Jam Session Etiquette
This is the stuff most experienced musicians are aware of and usually too polite to say, even when necessary. I should also mention that etiquette will differ depending on what level the participants are in. These are my thoughts for the jams I am hosting on Sundays at Diamond Cove Music.
We all come together to do something new and great, communicating with each other in this fantastic language of the soul we call music. We all know that playing with people better than ourselves is one of the very best ways to learn, but most accomplished musicians also realize that no matter what technical ability one has, everyone has their own voice and there are always new things to be discovered by listening and playing along. Musicians in general are a very generous lot as long as they feel everyone is really listening and working towards the same goal.
I have too often seen breaches in etiquette that will either totally break up a jam session or cause some of the best players to shrug their shoulders and pack up their instruments.
No Noodling! This is not a practice session, so don't try to figure out your new riffs here between tunes and definitely not when someone is singing.
Share the limelight and the choosing of songs. Nobody likes it when one person co-ops the jam and tries to make it about themselves. The easiest way to even this out is to pass it around in a circle. Among friends, where trust is built, of course this isn't always necessary, but if there is one person in the circle you are playing in that you don’t know really well, then pass the leading of a tune in a clockwise circle. It works, and keeps everyone happy.
This paragraph is for Bluegrass Jams only:
People come to a bluegrass jam to play bluegrass music. If you’re not sure what that is, then don’t play or call a tune. Please don’t invite friends who are not advanced-intermediate to expert players to join in. This is a jam session, but should sound like a professional band. It is not a practice session(no written music or lyrics are allowed). Bring your A Game and have fun.
Support The Vocalist! Your playing should be in the service of telling the story. Inserting embellishments and harmony add spice to music makes it more compelling, but care must be exercised during the vocals to make sure that the instruments will support what is being done rather than distract from it. Sometimes that is best accomplished with fills in between phrases and playing little to nothing while the person is singing.
Leave any overbearing ego at home. Of course we all have egos and that's a good thing. It helps drive us, but at a jam it has to be kept in check. At a jam you really shouldn't be thinking a lot about yourself, but rather focus on the group. Enjoy the camaraderie... this is a group endeavor... so go team!
We don't want to see the most sensitive players packing up and going elsewhere, so please don't be surprised if I speak to you about anything that I think might be disturbing to the jam.
I realize all this is easier said than done (I'm still working on it).
I hate rules as much as the next person and I'm not the music police. I just want everyone to have fun! Exercising this etiquette will go a long way towards ensuring it. Please help me out by adhering to these suggestions.