Playing With Other Musicians
Jamming with other people is one of the very best ways to improve your playing, not to mention it’s also one of the most fun things any musician can do! You’ll gain confidence and learn how to read other people’s subtle cues; some things just can’t be picked up in solitary practice sessions. Don’t take my word for it, though, Marty Friedman – one of the greatest players of all time – once said in an interview: “Bands are where it’s at… The more you play with your band, the more identity you will have as a guitarist.” You don’t necessarily need to form an ‘official’ band, but even a regular jamming group will do wonders for your playing and musicality.
When should you start jamming?
Right now. In fact: the worse you think you are, the more important it is to find people to play with. The more people you surround yourself with who just blow you away, the more you can learn – you’ll learn faster, too. It’s easy to get trapped in the cycle of telling yourself you’ll find people to play with when you’re “good enough” but then moving the bar again when you get there. Sure, you’ll be nervous and might feel embarrassed that you make a couple of mistakes, but that’s good! No one ever got anywhere by just thinking they were the best. Being confronted with a situation that puts you out of your comfort zone is the number one motivator to get better ASAP. It’s not all scary though, this is just preparation for your first few experiences; any new situation is going to cause some nerves, especially when there’s pressure to do something related to a skill. Once you have some experience under your belt, you’ll learn to appreciate the feelings of excitement leading up to playing with musicians who are better than you – you’ll know exactly how much you have to gain!
Who should you look for?
It’s probably a good idea to first look for a friend or a friend-of-a-friend who plays guitar to just jam the blues or some songs you both like with. First, it helps guarantee your first experience won’t be with someone who has an attitude or is rude. Most of my experiences playing with new musicians have been great, but now and then you run into a jerk and you don’t want this to be your first experience. The reason for it being a guitarist is two-fold: first, it means you can get together just about anywhere unlike if you found a drummer straight away and second, it only makes sense to start jamming with someone on the same instrument because you can learn the most directly from them. You will learn lots from any musician, but you’ll learn specialised things about guitar from other guitarists – even down to little tricks on maintenance and instrument care that come up in personal conversation that you may not easily find somewhere else! Once you’re comfortable playing with others, it’s time to expand – one of the best things you can do is to find is a drummer who has practice space, so you don’t have to rent.
What should you play – and how?
You should play anything and everything. The playing itself is more important than what it is being played – this isn’t about starting your dream band (although things can turn out that way unexpectedly!), it’s about developing your skill as a player. Forming a band for commercial or artistic purposes is a whole different ball of wax! Just go along with what other people like and they’ll be more receptive to your styles… You might even find out that you really like something you haven’t tried before. As far as how you should play the music, you need to learn to listen instead of just hammering on like you would on your own. If you’re playing with a drummer, being in time isn’t being tight to what a metronome would be playing. In a live situation, the beat is decided by the drummer and he/she is never wrong. You have to learn to listen to them rather than anticipating the beat. The same goes for other musicians when you don’t have a drummer but you’re going to have to pick who’s deciding the pulse and follow them. Maybe you’ll have the chance to lead!
How can you prepare?
I said you should start jamming right now, but there are a few things you can do beforehand to help yourself have an easier start. You can make sure you’ve memorized some major and minor chords – if you’re jamming with another guitarist they’ll be able to help you, but it won’t hurt to have some familiarity. You can plan some tracks to play with other musicians beforehand; even if you’re going to be riffing around, it helps to warm up with familiar tunes that you all know and get comfortable for the jam session. It also works as an ice-breaker with new people you haven’t played with before. Finally, the simplest tip that applies to any playing situation with other people, make sure you have a tuner and some extra strings!
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bnsd/