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#3108111 04/19/21 09:47 PM
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I was invited to a jam session by a friend, which is the peak of my piano career, but I really want to do it well enough to be invited back.

The band has two guitarists and play jazz manouche songs such as Minor Swing, Fly me to the Moon, Ochi Chyornye etc. They tell me that most of them are beginners, but I do not feel very confident, as several of the people seem to play many different instruments.

The organiser told me they are looking for a pianist to "fill up the sound".

I know most of the chords but I am not very confident about moving hands/switching between them, as I usually play chords with the left hand and melody with the right hand.

Does anybody have any tips about how/what to play in your first jam session? Should I stay in the middle of the piano?

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Just have fun. Don’t worry about being perfect. If the organizer suggested ‘fill up the sound’ then do it, with a smile. Don’t worry about being judged.

Enjoy yourself. Do it with confidence though. The audience and fellow musicians always want confidence. A lot of tunes are faked in a jam session so use your ear as best you can.

I’ve played hundreds of jam sessions, as I was in the paid rhythm section (on upright bass) of a weekly session for a few years. I’ve also played about 5,000 engagements.

Jams are fun. Don’t take it too seriously. The guys who have to sweat are the trumpet players and singers. You can sit back and enjoy yourself.

Last edited by CaseyVancouver; 04/19/21 11:13 PM.
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Prep as madly as you can before with the specifics as able, but when the time comes, seek joy and euphoria as quickly as possible in the moment. Sit back, let it come to you, if it does. Let your ear and your heart guide you. You cannot go wrong this way.

Let us know how it goes. I'm jealous!


Only in men's imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life. -Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski
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For example like this:

[Linked Image]

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A suggestion: If you're used to playing the chords in the left hand, play those left handed chords, and just add, in the right had, an octave on any chord tone. It's an easy way to fill out the sound, which you'll need to do with two guitarists!

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I would say if they told you they just want to "fill up the sound" I would say that means they are more interested in you playing chords, comping than playing melodies. If the guitars are playing melodies lets them and relax and just focus on playing chords behind them and enjoy yourself. Do they have a bass player maybe that is what they are looking for more bottom, if so give them simple bass and some RH chords. It's all about listening for holes and then filling them. Keep it simple and let them ask for more if they want it.

Most important remember rule number One.... Time and Swing are the most important thing, wrong notes aren't important as good time and Swing.

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1) It's going to be loud; louder than you expect. If both guitarists are going electric it will probably be very loud. If there is a drummer, it will be painfully loud. The loudness in itself will throw you off: the loudness will distract and confuse you, you will have a hard time hearing your notes, you will find yourself POUNDING at the keyboard.

So - keep cool; don't panic if you can't hear. Use a light touch - POUNDING the keyboard won't help - it only makes others play louder. Ask for the song key before the song starts; ask for a chord chart.

Bring your own amp. You can try to plug into their sound system, but expect that you will be turned down a lot in the mix. If you bring your own amp, you can control your volume as you need it.

2) Don't be surprised if no one knows the song key or the chords. Guitarist learn music differently from piano players. They don't learn scales or keys; they know the chord names but don't know what notes are in the chords. They learn chords as finger positions on the fretboard and will attempt to "teach" you the chords by showing you how they arrange their fingers on the fretboard (completely useless to a keyboard player). So expect that you will need to figure out the song key and chords on the fly. This will suck at first, but you get really good at doing this as you attend more jam sessions. This is an important reason to do jam sessions: it advances your learning and skills in ways nothing else can.

3) Play less and play staccato. The more people are in the room, the less each needs to play to make the music work. So leave holes in your playing: play some measures as keyboard silent. Nonetheless, expect at least one in the room to feel the need to play constantly. Play staccato: holding down chords for many beats adds to the volume problem and kills the rhythm. Hit each note or chord and then immediately release. Playing staccato is an important keyboard skill and a very important "playing with others" skill.

I set my keyboard volume so one note of my AC piano patch is as loud as one lead guitar note. I then reduce volume thru finger touch and playing more single notes and fewer chords. When I do play a chord, it is loud, but because I am playing staccato, the loud note immediately dies away. My musical presence is heard, but is not sustained or constant.

4) Be prepared to feel badly about your playing after. Ensemble play is a unique skill that you only get to practice in front of others (which is always embarrassing). Understand this is a form a practice and you will make mistakes and this part of the experience. Strive to be motivated by the experience, and ignore "I suck; I should just quit". Still and all, not everyone enjoys ensemble play. Try and approach with an open mind.

5) Remember you are doing this to have fun, so remember to have fun.

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Hi

You'll be nervous, that can't be helped.

Everything that previous posters have said. Try and enjoy yourself. You haven't said how much notice you've got, but I assume it's pretty soon? In which case it's too late to make any dramatic improvements or practise anything specific. It sounds like you've been told at least some of songs and keys in advance, which is useful, especially if the tunes are in guitar oriented keys.

You haven't said whether a drummer and/or bass player will be present. Hopefully one or both will be there, as having someone to keep the time steady (if they are good enough) is important when the majority of people are beginners.

If there isn't either, just try and keep good time, and let the people who want to show off do so.

Hope it goes well for you.

Cheers


Simon

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Thanks for the advice!

It was a nightmare. I had the chords written out but not the relative duration of each chord. I could not follow which one was being played in which part of the tune, so I was constantly getting lost.

Also, it was rather difficult to play on the piano compared to the keyboard I have at home.

When the bandleader called out the chords instead of playing the trumpet (or clarinet, or whatever it was) I found it much easier and was able to follow somewhat better.

For next time, I am going to get lead sheets so I can see which chords are being played in which part of the tune. I think this might help me to follow along better.

The band also gave me recordings to practice with, but I have not downloaded them yet.

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Hi

If you don't know the tunes, then having a properly written out chord chart is much better, if not essential IMO.
The only other option is to note down all the tunes that you struggle with and spend time listening to them. Once you know a tune you'll probably instinctively change chords at the right time.

I don't do jam sessions now, but in the band I play in, as a bare minimum I always have the chords written out in front me (on a tablet), if I'm playing Jazz I have a lead sheet when I'm going to play the head. The only exceptions to that are simple 3 chord blues/rock n roll where all I need to know is the key.

Of course you could try and memorise everything. I gave up doing this years ago. For one thing as I've got older (now retired) I simply don't have the disk space :-)

It'll get better each time you go along, and you'll enjoy it more as you start to learn the material properly. You've done the difficult bit, and turned up that first time. Now you can start to have fun!

Cheers


Simon

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Originally Posted by Utkonos
Thanks for the advice!

It was a nightmare. I had the chords written out but not the relative duration of each chord. I could not follow which one was being played in which part of the tune, so I was constantly getting lost.

Also, it was rather difficult to play on the piano compared to the keyboard I have at home.

When the bandleader called out the chords instead of playing the trumpet (or clarinet, or whatever it was) I found it much easier and was able to follow somewhat better.

For next time, I am going to get lead sheets so I can see which chords are being played in which part of the tune. I think this might help me to follow along better.

The band also gave me recordings to practice with, but I have not downloaded them yet.


Work on your ear and your gut do you best to wean yourself off lead sheets and etc. You go to real Jazz jams and you don't dare pull out a fakebook or lead sheet. First you probably grew up listening to Western music and should already have a gut feeling for how fast chords change. If not get some old Blues recording and start playing along with them over and over and over. That will get you used to hearing and feeling chord changes. It will also help train your ears for basic chord changes I, IV, and V. You should get to wear you could play any Blue album first time and play along using your ear and your gut to anticipate the changes.

Once you get good at jamming on Blues then start working on hearing more sophisticated tunes. Also whenever you listen to music from now on start focusing on when the chords change are they typical patterns (most are). Start listening to the chords and how the move, start humming the root movements of the chord. Are they like your Blues I, IV, V? Every time you listen to music should be ear training and building you knowledge of common chord movements.

Especially as a piano play the better your ear is the more work you can get and even the more other musicians will be asking you to sit in. Ear is EVERYTHING.

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".....do you best to wean yourself off lead sheets and etc. You go to real Jazz jams and you don't dare pull out a fakebook or lead sheet. "

I myself do not agree with this at all. My suggestion is that it is far better to do whatever you need to do to play the music correctly (including having the music open in front of you), than it is to look good while making avoidable mistakes.

I have a lot of music committed to memory, and sometimes don't need the music in front of me. BUT if I have ANY uncertainties about the music or it is a new piece for me, I will have the music open in front of me. I do not worry about what others think: if someone thinks less of me as a player because I want the music in front of me, THAT PERSON IS THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM - not me.

Go to any performance of professional musicians and you will see the performers with the music in front of them, openly in full view of the audience. None of the musicians seem the slightest bit embarrassed by this - nor should they be. I see no reason why I or anyone else should feel shy about looking at the music while trying to play it.

In my jamming circle there are plenty of guitarists who never learned to read music and struggle with chord charts. Everything they play, they play from memory. But this is not some great prize. I do not accept that their deficits are somehow ennobling or something to strive for.

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Originally Posted by Utkonos
Thanks for the advice!

It was a nightmare. I had the chords written out but not the relative duration of each chord. I could not follow which one was being played in which part of the tune, so I was constantly getting lost.

Haha! I just knew you’d have fun!

Don’t worry too much, they want you back.
It gets better and better. The more you get out and jam, playing tunes the first time, with good players and bad, the better you will get at it.

Did the advice help? Sometimes a guy just has to learn these things his own way.

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Hi

I've seen enough pros playing over the years (Chick Corea at Ronnie Scotts in 2018 for example) to know that a lot use fully written out music, lead sheets, or chord charts. If they do, so can you.

But Mr Shed is right, developing a great ear is a huge benefit, but it isn't everything.

I've been playing in Jazz and Rock bands for over 30 years and nobody has ever questioned my need to have written guidance in front of me. In fact quite the contrary, on one occasion the drummer in a band I was rehearsing with came up to me after a number and looked at my pad and said "Oh I assumed your solo was written out", where as in fact I was improvising around the chords.

And if anybody had questioned it; in a disparaging way, my response would be equally frank!

All the advice we give, maybe useful, but we are all different. In the short term you might use lead sheets and chords, and in the long term you may play by ear and memorise a lot.

In the end what works for you is what's right.

Cheers


Simon

Vox Continental 73, Casio PX-S3000
Yamaha YTS-475 (tenor Sax)
Pearl Midtown Drums







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