You’ve likely been at rehearsals where someone starts to play something in between songs and some or all of the band picks up and begins to play along…
…only to get scolded or scorned by the leader (or the timekeeper), reminding you to "get back on track with the music we’re rehearsing!"
Of course, there’s value in rehearsing the music. But what value does just "jamming" have? Any?
Or maybe this sounds familiar. The electricity was out (or you couldn’t schedule a full band) so we had an acoustic Sunday. With a more relaxed atmosphere, we had a few minutes before the service so we just started jamming a bit. It was fun, and something about it was so captivating to those listening, that I looked up at one point and saw several people taking videos with their phones.
Here’s what I’m contending for: Jamming is one of the core disciplines of great musicians.
A CORE DISCIPLINE!
We often think of jamming as "that annoying guitar player that can’t stop noodling between songs." How can this be essential to good musicianship?! (Side note: if you’re the player that whips out "Sweet Child ‘O Mine" in between every song, a word or two: Stop. It.)
To jam is simply to play without a plan, to improvise. Someone starts and others follow. Or just pick a chord progression and give it some life.
If we never play improvisationally together, if we never jam, if all we ever play is what’s planned and written on the page, our music will lack depth, it can feel sterile, and I contend that it will miss some of the "sing a new song" anointing that our worship music is desperate for.
Todd Henry talks about the discipline of "Unnecessary Creation" on his Accidental Creative blog. He says "This allows you to develop your skills, tap into your deeper aptitudes, and take risks in a relatively low-risk environment. Unnecessary Creation provides a forum for the pursuit of voice, and a reminder that you are not the sum of what you make. You and I are not machines, and no matter how efficient we become at delivering brilliant work, we need regular reminders of our capacity to contribute something unique. We need to stay in touch with the intrinsic desire to strive for the ‘next’ that has driven progress throughout the ages. Initiating a project with no parameters and no expectations from others also forces you to stay self-aware while learning to listen to and follow your intuition. Both of these are crucial skills for discovering your voice."
But is it worth it to intentionally schedule time for jamming at your rehearsal? I believe:
- It makes your music sound more conversational and relational and less robotic and scripted.
- It trains your ear to listen to each other and respond - which is one of the core skills to being a true musician.
- It gets you out of your comfort zone and builds your creativity muscle, accessing a different part of your brain than when you just play a song.
- It’s fun and helps you be more relaxed during the service because you took risks during a low-risk environment.
- It builds the foundation for your team to be more responsive to the moment.
So don’t overcomplicate it. And try not to shut it down when it breaks out naturally. Have someone just start playing and invite the rest of the team to (potentially awkwardly) amble in. Keep it a rule-free zone, other than playing in the same key! And have the singers join too. They can just make stuff up or use scripture as an inspiration.
If that’s all too far-fetched, just lift a chord progression from a song and change something about it - the key, the tempo, the time signature, the duration of each chord, whatever and then let things ebb and flow, rise and fall, you can sit out and then come in, take turns making it go somewhere, and for the love, just have fun with it!