How to Jam and Play With Anybody
Trust Your Ear
One of the hardest barriers to jumping in and playing with other people is the perception that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to play music. This perception has come from a lot of places, but it is often very misleading. Some of the most common places this perception comes from are:
- Growing up in school and only ever being allowed to read the dots on the page in front of us.
- Learning some of the “rules” in the world of music theory and feeling forced to follow them correctly.
- Joining a band or other musical context with people who are critical.
- Being generally surrounded by people critical of you.
All of these places often add up to an enormous burden of self-criticism that makes us afraid to play for fear of playing something “wrong”. But the problem with this way of thinking is that it completely upends the fundamental nature and purpose of music, which is to express how we feel and think.
So – the first thing to do is to find what helps you to let go of any critical voice and start trusting your ear. Your ear is ALWAYS the final say in every musical situation – NEVER anyone else’s opinion. Remember: it is your own self-expression we are talking about – not someone else’s taste in music. You can tell when when what you are playing resonates with what you want to hear. Do that. It will let you play and jam with anybody.
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To find what you want to hear, one of the best things to do is take musical risks and make “mistakes”. Many of the best musical ideas come from “mistakes” during practice sessions, recording dates, live situations, and any other musical context you can think of. Since these mistakes can be so valuable, make them happen more often by intentionally taking risks.
Some examples of taking risks like this can be:
- Playing a chord other than the one you are “supposed” to play.
- Using a scale other than the one that the song seems to use.
- Moving a riff up or down by some number of frets on your guitar or keys on your keyboard, etc.
- Playing a random set of notes on your instrument.
As you explore and take risks, you will find more and more ideas that you like. Whenever you come across one, play it for a while to let it sink in and come up with a way to name it so you can recall it easier later.
Trusting your ear and taking risks will take you a long way into the world of jamming. Remember to be kind to yourself and have fun! The best musicians are always exploring, listening deeply, trusting their ears and taking risks. They do not spend much time listening to the critics. Give yourself the space and relationships to be free of hurtful criticism and just keep playing – and the more you play, the better you will get. Now go pick up your instrument and get to it!