What’s your biggest fear about jamming? Recently we asked you on social media to share what makes you feel nervous about jamming. You gave us lots of wonderfully candid responses, including:

  • Not knowing the jam etiquette of a particular genre
  • Not playing as well as I do during my practice
  • Being asked to play a tune I don’t know
  • Playing with a group better than myself and then taking a lead and making a mistake
  • Messing up or not playing something cool enough
  • Trying to remember lyrics/tunes without reading
  • Experiencing performance anxiety
  • Playing out of tune or playing wrong notes
  • Entering a jam above my level
  • Doing fills and improvising

Relate to any of those? You can check out our responses to the first five concerns in this previous post. Today we’re tackling the second half of the list with specific tips on how to feel more confident in jam sessions.

Let’s jump in!

“I’m concerned I won’t be able to remember lyrics or tunes without sheet music.”

Especially if you come from a musical background where you’re used to reading music during your practice and performances, I understand that playing from memory can feel daunting initially. I promise you have what it takes. Here are my tips on how to feel more comfortable playing from memory:

1. Learn by ear from the start.

If you learn your tunes from sheet music, your brain will continue to rely on the sheet music even once you can play the tune. When you learn by ear from the beginning, you will commit the tune to memory much more easily. The tunes I learned by ear as a kid are still in my mind and come back to me quickly, but that’s not the case with pieces I learned from sheet music. Curious how you can start to learn by ear? Our Fiddle School method teaches every tune by ear and is a great place to begin.

2. Identify patterns in your tunes.

When you read, you don’t read letter by letter or even word by word; instead, you chunk small groups of words together as you read, recognizing sentence patterns as you go. Memorizing tunes is the same way: you want to think not of individual notes one after another, but of the patterns that the notes create. “Oh, I see that this section is mostly composed of an A scale, then there’s that spot with the string crossings.”

3. Give yourself clear cues.

You need to be able to describe to yourself exactly what you’re doing in each song you play. “First I play my basic A part, then I play the second A with the slur variation. Then I play my first B part, which starts on C natural…” As you learn tunes and practice them, make sure you can clearly describe what happens in each part so that as you play, you can give yourself those same cues. The same goes for lyrics: remind yourself of the form of the song, the starting lyrics of each verse, and any other landmark moments. And hey, if you’re in a jam session and you want to come prepared with a cheat sheet of lyric reminders, that’s totally fine.

“I have performance anxiety.”

Nerves are one of the biggest reasons that folks stay away from jam sessions, but it shouldn’t be! Here are some our tips for overcoming your unease:

1. Go to observe first.

If you’ve never been to a jam session, let yourself go to one just to watch. This can give you a better idea of what to expect and allow you to meet some friendly faces in a totally relaxed setting before you jump in.

2. Remember that music is made for community.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of practicing until you’re “good enough” to jam, but as soon as you know one song, you’re good enough! We’re not meant just to practice indefinitely—music is best when we make it together. Jamming is great way to build your musical support system, get inspired, and give shape to why you play. Focus on those positive aspects when you jam.

3. Sign up for our FREE Perform with Confidence series.

We know that many folks share this same challenge, so we created a free two-week deep dive into specific tools you can use to feel calm when you play in front of others. It includes information on everything from bridging the gap between practice and performance, finding a flow, building a supportive inner dialogue, and more. Sign up here.

“What if I play out of tune or play a wrong note?”

What if that happened? Let’s imagine for a moment. You start your tune, play some notes out of tune and some you didn’t even mean to play, and then… you keep playing! No big deal. Everyone at a jam has played out of tune before. Everyone has played a wrong note. While you can continue to hone your intonation during your practice and look for improvement from jam to jam, don’t let the fear of making a mistake keep you from playing. Find a supportive group of jam buddies and trust that even when you make a mistake, you and your fellow musicians can just shrug it off.

“What if I join a jam that’s too advanced for me?”

It’s always a good idea to watch and listen to a jam for a while before doing anything else. If you feel like the general level of the jam doesn’t match up with where you are in your playing right now, it’s fine to just hang out and listen. In fact, so much of what I know came from just sitting and listening to jams. I encourage you to listen to jams on a regular basis.

If you decide that the jam is at an appropriate level for you and you’re invited to join, then play a few tunes and enjoy! Keep your discourse positive. Tell the other jammers what you enjoy about their playing and remember: there’s no place for negative self-talk. Savor the chance to make music with others!

“What if I need to do fills or improvise?”

If you haven’t worked on either of these things in your playing yet, that’s fine. Remember that you never have to do anything that you’re not ready to do. If you’re offered a solo, a simple shake of the head will tell the song leader to pass over you.

If you want to learn how to do fills and improvise, we have some tools that can help. Check out our webinar duo Jamming Skills 1 and Jamming Skills 2 to learn more about how to tackle fills and solos. I also recommend checking out Katie’s Swing Improv Workouts, which are designed to give you tools to solo, understand music theory, and feel more confident jamming.

I hope these tips help you! Still have questions? Send us an email at learn@fiddleschool.com. We’re always happy to help.