How to Be a Better "Jam" Musician




This Instructable will be describing what steps you can take to learn to "jam", if you will, with other music(ians) without hesitation. I would assume this instructable may be helpful to anyone looking to start jam bands such as Phish, The Grateful Dead, or Disco Biscuits that involve vamping, therefore implies you know how to stay with the band while they all play the rhythm for you, or you play the rhythm for them. The things in this Instructable would be great for any musician to learn though, and would help greatly with your musician ship.

This is my first instructable so let me know about any errors and such. Sorry if there is bad grammar through out the entire thing, i am not very good with grammar it seems.

Step 1: HAVE a SOUL!

I see a lot of modern music player just run through songs without even budging, its pathetic and sad on many levels. I suggest writing your own material, and never playing anyone's songs exactly how they did it. Add your own spices to the soup as my guitar teacher used to say. Soul is what separates a good music player from a great musician. I am sick and tired of seeing kids sitting around running scales and calling it a song. So please, please, please if you take anything away from this lesson let it be this step.

Step 2: Establish an Instrument to Learn On

I personally learned all this on my guitar because its my main instrument of choice, i suggest picking your instrument of choice, because this will help you become more familiar with your instrument.


This may be the most important step of the entire process, listen to bands that play music which have extensive vamping such as Phish. If you do not own music like this go here
create an account and type in bands or songs that involve this type of music.
Live music by these bands is going to be more beneficial, because when live bands tend to improvise and extend songs.

Personally, i find bluegrass music a great thing to listen to, becuase it often consists of large amounts of improv through out the entire band.

I mean really listen to the music, sure you can sit there and listen to it while you are surfing the web, but you aren't really paying attention to it. Turn on the music lay back on your bed and just listen to the harmonies and such. Listening to peoples music is one of the best ways you can learn to play music.

Step 4: Learn Your Notes by Ear

There are many ways in which to do this, best ways would involve actually using your instrument but there are "Ear Trainers" out there, which are program which will EVENTUALLY train your ears, i find this to be a slow process. I tried out a few of these ear trainers but none of them worked as well, or were as beneficial as process using your actually instrument.

Here is my way:

Take your instrument of choice. It is crucial that your instrument is IN TUNE or this will just screw everything up for you.

And Pick a really simple song in which you can sing the instrumental part of.
Example: the intro to purple haze, its simple and easy to memorize.

Now learn to sing the instrumental part of this song perfectly singing it in the same octave each time.
Okay once you have done that done we move on to another part and come back to this later.

Next pick an octave to play and sing each note along with the octave as you play it, You should be able to hear when they are the same note. When i sing along with it i make sure to sing the name of the note, that way my brain recognizes this note as that name. So Keep trying until it sounds right, this work a lot easier if you have a tuner in which you can see if you are hitting the right note or not. THIS IS NOT ABOUT BEING A GOOD SINGER JUST MATCH THE NOTES. Do this repetitively until you get it down. I recommend doing this with a few octaves.

Next, remember that song we were talking about earlier, well play that part of the song on your instrument singing along with it in Harmony.

This will not happen over night!!!!! This takes lots of practice just as playing the instrument itself so don't give up, it takes longer with some people then others. Do this a few times for a warm up maybe each time you pick your instrument up, because if you do this non-stop many people become frustrated and give up.

i recommend downloading one of the ear trainers and testing your self a few times to make sure you are doing it right. But do not rely on this to get you by.

Step 5: Learn What They Did

Something i tend to do is look up songs, and learn to play little parts of the song but never the entire song. By doing so you can learn what the musician before you have done and how they get sounds. Don't worry about sheet music if you don't know how to read it, just use tabs, although learning how to read sheet music is recommended at some point in time. Look up portions of the song or type in on google "How To Play Like _______", and there are often sites that come up showing little riffs that they commonly used. can also be a great source just type in "Grateful Dead Lessons" or something like that and you will often find lessons that teach little things that these bands did.

Step 6: Play Along With the Music or Backing Tracks

Now time for the fun, playing along with the music. Pick some songs that you enjoy turn them up and play along, by play along i do not mean the exact song, i mean play your own improvised lead and rhythm parts with it. Remember to listen to what is being played though, becuase if you just focus on what you are playing, there is no way for you to tell if what you are playing fits the music you are playing along with. They key to being a good musician is leaving your ears open to the rest of the band not just your own instrument. Also if you don't have such great timing i recommend practicing with a metronome every time you play, they can get expensive so if you don't have one just use a free one of the web.


You can never know too much when it comes to music!!!!! Learn theory and chord construction, you will be a much better musician for it, just don't get carried away and lose you soul.

this is a great site for learning theory and reading music i suggest using it greatly.
I personally read through the entire thing once, went back over it all playing along with my guitar, then went back over it all with my keyboard.

And Keep Practicing!!!


Step 8: Recommended Listening

The Grateful Dead
Disco Biscuits
Tom Petty
The Band
Dave Matthews Band
Umphrey's Mcgee
Jimi Hendrix (band of gypsys era stuff is best)
Tea Leaf Green
Bob Dylan (1975 era for this type of music)

Then of course all the Solo careers of people who were in the bands above:
Jerry Garcia
Phil Lesh
Trey Anastasio
and all the rest

i'll add more if i can think of more



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    26 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Love the soul-tip! It's so important :) Join us on to jam with musicians online, great for improving the jamming skills. Cheers :)


    10 years ago on Step 8

    dont forget The Allman Brothers Gov't Mule Pink Floyd Tool(for bassists) and for great use of effects.... Rage Against the Machine

    1 reply

    5 years ago

    I'm 11 and I know about phish!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    While its common to read articles like this one, inevitability, they all miss the foundational step work that the dead did: before they jammed, they were trained musicians. They knew formal music theory like the back of their hand, which is why their jamming worked so well for them.

    To be a musician, one must have both a soul and a brain. How is one to communicate with music if one refuses to learn it's language?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Something to help with improvising and soloing would be to start listening to jazz music. Before The Dead and Phish, jazz musicians were the first to "jam." The solos that they played were all improvisation, and learning how they did it will really help you improve your improvising skills.

    1 reply

    Here are some of my suggested artists:

    -Sonny Rollins (one of the greatest improvisors of his era and instrument, the tenor sax. Listen to his most famous album, Saxophone Colossus)

    -Miles Davis (the most famous jazzman by far. Kind of Blue, his best selling album, really shows great improvising by all of the musicians. Listen to Miles play as well as the two sax players, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane)

    -Chick Corea (amazing composer and piano/keyboard player. his music combines jazz fusion and even some latin-based concepts and sound awesome. his playing is very melodic.)

    -Stan Getz ("The Sound". His tone and skill are one of the most memorable. Check out his bossa nova stuff.)

    Those are some good places to start


    7 years ago on Step 4

    As someone else guessed, you're referring to "key," when you use the word "octave?"

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 4

    I think the idea is that it's OK if you're singing or playing the same note but in a different octave. If the melody has a D, it's enough to play that D or a D in any other octave. I'm a bass, so there's not much hope of me matching any female singers exactly, but I should be able to match the melody by singing an octave or two lower and get good results, good being defined as "in tune with the rest of the song and matching rhythm, tempo, volume, etc".


    7 years ago on Step 4

    Even if you have a good ear to begin with using the ear training program is an excellent idea. The process of playing by ear takes years to develop and these programs help a lot, the Royal Conservatory of Music has really good ones. They take you through clap backs (which teaches rhythm) identifying intervals (which helps you to easily recognize jumps in the music and get them more accurately) identifying chords like dominant and diminished 7ths, major and minor, and the most important of all is the playbacks. You are told the key and, depending on the grade level there may be more that one voice playing at the same time, then you attempt to play on your instrument exactly what you heard. This is very good for training because they are short and simply not long complex, full songs.


    Hey man, great 'ible. Just thought I should point out that in Step 4 you should swap "key" in for "octave". "Octave" only refers to a range on an instrument, whereas a key is the scale that notes of a song are taken from.

    dude i love SRV he is amazing! Scuttle Buttin' is the song that inspired me to learn how to comfortably play fast as a beginner


    9 years ago on Introduction

    John Frusciante. His work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as well as his solo career is downright glorious. Listening to him, especially his solo career work, will expand your musicality immensely.


    9 years ago on Step 8

    I'd also recommend Jeff Beck, Peter Frampton, and Led Zeppelin. With Peter Frampton his later stuff is better, you might say his earlier works lacks as much "soul" (lots of ascending and descending scales). Good job on the instructable, you did a fair job of encompassing most of the stuff you need to "jam", I agree that having some soul is the most important part (speaking of which, I've found Blues have the most soul of any music, especially Jimi Hendrix's blues album).


    9 years ago on Introduction

    this is grate because I know all grateful dead song by hart woooooooooooooo


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I like it man, real good advice. Everyone should jam, playing solo just isn't the same. My advice on the subject (should anyone care) No when to shut up, a drummer should come with a mute switch as standard. Listening is as important as playing. Don't be afraid, just play. I know some really good musicians, who I would rank far better than myself but by playing together I learned a lot and even taught them a thing or two. Even if you are basic they can learn something from your style. (Unless they're arrogant in which case they can piss off anyway) I never thought such good musicians would accept me, let alone be able to keep a straight face but if you just go for it then they'll appreciate your effort. A little alcohol can really help with this too, the old dutch courage :) Speaking of which much as I love weed I feel it makes me self concious and paranoid, fearful of what others might think of my music. I dearly love it but don't think it has helped any of my jam sessions