How To Play Your Very Best At a Blues Guitar Jam (Even If You Have Never Done This Before)

By Antony Reynaert

Before committing yourself to a blues guitar jam session, there are a couple of things that you should know. Especially if you have a certain fear of not being able to jam with the ‘big guys’. This is a fear that is shared by a lot of guitarists. Even experienced guitarists who play for many years are sometimes still struggling with their inner voices from time to time, regardless of the technical mastery of their instrument. So let’s take a look at exactly what is holding you back to get up on that stage and what is necessary to turn yourself into the perfect guitar jamming partner.

Building Your Confidence By Embracing Your Current Level On The Guitar

When you are starting out on guitar, there are many things that should be developed and build from the ground up. Guitar technique is an important factor, but it’s not the most important thing in order to get you the self-confidence to play in front of others. In fact, if your guitar technique is in the beginning stages of your guitar education and you can play a minor pentatonic scale flawless and make it sound interesting together with some blues rhythm riffs, then you are ready to play at a jam session.

The reality is that there are other things that are holding you back to play a blues guitar jam that are far more important than your level of guitar playing at this moment. Many guitarists feel that they need to learn to play really well before they can allow themselves to have fun and play together with other people. This is a believe that many people share but it’s not really grounded, because all over the world people are playing at jam sessions and they are having fun without worrying about their physical guitar technique. Isn’t that what music is all about? Having fun expressing yourself trough your guitar playing and sharing music with others?

Fact is that this feeling that you have, that you first need to play really well to be able to have fun and play together with other people will always stay the same. This comes from the fact that there’s always a bigger level to reach and there will never be a time when you feel that you’re at the level that you want to be at because you can always keep progressing. Also, you will always keep finding other guitarists that you compare yourself to that are playing better than you at this time. Now that you know that this feeling will always stay there, it’s better to take action right now and educate yourself about what you should be able to know, do and practice in order to play at that blues guitar jam you are dreaming of.

Blues Guitar Jam Education 101

This article will serve as a source of inspiration and education for you, so that you know how to practice, what to practice and what you should know before committing yourself to a jam session. The first thing that is really important comes down to the fact that you should allow yourself to be fully self-expressed. This ties together with being able to play blues guitar with feeling. It is the same thing; in allowing yourself to be fully self-expressed you will find yourself putting much more feeling in your guitar solos. But before you can reach this point, there are a couple of important things that you should consider.

Stop Holding Yourself Back By Disallowing Your True Self-Expressiveness

Most people are holding themselves back to being fully self-expressed when they play guitar. For instance, if you’re playing with a backing track at home in front of your computer and you are having fun, chances are that you are allowing yourself to be fully self-expressed far more than when you’re playing in front of other people.  This comes from the fact that we all have these inner voices that are telling us to be ‘just good enough’. Other times these inner voices are telling us that we should be able to play at a higher level in terms of guitar technique before we can allow ourselves to be fully self-expressed.

The first thing to realize is that, in order to make people cry, laugh, cheer, or answer to whatever feeling you want people to have when they listen to you play guitar, you need to be able to hold that exact emotion in your body when you’re playing your solo. But chances are that you are disallowing your true inner feelings to come out when you play guitar in front of other people.

Many people believe that they first need to reach a certain level before they have the permission to add any kind of feeling to their playing. Don’t let this feeling have the better of you. As I stated before, there will never be a point in your life where you will feel like you reached a level that you are ‘comfortable’ with; there will always be a next level to reach. That’s why it’s very important that you allow your feelings in your playing to come through. In fact, not showing these feelings will create anxiety to perform in front of other people, because it creates a lot of stress when you have to withhold emotions when you are the center of attention. The key in becoming free and losing all anxiety and stress to perform is allowing your emotions to shine through in your guitar playing.

On another issue, it’s very important when you go on stage that you know how to communicate with the other musicians up there, as there are many cues that musicians all over the world use when they speak with each other. So let’s take a look at how you can learn to ‘talk the talk’ with other musicians.

Communicating With Other Musicians When Jamming

One of the things that you might have picked up when you listen to other musicians talk is that they’re often communicating while jamming about a certain music theory concept. While on one side it’s important as a blues guitarist to be able to be fully self-expressed and not care about music theory when you improvise guitar solos (because you have trained your mind and body to execute everything that is necessary in real-time without actively thinking about it), it’s also important to educate yourself about certain aspects of music theory so that you can communicate correctly with these musicians. So, for instance, you might hear certain expressions that are being talked about in musician circles such as “go to the five chord” or play a blues in “the key of A” or play a blues in “the key of E”, or we got to play “a slow minor blues progression in the key of E flat minor”.  These are all common expressions that you have to know; you need to know their meaning and what to do with it.

I won’t go into depth about all of these terms in this particular article. There’s simply not enough space here for me to give you a list of all the important ‘musical cues’ that musicians use during a blues jam. That being said, I did create a separate mini-guide that will show you how to communicate with other musicians at a blues guitar jam. To understand more about what you need to communicate with musicians during a blues guitar jam check out this Guitar Jam Lesson mini-course.

Guided Practice Exercises

One last thing that’s very important in getting yourself the self-confidence to be able to play in front of other people are some guided practice exercises. The best blues guitar teachers are always guiding their students in a way where they will develop self-confidence over time. When using this approach, this build up of self-confidence can happen in a really short time and it doesn’t have to take years and years of trial and error and wasted practice time. It all comes down to the fact of having the self-confidence by practicing in a guided way. For instance, you could do exercises where you learn to play a blues guitar solo or you learn to play a blues guitar rhythm part or a song that you can play all the way through.

Instead of first jamming with other musicians, you would go and play this for one person only. This will keep you motivated while you develop the necessary experience and self-confidence step by step. It’s not the leap of faith that you need to take to play in front of one person. If you’re nervous about this, you don’t need to play in front of them, you could also play when they are in the same room but aren’t actively listening to you. 

What is being meant with guided practice is that, there is someone to hold your hand throughout the process. Great teachers do that to some extent (their will always be some steps that the student needs to take on his own, but he can be prepared by proper training and coaching).

In order to properly develop the self-confidence you need you should educate yourself and keep yourself motivated with new things to practice (while at the same time applying these things you practice in the form of application exercises). Whenever you find an exercise, you want to practice this in an implemented way, for instance by simulating a jam session environment at home.

To get a better idea of what you need to be able to do on guitar before committing yourself to a guitar jam session, check out this Blues Guitar Jam mini-course.

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