Something new I have been doing more over the past year is hanging out at local jam nights. I’ve met some great people and it’s really inspired me in a new phase of writing and developing my playing. Honestly, I was at a bit of a stand still till I rocked up to Bill Chambers’ Songwriter Night at Quattro last year and now here I am sitting on a new album that I could never have imagined would have happened. I’m writing and playing better than ever (in my opinion anyways) just because I’ve been hanging with folks that have helped me raise my game. And I’m loving it!
No matter what level you’re at I’m sure you can find somewhere to hang with like minded players and enjoy your music. If you are thinking of heading to your local jam / songwriter night (which I highly recommend) I offer these little tips that will increase the chances of it being a good experience for you (and the folks listening).
1) Get out and do it.
Its easy enough to find jam nights and open mics. Get off the couch and check some of them out. It might take a little time to find one that has the right kind of vibe that suits what you are about. There’s a big difference between a blues jam and a more structured songwriter night. Find where you fit. There’s no use going to a folk night and whining that they don’t let you play your jazz fusion instrumentals.
2) Don’t over think it. Have fun.
Don’t worry about if you’ll know all the chords and parts. Throw yourself in there and be you.
3) Don’t under think it.
I do take a little time in the day before a jam night just to run some songs and have a few ideas of what I might do if I get asked to do something. Just having my hands on the guitar a bit in the day is helpful so I don’t feel cold when it comes to playing.
4) Step up when you are given the chance.
Someone might ask you to take a solo or try a new song or something a bit out of your comfort zone. Step up and do it. You’ll be amazed how much you grow in your musicianship and confidence when you keep pushing yourself.
5) Buy someone a drink.
So you enjoyed someone’s playing or songs? Buy them a fricken’ drink and make their day. Being a nice person goes a long way.
You have to listen to get a hang of whatever song is going down but also its crucial be tuned in to what other folks are playing. Jamming is about communication in the moment – there is spontaneous give and take which for me is one of the real joys of playing – but you have to be tuned in.
7) Always tune your instrument.
I’ve been using one of those little clip on tuners which is super handy in these situations. No need to be plugged into anything. Don’t wreck a great set by being out of tune.
8) Don’t be a dick.
Don’t whine if you don’t get a chance to do something. Don’t talk over folks when they are playing. Don’t be a jerk to the audience if you haven’t earnt their attention. Don’t pander for compliments. Be humble and go along for the ride. I’m sure I’m a dick all the time but I still wanted to make this important point. No pun intended.
9) Keep it simple.
If you are playing with a house band do not come in with your stunning rock opera in Bbm with the random bar in 5/4. Pick a suitable key with a fairly open chord progression. If you have a tricky bridge or section maybe swap them out for a repeat of the verse for the musicians to solo over. Its better to nail the song and get the message across than to stun people with some tricky arrangement which will likely end in a train wreck. Keep the arrangement simple and sing your heart out. The band will love you and together you will have more chance of doing a great job.
10) Keep at it.
If you find a great hang that you find inspiring then keep showing up. Support the night and see how you can help. You will also quickly get a sense of things you can improve on in your own playing. Buckle down and aim to have something fresh to play every time you get the chance.
Another great part of jam nights is (if you’re not running it) that you don’t have to worry about filling the venue and all the pressures that go along with a normal gig. It’s a great way to get back to doing music for the pure love of it.
For sake of staying kind of on-topic I have not gotten into the negatives of jam nights here. Oh the stories we could tell! But even still getting out and meeting people and enjoying music beats staying at home and being lame. You just gotta find the right hang.
Hope some of that is helpful and if it provides any encouragement for you to get out and make music with people I will be stoked! Do you go to any local jams? Any tips or tricks?