I can give you a little perspective from my side on how I can’t to collaborate and jam. I started making music about 10 years ago (at 30) with no prior experience. In particular, I decided that I wanted to know how a group of musicians could meet up and play music together? The vehicle I used to learn was jazz piano. In particular I did this to focus on learning theory in practise. I practised playing lead sheets, all modes in all keys, all triads in all inversions and otherwise everything to get used to navigating the keyboard (plus theory, primarily circle of fifths, harmony and how they relate).
This left me with a decent ability to move around the keyboard, but a lack of ability to play freely. To remedy this I started replacing scale practise for playing an improvisation on a chord progression. At a point I felt like I had enough “musical vocabulary” to play with others so I tried recording myself (in audio) and overdubbing. The result was two things. First of all, a realization that I could reasonably create rhythm, melody and harmony in the fly. Secondly that playing solo had allowed me to be very flexible with time. To this end I got a looper. In this way I quickly layered and built up music against a “live player”, i.e me. A little while doing this and I realised I had the capacity to play along. It matters you realize that “the one won’t wait for you, so don’t miss it”: it’s now important to play in time than to play interesting harmony or melody.
So how did I get to collaborating or jamming? Well in my case there was a local electronic music improv event. This, in contrast to jazz meets, seemed much more open: they didn’t expect you to know a set of standards, or to be able to take a solo every track. I started taking part there and have been ever since. We get new and inexperienced members often and yet we keep it together. Here are a few thoughts:
- Most musicians liked playing with other musician; they were all beginners at some point so don’t be shy.
- If it’s an existing group, understand the expected skill level: you don’t have to be the best player in the room but if you can’t play a “251 in G at 140” and that’s how they operate you may feel discouraged (perhaps see if you can watch/listen in).
- When playing with others play very little, ideally consistently to let others find their place: often I play a little riff or some simple harmony to give people a foundation; once everyone is in, you can explore more.
- Having an individual or device providing a reliable tempo (percussion or other rhythm) helps a lot. It’s easy to drift otherwise.
- There is an optimal group size such that you don’t feel like you need to carry too much of the tune yourself vs there being so many there is no space for you.
- It’s critical to listen: as a beginner who knows (e.g) a 12 bar blues and that’s the format you can try and play like you would alone. Jamming is about collaboration: finding your niche in the music and sticking to it. We sometimes have beginners who end up just playing the root note every bar or two: this is a great way to start.
- In our groups we shout out commentary a lot: “what key should we play?”, “Nice baseline”, “faster tempo for the next one?”. We also laugh and have fun.
- Finally, and this applies even more to online jamming like ninjam due to the interval delay; if you see on exit, take it. It’s really easy for one tune to last the whole night. If you think you’ve reached an ending then end, and don’t start up again. It’s much more fun to start again: we tend to play 10-15 minutes per tune.
Despite all the thoughts and warnings, remember that a beginner friendly group will expect people to struggle. You don’t need you worry about “repeating mistakes to legitimize”: stick to playing what you think makes musical sense. Also ask questions: it’s not a competition; unless it’s a band practice then everyone is there to have fun. The hard part can be finding the groups; search online, ask friends, or suggest it to other learner musicians.
One avenue to explore might be ninjam. There are public servers which you can just join in with. Connect but initial don’t transmit. Try and play along just to get a feel for it. Once you feel comfortable, hit transmit and start slowly. There are some great players out there who are far more fun to play with than a backing track.
Another avenue to try is collaboration in the sense of production. It can be surprising how, if you find something with a different skill set to you, you have more to contribute than you think. I’ve done a few collaborations with singers which have been great. This form of collaboration can be handy as you don’t have such “immediate pressure”. It’s surprising how many musicians would be happy to collaborate with you if you just ask. I typically suggest doing a “practise collaboration” to iron out the practical kinks before doing anything serious. I usually opt to define a musical structure and create a basic fountain for us to build on; ABCA structure, this key, this tempo, this chord structure etc. We usually share audio stems as wavs rather than trying to send DAW projects. You can use a Dropbox or Google drive for such sharing quite easily.
Anyway, this response is getting very long, so it’ll stop there. To get the ball rolling, if you are interested in collaborating or “ninjamming” then let me know!