Playing Your First Jam Session

Jordan Leibel  /  Musicianship  /  UPDATED Jan 10, 2023

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How many of you out there wanna just sit down and jam at the piano? Maybe you’ve got a bunch of buddies who play and you just want to follow along with what they’re playing. The good news is that it doesn’t take much theory or knowledge to get started jamming with buddies. So here’s 3 steps that anyone can use to jam in a band!    

Tip #1:  Know your notes and chords

If you want to jam, the first step is knowing the notes of the keyboard. Say you’re hanging out with some buddies playing tunes but you don’t know the song. You can get a long way with just a simple piano part if you just play octaves, 5ths and simple triads. Easy peasy. The chord progression in this lesson is known as the I, IV, V progression. It’s one of the most popular in music, so you’ll hear it come up a lot in your jams.  But if you’re ever having trouble figuring out the chords, never be afraid to ask your bandmates what they are! They’ll be happy to help.  

Since this jam is in the key of C, your 3 chords are going to be a C chord, an F chord, and a G chord, based off the 1st, 4th, and 5th notes of the scale. If you don’t feel comfortable with chords, you can simply play octaves in time with the groove of the progression. Jamming relies a ton on your ears, so listen up for the changes.  

If you’re a little more experienced, you can flesh out your sound with 5th intervals instead of just octaves, or play complete triads.  

Tip #2:  Pick a rhythm

Ok, so now that you know what notes to play on the piano, you probably want to play something a little more distinctive. Good music is about consistency, so if you want to jam out a cool piano part, you need to pick a specific pattern or feel for you to do. You can either just play whole notes along with the chord changes, or try something a little more bouncy. An 8th note pattern works really well as a piano part, so give that a shot!  

Tip #3:  Add some melody

The final step to really flesh out the jam is to add a little bit of melodic movement in your right hand. The easiest way to do that is just to play broken chords of your main progression in your right hand, and experiment with the different tones that make up those chords. So try experimenting with the I, IV, and V chords of this jam and break those chords down into their 3 notes!

So there you are. This is just the beginning, but it’ll get your started. Round your pals up and get to jamming! Remember, these are just guidelines. As you gain experience playing you’ll start to see and hear other options you can use to create music in a simple, fun and satisfying way!

Jordan Leibel is passionate about songwriting, improvisation, and helping you become a creative musician! He’s worked as a composer for film, commercial, and theatre projects as well as a session musician and producer for recording work.

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