Jammin’ Time

By Linda Sorrell


Have music recitals ever put you in a jam? Did the stress take the joy out of music? Then how about a jammin’ time?

Besides teaching private piano lessons, I also teach guitar and accordion. This past summer, my guitar and accordion students began jammin’ and singing around our campfire. Their friends and family members would often jam along on violins and other instruments. Bongo drums, tambourines, and other rhythm instruments made their way into small and large hands to join in the music making. The pleasure of jammin’ was contagious! Some of my students’ families built their own campfire areas for jammin’. I wanted a way to have jammin’ times during the winter months, and to include all my piano students.

I asked my friend Jim Miller of Hampton, Tennessee, who leads jammin’ workshops, for advice. I took his ideas and modified and structured them for our first indoor December jammin’ time. Answering these questions helped me organize this activity:

What is a jammin’ time?

  • An informal gathering of musicians
  • Not a rehearsal for a performance
  • A musical exchange of ideas
  • Usually no set list of tunes

What will be played?

  • Favorite tunes are selected by each player and confirmed with the teacher in advance.
  • Each player may play along on any tune after the introduction (only two players per keyboard).

How will players prepare?

  • Players practice tunes during lessons and at home, with special attention to individual tune selection.
  • Books with words, chords, or lead sheets of all tunes will be given to players beforehand.
  • Invite and bring family and friends, finger food snacks, music, and instruments (in tune) to the jammin’ time.

How will the jammin’ time be structured?

  • Player who selects the tune starts it, sets tempo and key.
  • Playing usually stay in one key for a while, going from easy to more difficult tunes.
  • A list of those responsible for each tune, plus extra books of the tunes, will be available for attendees.
  • The instruments and chairs for attendees will be arranged in a circle.
  • Those wishing to play solo pieces may do so between jammin’ tunes, during breaks, or as creative introductions or endings to tunes.

Why a jammin’ time?

  • To learn tunes that are fun to play with and for others
  • To improve technique and playing ability
  • To meet other music students and their families and friends
  • To enjoy the spirit of music

During the refreshment break, I witnessed most of my students singing and playing instead of eating! During the jammin’, most students played almost all the tunes, while a few were content with just playing their selection. All students received (you guessed it) a jar of my homemade jam to take home.

I believe that my students’ ability to jam together without prior practice is partially due to the use of background accompaniments during lessons. Their use has provided the tools of listening and rhythm skills. They help students to learn to quickly come in again if they lose their place or make a mistake.

Students and their families have requested frequent jammin’ sessions. We plan to let a handful of students add new tunes each time, while replaying favorites. I foresee jammin’ times as a fun educational way to preserve familiar tunes.

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