View Full Version : Tips For Going to a Jam

10-31-2010, 09:13 AM
A friend of mine put these together for their group. Take a look at them and see if there is something that needs to be added. Your input would be much appreciated.


A jam is playing with a group of folks who often don't know each other and don't necessarily know the same songs. It's less organized than when you play together with your regular crowd. The typical format of a Jam is to go around the circle and let each person choose a song for the group to play.

Tips for participating in a Jam

1. KNOW THE SONG you choose. That means know the words to all the verses and know the chords. Many of us can sing choruses to a gazillion songs but few of us know the verses. If you choose the song for the group, be prepared to carry it. It's common for the one who chooses the song to sing the verses and then everyone joins in on the chorus.

2. CHOOSE A SONG WITH NOT MANY CHORDS. The songs we perform are usually not great jam songs. Too many chords. And for the others who are listening for the chord changes, that's just too hard to keep up with. Some songs that we DO have in our set list now that work in a jam are "Just A Closer Walk", "Mansion Over A Hilltop", "This LIttle Light Of Mine". You get the idea. Three or four chords in an easy key. There are hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of songs of all types that can be played with 3 chords.

More complicated songs are good choices for performing, just not the best choice for playing with a group who doesn't know the song and all the chords. Save these for the open mic.

3. MAKE A LIST OF SONGS YOU CAN THROW OUT FOR THE GROUP. Almost without fail, your mind will go blank when it's your turn to choose a song. Jot down good jam songs and the key you play them in on an index card and keep it in your case.

4. TELL THE GROUP THE KEY THE SONG IS IN. It sounds better when we are play in the same key. You can even call out the chords in the song.

**Those were tips to get you through your turn to choose a song. These are to help you play someone else's song that you might not know.

5. LEARN YOUR CHORDS. At least the basic ones. The songs going around the circle will likely go too fast for you to look them up after someone calls them out.

6. KNOW THE 1-4-5 CHORDS IN THE BASIC KEYS. We've talked about this before. Just memorize these. This will get you through many, many songs. C-F-G; G-C-D; D-G-A, etc. Again, there are hundreds and hundreds of songs you can play if you know these. (We had a man who used to come to our jam at the guitar shop who could sing an endless number of songs--as long as they were in the key of D. He only knew those three chords.)

7. PRACTICE LISTENING AND HEARING THE CHORDS. I've played along with CDs, TV commercials and ETV music specials, YouTube, etc. to practice hearing the chords changes.

8. LEARN SOME BASIC CHORD PROGRESSIONS. There are some chord combinations that happen over and over again in many songs. The "oldies progression" is one we use often and many people will know it. If you learn this one, you'll be able to play along with a song that you might not know (except for the bridge part--that's where you play "air ukulele.") C-Am-F-G7 is the oldies progression in the key of C. We also play it in G......G-Em-C-D7. Can you figure it out in F?

Another progression we use often is called "rhythm changes" or just "playing around the circle" (of 5ths). It's used often in songs from the 20s & 30s. It might go C-E7-A7-D7-G7-C. Play that and see if it sounds familiar. Sometimes the 7th chords might start with A7 and go on to D7, etc. Let your ear listen so that when you hear this sound, you'll say, "Ah, I know these chords" and you can jump right in. Sweet Georgia Brown plays this progression in F. Same sound different key.

12-bar blues is another common progression. We played it yesterday a few times. Makes no difference that you've never heard the song. Those chords are always the same. It's only 3 chords, but played in a pattern that I'd almost guarantee you'd recognize if you hear it. Ukulele MIke has a lesson on this on his YouTube channel.

9. LOOK FOR CLUES WHILE THE JAM IS GOING ON. The easiest is to watch someone's hand to see what chords they are playing.

10. IF YOU ARE REALLY LOST, DON'T PLAY. Good jam manners would be to sit one out if you have no idea what's going on.

This really does take practice. I used to just sit outside the circle and watch and listen. I would still win no prizes for jam skills, but I'm much better than I used to be. You can practice jamming with just another person or two.

And if jamming is not your thing, that's okay, too. We all like something different.

Ronnie Aloha
10-31-2010, 09:17 AM
Great instruction sheet!

10-31-2010, 10:19 AM
I used to print these out and tape them to the top side of my ukes:

Key_Chord Progression.......................Key_Vamp

C - ..C.....C7....F....Fm....G7....C...........C -...D7...G7...C....

F - ..F......F7....Bb..Bbm..C7....F............F -...G7...C7...F....

A - ..A.....A7....D....Dm...E7.....A...........A -...B7....E7...A...

G - ..G....G7....C....Cm...D7....G...........G -...A7...D7...G...

D - ..D....D7....G....Gm...A7....D............D -...E7...A7...D...

to glance at the vamps and chords in common keys. Ric

10-31-2010, 11:04 AM
What a great thread. Can I please share Tips For Going to a Jam with my uke group (Funstrummers Ukulele Band of Modesto)?

10-31-2010, 12:09 PM
Sure, Mimi from The YesterUkes sent this to me. http://yesterukes.blogspot.com/

10-31-2010, 12:19 PM
Thanks Ukuleleblues! I have been following the Yesterukes on a different soc. network. Their group is much like the one I belong to. The tips will come in handy.

10-31-2010, 01:43 PM
Good thread topic. I go to a fair number of Irish jams (on whistle, mandolin-- haven't hit them with a uke yet), but the tips are pretty much the same.

Just listen for a while to get a feel for the session. Do they tend to play fast or slow? What type of tunes do they tend to play (and will your favorites fit in)?

Sessions sometimes get stale and benefit from a new tune that nobody else knows. If you have a tune that you really love, by all means bring it and introduce it to people. Print out a tab or chords and hand them out so people can learn your tune more easily.

Bring a pencil and paper and write down tune names so you can research tunes you like and learn them for the next session.

dave g
10-31-2010, 01:53 PM
11) Bring beer :)