Your first ukulele jam: do’s and don’ts

Going to your first ukulele jam session may be a daunting experience if you go alone and don’t expect to know anybody there. Like crashing a stranger’s wedding party, you simply don’t know what to expect. If it’s a small jam session, you will feel like an intruder for it would seem that everyone else knows everybody there, except you. If it’s a large session, you might feel totally invisible and unwelcome.

What can you do to make your first ukulele jam an enjoyable experience?

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Getting to and from a ukulele jam session

If you are as fanatic about playing the ukulele as I am, getting to and from a jam session could be an issue if the venue is relatively far and inconvenient and if it’s the first time (in case you get lost). If the jam experience is worth it, you’d find an alternative way to get there to make it less painful and arduous. I’m always surprised when seasoned ukulele players drive more than an hour through rush hour to come to our weekly ukulele jam sessions. It’s not always easy to find parking in our area. The first time, they say they are curious. If they come again, it’s a compliment. We’re doing something right.

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Ukulele jam sessions: what to expect

What exactly happens in a ukulele jam session?

The word “jam” conjures up images of people playing music together, on different instruments in a frenzy. As ukuleles come in different sizes, they naturally sound different. Often there are complementary instruments such as the cajon, bass guitar, tambourine, kazoo, harmonica, and violin. The word “jam” also sounds loud rather than soft but it doesn’t have to be. Coining the words “jam session” makes it sound more sophisticated than the technical description: a group play and sing along. It’s not karaoke, because it’s not about people taking turns singing on the microphone, rather, everyone plays and sings together. As you may expect, not all jam sessions are the same.

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Let it be real good

As usual, I began our 7 o’clock ukulele jam session with an easy song, one that everyone knows with few easy chords. This being the Beatles Carpool Karaoke, I chose “Let It Be,” using  San Jose Ukulele Club’s version in the original key of C major, with just four chords, rather than the G-major transposition with nine chords in the version in Richard G’s Songbook.

What can you do with “Let It Be” if you already know it very well?

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From ukulele jam to gig

Also known as “from participation to presentation

Getting together to play music together is akin to everyone chatting musically at the same time. In my ukulele jam sessions, we accompany ourselves on our ukuleles to songs we pretty much know how to sing already. It may seem like sight reading, for we don’t usually practice or know what we will be doing beforehand. In one two-hour jam session, we could go through as many as thirty songs without a break.

There is a subtle difference between a jam and a gig. While there may be onlookers watching and hearing us from the sidelines, we aren’t playing to an audience other than ourselves. A jam session is participatory music making, where everyone is participating by singing and or playing. A gig, on the other hand, is presentational where we play to an audience.

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Corden & McCartney sing Beatles songs in Liverpool

What a great idea to travel down memory lane singing songs you wrote in the different locations of your home town! That’s exactly what Paul McCartney did in Liverpool recently. The 24-minute Youtube video moved me to tears as “Let It Be” did for James Corden, host of “The Late, Late Show” in London.

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Earth Day ukulele workshop and jam

If we celebrate birthdays, why not one for Mother Earth? Every April 22nd, people all over the world celebrate Earth Day in different ways. While I was living on Maui, I started using music to gather community and raise awareness for sustainability through concerts and jam sessions. It’s a combination of entertainment and education. The last one was my piano class joining forces with the ukulele class (video below). This year, Earth Day falls on Sunday 22nd April 2018, and I’m determined to do something special.

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