Jam Tales: 14 Rookie Mistakes
A few things that go wrong at Jams, and techniques we use to compensate - from the guitarist in the host band.
1) No Concept of Song Form
This seems to happen with horn players more than any other instrument. They end their solo in the middle of the form. I’m not talking about knowing the form and simply getting lost; that happens to everyone. I’m talking about not even having the concept of “form” and just noodling around in a scale for a random amount of time with no idea of where you are in the song form. It’s worse if you do it with enthusiasm. We usually say something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, so-and-so on saxophone!” to solicit applause so you know when to quit.
2) Faking Changes Beyond Your Abilities
You came up to sit in on a 3-chord Blues. You were comfortable and sounded good. Great! Then if a standard with more complex changes gets called that has multiple key transpositions that’s beyond your ability to jam on, just go sit down. Don’t try to fake it. You’re not fooling anybody - at least not anybody in the band. I would respect you for knowing your limitations and acting accordingly. If you try to fake it there’s not much we can do to make you sound better; we just endure till your solo’s over.
3) Not Listening Or Paying Attention
This applies to everyone but seems to afflict drummers more than most. Missing cues for breaks, breakdowns, changes in dynamics and even endings. It's pretty hard for the rest of the band to cover up the fact that the drummer is still playing when everyone else stopped at the same time. Pay attention! Watch for cues!
One of the things that happens when you’re nervous is you speed up. I was playing a jam with a monster Hammond organist who was an intimidating player. He was playing bass with his left hand. The drummer, who was sitting in, was nervous and rushing everything. I could tell the organist was getting more and more irritated. Finally he glared at the drummer and barked, “Relax!” The drummer visibly deflated; he looked startled, his shoulders slumped and from then on his tempo was fine.
5) Walking Offstage With Your Guitar Still Plugged In
Usually if a guitarist sits in I go to the couch. One guitar onstage at a time is plenty. So if the guy is so humiliated or conversely so drunk with applause (or just plain drunk) that he forgets to unplug before leaving the stage I’m not gonna be able to get to him before he gets to the end of his tether. The result will be a horrible noise when the cable detaches from the guitar with the amp still on.
6) Bleeding On My Guitar
Yes, this has actually happened to me - twice. I don’t mind someone using my guitar, but bleeding on it crosses a line.
7) Singers Not Knowing Their Keys
Never a good sign.
8) Singers Using Their Phones For Lyrics
If you’re taking requests, ok. Doing your song, no. If you don’t know the lyrics to the song you want to do, you don’t know the song. You’re a singer for chrissake!
9) Harmonica/Horn Players Noodling/Practicing Over Vocals/Solos
Hey horn/harmonica player! Would you like me to noodle around and shit all over your solo?
10) Conga Players/Drummers Hitting Drums After The Song Ends
This is distinct from #3; he knows the song is over but he has to get the last word in. Dude! The song is over! Stop playing when everyone else does!
11) Tune Your Guitar BEFORE You Come Up To Play
Sometimes there are more players than time. Tuning your guitar after you get onstage is inconsiderate and might cheat someone else from being able to play. Bad form old boy!
12) Dinking around on your instrument while the front person is talking to the crowd.
An important part of the front person's job is to establish a rapport with the audience. To relate to the folks. You're getting in the way of that. STFU!
13) Tripping/getting tangled up in cables/pulling over mic stands etc.
To be honest, this happens to even the most seasoned pro now and then, but it's still a rookie mistake! I onced pulled over a whole PA speaker/stand! The only way this issue ever gets dealt with is if there's an asshole stage manager keeping the stage free of clutter. So yeah, usually not gonna happen at a jam. Watch where you step.
14) Calling an "original song."
What that says to me is you shouldn't be onstage at a jam. It's a JAM! It's not a jam when you are the only one who knows the song. When you come up to jam and want to do an original song, we just say, "Go ahead" and let you do it. If it sucks you'll be hanging out on that limb, flappin' in the breeze all by your lonesome. Maybe we'll play and maybe we won't. Depends on how predictable your "original" song is; if it's predictable then it's not so "original" is it? And if it's not predictable, how are we supposed to jam on it?
Knowing the standards of whatever genre the jam is seems like an obvious requirement. Those songs/forms constitute a common language. If you don’t know the language you shouldn’t be up on the stage jabbering.
There are appropriate places to showcase an original song; find an open mike night somewhere or a songwriters circle. A jam session is not the place.
P.S. I might regret this, but let's hear from my compadres who host jams; you got anything to add to this list?
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