Help I've just been to a Jam Session ...?
“I feel like taking my guitar and throwing it off of a bridge. I went to my first jazz jam session today and I was completely unprepared for how it went. The leader asked me before hand what tunes I knew so I said I knew easy tunes (I am not that
experienced). I named Blue Bossa and he said okay, he counted it off and I was completely unprepared for how fast they played it. All of my hours of practice seemed to go out the window (or down the toilet). My hands were shaking as it came my turn to solo, I don't even
remember what I played. I just remember not being able to keep up. Another thing
that took me by surprise was how everything sounded different. The piano player was playing these crazy chords that sounded so outside I didn't know what key we were in. I guess I am used to hearing myself play inside guitar chords. So I guess what I am
trying to say is I thought I could play a little but now I realize I can't play at all. How does one practice playing changes at such fast tempos? How does one practice tunes at home where there isn't a drummer, piano player or bass player? How does one keep their hands from
shaking? Afterwards I seriously thought about giving up trying to play jazz and guitar and becoming a bus driver.”
Here is a collection of tips for Survival of the Jazz Jams by experienced members.
- Congratulations, you've just entered the next level in your quest in becoming a jazzguitar-PLAYER.
- Your hours of practice have absolutely NOT gone down the toilet; you've only gained a new experience and have been introduced to the significant difference between playing @home and 'live' 'on stage'.
- You are studying to be an improvising musician, in which the greatest challenge will always be to hold your own in any kind of unusual circumstance, in any situation you DIDN'T prepare for.
- Get used to these kinds of situations, and get familiar with the 'throwing away your guitar' kind of feeling. If you decide to use this impulse to the positive, you can get from it a lot of new energy and motivation to strive for new levels of artistry.
- I'll say it again; this nervousness is completely normal and will only go away (to a certain level) or turn into a 'useful rush' if you attack it agressively and don't bow to it. You should be saying: "I'm not going to listen to any critism, not from anyone, including MYSELF, or that
little sucker that is whispering in my ear that I 'can't do anything on guitar'; I'm going to get REAL angry now and work even more dilligently to work myself to the point that I CAN stand STRONG in this type of situation". When you get to that point, it might be time to introduce
yourself to a new challenge....
- You only have to trust that when you work at it, you'll keep on growing at YOUR OWN PACE.
- Don't be ashamed to play in public or with guys that are better than you are or think you are. Your potential IS there, just believe in it, and don't listen to negative critism or negative thoughts. Keep going to these type of jam-sessions; they're the perfect place to get experience AND
insight into the areas you need to work on some more. Just keep your head cool!!! Go places to jam, with the attitude "I don't care how it goes, I'm growing little by little and tonight I'm gonna play some more and try to have some fun at it; I'm gonna do the BEST that I can do in THIS KIND OF
SITUATION, and next time, I'll do that again, and the time after that etc".
- Practising at the tempo you’ve heard the tunes played at during the jam. You could try to play only the root of each chord at first, at high tempos, going up to 2 notes per measure going up to one note per beat, going upto 2 notes per beat, and if you're upto it, even more....
- To practice tunes at home where there isn't a drummer, piano player or bass player - Use a metronome, play-alongs or Band in a Box or your own home made midifiles!!!
- To keep your hands from shaking - You don't. Just get out there as much as possible.The first couple of times is horrifying, actually it should stay that way to some extent, but the shaking of the hands will gradually become less.
- Be positive; if you WANT to and have DETERMINATION, you can DO it!
- Don't give up. Get hold of Band in a Box ( http://www.pgmusic.com ) then you can have your own band on tap at any time and at any tempo.
- This has happened to all of us at some point in our playing career, and is considered part of "paying your dues". It even happened to Charlie Parker! So relax - don't give up!
- You may need to do more work with your teacher to work onwhat areas you need to focus on, such as ear-training (so you don't loose your place), technique (so you can execute at faster tempos) etc. A little more work and you will bebetter prepared next time! More on Ear Training.
- A negative experience also says something about the other musicians and how they played. For some unknown reason many musicians allow their egos to get in the way of playing music. A rhythm section should play appropriately for the soloist, so that the soloist sounds as good as possible
and(some people seem to forget) the overall music sounds good to the audience.
- Tunes are usually played at default tempos and styles. If the jammers are doing something different, you can ask to play it the ‘usual’ way, or you can sit out until you can practise it at a different tempo or style. Band in a Box allows you to change a tune’s style or temp. For example,
you can open a Bossa tune and change the style to Swing and speed it up.
- I suggest, work with your teacher on what you need to improve, go to the Jam session just to listen and see how the musicians work together. If the vibe is right and you feel comfortable ask to sit in again, if not continue to work on your music and find more sympathetic (better)
- Playing with other musicians is very different from practicing the instrument solo.
- All of us have had the very same experience - probably more than once.
- Have an attitude like: "I really have NOTHING to lose". If you have nothing to lose, you become 'free' to go anywhere you want and do anything you feel like. When you disconnect your guitar-side from your selfconfidence as a whole, you can become able to really start PLAYING.
- Your ability on the guitar doesn't define WHO YOU ARE, or your VALUE as a PERSON; once you realize that for yourself, and become confident about who you are without the guitar, you become free to go in exciting directions as someone who plays guitar.
- It doesn't matter if you make a thousand mistakes; if you fall a thousand times, but remain confident that you WILL learn to walk eventually, you will find that you have gained perseverance and endurance that will last you forever, and you as a musician will benifit from that. You might
even wind up as an athletic runner, winning at the olympics, to continue in the 'falling, walking, running' parable....
- There’s a Zen saying, “Seven times I fall….Eight I rise”. Say this to yourself with clarity and conviction when you feel bad about a mistake.
- Practice builds ones confidence.
- Great players can play simply, and make amateurs sound like pros. Egotists can over play and make it difficult for you. Music isn't the Olympics. It's all about cooperation NOT competition. You find common ground and speak using a vocabulary that everyone understands.
- We have ALL been there. There was this kid in Kansas City, blew the sax so badly that the drummer threw his cymbal at him.......really embarrassed the poor guy. He kept at it though. Lucky he did. We all own a debt to Charlie Parker.
- If it is in your soul, Keep Playing.
- Deliberately put yourelf into public situations, gradually, and into jam situations. Shake. Screw up. Get angry. Then go back and do it again. And it gets easier.
- Understanding the feelings, fears are normal even expected. Let it feed your determination to get better and better. Paying dues does make you better and stronger, if you let it...
- Yours is not a unique experience. Channel those feelings of desperation to feelings of motivation to improve. Let the jam session pin point areas you need to work on.
- Use all any and all jam sessions, seminars, workshops, classes to try to meet local and similarly oriented players. You may meet people at the big sessions that you're interested in getting together with and jamming in smaller, more focused groups.
- If you wait until you think you're ready, you'll be waiting forever. There will always be things to work on. You just got to get out and go for it.
- There’s another saying by Chuck Chamberlin, “I have as far to go as I have come”.
- John Stowell puts it this way, “..no matter what plateau you hit, the goal keeps moving just out of reach. It’s the same for all of us.”
- Get out there, take your lumps, use those lumps to fuel improvement, and keep crawling back for more.
Books On The Subject
- Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner - talks about how to relax and be focused on the music, not the ego.
Emily Remler's Advanced Jazz & Latin Improvisation Video is excellent for perspective on this topic.