Playing to Jam Tracks - Top 5 Commandments

jam tracks practice Sep 08, 2023

Refer to the lesson below for guidance on how to best utilize Visual Jam Tracks like the example above.




Jamming to tracks is a fantastic way to hone your guitar skills and develop your musicality. However, it's not just about mindlessly playing along; there are essential principles that can significantly enhance your performance. In this blog post, we will delve into the five commandments for playing to jam tracks. These commandments encompass crucial aspects of understanding, technique, and creativity, all of which are essential for any guitarist looking to sound better when jamming. So, without further ado, let's dive into these five essential guidelines.

1. Know Thy Key: The Key is King

The first commandment emphasizes the importance of knowing the key of the song you're jamming to. Understanding the key is fundamental because it determines the notes and chords you should be using. The tonal center of the key dictates the foundation upon which your improvisations should rest. While some might argue that playing by ear is enough, it's crucial to have a basic grasp of the key or tonal center. Without this knowledge, playing effectively can be a real challenge.  In fact, “playing by ear” has a LOT to do with theory and patterns.  To my students that don’t believe this, I say, “let me tune your guitar to a different tuning, and see if you can still “play by ear” just as well.

2. Know the Chords: Suggest the Chord You're On

 The second commandment encourages guitarists to familiarize themselves with the chords of the song. Visual cues, like chord charts or diagrams, can be immensely helpful. When jamming, it's essential to reflect the current chord in your playing. This means that you should adjust your phrasing and licks to match the chord being played. By doing so, you'll create a harmonious and engaging musical conversation with the other instruments.

3. Do Not Put the Scale Before the Phrase

The third commandment is a reminder not to prioritize scales over phrasing. Scales are valuable tools for understanding the structure of a song and the notes that work well together. However, simply running up and down scales without regard for phrasing and expression can lead to uninspiring and monotonous playing. Instead, focus on creating meaningful musical phrases that breathe and communicate emotion. Your playing should mirror the ebb and flow of a conversation.

4. Explore Different Areas of the Guitar Neck

The fourth commandment highlights the importance of exploring different areas of the guitar neck. While mastering one position or form is essential, it's equally vital to venture into other parts of the neck. Each section offers unique fingerings and possibilities, allowing you to access a broader range of musical ideas. Expanding your playing across the fretboard will open up new creative avenues and licks you wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

5. Know(and play to) the Feel of the Track

The fifth and final commandment is about understanding the feel or vibe of the jam track. Just as in any conversation, it's crucial to gauge the atmosphere and adapt accordingly. Is the music mellow, aggressive, or somewhere in between? Are the other instruments playing loudly or softly? Your playing should complement the overall feel of the track. This adaptability is what distinguishes a great guitarist from the rest.


In conclusion, these five commandments provide a solid foundation for mastering jam tracks and elevating your guitar playing. By knowing the key, understanding the chords, prioritizing phrasing, exploring different areas of the guitar neck, and adapting to the feel of the track, you'll be well-equipped to engage in captivating musical conversations and take your jamming skills to new heights.

As I suggest, practical application is key to truly internalizing these commandments. Be sure to check out the recommended jam track that visually displays chords, allowing you to put these principles into action. With dedication and practice, you'll become a more expressive and versatile guitarist, making your jamming sessions more enjoyable and musically rewarding.


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