If you practice regularly with a band, you’re probably aware of how unstructured jam sessions can eat up valuable practice time and throw people off task. Because of this, many bands tend to keep collective jamming time to a minimum, if they allow for any at all. When used properly, however, jamming time can be extremely beneficial to bands, even if it doesn’t seem to produce tangible results right away.
If you’re hesitant about making jamming a regular part of your band practice routine, here are five benefits of jamming that might make you reconsider your position.
1. Jamming creates chemistry
One of the joys of watching a great jazz band perform is seeing the amazing chemistry between the players. This is a chemistry that only comes from playing improvised music with the same group of people over a long period of time. As a band playing non-improvised music, it can be difficult to attain that same level of chemistry, which is why jamming is especially important for non-jazz bands.
Jamming with your bandmates helps you learn to listen to your bandmates more, offer better musical support for each other, and even anticipate each other’s moves. All of these skills will help you not only when improvising, but also when playing pre-written parts.
2. Jamming can lead to new song ideas
Many great bands use group improvisation as a key songwriting tool because this method allows them to stumble on new ideas as a group that they may never have thought of individually. In a free jam, players aren’t worried about making a mistake or playing the “wrong” chord, and this freedom can lead to all sorts of creative ideas.
Bringing song sketches to your band and jamming out the ideas together can also yield great songwriting results. Your bandmates will hear things differently than you, and you may be pleasantly surprised at where they take your ideas.
3. Jamming helps you focus
Sometimes group jam sessions seem to lead to a lack of focus, but if you structure your jam sessions properly, they can actually be a great way to re-focus your group. For example, after working through a tough section of a song, you can use a brief jam as a sort of palette cleanser to help everyone de-stress and reset their brains. Then you can take another crack at that difficult section after you’ve let off a little steam and given your brain some time to process everything you learned.
4. Jamming helps battle stage fright
By playing more adventurously than normal during your jam sessions, you’ll become more comfortable with taking risks and even (gasp!) making the occasional mistake. This doesn’t mean that you’ll start making mistakes onstage, but by taking risks on a regular basis, you’ll become more comfortable overall on your instrument, which will lead to more confidence during your live performances.
5. Jamming is fun
It should go without saying that jamming is fun, but there’s more to having fun than just the good feelings you get in the moment. Studies in sports science have shown that athletes who incorporate a higher level of free play time into their training are less likely to quit or experience burnout than those who are focused solely on skills development.
The same could be said for bands as well – musicians who have fun playing together will have an easier time sticking together for the long haul. And when it comes to band practice, having fun isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially when perfection is your goal.
Of course, rehearsals aren’t just about bonding and having fun – there’s lots of important work to be done, too, so you can’t spend all of your time jamming. However, you may be surprised to discover how much easier and more satisfying that work feels after a good jam session. And jamming doesn’t have to be a huge commitment, either; even five minutes of free improvisation at the beginning of every band practice can be enough to get everyone feeling comfortable together and ready for a productive rehearsal.
Casey van Wensem is a freelance composer, musician, and writer living in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. You can hear his musical work at birdscompanionmusic.com and read his written work at caseyvanwensemwriting.com.