Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Jam Session!

As I ponder my blog entry today, I’m in the process of scheduling new monthly jam sessions for my students!

In the past, as a summer workshop, Keyboard Jam proved to be very successful in stretching the students abilities, as well as giving them experience and enthusiasm for playing with other musicians! Have you read Nate Shaw’s two most recent articles on this very blog site? (If not, I hope that you will! I have added the links at the bottom of this article!)  Nate has some great ideas that I am definitely going to implement into my studio jam sessions, private lessons and recitals!

All of my students will be invited (pianists, singer, other instrumentalists). As the jam sessions become a huge hit, I will use them as an incentive, and extend invitation first to top practicers, best scales for the month, etc. All of the students will have fun creating music together, and learning how musicians work and play together. It works best to have separate sessions if you have a  large variance in ages and level of students. We will use the grand piano, a few keyboards, hand drums, shakers, my electric bass, and any other instruments that show up with the students.  There are so many different directions a class like this can take, but here’s a session plan that I have found to work extremely well!  Adapt  this activity to your situation! It may sound advanced, but even beginners can do it with simple songs like Twinkle Little Star!:

  • Get all the keyboards and other instruments set up and plugged in (you might ask students with their own gear to arrive early enough to get set up!). Ice breaker game (I like to use the Name/Rhythm Game or Rhythm Telephone. See earlier blog for ideas:
  • Put on a previously chosen musical selection for listening. Pass out a prepared chord chart.  (Make one, or search online…you can find some free, or go to and chose chord chart, in the key that matches your recording!) Choose a selection  in a easily accessible key for the group and with limited chord changes. Have the students on keyboards or pitched instruments review playing the chords, or just the roots of the chords.
  • Start the recording. As the music begins, have the students close their eyes and tap along quietly to the beat, until they’ve had a chance to get the feel of the music. See Nate’s second article for more specifics on “reverence for the groove”.  Now they may play along quietly,  with blocked chords or just roots.
  • Ask the group to identify specific instrumental or vocal parts in the recording.  After assigning each participant a part (i.e. rock organ, bass guitar, rhythm guitar, piano, synthesizer pad, etc.), start the recording again, having everyone listen specifically for their part, and how it functions in the ensemble (rhythm, melody, chords, arpeggios, fills, etc.) This is something that can be discussed with the entire group, as you can later have the students rotate and try all of the different parts!
  • Give everyone a few minutes to find appropriate setting on their instruments (we primarily have keyboards, with a couple of rhythm people and maybe a guitar).  Let them experiment with assimilating a similar sound/style to the recorded example. (Head phones are recommended for this step!) At this point, I will go around the studio and help each one with some demonstration. Simplify parts to the level of each individual student.
  • When each participant has found their sound and groove , demonstrate a sample of each musical part for the entire group.
  • Now it’s time to JAM! Explain that each musician needs to play just loud enough to hear themselves and to be able to hear the whole ensemble! Start the recording, and everybody plays along!  If time allows, or at the next session after all have had a chance to practice their parts, try to put it all together without the recording playing!

Keyboard players make themselves more a valuable asset to a group if they are able to play, or at least understand, all of the parts in the band or ensemble! Singers and other instrumentalists appreciate becoming more well rounded musicians as participants in these jam sessions. Give it a try!

Now, please go and read Nate Shaw’s inspiring articles, which offer excellent ideas for creating some awesome performance opportunities using the “gig” idea: and very fun and practical ways to incorporate the ensemble experience into practicing:

Thanks for reading! Please be sure to share your thoughts on this topic!

P.S.  In case you’d like my comp/improv blog articles in hard copy…I’ve published them in a 23 page book form: Music Creativity in Bloom ~ Dozens of Inspiring Ideas to help you teach Composition and Improvisation. You may find this and more music creativity teaching tools at

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1 Comment

  1. Michelle Payne

    Great idea!! About how many do you have in a session?

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