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How To Feel Confident During A Jam Session

Here on The Tune Project, we frequently discuss jam sessions and the many advantages of participating in them. Although you might be aware of these benefits, you may still be unsure about how to act when it actually comes time to play. Today, I aim to help clear up the confusion, and provide you with the basics. Think of this as your essential guide to jam session etiquette and best practices!

Let's clarify something: You can never be completely ready for a jam session. After all, it's not a band rehearsal with a planned list of songs and chord charts for you to practice with. The excitement of jam sessions lies in individuals suggesting tunes they are familiar with or have been practicing, therefore exposing you to new songs. That being said, there are some steps you can take to feel a bit more prepared, and I will share those with you now.

Learn a few standards (and learn them WELL) so that you can be confident when it’s your turn to call out a tune. Make sure you are comfortable playing the melody from memory, and know the key signature and chords, so that you can share them with the group.

Listen to standards in the style of jam session you’ll be attending. If you'll be attending a Bluegrass jam session, be sure to listen to and familiarize yourself with common bluegrass tunes. If it's a traditional Irish session, listen to Irish folk standards. If you'll be attending a Blues jam, listen to Blues standards. Regardless of the style of jam session you'll be taking part in, listening to the most common tunes within your style of choice will help to give you a better understanding of how tunes within that style typically go, and what you can expect of the form, chord changes, scale patterns, etc. If you do this, chances are, when a tune is called during a jam that you don't know how to play but have heard before, you will feel more at ease trying your hand at playing it in the moment. To take things a step further, you can also play along with recordings or backing tracks to practice emulating the situation you will soon be a part of.

Now that you've prepared yourself, let's talk about what to do once you're at the jam session.

1. Find Your Role

Figure out where you fit within the jam session as a fiddle player. Take a look around - is there a singer? Are you the only fiddle player, or one of many? If you’re not playing melody, it will be your job to "back up" with chords. You can do this by shuffling on double stops, chopping, or even playing a single note in a rhythmic manner that matches the tempo and key of the tune.

2. Listen those around you. Pay attention to what the guitar player is doing. Listen to the bass line the bass player is laying down. Listen to the banjo and mandolin strumming. The more you listen, the more you can decide where you fit in, and will be able to keep time with everyone, so that all of the instruments blend nicely together. Listening is also necessary so that you are always aware of who is taking a solo. This will allow you to pick up on the tune by ear if you're unfamiliar with it, or simply gauge when it is your turn to take a solo, if you choose to!

3. Back Off

Less is more when jamming. Remember that you don't have to play the most complex solos, or play the melody of the tune the whole time. You don't even have to play something constantly, if there are times during certain songs you find fiddle to be less essential. This will also take some of the pressure off of worrying about what you are doing, so you can focus more on enjoying the tune and the experience!

And there you have it! Those are my tips for making the most of a jam session. If you'd like more on this topic, watch the video below!

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