Trouble with Jamming + Chord Changes

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by rabbitfighter, Sep 18, 2019.

  1. rabbitfighter


    Jul 16, 2019
    I can jam if I stay in one key or if I am aware of the chords beforehand or if I am leading the chord changes—however, I struggle immensely when I am needing to follow along with someone playing the guitar or keyboard and they are playing riffs, chords, jamming along, etc.

    I get lost and find myself taking random stabs to find notes that sound good, and I will get a bit flustered and feel lost and give up.

    I have watched lots of instructional videos, gone through bass books, have learned some theory, I’m familiar with basic guitar chords, some scales on the bass, I can very painstakingly play something by ear from a song and can usually figure out things from inside my head fairly easily (probably takes me a lot longer than some, who knows).

    I have heard of going up or down a fret to find an “in-key” note when my first guess is an out of key note.

    Is it all my attitude of negativity and flusterment and self-hating that trips me up and I just need to keep plugging away and attempting to jam with my writing partner?

    Anyone know what I’m getting at? Any advice?

    This really bums me out and makes me afraid to attempt jamming for fear of “deer-in-highlights” type freezing up. (I used to jam with my younger brother and he would humiliate me/make me feel like an idiot in these scenarios, so that could be part of the issue. I no longer have attempted any musical relationship with him.)
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    For me, I find the secret to jamming is to already know the song very well. For example the Dead played "Darkstar" hundreds and hundreds of times; they weren't just making it up as they went along! Each time you learn a new song for your jam band, don't just learn the studio version, but also learn a couple of live versions. Note for note. This will build your "musical vocabulary" of ideas you can call upon when you jam on the song.

    Or if you are talking about jamming on songs you've never played before, and you are hearing for the first time... that is difficult for anyone! The two skills you need to survive those situations are a large musical vocabulary and a good ear. A great way to train your ear is to jam along with the radio. Just sit out and listen to the first verse, and then try to join in on the second verse. Bonus points if you can predict the chorus and bridge ahead of time. For example if the song is in C Major then often the bridge is in A Minor (the relative minor). The great part is by practicing this skill at home, there is no audience to hear your mistakes, so you don't have to feel embarrassed. If you can learn songs slowly by ear, then good news, you are not tone-deaf. With practice you will be able to learn songs quicker by ear, until eventually you are learning them in real time as you jam. :)

    GKon, mflaherty, BrentSimons and 12 others like this.
  3. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Keep at it. Learn some more theory. Use the two together. The more you apply yourself, the faster you'll get better.
  4. rabbitfighter


    Jul 16, 2019
    Thank you for the reply!!

    Practicing with songs I know and songs on the radio are good ideas!

    The type of jamming I am referring to is mostly where we are just making songs up on the spot, pure improv, not jamming off existing songs. All original, this is how we’ve written a lot of songs. Sometimes it goes well, especially if I’m leading with my own ideas, but I find it difficult to figure out the chords of the ideas of others on the spot.

    I guess training my ear with radio songs and playing along with other music I like and such would help my speed and ability to pick up on chords and structures and changes.

    GKon, NathOBX, mrcbass and 2 others like this.
  5. Scottgun


    Jan 24, 2004
    South Carolina
    Yeah, everyone's going to flounder a little bit if the changes are random. That's more like noodling than improv, so just play with confidence and act like you meant to hit that minor second. :)
  6. Thumb n Fingers

    Thumb n Fingers

    Dec 15, 2016
    If you're like me and you don't have perfect pitch, nothing makes up for it like experience. Like @bholder says above, keep at it and study up on some theory. It really does help. If what you're jamming on is basic I-IV-V blues structures, listen for the changes and when/where they occur.

    One of the things that helped me the most with this was a "sightsinging" class I took in college eons ago. The big takeaway from that was learning to hear and identify the differences in intervals between two notes (or root notes of chords). Learn to hear the change between a I and a IV, IV and V, and I and V. Those are probably the easiest to hear. Once you get comfortable with those, work on the rest and they will start to fall into place.

    Another thing to do is to just keep at it. Even if its painfully bad at first, keep trying. Don't get frustrated. Notice your mistakes and think about why what you tried didn't work, and see if you can now take an educated guess as to what might be a better option.
  7. Yep ear training helps. After a while you can tell the key just from hearing it. I can usually tell the key on recordings just from hearing it. Some people have perfect pitch, the rest of us have to learn the best we can.
  8. Study up on chord progressions. If you're just making up stuff on the fly, someone should be calling out the chord progression. For instance, guitar calls a 1 6 2 5 in D. That automatically tells you that the chords are D Maj, B min, E min and A Dom. Focus on the chord progressions that ya'll use most and know which chords are Maj, Min, Dom and Dim. This wil get you though quite a bit . . .
  9. db59

    db59 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2015
    Knowing the chord shapes on guitar helps a lot also.
  10. jchrisk1


    Nov 15, 2009
    Northern MI
    Don't be afraid to ask what the chord (or chord sequence) was you missed when it came around.
    If I miss something while playing, i just lean in and ask. Most are willing to help you out to keep the song going.
    FDR Jones, GreggBummer, whero and 4 others like this.
  11. jchrisk1


    Nov 15, 2009
    Northern MI
    Definitely helpful. Also, if you play any guitar, learn the inversions and the CAGED system. Then you can identify on the fly.
  12. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    No Shame in asking what the chords are, if you aren't picking it up by ear.
  13. jthisdell


    Jun 12, 2014
    Roanoke, VA
    Also easier if they are in standard tune and not using a capo!

    And a big piece of it is knowing the key and the chords in that key. If they start on Gmaj what would be next? Cmaj, Dmaj, Bmin, Amin, Emin are logical choices. (Assuming your other players know at least a little theory.)
    GreggBummer likes this.
  14. Davidg

    Davidg Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2009
    If all else fails lean in to the guitarist and ask "What key are we in?" Half the time he'll tell you, the other half he'll shrug his shoulders and mutter "I'm not sure!"

    You should be able to find some harmonic center that you can play off.
    Play simply.
    Make sure you can hear yourself properly.
    Lock into a rhythm with the drummer and don't worry about the other stuff so much.
    Listen real hard! No, seriously! Listen, relax and go with the flow.

    Also, are you "jamming" or "Improvising?" Jamming implies that you are playing off of a song or other structure so there should be some order to it.
    Improvising is not "play whatever you want" but there will be less, if any, formal structure so try to be in the moment. When you are in the zone (like a great athlete) you'll know it. Everything seems to slow down (not a literal tempo change) and become clear (clearer?) to you. When it is really working the whole band will seem like they are all moving in the same direction.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2019
    Malcolm35, poopshoot and George End like this.
  15. mobeme23

    mobeme23 Supporting Member

    Aug 27, 2018
    NorCal, Coastside
    active listening skills are very useful in improv/jamming situations. especially listening to the soloist, as s/he will most likely be soloing over some form of a chord or progression of chords. regarding the formation of tunes out of jamming, i had a buddy who used to name sections such as: the "A" section, and the "B" section, and so-forth.

    thinking about a jam as a conversation rather than an equation or formula has helped a lot in my search.
    poopshoot likes this.
  16. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Are the guitarist playing chord patterns or just throwing out random chords? If it's random chords, then you can't reasonably expect to anticipate which random chord they will play next unless you are a mind reader. If this is what's going on, then don't let them psych you out, because playing random chords in itself is not evidence of good musicianship.

    Most music is made up of chord patterns that repeat in cycles. Songs typically have at least two parts to the form, an A section and a B section. For example the A section might be verse and the B section might be a chorus. So a song form may be ABAB, and you would just cycle through the form. Some songs have a third part called a bridge. The bridge is a new different part of the song. So you might play ABAB, ABAB, CB

    Usually when you are jamming, the chords are relatively simple, but you might have a bunch of different sections or riffs that you cycle through randomly. Often you play one pattern until it gets a bit tiresome, and then someone throws in a new pattern, and everyone eventually follows their example. You might play over various 2 bar patterns, 4 bar patters, 8 bar patterns etc,. Blues is usually a 12 bar pattern and there are lot's of possible way to vary blues chord progressions. If you are just playing major |I|IV|V| blues you basically play dominant blues patterns over each chord. So it's sort of like you are modulating with each chord change in a way.

    Commercial music may change keys but usually it doesn't change a lot within a section. So you might have a verse in one key and a chorus in another related key. Jazz on the other hand may change key continuously. If you are jamming over an actual song, and the chord progression is complex and modulates continuously, you need to know the chord progression in advance unless you are freakishly talented.
  17. OptimalOptimus


    Jan 4, 2019
    I like jamming whatever that comes up.

    I practice very often with a Boss Loop Station that let me create and just create and solo and it is a nice way to create. Or with a keyboard I play some chords and then pick up the bass and improv
  18. It all comes down to pattern recognition.

    The more songs you play, and the more styles you play in, the better you will be at picking out the chord changes.

    Learning theory is huge - as some people have suggested. If you are playing in jazz jams, you will see a LOT of ii-V-I chord patterns.

    In blues you will see a lot of I-IV-V patterns. But there's a lot of variation, like in "All Blues" by Miles Davis, it seems like a standard blues progression, but the chord goes to a sharp 5 - or lowered sixth (Eb7) - when you are expecting it to return to the root.

    The more you play different types of chords the more you will recognize.

    Learn theory and work on your ear training. Sit down with a keyboard or a piano and play chords until they become easily recognizable by ear. A dominant chord will sound very different from a Major 7 chord, and those will sound very different from a half-diminished chord.
    B-Lo and Sav'nBass like this.
  19. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    You need some type of foundation like: Next one is in G, blues progression, ready 1, and 2, and... Every jamming session I have ever been in the key is called. From that I know the I-IV-V chord progression that is going to work. Start on the I, go to the IV, throw in a V and repeat. The I or tonal center is safe, so is the IV. Vamp I's and IV's if nothing else. The groove is the thing. The actually chords are secondary to the groove.

    Go find a jamming circle and take your bass. Wait on the nod and then pound roots if you have to, like has been said the more you jam the better you get at jamming.

    Jamming is like horseshoes and grenades [​IMG] close is OK.

    Happy trails.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
  20. Rib 13

    Rib 13 Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2006
    theres some tricks to it.......sometimes, there are musical cues: i.e. a I chord going into a I7 / dominant7 chord usually means a change to the IV chord)...but the other thing is listening for 'telegraphs' from the other members, such as a guitar player or piano player going into a walk and you determining where its going (for example,if on I, certain walks imply II7, certain walks imply iii, certain walks imply IV, etc).......Sometimes,its not you but also how well the other members are aware that you are unfamiliar with the song and them doing their best to drop bread crumbs

    for just on-the-spot improv, a lot of these paradigms imply providing the jam makes some kind of general sense...if jammimg an unorthodox arrangement of chords and structure,you need ESP skills and a dartboard.........
    rd2rk likes this.