Point of order.

I’ve been playing guitar for about 11 years now, and though I recognize that there is very little I’m actually capable of – in the grand scheme of music, I’m quite the novice – I’ve picked up a lot of experience and made a lot of observations over the years. I wanted to take a moment here and share some of that with you.

Being self-taught, I’m quite lacking in terms of techniques and methods – I can’t read sheet music very well, I don’t know much about keys and scales, etc. That’s never stopped me, though; I’ve never felt held back. And I’ve felt a real sense of camaraderie with other guitar players, as generally speaking, most that you’ll run into are from the same background.

Guitar players have a fantastic connection, and each treats another like a brother. There is no such thing as a lack of conversation between guitar players, as they can run on for hours about their idols and inspirations, their various pieces of equipment, the guitars or pieces of gear they want to collect, etc. Inevitably, the idea of getting together to jam is proposed, and the situation becomes a lot trickier.

In case there’s anyone who isn’t aware, a jam is a gathering in which guitar players (and other musicians, in many cases) come together with various equipment to play music with one another. They can be amazing experiences, and every guitar player in life should (and will) partake in them as much as possible. The tricky part, however, is the actual music played in this situation.

No two guitar players are alike. It’s a universal rule that makes and breaks bands, inspires or ires individuals, and can be the life or death of any jam. Far too many situations occur in jams in which an individual guitar player or two will begin to play some song by some band that they know, and potentially leave out the other musicians gathered there. And the problem isn’t that the music isn’t good, nor the performance unenjoyable, it’s that the experience becomes quite restrictive for the players that don’t know the tune.

It’s important that each participant to have the opportunity to join in and express themselves. In such a way, it’s important for jams to be guided, but not controlled. They all invariably begin with each player playing something personal or impressive, but the act has nothing to do with showing off, and everything to do with sharing: in 99 out of 100 cases, it’s something that individual has just mastered, or is most proud of him- or herself for writing or learning. This first part is important to get a sense not only of each player’s skill, but also their particular musical interests and styles.

The second part of any jam is by far the most important, the actual ‘jamming.’ And here is where I offer my suggestion: instead of starting to play some song you think is classic or infamous enough that everyone should know it, start by playing some basic (and preferably, original) rhythm pattern, and allow everyone else to come in. Insert changes into logical places, and don’t try to anticipate anything. In such a way, you’ll find everyone playing to their strengths and talents, and that particular piece will build and carry of it’s own momentum.

The third part of any jam is educational – the meeting of like minds. The music having stopped (if only temporarily), this is where the participants offer each other kudos and ask about specific riffs or techniques. This is a communal effort; players show each other their variations on a theme, teach one another techniques, offer suggestions for mastering skills, share praise and insight.

If you’re planning a jam with some musicians soon, I’d offer only this one piece of advise for consideration: keep it as open as possible. Each person taking part in the experience will walk away from it with the most they can if they’re able to put all of themselves into it. It’s fun, creative, and informative, and definitely a great time if it isn’t restricted by any specific subject.

I know I haven’t offered much in the way of advise, but I hope that promoting the fundamentals of the exercise will lead to a better understanding for some. For now, I think I’m going to talk to some friends about getting a jam going for the near future. Keep playing music, everyone. Cheers.


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  • About

    My name is Bobby.

    I write about random things a lot. I write a lot about random things.

    I write occasionally for Smashing Magazine and the London Community News online, and weekly for Interrobang, the student voice newspaper at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario.

    I've also been published by the Canadian University Press.
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