30 November 2011

Beginner's Guide to Guitar Jamming

I've had a few questions from readers asking how to get started in guitar jamming. Jamming to your favourite tunes on your guitar is a lot of fun, but what exactly is jamming, and how do you get started? In this post I'm sharing a few tips to answer these questions.

Guitar Jamming

What is guitar jamming?

What is guitar jamming? Wikipedia offers us a helpful explanation. "Jam sessions are often used by musicians to develop new material, find suitable arrangements, or simply as a social gathering and communal practice session. Jam sessions may be based upon existing songs or forms, may be loosely based on an agreed chord progression or chart suggested by one participant, or may be wholly improvisational."

 

You can see that a jam can take a lot of forms from a structured practice session to free improvisation. There is a place for everyone in that range - jamming is not reserved only for elite improvisers. Now that you know that jamming can be easier than you might think, let's have a look at some tips to help you get started.

 

1. Don't expect too much

If you don't have experience then jamming won't be easy. Depending on your skills you will most likely discover lots of weaknesses in your playing and musical knowledge. It can be quite discouraging.

 

But don't worry and tell yourself you're no good. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to learn more and discover your weaknesses so you can work to improve on them.

 

2. Find a sympathetic partner

It's much easier to play all the inevitable mistakes if you practice with a sympathetic partner. Don't start out at the local jam session where you'll have to play in front of many people.

 

Ideally, find a regular partner who's interested in working on their jamming skills and enjoys similar music styles. And remember to be a sympathetic partner for your partner too!

 

3. Agree what you'll play beforehand

If you are a beginner guitarist or new to jamming then don't try to improvise everything. Agree with your partner what you'll play beforehand. Ideally, decide what you'll play before your jam session so you can practice the progressions in advance.

 

You could choose a chord progression or a song chart of a song you both know. Try to start jamming with pieces that are fairly easy for you to play - you'll probably be tense so you'll play worse than usual. If you try something you struggle to play you'll most likely get even more stressed, make more mistakes and not enjoy yourself.

 

4. One of you is responsible for the rhythm at all times

One of you should be responsible for keeping the rhythm going at all times. Again, choose pieces within your abilities so you can easily keep a steady rhythm going for your jam partner. You can use a backing track or a rhythm machine to help and give a fuller backing.

 

5. Share roles fairly

It's easy to get carried away in the fun and excitement of jamming and improvising. But don't forget that everyone would like a go. So don't monopolize the solo role and do your fair share of rhythm playing for others.

 

6. What to play?

There isn’t room in this post for a whole course on guitar improvisation. But to get you started here are a few ideas of what you could play when it's your turn to jam...

 

1. Play the song’s melody - figure it out by ear or learn it from sheet music.

2. Play around with the major scale of the song or progression's key

3. Play an arpeggio of each chord

4. Prepare a few licks in advance and try to place them over the chords. You can use a licks dictionary to help you.

5. Use some 3-note chord shapes to play licks or arpeggios over the chords

 

All of these techniques take some practice to get the hang of, so be prepared to make plenty of mistakes at first.

 

Have Fun Guitar Jamming

Jamming with other musicians is a lot of fun. Your first experiences are likely to be scary and disappointing - there's a lot going on and your mind and fingers will have trouble keeping up, and there’s a lot to learn to become a competent improviser. But if you stick with it and participate regularly you'll improve.

1 comment:

Drew said...

Solid advice. I particularly like how the first step prepares them for possibly getting down on their playing.

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