You don’t have to be a “jam band” to be a band that jams.
Whether you are ripping 28-minute face-melting musical behemoths or simply improvising your guitar solo differently every show, jamming with your bandmates opens up your gig to a world of possibilities, and ensures that every concert will be different than the last.
I’m not suggesting that every band should have extended ambient improvs on stage, but it’s important to understand the benefits that jamming can have on your performances and even your musical chops. If your band has never improvised on stage and wants to try it out, or if you want to incorporate some new jamming ideas in your gigs, this article has got you covered.
Have a plan, but don’t be married to it
It is extremely rare that a band will decide to try jamming on stage with no forethought and be totally successful on the first attempt. Think about this – you may have a great sense of humor, but does that mean you can do stand up comedy successfully without any prior preparation or planning?
Skilled musicians all have the ability to perform, but successfully jamming in front of an audience requires some preparation and a little practice. Once you are comfortable as a band with each other’s cadences and patterns, you can take your jams to the stage. Never be afraid to get weird with it, because that’s where you can surprise yourself, and that’s where the magic comes from.
Eye contact and visual cues
As self-explanatory as this may seem, musicians tend to get wrapped up in their own instrumentation and forget to work as a cohesive member of the group, especially on stage. While it is perfectly fine to get lost in the music, it is important to remember that there are other people on that stage with you, and you must communicate with one another to steer the jam into that magical headspace.
Give everyone on stage a chance to lead the jam
For extended jams, it is important to alternate who’s in the driver’s seat on stage. This allows the song to make dramatic shifts in ways you (and the audience) may have never seen coming. For example, if your melodic lead guitarist is leading the jam and the riff-based bassist begins to take over, the song can take on a whole new identity, thereby keeping your audience on their toes.
And yes, even the drummer should get a chance to lead the jam. Drummers, even with no melody or notes to play, can have a powerful impact on the direction of the band’s on-stage improvisation, controlling the tempo, dynamics, and even the genre of the jam.
Try to incorporate melodies or motives from outside your genre
The beauty of jamming is the number of opportunities that arise from your musical experimentation, so don’t be afraid to explore different genres on stage. If you are a rock band in the midst of a jam, try to incorporate jazz chord phrasings into the song. Funk bands – feel free to throw a hard rock breakdown into the mix. Chances are high that your fans enjoy other styles of music as well, so exploring and merging genres on stage can absolutely be a stand-out moment for your audience.