The Woodshed

How Do You Woodshed With Others?

1

Think back to the days when we were younger -- we were learning to play the guitar, bass, drums, piano, or other instrument and we wanted to improve our skills. Intrinsically, we knew that much of the joy of playing an instrument came from joining forces with someone else and playing together. We could get together with another guitarist and play at school during lunch break or even riding home on the school bus. That is how we learned our chops and refined our skills.

Now, as adults, we have moved on from school and have assumed responsibilities with careers, families, mortgages, and the myriad of other things that keep our lives occupied. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have been in bands with others which has most likely served to fill the need to play with, and learn from, others. But, many of us also haven't had that experience. Some of us labor long hours in the solitude of our own home trying to improve our skills.

How do you go about filling this need? Do you have someone that you call up and say, "Hey, let's play some music together. I'll be over with my guitar later and we can play."

I recently purchased a resonator guitar and I have often thought about how it was that I first learned to play guitar earlier in life. That came from playing with my friends. Now, my friends have their own obligations and commitments and it isn't quite so easy to get together any longer and it made me wish that there were still a network that I could tap into to be able to learn a new instrument.

So, how do you do it? Have you a special friend that plays music that you connect with to play? Where do you hone your skills or simply learn them to begin with?

2

Mainly, I work on my own, using books or referring to videos if I feel stuck or need some inspiration or motivation. Having said that, I do have a couple of friends I like to get together with every few weeks for kind of practice-jam. One's a drummer, the other a bass player, so the configuration is ideal. We'd probably do it more often but it's an hour's drive for me to get out to the drummer's place (great room that was a garage and was turned into a practice studio). This gathering is a lot of fun and helps satisfy that "playing live" urge. Mainly though...I work on my own...

3

Oh yes, I must add that I usually take a specific piece or two to work out. Usually a classic tune I've never actually done before. Since I'm the lead singer and guitarist and unofficial leader, I'm usually indulged. Unless of course one of the guys really don't care much for a particular piece, then we just tighten up some other tune we've been working on. Sometimes too, we'll simply take a piece we've all heard before and simply wing out an arrangement. Naturally, it's all good fun and good for the ears. Ah, woodshedding. Good to still be doing it, even if I don't actually perform much these days...

4

And of course, it's another great reason to indulge the "hobby" of trying/buying a new toy every now and then...

5

It's kind of a two pronged question if you also play originals.

If I want to go out and play with some folks, I'll head out to one of Billy D Light's open mics.

He's great, very welcoming, and has a magnetic personality. Most times I don't play, but I like seeing the folks out there. Really nice people. It's mostly classic rock covers. That's never been my thing, and I like to sit back and pluck a little rhythm while Billy, or someone else "drives the bus". Songs he's played a thousand times might be the first time for me, so it's always an interesting experience.

For originals, you need to find people who are into your kind of weird. What do I mean by that? I think my sister first described me playing my own tunes as "Weird...he does his own thing"

So before I could tell you what an A chord was, before I knew how to tune a guitar, I had my friends, and we would have writing sessions. Jokes based off the Monty Python skits we watched the week before. This somehow graduated into a songwriting session once I had electrified my sister's acoustic guitar and could make it feedback. We were chuffed that we were now rockstars, finally penning our first smash hit, "I Lost My Baby, She's Dead and Gone". The rest of the guys moved on from there, imitating Steve Martin, etc..., but not me.

I wanted to write a real song. So I started practicing, and practicing, on and on... I would have friends stop over that knew some guitar and have them show me riffs and licks, but never a whole song. Mel Bay gave me "Red River Valley" while I was trying to figure what Steve Howe was all about. All the while, though, I kept writing. I learned to do sound. Live sound in bands and for our high school choir, and a couple big casino acts(Sinatra and Tina Turner) and bar bands, schooled in Orlando with Pat Travers, Molly Hatchet, and other local talent at Full Sail's recording class, finally showing some folks what I'd been working on all these years. Some very accepting, and pros in the industry, gave me some advice by encouraging me to keep at it, because they liked what they heard. So I did, and found some people who had enough faith in the noise I was making to commit to practicing full time. Found my own guys to hash out our weirdness, cause they get it, and it's not weird anymore.

6

Great story, Crowbone.

So, let me ask you, if you had taken up the mandolin a few months ago and were interested in learning to play it better, and wanted to do so by playing among other musicians, how would you go about doing that now? Would you do it by playing with the same group that you work on your own original material with? Do you have a friend that you would call up and tell to bring his/her guitar over and you could play a while together? What would be your current approach to this?

7

Great story, Crowbone.

So, let me ask you, if you had taken up the mandolin a few months ago and were interested in learning to play it better, and wanted to do so by playing among other musicians, how would you go about doing that now? Would you do it by playing with the same group that you work on your own original material with? Do you have a friend that you would call up and tell to bring his/her guitar over and you could play a while together? What would be your current approach to this?

– Ric12string

Ahh...I can give you real world experience there with mandolins.

I traded my 2nd guitar regret for a craptastic mandolin because I heard it in my mind, and had the notion that a mandolin should be a more lead instrument.

With only a Mel Bay book, I got the tuning down, and stayed in my room for weeks, learning to play some of those chords properly.

Then I went out to the Irish song circle at the pub across town, and stated that I'm a newb, I'm here to learn. It turns out they teach you a whole lot more if you're the one buying the beer. So I learned a bunch of songs about "The Troubles" and that was enough to get me on my way to do what I really wanted to do on the mandolin, which was utilize it as a melodic lead guitar. If I were still chasing it, I'd probably go to an open mic, find some folkies who could show me some stuff, and learn by watching/doing/repeating/driving every one around you crazy...repeat.

Most everyone I've ever asked to show me a lick was happy to oblige.

Hell, the first riff I learned on guitar was "Piano Man"(there is a riff), and it was the only tune the guy knew!

8

I have two friends that come over every now and then to play. We just jam on anything that comes to mind. Mostly not known songs and we don’t do things like blues jams.
One of them is a bass player which is a lot of fun because that gives us both a lot of freedom. He has a similar taste in music as I have, which is nice.
The other friend plays guitar and has a completely different taste in music. He really loves prog rock and that is really not my thing. But when we jam together it’s great. I learn from him and am amazed at what he does and for some reason he has the same with me. It gets crazy and it’s loads of fun.

And once every two weeks I play with two friends, a drummer and another guitar player. We don’t have a repertoire. We do pure improvisation. Here too, one comes up with a riff on the spot and we build it up together to something good, hopefully… There is also no talk about keys or anything like that. I mostly have no idea what key I am in but we find things that fit by ear. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes bad. That doesn’t matter because you also learn from the failures. It’s a whole lot of fun and I have really learned to listen since I have been doing this.
In a band with a repertoire of course you have to listen but you can also play a bit on automatic pilot sometimes. Or play a solo that you know already and as long as you are in rhythm its good. I feel you can be a bit lazier on occasion. But with us there is none of that. If you don’t listen to the others, you’re completely lost or you don’t notice that the others have headed in a different direction. I have learned a whole lot in the two or three years that I have been doing this. And it gave me back a whole lot of the joy of playing that I was loosing a bit. It’s great and it can get really weird, which I like. After all, Marc Ribot is my hero.

I always wrote my own songs in bands I played in, from the beginning. So playing covers is not really my strongest point, although I do enjoy that every now and then. In the past I usually wrote on my own. I haven’t been writing finished songs in a while. Now I mostly write riffs and keep them for something in the future or perhaps use some of them to jam on and perhaps build something from there.

9

Just friends and family that get together about once a month (or so) at my place.

10

I struggled hard just to learn to play guitar. many people discouraged me. We need a Bass player or a singer. Guitarists are a dime a dozen. It really was a struggle because instead of encouragement I got kicked to the curb. So I sang in the band and I tried to be the Bass guitarist because everyone knows that easier...right? That failed, well at least the bass part did but I'm not too bad at that anymore. i did what John did. I went with my music. It turns out, after years of my stuff, when guys asked me over they would ask what songs do you know. I'd play one of mine and they would usually say, hey I like that, let's do that. So my original band came about. Then asked to be in another original band I realized I could learn other people's stuff pretty easy, as long as it isn't a real difficult song. Now, when the guys bring two or three covers out and say let's learn these, I can usually pick them up on the first night. I never thought I'd be able to do that. I just treat them like someone else's original. Works for me. I even started picking up on some of Wenzels songs at the roundup a few years back. I always tell the guys in the new band, "I never wanted to be in a covers band." Heck I know tons of covers now and if I don't know it. Hang tight...I'll catch up.

11

I've played/jammed with a lot of folks over the years. Learn from those better than you, teach those coming up. I don't get to interact with others anywhere as much as I'd like to these days. My schedule's fairly open, but finding time can be a problem for some. So, I play to suit myself, often along with a CD, down in the Bunker.

12

Living in the big city, there are a couple of oppurtunities, at least one of which could be replicated elsewhere. One is my guitar teacher, Fred Sokolow. He teaches classes at McCabe's in Santa Monica, but he also has a couple scheduled jams there that you can drop into and pay as you go, or sign up and come to all of them. One's an acoustic blues and one's an electric blues, and while I've never been to them, if they're anything like his other classes, they're a lot of fun.

The other one is a Country Music Meetup/Jam. It's organized on meetup.com (so it could be done anywhere), and it's a group of anywhere from a few to a dozen players of different instruments, mostly guitar. We meet at one of the many rehearsal studios around town, and it goes for about 3 hours. The leader has a book of songs, and is readily willing to play most anything anyone else wants to play (though "bro" country songs are generally eschewed). We all join in, trade solos, have a beverage or two (if anyone brings any), and pay about $10 each to cover the studio rental. We had one last night, I hadn't been to one in months, and it was a great time, I met a new guy with killer chops, and saw some guys (last night it was all guys, but there are often women musicians there, too) I hadn't seen in a while.

Were it not for these, I'd probably never get to jam with others. No, I take that back. Gretsch Roundups are great places to jam. I hear there's one coming up soon in Indiana. If you haven't gone to one, I highly recommend it.

13

To begin with I am the president of the Chicago jam club. I have been for 20 years and still am. We had many great weekly jams and formed a 10 piece rock/blues band. Some of the best players in Chicagoland. I moved to rural northern Illinois about ten years ago and have played in many local bands. I won't do originals mostly because audiences don't want to hear them but the composers think they are wonderful...another story. I am older and have been playing for a long time. I also play at a weekly open mic these days. Most of the people who show up don't know what a 12 bar I, IV, V progression is. It's our job to teach them.

14

I 'm currently in a band and our rehearsal time is pretty structured but back in 1987 I had previously sold all my equipment as I was no longer gigging like I has in the 70's & early 80's. A family moved across the street from us and we came to find out the husband used to play in bands in the 70's. We both bought guitars and started jamming together. One guitar lead to another, to another, to another, amps, recording equipment and so on. That lead me back into playing/gigging to this day. He has since moved to another part of town but we still get together once in a while just to jam and record.

15

I have friends who come over to the studio from time to time. If it's just Rob, I pick up a bass, his guitar repertoire is more Zappa/ Vai . If It's Rob and Lewis, I pick up a guitar and it's experimental Jazz time. I may do guitar, guitar synth, bari or bass. Alas I do Rockabilly and Twang all by m'self. Gone are the days of Hardcore , Punk and Industrial. Although I've worked up a better version of Iggys Repo Man lately, that should take Rob back to the old days.... It's hard to divide my time with recent knee injuries, work, luthierie (luthing around), yard work, 3 dogs and a wife. The onset of winter should free me up a bit and I'll do more playing with others.

16

I'm pretty much out of the loop now but when I do serious solo practicing I use a stash of band in the box setups I have made. Most are just a bass. Forces me to stay on tempo, something so easy to wobble when playing by myself.

I tend to play very deliberately when I am playing alone not allowing a mis-played note to go uncorrected. I tend to play standards so it is critical that I be able to play the melody as accurately as possible before I start jamming atop the melody in question. I got taught that by an old pro and he was dead-on correct: If you can't play the melody perfectly you really don't know how to play the song. You're just jiving.

Other times I do like everyone else and just run through stuff.

ALWAYS keep handy a list making go-to. I use Excel. Names the song, tells me the key I think I want to play it in and sometimes I put in a YouTube link of a rendition I like for plagiarism purposes

I do have a friend I get together with every two weeks. Pretty evenly matched. It is usually better if you can work with someone a little better than you but sometimes it just becomes not so much a competition as much as an "I play too" kind of thing

17

I started by playing with the albums of my favorites...stopping the vinyl, moving it back, and so on..... I still keep sharp with these songs the same way (except now with all my songs loaded onto my Ipod hooked into the Bose speaker). Next is backing tracks.

For my acoustic, which most songs I sing also, I just learn the song. and practice, practice practice until the timing of my strumming and/or flat-picking can be executed when I then start singing with it.

18

Ric12: Tons of live jam sessions online. Do a google search to take a look. Some good bluegrass sites that'll be nice for your Reso. You can even set most to private and invite just your friends, etc. hear someone that impresses you? Contact them and see if they'd like to set up a session. Many offer direct recording in multi track form. Lots of writers there, too. Of course, the faster your connection the better, but many have a good engine that reduces latency. Just gotta try a few to see which works best for you.

If you are a ProTools user, the level of professional interaction is massive in the community. Nothing you can't find or do with that platform.

19

A looper pedal is a great solo practice companion. The TC one can be had fairly cheap used. Just record a chord progression then stomp it to start the loop. You can then solo over it as much or as little as you want. If you mess up, it'll start over soon. It's a good way to get a feel for playing with someone else even if no one else is around

20

A looper pedal is a great solo practice companion. The TC one can be had fairly cheap used. Just record a chord progression then stomp it to start the loop. You can then solo over it as much or as little as you want. If you mess up, it'll start over soon. It's a good way to get a feel for playing with someone else even if no one else is around

– Mark StJohn

I agree 100% and it's why I bought one 3 years ago. I used it a ton the first year but have to get back to it as it really sparked very creative practice sessions for soloing.

21

No matter how much we might practice by ourselves, the key to really playing "in the moment" involves making music with others. If you are lucky, there is a community close at hand that nurtures new players and keeps the old pros looking over their shoulders to see if the young guys are coming after them.

In my town there's a group of 30 or so players who jam and gig with each other on a pretty regular basis. Depending on who shows up at a session the music can range from old-time fiddle tunes to the Great American Songbook. If some songwriters show up, new material will work its way into the mix.

Precedent has been set long ago that everyone can contribute to the mix in a jam if they feel comfortable doing so. Amazingly, this means that a beginning teenage fiddler might play in a session with touring pros whose names you would probably recognize.

Not only does this jamming community continue to improve our collective chops, but we also become familiar with each other's material. This leads to an unusual situation when it comes time to book gigs. It's pretty common to assemble a band that has never been on stage before.

Last summer, for example, I played with a pickup band at a festival that needed a Bluegrass band. I don't think we bothered to rehearse since we had all jammed and gigged in various combinations before. A woman who books bands for large events heard us, and after the show remarked about how tight we sounded, and would we play for a city sponsored event.

The pool of players I am lucky enough to jam with is ever-changing and bands are pretty fluid. I've been exposed to music I might never have even thought about if not for the constant rolling jam session that might spring up spontaneously at somebody's house. This has been going on for a long time. I've been a part of the pool for 40+ years, and it was going strong when I elbowed my way in. All indications are that this will continue as new players take their place next to the old guys at the jams.

22

So, how do you do it? Have you a special friend that plays music that you connect with to play? Where do you hone your skills or simply learn them to begin with? Ric12string

I'm very fortunate, and I'm also well aware of my good fortune. I have colleagues, ...well, friends really, who teach at the same music school as I do. One of them and I get together on most Friday afternoons and swap licks, tricks, and tunes. It is fortunate that we're both interested in thumb picking. And this has elevated my playing to a great degree. I've even learned a few jazz chords from him that I can use, and I think he has picked up a few Chet licks or ideas from me. I've still a long way to go, but the the journey sure has been fun so far.

23

The band I play in tries to play on one Sunday afternoon per month and we sometimes play at assisted living facilities such as the one my mom is in. In the 2 1/2 years she has been there we have played several times.

Our steel guitar is also a good guitar player (better than me), so I steal licks and tricks from him every chance I get.

We also have another couple of guys sit in with us sometimes, so that makes it more fun.

Just this afternoon Mike who is one of the singers in the band and I played for 2 1/2-3 hrs, something we haven't gotten to do much this year because he and I have both been so busy. It was good to run through a bunch of songs we hadn't done lately, I was rusty on some intros and breaks, but they came back to me.

Mike had been after me to learn the intro and break to "Another Bridge to Burn", and amazingly we were able to get it worked out.

I've learned way more by playing with others than I ever did on my own...

24

Mike had been after me to learn the intro and break to "Another Bridge to Burn", and amazingly we were able to get it worked out. -- farmerbrown

farmerbrown, are we to understand from your post that you are also a pedal steel player? If so, I have either forgotten that fact or never knew it.

25

No Bob, I don't play pedal steel though I surely wish that I could!

Our steel player is also a great guitar player, usually every time we play he will play guitar on a few songs while or after he is singing. I steal guitar licks from him!


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