by Linda Ratcliff
Relax and enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll
realize they were the big things. – Kurt Vonnegut
Top Ten Tips for Jam Sessions
Going to jam sessions can be intimidating. And yet, they can also be the most fun and rewarding music experiences of your dulcimer life. So how can you move past your fears and inhibitions, and just have a great time?
- First of all, tell yourself it’s ok to make mistakes. This is not a performance. You’re just there to socialize with other friends who enjoy playing acoustic instruments. Don’t worry about ruining the tune for others with a mistake. Most of the time, no one will notice you’ve messed up, unless you stop playing.
- Be sure your instrument is “in tune”. If you’ve taken your instrument from the house to the car, and then into the jammin’ hall, it will probably be out of tune due to temperature changes. Don’t forget to bring along your electronic tuner.
3. It’s okay to play the parts you know and skip the parts you don’t know yet. Or, if you are a total newbie, keep an eye on the tabs and just play the first note of every measure.
4. If you don’t know a tune, try to play backup chords instead. Most jammin’ tunes only have 3 chords. If you know how to play the D, G, and A chords on your dulcimer, and you can hear chord changes, you’ll still be in business.
5. Don’t try to be the loudest instrument in the “band.” Listen to others, and focus on blending in, rather than standing out.
6. Do your best to keep in time with the other musicians. If you lose your place in a tune, just hang back and wait until they get to a place where you can jump back in.
7. Practice, and be prepared. Have a few songs in mind that are simple and everyone knows. That way, when it’s your turn to call a tune, you’ll be ready.
8. Don’t be a diva. Jamming isn’t about showing off. If you’re a more advanced player, when it’s your turn to lead, keep it simple. Don’t play it like a solo with pauses, tempo changes, or extra embellishments that would throw others off.
9. The person who starts a tune is also responsible for ending it. There are many ways to signal to the other musicians that you’re ready for the tune to end. You can raise one foot in the air as you get towards the end, or you can call out something like “one more time,” “last time,” or “going out.”
10. Finally, after a jam session, it’s a good idea to start preparing for your next one. Write down the names of tunes everyone seemed to know but you. Then you’ll know what to practice before the next time.
Matthew Dickerson jamming out a tune with the Squirrel’s Nest!
One more point I’d like to add is that you should ask before video taping or taking photos at a jam session. With the current obsession with social media, we all seem to think everyone is fair game for a photo shoot. But you might inadvertently make others feel uncomfortable or self-conscious.
See also: Steve’s Jam Session Strategy