While new musicians often learn to play instruments through lessons and independent practice time, one of the most exciting ways for a musician to improve his or her abilities is by practicing alongside other players during a jam session. These informal gatherings allow a group of people to gather together and create music in a relaxed setting, where improvisation is encouraged, creativity is developed, and new skills can be learned.
To put together a jam session that is enjoyable, low key, and productive for everyone involved, musicians should avoid making the following mistakes during the process.
1. Playing with musicians who don’t share your goals.
When it comes to playing with other musicians, the benefit for beginners is that jam sessions can only improve their skills, even if they are among people with far more experience in practicing an instrument. A beginner does not lose out by working with people who are far more advanced in the practice than he or she is, and it’s almost never too early for a new musician to participate in a jam session.
The most important thing that musicians need to remember when choosing people to jam with is that everyone involved should be upfront about their level of skill and their goals for the session before getting together. A relatively inexperienced player who is looking for someone to casually play with for practice and recreation should not agree to pair up with an experienced player who wants to form a band with someone at the same level of ability.
Prior to setting up a session, all musicians should be clear about their experience and what they wish to gain from jamming with others. Direct communication allows musicians to find a group of people with whom they have musical goals in common and keeps group members from getting frustrated while practicing together.
2. Committing to something you can’t follow through on.
Musicians who agree to take part in a jam session need to be prepared to follow through on the commitment. Reliability is important when practicing with others. This is because jam sessions require everyone involved to coordinate schedules and decide on mutually convenient block of time to get together.
Apart from committing to showing up, all musicians should arrive at the session prepared and ready to give the practice full effort. Being prepared means bringing any necessary gear and having all instruments tuned and ready to go. This prevents delays that cut into practice time.
In addition to arriving on time and ready to play, all musicians should focus on paying close attention to what is going on during the session, even when it isn’t their turn to solo. A player who gives the meeting all of his or her focus will have a more enriching experience. Additionally, this also shows respect and consideration for other members of the group.
3. Being unwilling to play unfamiliar songs.
Another important way to show consideration for other musicians during a jam session is to be amenable to playing songs that one has not played before. Every player in the group should arrive at the session with songs in mind that he or she would like to practice. However, everyone must also be prepared to play along to songs that other group members choose.
Inexperienced musicians may feel averse to playing unfamiliar songs out of fear that they lack the ability to improvise, but those who find themselves in this mindset should instead elect to see the situation as a learning opportunity. Less experienced players should follow along with unfamiliar tunes as best they can. They may also choose to play along quietly until they become accustomed to the structure of the song. Musicians should also be comfortable asking for guidance from other group members as needed.
4. Not taking cues from other musicians.
As stated previously, being considerate and respectful to the other musicians is crucial to having a productive jam session. Taking cues from other members of the group is a key part of that process. Those who are jamming with other musicians should avoid becoming so focused on their own playing that they lose sight of what everyone else is doing during a song.
One of the most common mistakes that inexperienced players make during jam sessions is playing solos for too long, or having an instrument’s volume turned up so high that it drowns out everyone else. These things can be avoided if a player recognizes that a jam session is a collaborative effort meant to give everyone a chance to play, and is not a place where one person is meant to shine above the rest.
A player should take cues from other musicians during a song to determine when to play and for how long. This can be achieved through regular eye contact during the performance, and by paying attention to other players’ body language. The musician who knows how to take cues from others is always a welcome addition to a jam session because he or she helps create free-flowing music that allows for everyone to take part equally.
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Photo used under Creative Commons from Marina K Caprara