Electric Jam Etiquette For Newbies

For those of you out there that are getting comfortable playing your electric guitar in front of a few friends or family members and want to get to the next level, I highly recommend that you find or even start your own jam group.

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Photo by BAG Blues

Advertised jams either go as “open jams” or “pro jams”.  If you play guitar, and you are either a novice or intermediate player with no jam experience, the “open jams” are for you. You will need to bring your own amp and cord with your guitar if you want to play.  Bass amps are usually supplied by the host band as well as the p.a., mics and drum kit. There may be horn players, singers, harp players etc… as well and they all are worked into the mix. Anyone with basic guitar playing abilities can play the open jams. Start with a genre of music you are comfortable with. If you are a novice blues player, you would most likely flounder at an open jazz jam. There are some jam courtesy rules that you should know about if you want to enter a jam as a walk- on player.

  1. There will be a jam leader who runs the jam. You will most likely be playing with an organized band and some of their friends.  Don’t expect them to play what you want to play before they get a feel of your ability to play. The host band has gone through a lot of work to set up the jam and it is their game plan that everyone adheres to.
  2. Communication is the key. Ask questions about where they would like you to come in, chord changes, etc… Its not like you are in a recording studio and the tape is rolling. Or let’s say you can play rhythm but are uncomfortable at playing lead. Just let everyone know you are playing rhythm and to skip you on lead rotation. Trust me; every jam loves the guy that plays rhythm.  You will not be looked down upon at all! In fact, you will be in demand and you will get to play more than anyone else.  You can always play some lead at a jam or two down the road, when and if you feel that you’re ready.
  3. Don’t step on anyone’s toes!  What I mean is to be respectful of the other musicians.  If you are playing lead with other lead guitarists, take your turn and stop when your rotation is over. Stay focused on the song at hand.  You don’t want to start shredding while a vocalist is singing. You will cancel them out and yourself at the same time. A common problem for newbies to master is not to be so wrapped up in you turn that you are not taking cues from the jam leader to switch off. You may play ten verses of lead straight through on your sofa at home, by yourself, but songs would be thirty minutes long if no one trades off until their fingers get tired!
  4. Check your volume!  The loudest guitar is frequently being played by the player who should be playing at the lowest volume. Loud does not equal good. Not to say a good guitar player should not play loud.  Loud is for festivals and stadium gigs.  If you are playing through a Marshall stack and the other jammers are playing through practice amps, turn yours down …..more…..more….right there!
  5. Relax!  Everybody had to start somewhere.  If you are a novice player, the good news is that it only gets better. The guitar player at the far side of the circle who is cranking out insane sweeping arpeggio riffs on their turn couldn’t play bar chords when they started out. One thing pro players know is that patience with novice players is a must. I learned a long time ago to leave my ego at home and to just enjoy myself.  Many of my friends that were novice players when I met them now play jaw dropping lead solos.  There is nothing like a big slice of humble pie!
  6. Have fun!  Be supportive of your fellow jammers and remember that jamming is not meant to be a contest. It’s all about meeting other musicians and making great music.
  7. If you are playing a jam at a restaurant or club, you are expected to buy some food or drink to support the venue you are at, even if it’s the cheapest thing on the menu. If the venue doesn’t make any money, the jams will end. Oh yeah, don’t forget to tip your waiter or waitress!
  8. Thank your hosts before you leave. Offer to help them load up their gear when the jam is over.  They will most likely remember your behavior more than your playing ability, and will be glad to see you the next time.
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