I have a rule that I enforce on myself and which I encourage students to adhere to. That rule is, for every 10 hours I practice, I must spend at least 1 hour jamming with others.
Jamming with others is not only good for your musical soul, but will make you a better all round guitarist, and it feels damn great too.
Learning from a teacher is wonderful, but jamming with others who you aren’t paying is an equally awesome experience although in a different way.
Not many people in the musical world encourage this. This is probably because they don’t make any money from you jamming with other people, but that’s a different story.
- Does it matter if the people you jam with are better or worse guitarists than you?
- Does it matter if they even play guitar?
- Does it matter if they can hardly play at all?
The answer is a big no, no and no.
None of the above matters. All that matters is how you create music with others.
If they are exceptionally good with the guitar and you don’t really know the guitar from your elbow, that doesn’t matter. Unless they are an arsehole, you will definitely get inspired or learn some really cool things.
Ask a few questions, I’m not sure if you realize it yet, but guitarists love to help others out. We are all geeks at heart and love to share tips and guidance; especially so for the super dedicated ones, unless like I say they are arsesholes.
If the guys or gals you are jamming with don’t play guitar, but instead play another instrument that doesn’t matter at all. In fact, I massively encourage this since it can be as good as or even better than jamming with a fellow guitarist.
You can jam with a keyboardist, violinist, singer, trombonist, ukulelist, drummer (you should do this anyway) or even a theremin player!
You’ll be forced to think about the music as a whole when jamming with non-guitarists. You won’t be thinking as much in terms of chords, scales and the fretboard as you will be thinking of the music as a whole.
Actually, you will be asking the all-important question, “does the music actually sound any good?”
Instead of taking a sneaky look at what the other guy is doing (such as picking a G chord), you will have to rely on your ears and your knowledge to do this in real time.
For example, if you jam with a keyboard player and they are rocking out a G chord, unless you play keyboards or piano you probably won’t have any idea what chord they are playing.
That is when you need to rely on your ears to guide you. If you haven’t developed your aural skills, then you will have to use communication guide you. This is also good as communicating with other musicians is a great way of picking up little nuggets of advice.
Keep it chilled just like a good old jam session and honestly, there won’t be any pressure but pure fun, learning and joy.
Many guitarists forget about the big picture when playing music. Jamming with non-guitarists is a great way to open up your ears and be ‘at one’ with the music.
Be open and discuss your abilities and stop and assess what everyone is doing. Keep communicating with others for best results.
Also, remember the guitar is an incredibly versatile instrument. As guitarists, we can do so much or so little in band or group environments depending on our level of skills.
Some of the things you can do:
If you are a Level 1 absolute beginner, you can just learn the root notes for chords and simply play along plucking roots.
If you are a Level 2 beginner, you can strum the chords with a simple strum pattern or two.
If you are a Level 4 intermediate or Level 5 advanced player, you can use arpeggios, percussive strumming or more advanced lead techniques.
Jamming suits guitarists of all skills level. It’s not just a coincidence that my beginner students who make the best progress are the ones who jam as much as possible with others.
Yes, it’s daunting. Yes, you’ll probably make a few mistakes, but you’ll progress a lot more and have lots of fun with it.
Where do you find people to jam with?
There are plenty of ways to go about this. The best way when starting out is look within your social circle. Most people know at least one musician.
Older people tend to be a little shy about telling others that they are learning guitar – often for the fear of being ridiculed.
This is something I have come across with a few of my students. The best thing is not to be shy about it. Tell everyone you are learning and you’ll find a few others who will feel confident enough to come out of the closet and speak about their experiences.
This is a great time to say “let’s have a quick jam”. Then just arrange a time and a place at someone’s house or book some space in a rehearsal studio which is usually not expensive. My local studio charges £10 ($14) per hour.
It doesn’t have to be formal, just agree on a few songs and go for it. Prepare well and you’ll have fun.
Another great way of finding others to jam with, particularly if you are more experienced or more confident is by going to open mic nights.
Guitarists and other musicians love to get up on stage and support each other at such events. Yes, there will be the moody looking singer or songwriter who thinks he’s Chris Martin or something.
Such a character might not let anyone near the stage while he is playing, but there will also be easy going fun guys and gals who want to have fun while socialising through the wonderful medium of music.
Make friends with such people. They’ll teach you a lot and keep you inspired.
You can of course use social media. Use your Facebook or Twitter account if you have one and ask as many people as you can. The more people you tell about your ability to play the guitar, the more likely you are to find fellow enthusiasts.
If you know of any great musician networking sites, leave a comment at the bottom of this post so others in your area can use these sites too.
However you find other musicians to jam with, just don’t be shy, go out there and jam and have fun!
You’ll be a happier person and a better guitarist for it.