Playing in a Jam Session can be incredibly fun, as well as great suffering. It all depends on how you behave and how prepared you are for this type of situations. They also tend to be an area where you meet all kinds of musicians and situations that lead to amazing experiences.
After many years of opening and participating in them and with an accumulation of experiences and varied situations, I would like to share 9 tips to enjoy and survive the Jam Sessions.
1- Repertory: one of the most important things to participate is to know songs / standards. It is not necessary to know a great list being a beginner but the more tunes you know, the better. To begin with a repertoire always the Major Blues or Minor (C, F, Bb, G) and classic standards that appear in Real Book are welcome. Here is a list of topics contained in the book “Ready, Aim, Improvise” by Hal Crook (LINK).
2- Sight readind: in the different combos that are set to play there is a large percentage of chances that you do not know the tune that everyone wants to play, so it is essential that you can read (even if it is chord symbols) to be able to continue participating. If you need a little help on how to interpret it, you can orientate yourself with these two post: #11 – How to Correctly Write a Chord Symbol! (Part I) / #12 – How to Correctly Write a Chord Symbol! (Part II).
3 – Singers: usually singers with a some experience know that in case of not interpreting the standards in their original key, they must carry parts/ chord symbols of the songs that they want to interpret. It is also usual not to take them and when they go on stage, sing a standard and the musicians of the combo must transpose in real time to the key that the vocalist wants. This is a great challenge and in order to don´t get in panic, a great exercise when studying songs is to learn them by their respective degrees, so in case of having to transport it to another key, everything is easier and more practical.
4- Take your place: most of the time the musicians go up to play to prove they can play, generating an endless struggle of egos and a great cacophony. When you occupy your true place, pass what should always happen, it makes music. Leaving the competition aside, the fun is greater and occupy your place does not mean that you do not play what you want to play, if not play it when appropriate, when the situation allows it and when you are not bothering the rest.
5- Be versatile: this is extremely useful if you are invited to open and host a jam, and includes being able to play several keys, various styles and rhythms (swing, funk, etc …), to be able to sight read, that you know repertoire, that you can hear what is happening and you can react fast to musical stimuli, among other details.
6- To study and put into practice: there is no better exercise for the study of gender than to put into practice everything that is studied every day and with real musicians. That is, apps, metronome and other devices that are used on a daily basis will never be as important and real as playing with musicians and reacting to real situations and real stimuli that occur in this type of circumstances. Jams are an important stage for all musicians and it is necessary to be able to gain experience in these situations.
7- Share: sharing makes us better person and therefore, better musician/ artist. Many will escape to play with those who “are not at their level” but you can always learn, even from someone who is beginning to take its first steps. That’s what sharing is all about.
8- Be Respectful: behave properly, do not understimate or criticize people who come to play, try to help who needs it, not believe better than anyone, are some of the quality that should always abound in a musical situation as a Jam (among others!). Although it seems ridiculous to say it, it is always necessary to remember that being respectful makes music in a better way.
9- Be prepared: in addition to the purely musical aspects, jams are places where you meet people from the musical environment as musicians, producers, artists and people in general who may become interested in you, so it is important to always have personal cards, cds, or any press material that represents you to be able to provide in case someone asks and wants to contact you later.
Now there are no excuses for not attending and playing on a jam!