Rules of the Jam

Rule 1. Jams are fun. They are not practice. They are not to entertain anyone except the participants. Make it fun. If you have to, work hard to make it fun. If it isn't fun, don't do it.
Rule 2. Jams are the time to make mistakes. In a Jam you can experiment, screw up, fall down, drop your axe and otherwise make a fool of yourself. The flip side of this is that you have to be tolerant of others who are screwing up. In any case good manners should be as important here as in any social situation.
Rule 3. Jams are for beginners as well as experts. Although you can make some rules as to minimum competence, these should be rules like: Must know how to play in different keys. Must know the changes. If you are an expert, teach the beginners, don't condemn them. If you are a beginner, it may be better not to play anything if you are not sure of the key or the changes.
Rule 4. Everyone gets a chance to solo - if not in every song then in every set for at least one verse. If a solo is good or needs a second time around then it should get a second verse. A great solo deserves a third shot, but a great solo leads to something and should end of its own accord by the third verse. Even the drummers and the Bass player need to solo from time to time. (Well, maybe not the Bass player.)
Rule 5. Everyone plays. If there are lots of people, then maybe not all at the same time. Too many harp players sounds like bagpipes. Too many guitar players sounds like hell. A good jam has lots of participants, sometimes over a dozen people playing at the same time. The object is to play, not to sound good. Remember rule 1.
Rule 6. Don't solo unless its your time to solo. It's harder to play a good rhythm line along with the other people not soloing than to solo. Playing rhythm requires coordination and a good understanding of the music. Harmonica players have the hardest time playing rhythm, but harmonica rhythm sounds great.
Rule 7. Don't "Dixieland". Don't add embellishments and ornamentation to the song needlessly (unless it is a Dixieland song, and even then there are rules.)
Rule 8. Don't step on someone else's solo. Lay back and let another wail, you're time will come. There's nothing worse than trying to sing or play and have someone else playing a solo against you.
Rule 9. Learn the music. If its Blues, get all of the classic, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, etc. Be familiar with the literature. Know where the stops are.
Rule 10. If you are not soloing, turn down. Guitarists should use a stomp box with a preamp. Others use a volume control. Don't play loud. In jams there are usually more than a few people. The combined loudness will make total volume levels so high that the softer instruments and players will not be heard.
Rule 11. Call the song. If you are going decide which song to play next, then describe it. Make sure everyone knows the changes and the keys. Example: "Slow shuffle blues in E, fast to the 4, stays in the 1 in the guitar solo. The singer will signal the stops in the intro."
Rule 12. If you are shy, don't sit in the corner strumming your git, sadly. Join in and play. The jam is a chance for people to have a good time being less than perfect. Participate! Encourage others to participate. Some people want to be coaxed. Coax them.
Rule 13. Applaud. Be happy. Reward positive behavior. The jam isn't about you, it's about US. Make everyone feel they've done a good job. Even the worst player has to be better in the last song than he was in the one before. Everyone can get better, even if getting better means that he hit 2 notes right out of 100 instead of 1 note right.
Rule 14. Control your alcohol and drug use. Don't get so drunk or high that it hurts your playing or upsets other people. It's hard to judge just how "fud-up" you are, even when it is perfectly obvious to everyone else. You really don't play better with a buzz, you just sound better to yourself. If you are nervous about playing, a drink might loosen you up a little, but control yourself. Drugs, especially, make some people uncomfortable. I personally don't like it when there are drugs around. I don't appreciate people who bring drugs to a jam. It's bad manners to assume that everyone at the jam is 'cool' enough think that drugs are OK. They are against the law and can get everyone in the room in trouble if you are busted. Don't light up that doobie until your host is aware and approves. Put it out if anyone complains.
Rule 15. Mix up the musical styles. Don't play slow shuffles in E all night. Play some fast boogies and a few rock classics. If someone is into SRV, let him play a few. If someone else is into Rev. Gary Davis, let him lead a few. The beauty of Blues and Jazz and Rock is the variety. Don't play just one kind of song. But - see next rule.
Rule 16. Play easy songs. Songs with complicated changes and key changes make it hard on the beginners. Play simple songs that everyone knows. This isn't work. Don't make it hard.
Rule 17. If you declare a song, lead it. You become the Jam leader. You should point to the next soloist and give them plenty of time to lead into the solo. Point to them in the turn-around. You have to yell "Stop" at the stops so everyone can stop. You have to make the winding motion with your finger straight up when you are winding up the song. You have to try and quiet down the loud players and buck up the shy players.
Rule 18. Watch the leader. He'll tell when to solo, when to stop, when to wind it up and when you are too loud.
Rule 19. Let the drummer call the beat. He'll use his sticks and count off the beat. Don't do this yourself. The Drummer and the Bass players are the backbone of the music. Let them lead you. If you are a drummer, drive the song. Don't let the guitar players do your job. They will let the beat wander all over the place. You have to keep it steady. Don't let anyone speed you up. If you are a Bass Player, please keep the drummer straight.
Rule 20. Take a break. Go outside and smoke a cig. Talk to the pretty girl in the corner. Let someone else be the star for a set. The Jam should take a break every three songs to let someone else a shot at stardom..
Rule 21: Bring your own axe. Don't borrow a guitar or (yuck) someone's harmonica. If you are a singer or harp player, bring your own Mic and plug it into the PA yourself. If you are a guitar player, bring your own amp. Don't ask to plug in with someone else. Drummers should bring their own sticks, snares and rides. Guitar players should bring extra strings and batteries. Drummers should bring extra sticks. Harp players, bring more than one harp - don't make the band play in G all night.
Rule 22. Respect your host. If the Jam is in a private home, call the host to find out if you are actually invited. Bring food, drink or a gift. Thank your host when you leave. Don't use the telephone. Don't raid the fridge. Make the host happy that they had a jam and that you came along. If the Jam is in a bar, tip the waitresses, buy your drinks at the bar, don't sneak out to the convenience store on the corner. Don't throw up in the bathroom. Don't start fights. Listen to the host and don't argue with him.
Rule 23. Go home. Don't stay until you are the last idiot playing. The host has to sleep eventually. You are in someone else's home or place of business. Set a time to leave, midnight, 1 AM, or even later, but don't make the host chase you out.
Rule 24. If you have been jamming at someone's house for a while, return the favor and host a Jam at your place, if you can. If you can't, host a blues picnic at the lake where you supply the keg, or plan a blues outing to a club where you offer to be designated driver.
Rule 25. Practice at home. Bring a new riff or song or idea to the Jam each week. Make each jam better than the last. Don't put you axe in the case after the jam and leave it there until the next jam. Get better!
Rule 26. Make a new rule. Go to a jam and figure out how it could be improved and tell me about it. I'll add the rule here.

Special rules for singers:

Rule 1. Don't expect everyone to know your songs. Buy a good cheat book and be familiar with the melodies of all the songs in it. Don't be ashamed to sing out of a cheat book.
Rule 2. Leave your friend at home. I don't know why, but singers always have friends who are absolute jerks.
Rule 3. Allow plenty of time for all of the players to solo before you end the song.
Rule 4. Bring your own mic. Invest in a good one. Mics spread germs. (I'm not kidding)
Rule 5. NEVER EVER play those little plastic eggs or a tambourine or other rhythm instrument. You are not a percussionist. If you don't know what to do with your hands or how to stand when you are not singing, you are not good singer yet. Watch some good singers and see what they do when the band is soloing. Watch how important their hand motions are.
Rule 6. Don't touch the mic. Adjust the mic stand once at the beginning.
Rule 7 Don't speak to anyone in the audience. Don't ask "can you hear me?". You are there to sing. You are not the MC.
Rule 8. Sing out! Jams never have enough singers. You can make the song great.
Rule 9. The best songs for Jams are sing-alongs or call and response. Get the audience involved. Don't be a star - share the spotlight with the group. Sing "Mojo", "Sweet Home Chicago", "Hoochie Coochie Man (Woman)", or "Fools Night Out" (There is a version of this great sing-along in the latest Saffire CD) and get the audience and band singing along with you.
Rule 10. Sell the song. Don't stand still and sing. Move! Singing is much more than noise from your mouth. Dance, if you can. Your voice reflects what your body is doing. Blues is emotional by definition. Make your whole body reflect that emotion.
Rule 11. Lead the band. In a song with a singer, you are usually the leader. You call the stops and choose the soloists. If you aren't going to lead the song, make sure some else does.

Special rules for Guitar players.

Rule 1. Turn the volume on the guitar down.
Rule 2. Turn the volume on the amp down.
Rule 3. Turn the volume on your effects down.
Rule 4. Play softly.

Specal Rules for Drummers

Rule 1. Keep it simple. Complicated beats make it hard for everyone to play.
Rule 2. Avoid use of the cymbals. Not every turn-around requires a crashing blitz of brass noise.
Rule 3. Leave the cow bell home.
Rule 4. Bring your friend. For some reason the goofiest drummer always has the prettiest girl friends.

Special Rules for Harmonica players:

Rule 1. Do what you damn well please. You are far and away better than anyone else at the jam. They are lucky to have you there.

 

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I cleaned up my tab for Sonny Boy's Help Me and made it into a short book. There's a Kindle version for 99 cents, and if you buy the paperback you get the Kindle free.

Playing "Help-Me" In the Style of Sonny Boy Williamson II: A step by step, note for note analysis of some of Sonny Boy's Signature Riffs

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The JT30 Page Popular links

I began collecting data about the microphones used by blue harp players before there was an internet. I began organizing it into JT30.com in the late 1990s. I accumulated more stuff than I remember. This is some of it.

Street Theory

A Harp Player’s Guide to Music Theory

Learning Harp

Picking Up Blues Harp

A guide to learning to play Blues Harp

Microphone Information

Usenet Articles


Harp Amps

I've been collecting Harp Amps for a while. This is the old Harpamps.com website. There is lots of information here. Here a coupld of links.


Harp Tab

A collection of songs and riffs that I’ve worked out over the years, plus some libraries of stuff I’ve converted to tablature. I’ve included most of the notes and instructions that helped me when I was learning to play blues harmonica.

Basic Riffs Simple harp tabs for songs Blues riffs and phrases.

Harp-L Archives 1992 to 2002


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2003

Harp Frequently Asked Questions