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What to Expect in a Musical Jam Session

Jam sessions are for players to interact with other players and make music in a freewheeling environment, without having to be concerned about pleasing an audience. Some jams are impromptu, one-time occurrences, while others are weekly events that may happen in a private setting or in a public venue. Jams may focus on a particular style of music or even a particular instrument, and every jam has its own culture and etiquette.

Though you can jam with live participants in virtual space, jamming live is always preferable. No matter how fast your Internet connection is, physical distance introduces a delay that prevents you from synchronizing your rhythm with your jam mates, and you can’t read the body language cues that help you collaborate and coordinate with other musicians on the fly.

So where do you look for jam sessions where you live? You find jams the same way you find other players — by checking ads, entertainment listings, and local music associations that may hold jams.

After you find a jam, don’t expect to show up and get playing time immediately. You could benefit from treating your first visit as a reconnaissance mission. Find out whether the jam excludes outsiders or snubs anyone who doesn’t play guitar, bass, or drums. And if you show up once or twice before you try to play, you’ll become a familiar face, and familiarity can help you gain acceptance.

On your first visit, find out who runs the jam, introduce yourself to the jam boss, and ask how the sign-up process works. Expect to be viewed skeptically, because the jam boss doesn’t know you yet and because he often gets attitude from players who think they’re the world’s gift to music and have the right to dominate his session.

The jam boss may even ask you to briefly audition to show that you can play. One unfortunate reality is that some folks believe that just owning an instrument — such as, a harmonica — means that you can automatically play it, and the jam boss has probably run across a few such characters in his time.

After you do sign up, as a newcomer you’ll likely be at the end of a long line of regulars, all eager to play. But if you exhibit patience and respect for the regulars, you’ll feel more welcomed when you do get up to play.

If you’re courteous and considerate to others, you don’t hog the stage, and you can start playing without a lot of fussing with your instrument or the sound system, you just may make a few friends.

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