When I first started learning the guitar, I wanted to know how to jam with other guitarists.
I don’t have it all figured out, but after jamming with other guitarists since 2003, I’ve learned some tips along the way I wish I would have known when I first started.
So how do you jam with other guitarists?
- Find like-minded musicians.
- Find musicians of similar skill-level.
- Decide which songs you will play together.
- Determine each musician’s part or role.
- If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play lead and one play rhythm.
- If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play with a capo.
- If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play in an alternate tuning.
- If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play with a slide.
- If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist use finger-picks.
- If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play a guitar hybrid.
- Make sure everyone’s in tune with themselves and then each other.
- Use a metronome.
- Record your jam sessions so you can learn from them.
- Have each person practice their role alone and then with the group.
- Have each person practice jamming alone.
In the sections below, I’ll discuss exactly how these steps work and how you can get started jamming with other guitarists in no time.
But before we dive in, let’s talk about what jamming is exactly.
What is Jamming Anyway?
Jamming simply means playing your instrument.
You can jam on the piano, guitar, and anything that makes music.
Though you can jam by yourself, usually musicians use this term to describe playing with others.
“Wanna jam?” is a common question among musicians.
And it simply means, “Do you want to play musical instruments together?”
Jamming is really fun when you get the hang of it.
But jamming isn’t exactly easy.
If you thought playing the guitar alone was difficult, jamming with other guitarists further complicates the process.
However, jamming is also that much more rewarding.
1. Find like-minded musicians.
This step is perhaps the most important part of successfully jamming with other guitarists.
Jamming with people who take it more (or less) seriously usually takes the fun out it.
That’s why it’s important to find other musicians who are about as committed as you are to jamming.
I have a few friends I jam with a couple of times a month.
It’s not that frequent and we don’t take it too seriously as we all have day jobs and families that take most of our time.
However, we enjoy our jamming together and try to make the most of our couple of hours every other week.
If one of us had hopes of playing live shows and touring the world, (s)he would be very disappointed with our dedication to jamming.
Conversely, if someone couldn’t commit to a couple of times a month, they probably wouldn’t be a good fit either.
2. Find musicians of similar skill level to your own.
Jamming with someone who is a vastly different skill level than your own can also be difficult.
I’ve jammed with beginner guitarists and highly advanced players.
Neither experience was very fun.
Jamming with beginners can feel awkward as they don’t know what to play and you basically play alone.
Similarly, when I’ve played with highly advanced guitarists, I’ve felt like I couldn’t keep up and was just slowing them down and making our jam session sound bad.
3. Decide which songs to play together.
It takes a skilled guitarist to be able to play along effectively with songs he doesn’t know.
That’s why it’s important for non-advanced guitarists to plan which songs to play in their jam sessions.
This is what my jam group does.
We all choose a song or two to learn independently and play them as a group when we get together.
4. Determine each musician’s part or role.
Jamming is easiest when everyone is playing a different instrument.
This is evidenced by the fact that most bands have a diversity of instruments and rarely have more than two guitarists.
If you are jamming with people who play different instruments, each person’s instrument will determine their role.
However jamming only with other guitarists makes determining roles a bit more tricky.
I provide some tips in the following sections about how to jam if you’re only playing with other guitarists.
5. If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play lead and the other play rhythm.
If you’re jamming with a group containing one other guitarist, it’s usually easiest to have one guitarist play lead and the other play rhythm.
This is how many rock bands function.
The rhythm guitarist typically plays the entire duration of the song (often on acoustic guitar) while the lead guitar may just play a solo (usually on an electric guitar).
Having one guitarist play electric and one play acoustic with the different styles of lead and rhythm provides a diversity of sound that’s much better than two acoustic (or electric) guitars playing the exact same thing.
And knowing scales is crucial if you’re going to play lead guitar.
While many people think playing lead guitar is all about improvising, improvisation occurs within the framework of scales.
You don’t have to be a pro with scales to get good use out of them.
I know the major and pentatonic scales and they have helped me get started with lead guitar.
6. If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play with a capo.
If you’re jamming with more than one guitarist, you may not always have another guitarist skilled or knowledgeable enough to play lead guitar.
If that’s the case, don’t sweat it.
Though I know some scales, I don’t focus nearly enough on lead guitar to feel comfortable taking that role in a jam session.
The simplest solution in this case is to have two guitarists play rhythm guitar with one guitarist using a capo.
For instance, if you have one guitarist play without a capo and the other guitarist play the same chords transposed to capo 5, you will have a nice diverse sound you don’t have when two guitarists are playing the exact same thing.
7. If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play with a slide.
Another way to add a diversity of sound when playing with multiple guitarists is for one guitarist to use a slide.
Of course, slide guitar is a style of its own that can be endlessly complex.
But it can also be a fun style to play only knowing the very basics.
Plus, slide guitar is highly versatile and used in genres like blues, rock, folk, and more.
Check out the video above for an example of a slide guitarist to see how it could bring a novel sound to your jam session.
And check out my comprehensive post on alternate tunings for the slide guitar if you’re serious about playing slide guitar when jamming.
8. If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play in an alternate tuning.
As I mentioned in the section above, playing slide guitar in an alternate tuning is a great way to jam with other guitarists.
But if you can’t or don’t want to play with a slide, don’t worry about it.
Sometimes playing in an alternate tuning is enough to provide a diverse sound when jamming with other guitarists.
For instance, if you’re jamming with other guitarists playing a song in the key of D, having one guitarist playing in open D or DADGAD would probably sound great.
Check out my post on alternate tunings to get started with them.
9. If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play with finger picks.
Finger picking a tune while a rhythm guitarist strums the chords is another great way to jam with other guitarists.
This is a tactic my friends and I use frequently when we’re all playing guitar together and don’t all want to play the exact same chords for rhythm guitar.
You don’t need metal or plastic finger picks to successfully finger pick a guitar tune.
They’re simply helpful in making your finger picking loud enough to hear above other instruments when jamming with other guitarists.
I recommend these finger picks.
10. If everyone’s playing guitar, have one guitarist play with a guitar hybrid.
My favorite option for jamming with other guitarists when everyone’s playing the guitar is to have one guitarist play a guitar hybrid.
Guitar hybrids combine the fret board of a guitar with certain aspects of other instruments to provide the sound of a different instrument without requiring the player to learn a new instrument.
For instance, the banjo guitar has six strings (instead of a banjo’s usual four or five) tuned to the standard tuning of a guitar.
So a guitarist can play it just like he plays a guitar.
However, the banjo guitar has the body of a banjo giving it that banjo twang.
It may not be within your budget to buy a new instrument to jam with other guitarists, but it’s certainly something to consider.
Also, you can use any of the above methods (playing lead, playing with a capo, slide, finger picks, or in an alternate tuning) as a very low-cost method to make jamming with other guitarists easier and more enjoyable.
11. Make sure everyone’s in tune with themselves and then each other.
If your guitar is slightly sharp or flat, but in tune with itself, it won’t sound bad when playing alone.
But as soon as you add other instruments into the mix, it will sound awful.
Because of this, having just one person slightly out of tune can ruin the sound of a jam session.
So do everything you can to make sure each person is in tune with themselves and each other.
You can make this process easier by having everyone use the same tuner and tuning your instruments in separate rooms so you don’t pick up each other’s sound.
12. Use a metronome.
Metronomes are excellent tools to help you improve your musical skills.
They are also great for improving jam sessions.
If something sounds out of whack when jamming, or you just can’t seem to get the hang of a song’s tempo, use a metronome.
Practicing along with a metronome can be difficult especially if you don’t regularly practice with one.
But if you can accurately play a song to the regular beat of a metronome, you’re well on your way to mastery of that song.
So use a metronome to practice with others and master the tempo of the songs you play in your jam sessions.
13. Record the audio of your jam sessions so you can learn from them.
Recording you jam sessions can be surprisingly helpful.
Listening to your jamming after the fact can reveal issues you didn’t hear when playing live.
There’s something about listening to a recording that gives you a more realistic impression of the sound.
My friends and I will sometimes listen to a recording of a song right after we play it together to see if something doesn’t sound right that we missed when playing.
14. Have each person practice their role alone and then with the group.
Jamming successfully requires solo practice.
Then, when you come together to play all those parts together, you discover other issues to work through.
In other words, even if everyone can play their parts perfectly, there are still things you need to practice as a group.
You often discover that people can play their parts well by themselves but need to practice the ability to both play their part well and listen to and follow the lead of the group.
This is why it’s so important to both practice alone and together.
If you only practice your parts when together, you will make very slow progress.
15. Have each person practice jamming alone.
This recommendation might sound the same as practicing alone and with the group, but it’s not.
The simple act of playing with others, even playing with the recording of others, can improve your ability to jam live.
For instance, you might try jamming along with your favorite song, riff, or drum beat.
This will get you in the habit of playing within the confines of a beat and improvising with other players.
How do you run a jam session? The most important part of running a jam session is making sure you’re jamming with like-minded musicians. If everyone has similar goals and expectations, running a jam session won’t be difficult. However, if everyone isn’t on the same page, running your jam session will be very difficult. Apart from that, use the tips above to make sure your jam session runs smoothly. Focus in particular on making sure each person has a part and feels like their part is valuable. When I was a young musician just starting out with the guitar, I once jammed with people who left me out of the jam session. I felt like I had no part and was only dragging down the group. Look for people like this and make sure they are a fit and have a part.