||Jams are fun. They are not practice.
They are not to entertain anyone except the participants. Make it fun. If
you have to, work hard to make it fun. If it isn't fun, don't do it.
||Jams are the time to make mistakes. In a Jam you can
experiment, screw up, fall down, drop your axe and otherwise make a fool
of yourself. The flip side of this is that you have to be tolerant of others
who are screwing up. In any case good manners should be as important here
as in any social situation.
||Jams are for beginners as well as experts. Although you
can make some rules as to minimum competence, these should be rules like:
Must know how to play in different keys. Must know the changes. If you are
an expert, teach the beginners, don't condemn them. If you are a beginner,
it may be better not to play anything if you are not sure of the key or the
||Everyone gets a chance to solo - if not in every song then
in every set for at least one verse. If a solo is good or needs a second
time around then it should get a second verse. A great solo deserves a third
shot, but a great solo leads to something and should end of its own accord
by the third verse. Even the drummers and the Bass player need to solo from
time to time. (Well, maybe not the Bass player.)
||Everyone plays. If there are lots of people, then maybe
not all at the same time. Too many harp players sounds like bagpipes. Too
many guitar players sounds like hell. A good jam has lots of participants,
sometimes over a dozen people playing at the same time. The object is to
play, not to sound good. Remember rule 1.
||Don't solo unless its your time to solo. It's harder to
play a good rhythm line along with the other people not soloing than to solo.
Playing rhythm requires coordination and a good understanding of the music.
Harmonica players have the hardest time playing rhythm, but harmonica rhythm
||Don't "Dixieland". Don't add embellishments and ornamentation
to the song needlessly (unless it is a Dixieland song, and even then there
||Don't step on someone else's solo. Lay back and let another
wail, you're time will come. There's nothing worse than trying to sing or
play and have someone else playing a solo against you.
||Learn the music. If its Blues, get all of the classic,
Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, etc. Be familiar with the literature.
Know where the stops are.
||If you are not soloing, turn down. Guitarists should use
a stomp box with a preamp. Others use a volume control. Don't play loud.
In jams there are usually more than a few people. The combined loudness will
make total volume levels so high that the softer instruments and players
will not be heard.
||Call the song. If you are going decide which song to play
next, then describe it. Make sure everyone knows the changes and the keys.
Example: "Slow shuffle blues in E, fast to the 4, stays in the 1 in the guitar
solo. The singer will signal the stops in the intro."
||If you are shy, don't sit in the corner strumming your
git, sadly. Join in and play. The jam is a chance for people to have a good
time being less than perfect. Participate! Encourage others to participate.
Some people want to be coaxed. Coax them.
||Applaud. Be happy. Reward positive behavior. The jam isn't
about you, it's about US. Make everyone feel they've done a good job. Even
the worst player has to be better in the last song than he was in the one
before. Everyone can get better, even if getting better means that he hit
2 notes right out of 100 instead of 1 note right.
||Control your alcohol and drug use. Don't get so drunk
or high that it hurts your playing or upsets other people. It's hard to judge
just how "fud-up" you are, even when it is perfectly obvious to everyone
else. You really don't play better with a buzz, you just sound better to
yourself. If you are nervous about playing, a drink might loosen you up a
little, but control yourself. Drugs, especially, make some people uncomfortable.
I personally don't like it when there are drugs around. I don't appreciate
people who bring drugs to a jam. It's bad manners to assume that everyone
at the jam is 'cool' enough think that drugs are OK. They are against the
law and can get everyone in the room in trouble if you
are busted. Don't light up that doobie until your host is aware and approves.
Put it out if anyone complains.
||Mix up the musical styles. Don't play slow shuffles in
E all night. Play some fast boogies and a few rock classics. If someone is
into SRV, let him play a few. If someone else is into Rev. Gary Davis, let
him lead a few. The beauty of Blues and Jazz and Rock is the variety. Don't
play just one kind of song. But - see next rule.
||Play easy songs. Songs with complicated changes and key
changes make it hard on the beginners. Play simple songs that everyone knows.
This isn't work. Don't make it hard.
||If you declare a song, lead it. You become the Jam leader.
You should point to the next soloist and give them plenty of time to lead
into the solo. Point to them in the turn-around. You have to yell "Stop"
at the stops so everyone can stop. You have to make the winding motion with
your finger straight up when you are winding up the song. You have to try
and quiet down the loud players and buck up the shy players.
||Watch the leader. He'll tell when to solo, when to stop,
when to wind it up and when you are too loud.
||Let the drummer call the beat. He'll use his sticks and count off the
beat. Don't do this yourself. The Drummer and the Bass players are the backbone
of the music. Let them lead you. If you are a drummer, drive the song. Don't
let the guitar players do your job. They will let the beat wander all over
the place. You have to keep it steady. Don't let anyone speed you up. If
you are a Bass Player, please keep the drummer straight.
||Take a break. Go outside and smoke a cig. Talk to the pretty girl in the
corner. Let someone else be the star for a set. The Jam should take a break
every three songs to let someone else a shot at stardom..
||Bring your own axe. Don't borrow a guitar or (yuck) someone's
harmonica. If you are a singer or harp player, bring your own Mic and plug
it into the PA yourself. If you are a guitar player, bring your own amp.
Don't ask to plug in with someone else. Drummers should bring their own sticks,
and rides. Guitar players should bring extra strings and batteries. Drummers
should bring extra sticks. Harp players, bring more than one harp - don't
make the band play in G all night.
||Respect your host. If the Jam is in a private home, call
the host to find out if you are actually invited. Bring food, drink or a
gift. Thank your host when you leave. Don't use the telephone. Don't raid
the fridge. Make the host happy that they had a jam and that you came along.
If the Jam is in a bar, tip the waitresses, buy your drinks at the bar, don't
sneak out to the convenience store on the corner. Don't throw up in the bathroom.
Don't start fights. Listen to the host and don't argue with him.
||Go home. Don't stay until you are the last idiot playing.
The host has to sleep eventually. You are in someone else's home or place
of business. Set a time to leave, midnight, 1 AM, or even later, but don't
make the host chase you out.
||If you have been jamming at someone's house for a while,
return the favor and host a Jam at your place, if you can. If you can't,
host a blues picnic at the lake where you supply the keg, or plan a blues
outing to a club where you offer to be designated driver.
||Practice at home. Bring a new riff or song or idea to
the Jam each week. Make each jam better than the last. Don't put you axe
in the case after the jam and leave it there until the next jam. Get better!
||Make a new rule. Go to a jam and figure out how it could
be improved and tell me about it. I'll add the rule here.
Special rules for singers:
||Don't expect everyone to know your songs. Buy a good
cheat book and be familiar with the melodies of all the songs in it. Don't
be ashamed to sing out of a cheat book.
||Leave your friend at home. I don't know why, but singers
always have friends who are absolute jerks.
||Allow plenty of time for all of the players to solo before
you end the song.
||Bring your own mic.
Invest in a good one. Mics spread germs. (I'm not kidding)
||NEVER EVER play those little plastic eggs or a tambourine
or other rhythm instrument. You are not a percussionist. If you don't know
what to do with your hands or how to stand when you are not singing, you
are not good singer yet. Watch some good singers and see what they do when
the band is soloing. Watch how important their hand motions are.
||Don't touch the mic. Adjust the mic stand once at the
||Don't speak to anyone in the audience. Don't ask "can you
hear me?". You are there to sing. You are not the MC.
||Sing out! Jams never have enough singers. You can make
the song great.
||The best songs for Jams are sing-alongs or call and response. Get
the audience involved. Don't be a star - share the spotlight with the group.
Sing "Mojo", "Sweet Home Chicago", "Hoochie Coochie Man (Woman)", or "Fools
Night Out" (There is a version of this great sing-along in the latest Saffire
CD) and get the audience and band singing along with you.
||Sell the song. Don't stand still and sing. Move! Singing is much
more than noise from your mouth. Dance, if you can. Your voice reflects what
your body is doing. Blues is emotional by definition. Make your whole body
reflect that emotion.
||Lead the band. In a song with a singer, you are usually the leader.
You call the stops and choose the soloists. If you aren't going to lead the
song, make sure some else does.
Special rules for Guitar players.
||Turn the volume on the guitar down.
||Turn the volume on the amp down.
||Turn the volume on your effects down.
||Keep it simple. Complicated beats make it hard for
everyone to play.
||Avoid use of the cymbals. Not every turn-around requires
a crashing blitz of brass noise.
||Leave the cow bell home.
||Bring your friend. For some reason the goofiest drummer
always has the prettiest girl friends.
for Harmonica players:
||Do what you damn well please. You are far and away
better than anyone else at the jam. They are lucky to have you there.