8 Things to know before your first jam session

Updated: Jun 29, 2019

In the very early days of music being used for tribal rituals or as a communication device for primitive man we can see evidence that music was almost always a community affair. Music, by its very nature is not a solitary pursuit, it is meant to be used as a tool to connect and communicate with other people. Playing with other musicians is a highly important skill to develop for any aspiring musician, it can improve your playing, help you realise new ideas, help you learn from your peers and often at times keep you humble.

For decades (and possibly even centuries or millennia) the idea of “jamming” or playing with other musicians in a free form environment has been a staple of the music world. Each different contemporary musical genre has its own element of jamming built in. Jazz music has “standards” – A list of songs/pieces that jazz musicians learn and build improvisations around. Blues music has the “12 bar” – A standardised song format that blues musicians learn to follow in any key and Rock music has “Classics” – A list of classic rock songs that most musicians would either have learned or can pick up based on the songs familiar format. Jamming enables a musician to gain ideas from others, experiment with new ideas, test their skills and knowledge and meet like-minded musicians to network with. However, it also can be a really stressful and terrifying thing to do! You might feel like your playing will be judged by other musicians, your playing is inadequate you may feel like other musicians will realize that you don’t understand all the theory or any other feelings of crippling self-doubt that us musicians are so accustomed to. These are almost always a misconception but, here are 8 things you should know before going to your first jam session.

1. Is it genre specific? If you’ve grown up a self-taught Iron Maiden fan then the last thing you will need is to accidently end up at a jam night for hardcore jazz musicians all wanting to show off their newest solos for Giant Steps! Similarly if you are looking to show off your Giant Steps solo, don’t accidently end up in a room full of B.C Riches and Grindcore fans. Make sure you know what kind of night this one is.

2. Is it open mic or open jam? Make sure it is in-fact a Jam night for musicians to play with each other and that the venue isn’t just using the word “Jam” as a fancy sounding buzz word for Open Mic.

3. Is it renowned for professionals? If you are looking to meet other professionals or are just a high-level player there are Jam nights that attract a more professional level of player. These nights often take place in famous venues or well-known music bars such as Ronnie Scotts or Jazz at the Lincoln Centre or Shanghai Jazz and Blues (if you’re local to me) These are great if your looking for a challenge or to do some networking but, for your first time maybe best avoided.

4. Is there a song-list? A lot of jams have someone who is in charge and they may well have a large file-o-fax full of songs that the regulars or house band can play, its well worth finding out of your local jam has one of these and learning a few of the classics.

5. What is the gear situation? Worth finding out what gear the place has before you turn up to an acoustic bean-bag and bongo jam with your JCM-800 and table sized pedalboard.

6. Will anyone be reading? If you are not a keen and avid sight-reader it’d be a good idea to find out if this is the kind of jam where you may get presented with a lead sheet or even just a score and expected to be able to keep up.

7. How many musicians usually go? Jam nights can always be difficult with some people hogging the stage whilst others sit and nurse a solitary beer patiently waiting their turn to play. Its always worth finding out how busy these places are you might not want to wait until 2am to get up and play.

8. Is there a free drink for jammers policy? There should be!