Playing The Blues, And More, At Jam Camp
A little update, now that 2018 is here: in 2017 we had our best year yet! Every session brought cool new ideas into the mix, and the jammers are playing better than ever. Our program keeps evolving, and we are currently in the middle of using new drum grooves and two-chord jam loops as the focus for more advanced backup and solo concepts. This has meant learning more ways to play the chords on the guitar, building layers of sound, learning to listen more deeply and leave space, and how to blend different scale types as raw material for more interesting solo melodies.
If you are wondering whether a jam camp would be fun for you, please don’t get the impression that we’ve gotten too advanced or complicated. Our players still come from different interests, backgrounds, and levels of experience. It’s not unusual to find someone who is getting their first taste of playing with other people here. So if what you are reading sounds like fun, and something that would help you to become a better player, please read on.
A Little History
Toward the end of 2014, some of the regular jammers at these gatherings began to clamor to not only learn to play the blues, but to start plugging in. They’d had enough of our acoustic direction, and wanted to raise a little ruckus for a change. So we started digging deeper into the 12-bar blues form, and chord vocabulary, and turnarounds, and scales, and other cool, useful stuff that everyone needs to know. The whole feel of the jams became more improvisational, or, if you like, “jammy”.
The new direction caught on in a big way, and in 2015 we expanded to three Saturday morning jams a month, with some players coming in for more than one session. We also incorporated drum loops, and some bass playing, and got closer to a real band feel than ever before. All this makes it much more fun, and challenging, to play. In 2016 we started meeting pretty much every Saturday, and it’s going to stay that way.
I started the Jam Camp series in June 2013 in order to give more of my students an opportunity to play music with other people. Practicing well at home is really important, but that’s mostly about the guitar or bass, and the techniques and songs you are working on. In order to take what you’ve learned about the instrument and your songs and use it when you play with other people, you need a different set of skills.
Some of my students were seeking out and going to local jam sessions, and they were mostly running into the same problems, over and over. No one was leading the group. People played too loudly. They didn’t listen. Most players didn’t really have any idea of how to play together, build dynamics, and follow cues (or give them). The groups were just too big. People would say they knew a song, but it quickly became clear after all the wrong chords, missed entries, and clunky grooves that they didn’t. And on and on.
All of this equals one big discouraging mess. So, what can you do?
Come To Jam Camp
My idea was to start up a series of coached jam sessions. At first I would pick three songs and work up sheets to lay out their basic structures. We would prep the songs in lessons when we needed to. I keep the groups limited to three people plus me, so that everyone gets to play, and they can hear themselves. We started out playing acoustic guitars to keep the volume under control, but are all plugged in now. And we always follow the jam rules:
Jam Rules? YES
1. KNOW the song, but be flexible!
2. Keep STEADY time, and play in tune!
3. Watch your VOLUME for singers or soloists!
4. Play what’s easy, so you can LISTEN!
5. KEEP UP, no matter what!
The rules lay out the basic jam skills everybody needs. You have to know the song, but it’s a jam, not a rehearsal, so if the singer comes in early, go along with her. The need for steady time is never more important than when you try to help hold a jam together. Don’t play too loudly; there are no mics at most jams, so singers and lead players will burn out fast if they have to push too hard to be heard. Don’t try your trickiest parts if you can’t nail them, because you’ll stop listening while trying and maybe even distract someone else. And never try to go back to fix a mistake. This is a common habit in inexperienced players, and a nightmare in a jam. If you need to drop out, that’s OK. Just come back in when you know where you are again.
Mostly common sense, right? But jamming is where making music becomes more social, and not everyone is comfortable in social situations. The rules will help get you there. In fact, they’ll help make you the kind of strong player that other players will listen to and follow. This is GOOD.
How Jam Camp Works
My camp sessions run 75 minutes, give or take. You need an electric guitar or bass, a small amp, and whatever pedals you like to use. Players who want to take solos get plenty of chances to do that. There’s plenty of time for questions and trying things out. We learn how to get our gear sounding better. Most important, we have a lot of fun!
I charge $37 a head for each session currently. Prep is time-consuming, and camp is more of a group lesson than an open jam, so I put a lot into getting everyone ready for and running each camp session. Details about upcoming sessions are emailed each month. Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the email list to find out what’s up next. Sessions tend to sell out very quickly, so stay in touch. And go find some people to play music with!