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The Importance of Practicing Through Jamming
Jamming Defined and How It's Applied by the Pros
Jamming in music generally involves two or more musicians rehearsing or improvising together in a live setting. During the improvisational process, however, a musician may discover some options for the composition of songs. However, jamming does not have to be restricted solely to a band situation or just during band rehearsals. A musician can do so on his own in order to improve on his soloing. In fact, doing it alone can serve as a great means of preparation for working in a band situation.
Even the pros use the jamming process for a number of very good reasons. In their early days, the members of the classic rock band Black Sabbath would spend hours just jamming. This is because they had to play at one venue for a number of hours a day and was short on material. So they were forced to extend the songs they had through jams. Often, bits and pieces of music created during some of those jam sessions actually became songs that were later recorded on some of their albums.
I have read story after story about some of classic rock's greatest bands and how they would spend countless hours together just jamming. Some of those bands actually rented houses and all lived together. Obviously, that gave them plenty of opportunities to play together. This obviously explains why so many of those bands were so tight. This also explains why, in some cases, when an original band member is replaced by someone new, the chemistry does not seem to be there anymore. This can be especially true in cases where there are multiple personnel changes in a band.
How Jamming Adds Value to a Band
There are many benefits to jamming when practicing with a band or when practicing alone. In a band situation, it really helps a band to get tight and can add value to a band, in a sense. I have seen a lot of bands play throughout the years and you can always tell when a band is well rehearsed and has spent a lot of time playing together. It really shows. Just as it would show if the band had not spent a lot of time playing together.
A lot of bands will use a jam to increase the running time of a song or two if they are short on material. That is fine as long as you don’t do it for a ridiculously long period of time. After a while, you may lose the crowd’s attention due to them tuning out an excessively prolonged jam due to monotony. If done right, though, it has the potential to seriously impress an audience or club owner.
When I was in various bands, we might have a rehearsal where the singer was not able to attend. So we would spend the time together just jamming and we ended up coming up with new songs as well as ways of extending some of the songs we had already been playing. Then when the singer showed up at the next practice, he would be very pleasantly surprised at some of the new ideas we had to show him. Things like that matter too. It's nice to know that the other members of the band are willing to take some initiative on their own. Initiative makes a band member more valuable.
I have also used jamming as a means of teaching music theory to some of my band members as well. I might go over scales, arpeggios or various techniques with them and we would do a jam of some kind to allow the other guy an opportunity to apply some of what I had just shown him. Jamming can be a great way of driving certain lessons home. Knowledge of music theory makes a band member more valuable as well.
Through the jamming process, a band may discover its weaknesses. It is always good to find that out because it really shows what the band needs to work on in order to become a better band overall. Using live performances as the only time a band jams is actually very limiting and can sometimes not turn out so well. So the jamming during rehearsals really adds value to a band, simply because they are sort of battle tested and ready for any scenario. Don't use a live setting as the Aberdeen Proving Ground for your jams.
Cues on When to Start the Jam and when to End It
In some of my many band situations throughout the years, we often had cues we would use before either starting or ending the jam. Once you basically decide what the repetitive pattern is that you want to solo over, you basically just determine when to go into the jam and when to exit it. The beginning was usuall at a specific point in the song so that was fairly easy to determine.
As to when to end the jam, I always liked to have a certain riff I would use on the guitar that would be the signal to the rest of the band members that we were to either end the song or go back into the verse or chorus and then end the song. Explaining it to the rest of the band was fairly easy. I would just say something like “when I do this part right here, then we go back into the song.” or I would tell them that we would just end the song at that point. Once you run through that a couple of times, everyone pretty much is in sync.
Ways of Jamming with a Band
In a band situation, there are a lot of ways you could jam. It doesn’t have to be everyone together. Sometimes only a couple of the band members are able to get together, due to scheduling issues. Sometimes you might have a situation where only the drummer and bass player are only able to get together. That’s fine. If they just do a jam together, it really helps your rhythm section to get tighter and that’s an important thing, for a band to have a tight rhythm section.
Maybe only the guitar player and the bass player are able to get together. Well that’s okay too. I have spent a lot of time throughout the years jamming with just a bass player. Just me on the guitar improvising some leads while the bass player plays along.
There have been times when I would have a drum machine and use that for a basic beat and the bass player would play his part while I would do a solo on guitar. The drum machine allowed us to set a tempo and helped us to stay in sync with one another. So there are a number of ways for a band or just a couple of band members to jam.
Ways of Jamming Alone
There are a few different ways I jam when I am alone. I sometimes will use a loop pedal. This is great because I could just play some chord progression, save it and then play a lead solo over it. This works great for when I want to come up with a lead solo for a song. I will just play the loop over and over while I just try things out and I will come up with bits and pieces over time. Eventually, I will piece them all together and develop a more thought out solo rather than just winging it.
I will sometimes jam along with a drum machine as well. Jamming with a drum machine can really help with your timing. After all, since a drum machine is a machine, it’s timing is dead on and if you can play along with one and be totally in sync with it, it can only help your timing. A drum machine can really act as a glorified metronome.
A lot of drum machines have bass guitar sounds as well, so you can program both drums and bass parts into one. Then you can record yourself playing along with it and provide a recording to the rest of your band so that they may learn their parts. I have found that when I give them a basic idea, they are actually able to elaborate on the idea and give back something much better than I could have expected from them. The more creative they were, the better the feedback I often received from them.
I also have a handy little tool called the DigiTech Trio Band Creator Pedal. You basically play a guitar chord progression and the pedal “learns” it and plays bass and drums along with the progression. It’s great for a one man band situation and it is also great for rehearsing alone. It can even be helpful for songwriting as well.
To Sum Things Up
I am not the type of person who really likes to wing it. I really prefer to be well rehearsed prior to playing live. I have always been that way. So for me, jamming alone to work out various ideas that I will play out live later is the way to go. Also, if you are kind of out of practice, as I have been at times, it’s a good way to get back up to speed. Jamming isn’t just for fun, as some people might have as its only purpose, but it can be helpful to a musician in so many ways.
© 2017 Bob Craypoe