Get Out And Play Part 3

Photo by Oscar Jordan

Understanding various ways in which the I IV V can be used will help you fake your way through thousands of songs you’ve never heard before. If a singer takes the stage and announces a song that you’ve never played, knowing that it’s a I IV V in E with a long I chord will save your ass. You’d be surprised how a little blues theory can help you navigate your way through anything from Albert Collins to ZZ Top. Understanding the basic concepts behind blues soloing (phrasing!) and chord progressions will improve any rock or metal styles of music you’d rather be playing. All the best metal and rock guitarists played blues or blues-rock in some form and their soloing is the better for it.

Learn Some Blues Tunes

If you don’t come prepared with a few songs ready to perform, you will be at the mercy of anyone who decides to sing or lead the band. You will sound a lot better performing songs that you worked on at home, rather than waiting for someone to suggest songs that you never heard of. Show up prepared. Or show up with a goal in mind like, “I want to get through “Born Under a Bad Sign” without screwing it up to holy hell.” Goals help you to progress. Be ready to take charge of the band, but also prepare to be led. Be nice and don’t be pushy. Sometimes a singer will suggest a song you actually know. Back them up on guitar. Make them sound good.

The key is to figure out at least three well-known songs that you can either sing or perform as an instrumental. The songs should be popular but easy to play so that any moron can fake his way through it. Stick to three or four chords at the most. You want to find songs that a rusty low level intermediate player can handle, so save “Yours is no Disgrace” by Yes for home practice.

Think “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “The Thrill is Gone,” “Messin’ With The Kid,” or “All Along The Watch Tower.” You can play “Mustang Sally” at your own risk. The songs don’t even have to be popular. You can even get away with memorizing two or three verses from an obscure blues tunes that you think has cool lyrics. Just lay it on top of a straight blues I IV V and you’re all set. What’s important is that it’s easy to play, it’s a good tune and you can perform it well. Stick to the blues based stuff or three chord blues-rock and don’t spend a lot of time teaching songs on stage. Keep it simple. Find two shuffles, a slow blues and maybe something funky. Don’t be the guy who asks, “Hey, do you guys know “Rainbow in the Dark?” Don’t be that guy. It’s a blues jam. Not Devil Jam.

Learn To Sing

You don’t need to be an amazing vocalist. You just need to carry the song. It’s not American Idol. Sing sincerely and do your best to hold pitch. Drunk people are very forgiving. Don’t pretend you’re a black sharecropper circa 1930 either. Nothing is more annoying than seeing a white guy from the suburbs wearing a Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts and flip-flops pretending he just walked out of a gospel church from the Deep South. Be yourself. The reason why you want to sing is to control your set. If you announce that you sing, you get to pick the tunes and you won’t be at anyone’s mercy. You get to play the tunes you rehearsed and you’ll come off a lot better than if you had to play behind a guy who starts counting off “Love Rollercoaster.” Being the singer means you take control of your set and become the bandleader.

Stay tuned for Part 4 where I’ll discuss how to get the most of your blues jam experience.

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