Jam sessions are a great way to improve your skills as a musician and make some new friends at the same time. It’s also fantastic for confidence and it could really open doors and lead to great exposure for you as you start your career in the music industry.
Jam sessions are all about finding a good group of people to play with, perfecting your skills and gaining greater experience. Make sure you have a good venue and a good bunch of people and enjoy performing together. It could be the start of something special.
Jam sessions vary – they could focus on any particular style of music and any instrument and each one has its own culture. Here we go through what to expect from a jam session and how to prepare for one, list some great jam session songs to try and give our top tips for getting involved.
What is a jam session?
You might have heard people talking about jam sessions before, but how much do you really know about them?
Well, to put it bluntly, a jam session is where musicians perform together with other musicians and make music in a freewheeling environment, without having concerns about performing to an audience.
They could be impromptu sessions or they could be an organised one time event or it could be a weekly session that takes place in a public place or at a private planned event.
Why should I get involved in a jam session?
Jam sessions are great for artists who are just starting to build their career in the music industry. If you perform with other people, it may be that they have more experience and are recognised in the industry already, which could benefit you in the long run as it could lead to greater exposure for you as an artist.
It’s also a really good way to boost your skills and your confidence. You don’t need to have had lots of years of experience either. Anyone with an instrument can take part in a jam session.
You can really enhance and improve your playing skills as well as making some good friends. Who knows where a jam session could lead in the future?
What are the best jam session songs?
Obviously it’s totally up to you which songs you perform in your jam session but it helps to pick songs that aren’t too complicated so you can play together well as a team.
Rolling Stone magazine came up with a list of the best jam songs. They include Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb and Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Jam session songs
Below are some further suggestions and examples of good jam session songs.
Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Love Song by The Cure
The Thrill Is Gone by B.B. King
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
Dani California by Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Give Me One Reason by Tracy Chapman
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
How do I get involved in a jam session?
First thing to do is to check you local listings and adverts or local music associations that might be holding jams and are looking for musicians to take part.
Make sure you choose the right people to play with. You want to work with a group so you can grow together as musicians. You also want to practice with people who are of a similar musical ability to yours. Otherwise, you risk finding that someone in the group is slowing the others down because they aren’t quite as advanced as you are.
Once you have found a session, turn up a couple of weeks before you are due to join so you can get a feel for it. It will give you an idea of the structure and of the kinds of songs that they play.
On the day, make sure you turn up in plenty of time so you can introduce yourself to the bosses, find out a bit more about the session and get to know the other musicians who are playing. Don’t be surprised if those in charge are a little wary of you – often people who turn up for their first session can be a bit arrogant and will think they are God’s gift to music. So make sure you don’t come across as too confident and provide a friendly face. Once they get to know you, they will be more comfortable inviting you to come back again.
You may even be asked to audition just to prove that you can play. The jam boss has probably seen a few characters in their time and just wants to make sure that you aren’t stitching them up and that you do have the musical talents you say you do.
Jam session tips
#1 Prepare a few songs
Have a few songs in mind that you would like to play. It always helps to make your own contribution.
#2 Be Polite
Be courteous to the others in the group. Jam sessions aren’t about showing off and if you give off the wrong impression you won’t be asked back again. It’s not a competition. It’s simply a good chance to perform together with other people and improve as a group.
#3 Know what you’re performing
Make sure you are comfortable with the song and that you know it well. Know the key and know the scale. If you don’t, it could be a bit embarrassing for you. The best way around this is to avoid picking songs with lots of chords that people might not know.
#4 Use discretion
Know when it is right for you to chip in and start playing, and when it is right for you to stop and listen to the others.
#5 Be supportive
Be supportive when playing with singers – try to play between their phrases to compliment what they are doing and not to make it sound like you are trying to play over them.
#6 Don’t expect to play every song
There may be a song that you are unfamiliar with or that you don’t like – that’s ok! You don’t have to play every song. Take a break, have a drink, re-tune your instrument and just enjoy watching the others play. It’s all part of the enjoyment of a jam session.
#7 Teamwork is vital
You might have got used to performing on your own but remember that jamming is all about working as part of a team. So, as well as concentrating on your own performance, make sure that you are also listening to the others so you can appreciate their playing and learn something from the different sounds that don’t always come from your instrument.
Also, let the song leader lead. If they want to change the lyrics or alter the tune, let them. It’s all good experience and it’s good to experiment together as a group.
#8 Don’t worry if you make a mistake
People make mistakes every day. It’s all part of life. Don’t panic and don’t beat yourself up if you hit a few wrong notes. That’s normal. Turn a negative into a positive and learn from your mistakes so that you can improve for next time.
Once the jam session is over, make sure you discuss it together as a team so you can set goals for the next session. Start to prepare for the next one – identify any gaps that need to be filled. Make a plan to practice a tune you perhaps couldn’t play so you can perfect it for next time.
#9 Set goals
Setting goals helps everyone to stay on track and encourages them as well as making sure you all look forward to the next session. It will ensure that everyone is excited about you playing together again.
#10 Behaviour is key
If jam sessions are something you want to get involved in more regularly then you need to make sure that you create the right impression so people will want to invite you back. You want to become the musician that everyone wants to play with. So, you need to ensure you’ve got your ‘Jam Etiquette’ down to a T.
#11 Be respectful
The main thing is to make sure that you have respect for the other musicians. They will be just as keen to you to make a success of your session together so it’s important everyone respects each other.
If you are playing with others who haven’t jammed before, share your knowledge but don’t be arrogant about it. Be helpful and they will appreciate that and take on your advice.
How to host a jam session
So, you know a lot about jam sessions now and you fancy hosting your own? Where do you start?
#1 Find a good location
The first step is to find a good location for you to play in. Look for a public space that often hosts events. There are lots of options and lots of different venues, it just requires a little research. If you make a good impression, you should find it easier to come back and perform at a later date.
Musicians are likely to bring their own instruments but either you or the venue will need to provide amplification. That’s a standard rule for jam sessions.
#2 Find some musicians
Next, you need to find your crew to jam with. Have a look at local groups online and find other like-minded people who love to play and just want to build on their experience just like you do.
#3 Promote your jam session
The next big step is to promote your event and get it out there. Advertising can be difficult but social media is a very powerful tool, especially for musicians. Use every opportunity you can to advertise it.
Make people aware of what is going on. Perhaps consider getting flyers printed that you could pin up on noticeboards in your local community centre or at a newsagents. You can also try local cafes and don’t forget the record store – they will be full of live music fans looking for local gigs and will probably be keen to help you plug your event.
Once people start to turn up, get them on a mailing list so you can make them aware of future events and keep them coming back. It could become a regular event.
#4 Set the right tone
The next step is to make sure that you set the right vibe. A good atmosphere is important to get the audience in the mood and to ensure that they stick around. Get a good house band or host performer to start things off. Make a decision about what you want it to be like – are you going for formal or are you looking for an informal, relaxed atmosphere? How long will each performer spend on stage? Should they be encouraged to talk between songs or not?
#5 Decide on a cover charge
Also have a think about whether or not you want to set a cover charge. The venue may make that decision for you but if it’s up to you – don’t treat it lightly. Although it will be good for your house band as you could share a cut of the profits, it could also mean that your audience is smaller than you had hoped for as people will be put off by the price.
However, charging for entry could also add value to your event. Perhaps think about sending a hat or a bucket around for people to make a voluntary donation instead. That way it gives people the option about putting money in and any cash you make is a bonus.
#6 Decide on an audience
And finally, will your event have an age restriction? This also could depend on the venue but it might just be something that you want to think about. If you want it to be more of a serious event, then you might prefer to have a more mature audience and therefore not let in anyone aged under 18.
Hopefully you now have a whole host of tips and things to think about when it comes to a jam session. Have you played in one before? Share your tips and suggestions below.