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Jamming is the key to inspired guitar improvisation. 

You feel a surge of energy and become one with the music.  You'll progress 3 or 4 times faster.

"We used to go jam, actually... We were just getting off, that’s all.  Not really 18 hours (a day), say about 12 or 14 maybe" [laughs].    -Jimi  Hendrix

Jamming secrets         Quotes

Why jamming is good

Jamming helps you create music

"Everything I cut ...was a spontaneous thing happening among a four piece jam band...  It was everybody just getting in the groove and really enjoying it.   It was music that was born at the time, right there."    -Carl Perkins

The songs just come to us.  "On 'Foxy Lady' we just started playing, actually...  With Voodoo Child they wanted to film us in the studio" So I said, "okay,  let's play this in E; and then we went into 'Voodoo Child."    -Jimi Hendrix

Jamming helps you connect with musicians

"We whipped into a little jam.  It lasted 2 and a half hours.  When we finally quit, nobody said a word man.   Everybody was speechless... it really frightened  the shit out of everybody."    -Duane Allman      (1st jam with the Allman Brothers band)

"People play their best when there’s a fusion in talent for the first time and the freshness is all there."     -Jeff Beck

You hear your part just before it happens, while you play.

"Players should force themselves to hear something and then play it, rather than just do whatever comes under the fingers."     -Jim hall

"I try to hear something that makes sense, sounds reasonable, and play it."     -Alan Holdsworth

I had this skill when I was jamming 3 times a week. 
Hearing a phrase first happens when working on a song, playing alone or jamming in your head. 
Creating in an instant happens when you jam, because ideas have to be expressed immediately, as the moment occurs.

Practice:  Think of a melody from a song you like and try to find it on the guitar.

Making a jam band:

duhListen to the other musicians

Read that again.
Adjust your playing to work with theirs.  They should be doing the same.  
If you work together and listen, the music will transcend all of you.
If you want to make a jam band, thats the essence of it.

"Just listen and you'll know…  help them and let them help you as well.  It's an interaction and that comes from experience."    -Ry Cooder

See listening

Tune your guitar

Make sure your guitar, bass and drums are tuned.
Out of tune drums are bad, out of tune guitars and basses are awful.

Clip on tuners are the best.  Check your tuning all the time.  432HZ is a better tuning than 440HZ.  I can hear the difference.  Google it.

Stand where you can hear it all

If you can't hear everyone, it's pointless.  If you want to rock out with a jam band, you need to follow the number 1 rule.  Listen to the other musicians.

Adjust the volume  

Get everyones volume adjusted to a proper level so it mixes good.

I had a jam with Roland Kirk "and I really got off.  It was great.  I was so scared!  I might just hit one note, and it might be interfering...   He told me I should have turned it up or something."    -Jimi Hendrix

Protect your ears

Jamming is very loud.  Wear loose earplugs so you can protect your ears and still hear what's played.
Beethoven went deaf and composed his greatest works.  You're not Beethoven.

Focus on the drummer  

Watch the drummer.  You'll subconsciously follow the rise and fall of the sticks.
The bass and rhythm guitar need to follow the drummer.  
The singer and lead guitarist create melodies.  They should follow the drummer.  

The snare and bass drum are most important.
 Play to them and everything will fit.

Move to the beat

 Stand up and move to the beat, hop around, head bang, shake your butt.   This gets you in the groove and helps you focus.
See dancing

"You don't go into war sitting down."    -Tom Morello

Free jam or structured?

Free Jam
You start playing and whatever happens, happens.

Structured jam
You start with a riff, chord progression or melody.   etc.
Practice both.

Simplify and repeat 

Playing too fast, or too many chords, muddies up the sound.  Keep it simple.  
If you play something, repeat it so other musicians in the jam band can create something.  
If you change all the time, it'll never sound like anything.

"If you removed all the limiting factors from music it would be like tennis without the net, court and ball."     -Jim Hall

Take turns

Each person in a jam band has something to contribute.  Each contribution is a possible song.  Take turns, and let everybody lead the jam. Follow them, listen and react..    

"Somebody would play a motif, and the rest of the band would try to act like composers.  It didn't have to be in one particular key... the form was allowed to take shape as we played."    -Jim Hall

Everybody in the band "develops in a different way and all of a sudden there's somebody with a bunch of ideas you haven't stumbled on.  Thats the fun part of playing with other people, You find all these possible ways to grow.”      -Jerry  Garcia


Don't worry, or think.  Clear your mind, simplify, and let your fingers react.  
Your brain processes 100,000,000,000 bits of information per second*.  
It can coordinate the effort and help create music while you play.  Have faith.

"They were very intuitive players" They just "instinctively know what to do."    -Pat Metheny

"Ideally a group should be in an evolving state…with each player acting and reacting as the music takes shape."   
-Jim Hall        

*shut your eyes to free up brainpower

Forget your ego

When it's your turn to lead the jam, show off.  When somebody else is leading, sit back and groove.  Showing off means ignoring whats needed, for the sake of your ego. 
See leave your ego at the door.

Sometimes "the guy on the rhythm chair plays his rhythm, but when there's an opening he tries to fill all the holes.  It's showing off and that’s disrespect."   -Larry Carlton

There's always a loudmouth in a jamming situation.  "I let the loudmouth mouth off, get it out of the way, and then I come in very quietly like B.B...    Just one note or something that will shut everyone up, if you can find it. [laughs] It doesn't always work."     -Eric Clapton

Get to the essence

Anything you play has a variation that could be called its simplest form.  The fewest notes, the simplest rhythm.  Find the essence, and then build up from there.  This helps everyone
in the jam band understand what they're working with.

"Go for the essence of things."     -Alan Holdsworth

Play to the bass or rhythm guitar

They create the chord progression for the jam.  Lead guitar and vocals create melody over top of it.  
They'll be listening to you and adjusting.  Work together.

Find the root notes

The chord instruments will be playing a pattern.  
They'll repeat it, so you can figure it out.

Each chord you play has a root note.  
Find the root notes and remember where they are.  

Developing ideas see theory

Add the octave of the chord.

Add the 5th to any chord.   It usually sounds right.  

Determine if a chord is Major or minor by playing the Major or minor 3rd.  
If either sounds wrong, it's the other one.    
Often you can decide for everyone.               
Add any interval and listen, do you like it?

Keep it simple and build it up.  Remember what you like.  
By the 50th repetition it'll sound good.  Jamming with a jam band takes time and practice.  Keep it simple.  You'll get there eventually.

Avoid wrong notes

Wrong notes kill a jam fast.
They make you lose focus.
Use the guitar color patterns.

Pick a scale you like to use.
Look at it half the time.

When you can play a fret position, shut your eyes.
This frees up brainpower..

It'll help you focus on the music.

When I get into the zone "it comes from outside as much as inside.  I'm very influenced by the band.  If everyone is playing really well, you can't help being inspired by that,  and that drives you on.  You get to what seems like a peak.  But suddenly you start thinking about what a great time your having, and then it's gone.  Or what I always do, without fail is hit a wrong note, and it's all over…  But if you can get to that, you can get back up there in the space of a few minutes.    -Eric Clapton

But on the other hand:

"The moment is the important thing...  Making horrible mistakes onstage doesn't matter.  You restrict yourself if you play for safety margins, if you only play what you know your going to get away with."    -David Gilmore

If wrong notes make you lose focus, stop focusing on wrong notes....

Don't think

 I don't analyze while I'm playing.  I clear my mind and react.  If I start thinking I kill the music.  

If it's your turn to lead, you can start with a scale or chord progression, that's fine. 
But don't think about what to do next*.  
Relax and clear your mind; experiment.  Listen.  React.  Let the music go where it wants to.

"I try to make myself ignorant and go only by sound and feeling.  When things are going right, it feels like the music is happening because you finally got out of the way."     -Jim Hall

"I spend almost all of my energy now as a player getting to the point where I can let go of my thoughts, and that’s absolutely the most difficult part of being an improviser."      -Pat Methany

"If I can get out of the way, if I can be pure enough, selfless, generous, loving and caring enough to just abandon... my silly notions of what I think I am... then the music can really use me.  Therein is my true fulfillment.  That’s when the music starts to happen...   "It's selfish to impose yourself on the music."     -John McLaughlin

"If you remove your mind, you can…scare yourself.  You just have to go inside yourself.  If you spend your whole time thinking about what your going to say, it’s gone.”    -Carlos Santana          

*Jaco Postorius said 'think about what the next section will be.  What are you going into?'   He was very good.   I've been doing that more in my old age.

Play to each other and become one  

Do this and the jam will come alive.
You'll have a psychic connection with your jam band.  
You'll start and stop playing at the same time.  
You'll go into changes playing the same thing.  

It takes practice, but it's amazing and well worth it.

"Every once in a while they start going like a wave, they get into each other within their personalities." but then... "You can hear it start to go away.  Then it starts getting together again.  It's like a wave coming in and out."    -Jimi  Hendrix

I had a blast playing solos with Jan Hammer; "hearing the way I was altering as he would alter, neither of us copying each other.  If there was a flurry of runs that he would do, I would take over, and if I did a flurry of runs, he would take over and it would just melt into one.  Thats music to me."  I've never had a musical relationship with anyone else "on such an electric level. It had energy and life in it.”     -Jeff Beck

It was pointless "from the start because he had his band and wanted to make himself a star with that band without having me in it."     -Jeff Beck  (ego ruined it)

Switch instruments

This helps you create new sounds and develop.  It helps other members of the jam band expand their horizons.

Singing is easiest.  It "invites" music into your head.  
Singing helps you express music.  I often rock the hardest when I'm singing.

Bass makes you fingerpick (or pick).  You stretch your fretting fingers farther.  Your hands get stronger.  You simplify your playing.
           You focus on the chord progression and rhythm.  Bass is a fantastic instrument for jamming.  It has a lot of power and authority.
           It's hard to be a world class player on guitar and bass.  The difference in fret size and spacing will throw you off.  
           Pick one as your main instrument.  But, I like playing both.

Rhythm guitar makes you focus on the chord progression, chords, and rhythm.

Lead guitar teaches you how to play instrumental riffs and solos.  Try to anyways.

Drums develop rhythm skills, timing and groove ability.  They make you strong, fast and agile.   Drums are like dancing.

Piano    Keyboards help you see scale shapes.  They help you find the right notes in all 6 octaves.  
               They make lots of great sounds. They help you play in key and find melodies.

Making wrong notes right         

Slide or bend to the next stable note.  
With practice, you'll get very good at this.  The faster you move from a wrong note to a right note, the more "right" it'll sound.  
It'll sound like you wanted to hit that b5.

Jimi Hendrix was good at this.  He hit wrong notes all the time.  He'd just bend it to something meaningful.

Play it twice. 
Play it once and it's "wrong".  Play it twice and they praise your "chromatic" choices.

Know the way out. 
Every chromatic note has a sequence that makes it sound good.  These sequences vary.  
What may sound good in one style may not work in another.  Use your ears.
Experiment with sequences of notes that allow a b5 or b2 to sound like it's meant to be there.

Play it like you mean it.  
It's only wrong if you say so. 

Practice before jamming

Get warmed up and loosen up your fingers.  
Exercise also helps.  It releases endorphins and gets you pumped.


Practice acceleration and deceleration (both rhythmically and in terms of tempo).
Play soft and loud.
Try to feel the "changes" coming.  
        We often played 8 or 16 measure blocks.    
        It was all subconscious.  
        You hear the change coming as "the music suggests it" and you do it together.
It's like you're reading their minds.  Maybe you are.

Make it therapy

Cleanse your soul.  Release your anger and aggression.  Feel the joy.  
It's the best feeling I've ever had.  It's an electric buzz.  You exist in the sounds.  Jamming with a jam band is the ultimate experience. 


"I think jamming, unless it's got a goal at the end of it, is pretty much a waste of time.  It's just like exercising or something.   If you’re jamming and something comes out of it and you make something that you can stand hearing again and has a form, and turns people on, okay.  Musicians as they get older, usually become interested in doing something more lasting.  It's a youthful thing to go around and jam with every one who's known.   Then you've just got to settle down and make everything count."    -Eric Clapton

I agree with Eric, but jamming is not a waste of time.  He says if you "make something you can stand hearing again, and has a form and turns people on, okay.  Exactly, that's the whole point.  I just wish I'd made it count.  

On Layla, "Duane [Allman] and I found that whenever we were going to do an overdub, neither of us would do it alone.   We'd either do it in unison or in harmony.  We did all of it together."  "I can't play just to silence...  I have to be prompted into it by listening to something."    -Eric Clapton

"When I was 14, I started playing all the time with really good players, and those people became my teachers.  I was playing jazz tunes five nights a week on the bandstand.  That’s the best possible experience I could have had."    -Pat Methany   

All during this time, and up "until I was 18, I sounded awful.  I was scuffling, like anybody who'd only been playing a year or two."     -Pat Methany          

From age 14 to 18, he never gave up, he still jammed with pros.

Playing in the Dead is like playing in a string quartet.  "It's the new conversational music where the instruments speak to each other, and you have that kind of tightness and dynamics happening."    -Jerry  Garcia    

“For me, It's been very helpful to work with other people."      -Jerry  Garcia

I don't really consider factors such as harmony and counterpoint till I'm performing.  "I'll realize 'Oh, there's a hole here.  My guitar and voice are almost interchangeable.  I'm in my best state when I really know the song and can sing it well, and I know the chords perfectly and where I'm on the guitar at all times.   It's a thing of feeling very continuous between the guitar player and the singer.  It's a neat feeling, almost magical."        -Jerry  Garcia

My rhythm player Bob Wier is "like my left hand. We have a conversation going on musically and the whole thing is complimentary.  We have fun and we've designed our playing to work against and with each other.  His playing puts my playing in the only meaningful context it could enjoy.  There are some passages  that would really throw me if I had to create a harmonic bridge between all the things going on, with two drums, and Phil's bass style.  Weir's ability to solve that kind of problem is extraordinary."      -Jerry  Garcia

When I worked with Howard Wales he "would just play through tremendously extended changes.  That developed my ear to an amazing point because I had nothing to go on.  I didn't even know what key we were in."      -Jerry  Garcia

I “think of my playing primarily as an accompaniment.  I try to play off the vocal and maintain the feeling of the words and the melody."           -Ry Cooder

I wasn't very nervous about playing with Gabby Pahinui.  "It's all a matter of attitude.  If you adopt the right musical attitude, whats the groove here? whats the dominant aura? then I think a good musician can integrate into any situation if he just concentrates.  But you have to be open and sensitive and ask yourself: 'What is the scene here? Do I feel comfortable?'  If you build up this awareness, you'll be a better guitarist.  For years I tried to get all the notes right…  But Gabby doesn't bother with that, he's way past the notes.  It's the approach, the whole attitude.  You just let yourself come out.  Gabby will say 'If it comes from the heart, I can feel it'.  Thats the key to it, getting the musicians expression of feeling across.  The players who can do that are the great players."       -Ry Cooder

I played by myself for years because "I didn't know anybody who liked to play what I liked.  I was trying to learn certain things and get myself together on my instrument.  In retrospect I see that you do better when you work with people, you progress faster."     -Ry Cooder       

"I'd like to do some things with different guitar players, I want to have different guys add their styles, because that really gets me going and inspires me."     -Ry Cooder

"If I didn't know the tune I would just use my ear to match up with what I heard the band doing.  They were never too adventurous, and when you know one (tune) you know a whole lot of other ones."      -Tal Farlow

I don't always play roots in the bass.  "If I'm working with a bassist I go out of my way not to play roots in the bass.  If I'm not, then I think the ear almost calls for the  bass notes.  Then again, there are times when the tune sounds better without the tonic in the bass.  Sometimes I just play two notes of the chord, like the 3rd and 7th,  and this sounds so full you don't need anything else.  It doesn't get too muddy that way."     -Tal Farlow

"If the chord player doesn't get too fancy and keeps his changes simple then I'll try to add to it and not clash with him.  But if he does some substitute changes, then I'll try to follow him.  There are a lot of musicians who don't like being dictated to by another chord instrument.  They would rather play with just a bass.  But…  I feel  someone should always be supplying the harmony.”  I can relax more if "someone is along with me to back me up."     -Tal Farlow

If I’m playing rhythm for a soloist, I don't try to add a melody. "Sometimes if you’re playing a phrase in chords, the top notes will form a melodic line, but when you’re comping for a soloist you should try to stay out of his way and yet confirm what he's playing by filling out the harmony.  I don't like to get too busy against another person unless it's lyrical and not much is happening.  What bothers me is when you have a guitar and a piano comping and their both going in opposite direction."     -Tal Farlow

It doesn't bother me when someone plays something I didn't expect.  "I like to be surprised once in a while.  If you hear something different the first time around,  you're going to remember it the second time."    -Tal Farlow

When I'm improvising I might "start with the melody and re-work a phrase from the first part of it.  You can take something out of another song and alter it a bit.  It's hard  to say what the process is.  It just occurs to you while your playing, but you have to be sure what you are doing fits the chords."     -Tal Farlow

When I need to warm up before a show; "slow practice usually helps if I have time to be alone with the guitar." But "if I have to go right out, listening really hard to the other players often gets me through.     -Jim Hall

I think of improvisation as "instant composition.  It's the fun part of playing.  It's a way of reflecting the melody of a tune and sharing it with somebody else."     -Jim Hall

"Lyrics can act as a source for improvising too."    -Jim Hall 

When I'm backing up a soloist, the decision to lead or follow "depends on who I'm playing with.  After a while you get a sense of what a player wants."     -Jim Hall

"Sometimes it's fun to play a cliche and make something out of it, but when I'm practicing I try to find a different way of ending a phrase,  Players should force themselves to hear something and then play it, rather than just do whatever comes under the fingers."      -Jim Hall

Johnnie Johnson and I had a playing style that was both conscious and accidental.  We "had such a thing together that we didn't have to talk about anything, We'd just do it.  Johnnie… has an ability to fill in over a progression.  He and I would discover a harmony together, where I could be playing, then lay off for just two  beats and he'd pick it up, fill it out.  I could just look back at him, and we had such a complete sense of each other that no other communication was necessary."       -Chuck Berry

"I improvise a lot, and sometimes I stumble onto some nice things by playing in the studio with another musician.  Perhaps he'll do something that will make me think of a little lick.”      -Jeff  Beck

If you’re jamming "in a small room, there are all of the live frequencies there and this sometimes blocks your mind from the essence of the tune…  Go home and listen to the tune turned down low… Then you really hear how strong or how weak it is."     -Jeff  Beck

Sometimes I write down music for my sideman, "sometimes there is a need to be structured.  Sometimes it's easier just to play something for somebody,they get the picture quicker."      -John McLaughlin

"Our whole approach was brotherhood.  We were all there for the same reason, and there was no ego."     -Larry Carlton

"Meeting places for musicians to have cultural exchange accelerates the process."      -Steve Morse

"When we play by ourselves, we do that back porch blues stuff.  It's kind of wishing we could be back in the days when it was party time, and someone would pass around an electric and say 'turn it up and do something.  We wind up doing three hours before the show, and that gets us wound up to do two hours of high carburetion!"     -Billy Gibbons

"I like after hour jams at a small place like a club.  You get off in another way with all those people there.  It's not the spotlights, just the people."      -Jimi Hendrix
{Do you listen to the band?}  "It's there.  They got their own thing together that takes you to a certain place.  Takes you where they want to go [laughs], you know.  Where they want to.  They play their things onstage exactly how they play it on record."       -Jimi Hendrix  

"I just try to play naturally.  I don't analyze, I follow my instincts. I try to hear something that makes sense, sounds reasonable, and play it."   
       -Alan Holdsworth

"I love to play with other people.  I think musicians should intermingle a lot."     -Mark Knopfler

"I stopped playing and went to art college for two years." But I "used to go and jam with the interlude band" at the Marquee Club.  "Somebody said, 'would you like to be on a record?  I said 'why not?  Anyways I had to stop going to the art college because I was really getting into music."                     -Jimmy Page

When I lived in Chicago in the '30's I played jazz every night.  "You'd take your guitar and walk from one club to another.  We loved jamming, it was wonderful.  I was playing jazz all night and I would sleep in the studio where we did the radio show."      -Les Paul

A few final thoughts:

Jamming with a jam band is the best practice method.  It teaches musical flow, fixes your ears and boosts your creativity.  

15 years ago I had an awesome jam band.  It was comprised of myself, Mark Jeffers and Nathan Stiffy Ludwig.  We rocked.  
After 3 years of jamming (roughly 700 jam sessions) I could close my eyes and "see the music" as it came to me. 

I'd see my part moving up and down, getting stronger and weaker.   I could see colored lines weaving through my head. 
I didn't have to think about it, or make any sense of it.   It showed my subconscious what to play, and my fingers just did it, sometimes at obscene tempos.

I wasn't born with this skill.  I don't learn by hearing (an excuse many people use).   I'm a visual learner.  I had ZERO musical talent for 4 years.  I reached the apex of my skill within 10 years, thanks to proper jamming practice sessions.   This is a skill that anyone can learn, but it takes time and dedication.  

The jam band was a social disaster, and we never played a show.  Stiffy hated his playing (rhythm) and he liked my playing (cycling riffs and lines).  I hated my playing and I liked Stiffies.  Mark thought we were both idiots.

It ended when one of our friends tried to move in on us.  He played his songs over and over.  Our jam band sessions turned into dull practice.  Stiffy gave up, joined his church band and got married.   Mark gave up drumming, and he's a machinist now.  I'm the only one who still likes to rock.

When you jam, the music is being "suggested to you".  

Everybody need to simplify and get to the essence.

This simplicity will create complexity.   Get to the essence first.  The repetition of simplicity makes your fingers fast, accurate and agile.

1 hour of jamming = 4 hours of regular practice IF

The other players are 


If they do this, it's amazing.  If they don't, I get irritated and want to go home.  
Sometimes I can force something to happen and I'll tolerate it, and maybe even have fun.

At most jam sessions I'm the only one listening and it's obvious.  Work as a group, not as individuals.  
When you work as a group, the energy that flows through you is amazing.  It can't be described. 
Have fun and rock out.    "Fee jamming" can sound like shit for years.  Try bringing a chord progression. 
Show band members which scales sound good over it.  This tends to create a bluesy sound.  
However, a simple chord progression, proper tempo, rhythmic styling and good use of the scale notes allows for any type of music.  

When the jams start to sound good, record them.  Use a setup that doesn't change.  Sound quality will always be similar.

Jam until you get some good ideas. 

Isolate those ideas, listen to them and discuss them.  
Go back and jam the ones you like.  
Record and discuss again.  

What parts would go where in the song? 
What does the song need? an intro? a bridge? 
Discuss, and then go home.

Have each person try to create any needed parts on their instrument. 

They'll all be different (unless you're on the same wavelength), different is good.  
Jam and record some more.  Each step brings you closer to your goal.

Write lyrical images and lines on a dry erase board.  
Play quieter so you can hear lyric lines on the recording.  
Let everybody sing and improvise lyrics to the flow.  

Save the best and redo it all again.