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What Should I Play: How to Choose Songs for a Jam

What To Play: How to Choose Songs for a Jam Session

So, you’ve got your axe, you’ve warmed up your pipes, and you’re ready to come on out and make some music! You know that everybody gets a say in what the gang plays, and you want to get some of your favourite tunes out there! But how do you choose what to prepare, what to practice, and what to ask everybody to play along to?

Well, we’re here to give you some advice.

1. Keep It Simple. Remember there are going to be a large number of people playing along with you, and the more people you try to coordinate, the more opportunities there are for mis-steps. When you get 20 or more people, asking them to all follow along on a song with lots of finicky chords, interesting time-changes, or strange-yet-necessary rhythms and quick chord changes is probably going to lead to a train-wreck. My personal rule-of-thumb is to try to keep it below five different chords total.

2. Keep it Honest. Your favourite song, which you know and love and have played for years and which showcases your abilities best, might not be appropriate (or even possible) for a large number of people who might not be familiar with the song. Remember what that song was like when you first started playing it, or when you were first learning the ropes on your instrument? If it won’t come easily and smoothly for a large number of your fellow players, then it might not be an appropriate song for a large group to get in on.

3. Keep it Open. Suggesting songs which require a high level of skill, or a high level of foreknowledge of the song due to finicky bits, excludes a number of players from even having a chance of following along. You want to be inclusive and inviting, instead, for a jam session.

4. Keep It Standard. Choosing a song that is in a strange tuning, or requires a capo in order to even attempt it, suddenly excludes a number of other instruments from even playing along. You can’t simply re-tune a harmonica, and you can’t slap a capo on a fiddle or a piano. Sure, some of our more proficient players can transpose on the fly and join in, but recognize that non-standard tunings are going to leave some of your friends by the wayside. (p.s. a simple way to avoid trouble is simply to play the song without a capo … so long as the song is still in an appropriate key to sing in, just leave the capo in your case)

Now, what does that leave?

A huge List of wonderful songs!

Don’t be fooled that “simple” or “easy” songs are dull! Remember, these “simple” and “easy” songs are going to suddenly catch the attention and efforts of a huge crowd of people, all joining in to bring your song to life! It won’t be just you, all alone! You’ll get lead players joining in to add texture and detail, you’ll get the bass and drum to add substance to the core of the tune, and the entire crowd is going to have the time of their lives! All because of you!

So put a little forethought into your song selection, and you’ll be the instigator of a rollicking good time!

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Electronic CheatSheets -- the How-To February 14, 2009 10:57 PM Rob "Bodhi" W.
What Should I Play: How to Choose Songs for a Jam February 8, 2009 1:17 PM Rob "Bodhi" W.
About Portland Casual Jams (for Musicians and Singers) September 7, 2007 1:25 PM Rob "Bodhi" W.

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