At a festival or social occasion jamming etiquette is much the same as joining in a group conversation at any event, you take your time, be considerate, show willingness to listen and you will be gradually invited to contribute.
In our case someone leads the jam and asks people to suggest and lead songs. There is no pressure to do so, nobody is going to point to you and put you on the spot.
If you want to play but you aren’t confident just sit on the edge of the jam.
Listen, listen, listen. Watch, watch, watch.
Suggest good jamming tunes
If you suggest a tune to jam on, make sure it fits in with the flavor of the jam. For example suggesting a Western swing tune in a jam that has an old timey flavor is likely to make everyone, including you, uncomfortable.
Jamming songs are either simple or a standard that pretty much everyone knows. If your original song fits that description that is fantastic, otherwise suggesting songs people have difficulty following or trying to teach everybody a new song with complicated chords is likely to make people uncomfortable. However if there is one ‘trick’ chord in an otherwise simple song, then explain what it is, and people can pick it up.
If you are a guitarist play the chords in obvious shapes so everyone can see.
On this site under Song Book, you will find some example standard jamming songs that have been played at our club.
Don’t play guess the song
Please don’t start playing and look around expectantly like everybody has to guess what the song is. Suggest a song by name and tell us what key you want to do it in.
The person leading the song should catch the eye of the next instrumentalist and will nod to them or verbally cue them when to go for it. If you don’t want to, just give a slight shake of the head, and you will be skipped that round. Don’t worry about being called on unexpectedly in a jam, we won’t do that to you.
Playing in a jam you need to watch for those cues so you know what is happening and who is going to play next.
If you start a song you must give these kind of cues as to who will solo next because it is very unsettling otherwise because nobody knows. It can be helpful to go around the circle in order.
If you lead a song be prepared to play a strong rhythm to keep the group together.
Look out for a leg going out – if the person leading the song is playing they are putting a leg out to show the song is ending.
When not to play
Playing in time is the most important thing – if you can’t mange it, or it is too fast, sit out for that song.
If it get messy through too many instruments playing – don’t play for a while.
When a quieter instruments like acoustic guitar begin a lead break or a vocalist is singing, quiet right down, or stop and leave other people to keep the song going. Otherwise it is really hard to sing or play lead acoustic guitar over a big group jam.
Make sure you are in tune, and give others time and space to tune. For tips on tuning see Performing at the Auckland Bluegrass Club