If you have ever wanted to go to a blues jam and get up on stage, but are not sure of how it works or what you might need to know then this guide may be for you.
The Auckland Blues Club welcomes all levels of players to their Club and Jam night, but be forewarned... the club try to keep it from being just another open-mic opportunity or a public practice session.
Blues jams are extremely popular and you’ll find them in most cities throughout the country and indeed throughout the world.
So what is a blues jam and how does it work?
The formula isn't very complicated, and basically, a blues jam a gathering of musicians in a public venue who share a love of the blues.
Typically throughout the night, the jam organisers will mix up the musicians in the audience to play various instruments in the band.
For instance, they will group a singer and couple of guitar players, possibly a harmonica player with a bass player and a drummer.
How many turns on stage you get will depend on a number of factors, but in general, the club tries to give everyone a chance to play at least on 2 or 3 tunes.
Before you come to the jam night it will be a good idea to read the club’s Blues Jam Night Rules.
Please respect rules like this as they are in place to make a jam the best experience possible for those involved.
When you get to the jam night, introduce yourself to the Club Coordinator; fill in the registration sheet to let them know what instrument you play so that they can begin to think about who they will group you with.
Then, while you are waiting, listen to some great music and mingle with other musicians.
It’s a great opportunity to network.
Please be ready to go when you are called.
The jam nights are very popular and we need to minimise delays as much as possible to give everyone a chance to play, so make sure that you have your instrument in tune, that you’re close to the stage and that you will not eat any time getting up to play.
By default, the singer is the bandleader on stage.
That means they call the tune, let other band members know what Key it is to be played in, signal the breaks and call the solos.
If you sing, it's fairly important that you know how to do this and know some blues tunes and know the common blues terminology, such as what a “quick change” is or understand what it means for an intro to starting on the “5” chord.
If in doubt, always feel free to ask for help from someone that's done this before.
A solo is your opportunity to shine and it can go well, or it can go poorly.
In general, try and play something that fits the feel of the song and try and keep one eye on the band leader during your solo.
If you aren't paying attention, you'll miss the signal and step on the next guy and if you are not soloing, bring the volume down so they don't have to turn up so much to be heard.
Don’t be afraid to not take a solo if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yet.
If everyone is taking one or two chorus solos don’t play for 20 minutes.
Listen to what's happening up there on stage and don't just listen to your one part.
Try and listen to the whole mix.
Use your ears and be a part of the team.
When you get up to play be aware of what the volume levels are and how you will fit into the mix.
If you play an instrument like guitar or keyboards give yourself a little headroom to turn up for solos and make sure that you turn back down when your solo is over.
Play a solid rhythm behind the other solos or lay out if there is too much going on already.
Sometimes “laying out” or not playing during sections where the dynamic is lower (quieter) and then coming back in when things pick up is a great way to make a song come to life.
A blues jam is a great place to listen, learn and have fun, but be flexible and have fun.
If you have a song you want to play make sure it’s not something that is too complicated to communicate on the stage.
Don’t get upset if it doesn’t come out exactly as you envisioned…this is a “no rehearsal” situation with a group of players of all skill levels and everyone is here to have a good time.
What should you bring to the jam night?
First and foremost, bring your instrument and make sure it's well maintained and ready to play.
Guitar players should bring their own amp, but be sensible about it... keep it simple.
Don’t bring your Marshall Half Stack and a pedal board full of pedals.
The jam night is all mixing it up with other musicians, not about the equipment.
If you play a guitar or bass, please bring a tuner and tune up before you get called up on stage.
What songs should you play?
In general, any 12-bar blues song that follows the standard I-IV-V (1-4-5) chord pattern is good.
Everyone will know how to get around.
Any blues song that stays on the one is also a good choice, as long as you let the band know.
Remember that the audience (and the rest of the band) is "on your side".
Everyone is there to have a good time and play some good music.
If they even notice, they'll forgive mistakes, so join in, relax and listen.