Co-creation and community for beginners

Probably like many others, I picked up music as a serious hobby when stuck at home over the pandemic. I’m… not very experienced at it yet. Now with a vaxx in me, I want to be able to do my new hobby with others, and I feel a little lost about how to go about it. I feel like I’d have so much to learn by co-creating music with other people (wait maybe that’s called “jamming?”), but I don’t have enough experience playing, or especially playing with others, that I want to impose my beginner self on anyone experienced. As a kid, I took band class, and we were all in the same boat — but now as an adult I feel like I’ve missed that boat.

If you “became a musician” as an adult, and you play with others, how did you boostrap that? Did you practice enough alone that you could show up to jam with others (almost) full-speed? Did you find a community of other beginners? Did you take group classes with a co-creation component?

The other night I had over a friend who’s also a newbie, and we played with synthesizers for hours, and it was a lot of fun. We’re going to do that again, and learn together, which is, I think, a partial answer to my own question.

I also took @andrewhuang’s production class a few months ago, and the structured peer feedback part of it was another good partial answer to my question. It’s too intense for me to be able to take it regularly, though, what with a kid and a job. Maybe there’s something chiller or slower-paced that also has the “study group trying to improve their musicmaking together” vibe… saying that, the Disquiet Junto comes to mind. I wonder if people from here would be interested in forming a less-than-once-a-week critique/discussion or even collaboration circle around it?

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Unless you’re doing free improv I’d say the most useful skill is understanding chord progressions and being able to read chord charts. If you know the intervals that make up different chords and can follow a chart you can fake the rest. If you play a bum note just play it again and then it won’t be a mistake.

Also, playing with peers of a similar skill level is good but playing with musicians better than you is really how you get better quickly.

Thanks! I “understand” chord progressions, I think, well enough, at least I have been reading a lot about functional harmony and relating it to what I hear and it seems to make sense. I’m working on getting to the point that chord progressions go from my brain to my fingers easily on guitar, and that takes some time. I can do it for moderate tempos and open chords, which works for some keys, and I’m getting towards it with bar chords, which will really free up what keys I can play in.

How do you find musicians better than you that want to play with you?

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That’s a great question. In my experience it’s come down to meeting people in my normal social circle, finding out they are a musician and suggesting we hang out and play together. If you’re taking lessons music teachers always know other students they might be able to connect you with or have some sort of group class. I’m not religious but some of the best musicians I’ve met came up through church worship groups (especially in gospel churches) so if you are then that’s a great option since in most churches the only requirement is volunteering. When in doubt picking up an instrument that is a little less popular leads to a lot of opportunities to play. Everyone always needs a bassist or drummer. If your main interest is synths and electronic music there may be less of an existing community for live music unless you’re in a city but if there is some sort of local scene attending shows and chatting with people is a good way to find kindred folks. Now that people are moving about the world again putting up a flyer in a coffee shop or playing solo at an open mic and saying you’re looking for band mates is another avenue.

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My interest is broad, and maybe too broad. I’ve been taking guitar lessons, and doing electronic music production in the box, and recently just started down the hardware synth road. Perhaps I should focus but I kinda don’t want to yet.

As long as you’re having fun I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I’m similar. My ideal jam session involves everyone swapping instruments at some point.

I wonder if there would be interest in a “find musicians in your area” thread on Lines where people could post wanted ads for band mates, jam sessions, etc. Where we all have at least a little overlapping musical interests it could be a shortcut to finding folks to play with.

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This is the entire answer to your own question. :slight_smile:

Though participating in Disquiet Junto is a great way to get feedback and starting points and is a fantastic thing to do, it isn’t the same as getting together with your friend and making sounds. Anything that isn’t that – getting together with a human and making sounds – is cool but the way to learn about making music with other people is to make music with other people. :slight_smile:

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playing with others is a related, but distinct activity from playing by yourself. both are great, and doing one helps to feed the other. there are no hard boundaries in this stuff, only opportunities to make various connections.

music is so much more than techniques, it is ultimately a matter of opening one’s self [ears, brain, emotions, muscles, etc.] to what is unfolding in the moment, whether that moment consists of playing preconceived sounds or inventing new ones spontaneously.

i would encourage taking a very open approach to asking anyone to make sounds with you. you will learn much from more experienced folks, but also from complete novices. and to be honest, even the experienced ones are exploring and learning and will never, ever, in a million lifetimes, master every aspect of all music. so if they are also open and friendly and don’t have their egos all twisted, it should be fun for all.

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In my late twenties I had a period where I lived alone and practiced guitar for one hour a day and piano for one hour a day and when I got back to working with people, my comfort with scales and playing techniques didn’t help me at all with jamming. I still felt the nerves, still felt the ‘come on already, let’s get to the point’ feeling, learned nothing of how to work through a compositional disagreement. I think even if you learn the (Jazz Real Book, Bach Preludes and Fugues, Beatles songbook) inside and out, there’s no replacing that human contact to push your development forward. Even if its a disaster, even if you don’t play a note, I’d say get that person in the room with you.

Go to a show, watch all the acts, talk to the people. Introduce yourself, tell them what you thought of their set, tell them what you’re working on. "I’m new to synths, still learning music, loving figuring all this out, looking for a community of similarly minded jammers "
Here’s something: folks that know synthesizers love synthesizers and will talk about them for hours with you. I had a friend offer to go through the whole Midi Rulebook with me because I said I didn’t get how MIDI worked. (Not actually a thing, I just checked, but wouldn’t that be cool?)

When you get to jamming, DON’T WORRY ABOUT MUSICIANSHIP, just do your thing. There’s going to be flubbed notes, sour patches, but those aren’t places to stop, they’re foundations. Keep the tape rolling. Mess up a bunch of chords that you don’t know the names of, make some noise and then talk about it with your jam partner.

When I think about folks I’ve worked with musically, I treasure the following qualities: patience, attention to detail, listening, open-minded, willingness to follow an idea into a new place. That’s the stuff to practice. I mostly do not think about: are they a great technical player, do they know their instrument inside and out, how comfortable are they at jamming?

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I, too, am a noob. Actually, I’m a nooooob.I would love to jam with you or anyone else. I am pretty sure that can be achieved through the wonder of networks and certain websites that are set up for exactly what you want. A virtual practice room, if you like.

Also, first laugh of the day for “if you play a bum note then play it again and then it won’t be a mistake.” I’ll be using that in my set aka bum note central.

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The importance of patience (in yourself and in your partner[s]) can’t be overstated, especially when you’re starting out. I’m sort of an anxious person when it comes to other people and I’m also not a very proficient player, so when I combine social and musical contexts there can be a bit of a hump I have to get over in order to really enjoy myself and let the music take over. Being patient and compassionate with yourself, exploring your own mistakes - these things are what make jamming such a joy. You and your fellow musicians form feedback loops with one another and if you block yourself off by being hard on yourself, it can really hinder that process. I heartily recommend playing that bum note again!

Also, I found getting a simple looper to be a nice way to get accustomed to playing along. It’s not another person, exactly, but I found it to be very fun and a good way to train my ear to listen and respond, both tonally and rhythmically.

It’s not exactly jamming (love all the thoughts others have shared though) but an idea I’ve been kicking around recently is a thread for sharing half-finished songs and sketches so that we can kick our ideas over to other people and see what comes out. Definitely a very different process compared to music-making in the moment but I think it could be really cool. Accounting for the style, taste and idiosyncrasies of another can be a great way to further your creative pursuits no matter what the context! Would anyone else be interested in this/@sixolet would this conform to your idea of a somewhat more chill collaborative space?

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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:

  1. Most musicians liked playing with other musician; they were all beginners at some point so don’t be shy.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. Having an individual or device providing a reliable tempo (percussion or other rhythm) helps a lot. It’s easy to drift otherwise.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

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The community side is still very early — mostly on discord atm — but I wonder how you would find Endlesss as a space to explore playing with people remotely, without needing to schedule anything. I can’t say I’ve stuck to it over time, but when I do spend time on there I’m surprised by the intuitiveness of the jamming experience, and by how much the looping workflow helps level the playing field across skill levels. (The ability to loop the part you want after having played it makes it super easy to get over worries about mistakes, and to experiment until you’ve played something you want the other jammers to hear.)

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I think an interesting aspect of learning an instrument that you have to ‘tune’, like a guitar, is a constant necessary practice of listening to two notes becoming sympathetic with each other. Music is a long journey. I’ve been in it for 25 years but for me the collaborations have always been few and far between. Perhaps more so earlier in that learning period. It’s special when that situation comes along. You have to make space for it to occur. But I would say also, to consider sound as a creative material also, and not necessarily having to be folded in to the institution of ‘music’. It’s cool learning about rhythm, harmony and timbre, but look into and explore experimental musical approaches that might open up creative ways to explore sound, rather than feeling ill adept at ‘musical’ communication. But probably the best thing you could do is start something yourself - start the music group you want and post an ad somewhere, and see what kindve response you get. Good luck!

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Thank you for opening this topic. When I got into eurorack (2015) I noticed a lot of activity online and very few activity offline. Personally I believe doing stuff together in the ‘real world’ is always more fun.
And no amount of ‘insta likes’ can ever replace the sense of excitement, achievement and belonging of doing live music with fellow souls. So I’ve made it my mission to bring people together that are into modular synths. In 2019 and 2020 - before the global pandemic hit - we hosted SQUARE WAVE: an open modular synth improvisation meetup. Throughout the nine editions so far, over twenty different people participated in structured improvisations. Some of them seasoned live performers. Some of them performing for the very first time in their life. The event attracts a modest ‘audience’ of mainly befriended music/synth/tech lovers (total safe haven/creative vibe for newbies):

We have our homebase in Deventer, The Netherlands. A city of just 100k people. Nothing fancy. But we’ve been running 9 events. All it took was three crazy guys, a club owner friendly enough to provide us with a space+PA and we were rolling. So if we can do it, ANYONE CAN. :slight_smile: Each event ends with a joint dinner of the participants (indeed a total nerd dinner with discussions about envelopes, VCO’s, aliasing, C64 vs Atari and whatnot…haha). Because it is so nice to bond over music, tech and meeting kindred spirits in the real world.

This month we released a ‘best of’ compilation with 10 tracks that are just awesome improvs, taken from these nine events. On the BandCamp page of this release you can find the outlines of the improvisation structure we drew up. Please feel free to use it for your circle/community/club or even just to jam with a single friend. Would be so cool if this could inspire others to find the joy we encountered.

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That’s an excellent album! Listened all the way through, which is rare for me.

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This 100%. It’s not a coincidence that the regular live performances in front of an audience are part of any classical/conventional music curriculum. I think performance not only improves my confidence as a musician, it also helps to develop my personal voice. For example I discovered that not all that sounds great in my personal space will held up in front of an audience and some things I was not so sure can work wonders. BTW there is an excellent thread here in this forum about how to start performing live.

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Thanks a lot! Initially we recorded the improvs just as a ‘document’ and shared them exclusively with the participants of each edition. But the lockdown seemed a great opportunity to revisit them and select the ten most outstanding tracks. The amazing Gregor Beyerle mastered them and I am happy to hear you like them. I see these tracks as the ‘output’ of our efforts. Whereas the ‘outcome’ is having an afternoon of open community spirit and nerdy happiness that goes well beyond the output. I hope the tracks reflect that too.

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Wow the improv structure there sounds a lot of fun. Do you find that the “duet with a randomly selected other person” thing makes people less afraid of “messing up”? I feel like it might for me but that’s kind of counter-intuitive.

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Yes, there’s definitely an aspect of ‘relax, we’re in this together’ to it. I also noticed that people who first came as visitor -and got the vibe- only then felt comfortable enough to participate in the next edition. Which is a total compliment for the people involved in our small yet open modular synth community. That’s actually what keeps me going.

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