is simpler (Black Sabbath, Anvil) because metal can get really insane really fast. You really have to know what you are doing to pull off an Iron Maiden or Pantera Song. Earlier I defined jamming as "artful faking." There ain't no way to fake your way through "Run to the Hills"
The Idea with Jamming is not playing a whole song, that is more the performing side of things. So dont feel obligated to play a bridge or even the complicated half of a chorus. Just find something that works and develop it into something of your own.