5 Ways To Kill It Jam Sessions

jam 150x150 5 Ways To Kill It Jam SessionsIn a previous post we talked about the importance of having a balanced approach to our jazz studies and practice.

While I will openly admit that technique and theory are VERY important here’s the problem I see with most cats:

They get hung up on practicing patterns and exercises – scale patterns, technical exercises, reading transcriptions, etc

And when it comes to improvising they get hung up on what scale to play on what chord.

Now even though I never knew him, I can tell you this with confidence – Miles was not thinking about what scale he should use on the next chord when he was playing.

The great players are guided by their ears, their emotions and their musical instincts.

And the two best ways I know how to work on those things is to listen and play.

Sure, study theory. Work the technical stuff into your practice. But don’t forget to listen and play.

In another post we talked about listening and feeding your aural imagination, you inner ear.

Well today I’d like to give you a few quick tips on killing at jam sessions. Jam session are a great place for players to cut their musical teeth and start getting those musical instincts sharpened up.

Here it goes:

1. Be a Positive Presence on the Scene. Show up early and watch the house band first. Supporting the house band will go a long way for ya.

First of all it’s the right thing to do. But the fact is if you are on the scene regularly, and you show up to support the band they’ll notice it. You’ll be more likely to get invited to play.

Also, networking is the name of the game. Get to know those cats. This is what leads to gigs.

This is exactly what happened to me. I went to the same session every week for probably 2 years and eventually started getting the gig and had many other bands and gigs come out of that experience. Be on the scene and be supportive.

2. Be Cool! Simple enough. Be a cat that people want to sit in with. Be supportive and positive to the other players.

Play short 1 chorus solos. Hang out and listen to the other cats even when you’re not sitting in.

3. Set Yourself Up to Win. Don’t know the tune the singer called? Sit this one out. Occasionally you’ll end up sitting in on one you don’t really know, or in a weird key, or at a real fast tempo. Sometimes we all take a beating on the bandstand. But when possible sit in when you’re prepared to hang.

4. Play Jazz Like It’s Your Job. Do your job first. Don’t try to be the star or blow anyone away with your awesome chops.

If you play piano focus on being clear to the soloist, and helping them sound good. Focus on locking up with the rhythm section and helping the band swing.

If you play a horn focus on playing melody. Focus on blending with the other horn players. Focus on communicating and swinging. This is what the pros do.

5. Be Proactive. After you leave the session take a few moments to reflect on the night. What did you do well? Where did you struggle?

Look for a few key lessons to take home. If you got your butt kicked on a certain tune shed that tune all week. If you felt uncomfortable on a certain groove, shed that groove all week. Did a certain key take you by surprise? Shed that key all week. Then go back and take another stab at it, always looking to learn and grow from every musical experience you have.


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