So, you know how my articles have always ended with the phrase, “Get out there and jam with somebody?” Well, the other day, down at a local club, I did just that.
I got a last-minute call to fill the bass chair at a local jam night – which, incidentally, I’m glad to see “jam nights” are still alive and kickin. Coming up in the music scene, that was pretty much the way you shedded out material you were working on: hit the local jam night.
Anyhow, the thing I want to touch on concerning that recent jam night is: LISTENING! Or, in some cases, the lack thereof.
Throughout the night, different cats would come up to play, and very quickly you could tell what his or her agenda was. You have all sorts of musicians who want to hit the stage – fully rehearsed bands looking to book a future date at the club, cats who want to sit in with the host band, and just all-around great musicians looking to bring it to the stage.
But no matter who hit the stage that night, the one thing that kept coming to my mind was listening. It seems so simple, but it’s the key to anything musical; everything falls under the umbrella of listening.
Communicate: When sitting in, listen to the other cats – talk before you play wherever possible. “Hey, whaddaya guys wanna do?” And when the beat kicks off, listen to the drummer – get a feel for the pocket. Is the drummer ahead, behind, on top? Find out quickly, and set your groove right where it compliments everything best.
Volume: “Seat” your instrument’s volume – whether it’s a bass, keys, guitar or vocal – so that you’re working WITH the other band members, not against them. Listen for the overall volume of the ensemble, and ease your instrument into the mix.
Watch: Chances are, you’re going to get thrown a curve ball – and that’s the greatest thing about a jam night! Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for cues the other musicians might give (i.e. a hand gesture for upcoming chord change).
Listen: This is most important. So it’s funny that when I try to write about listening, it’s tough for me. Listening is something that’s never-ending, something that you can only learn by playing in different situations. You truly have to earn it. Truthfully, you have to get on the stage…. And screw up!
Through these inevitable mistakes, you really learn the lessons that stick with you. Keeping your ears in tune with the musicians around you will make you a better player, period.
By listening, you’ll learn how to add to the bigger picture instead of competing with it, and that’s what will keep you working. Don’t hit the stage looking for openings to cram in the latest lick you’ve learned – just let it flow naturally. By doing that, your ears will direct your actions; that is the essence of a truly great artist.
Now, I’m not saying to never play those awesome licks that you’ve been working on when you’re on the stage – I’m just trying to stress the utmost importance of developing your ear first (through unfamiliar musical situations) so that the real You will flow from your heart and soul.
When you do step out, and it’s appropriate to do your “spot,” you’ll play naturally because you’ve been listening, soaking in the chords. The music becomes a part of your soul, and the whole band will sound better for it.
As for me, I had a new groove I’d been dying to run past an audience. But when I tuned in to the musicians on stage with me at that jam night, I knew it wasn’t the time or place. Listening – instead of playing – made the whole performance stronger.
Now, get out there and jam with somebody!