Colin Falconer

If you're going to play at jam sessions with other musicians, there are a few musts, and a few no-no's. If you stick to these guidelines you won't go too far wrong.

JAM SESSION ETIQUETTE

Always ask someone if itís okay for you to join in.  (Theyíll always say Ďyesí)

Donít touch anyone elseís instrument without asking.  (This is an absolute taboo.)

Never hog the show.  (Youíll find this harder to resist as your skills improve and you want to strut your stuff Ė but this is the type of venue where everyone, good or bad, has a turn at playing.)  

Never upstage another player or singer if they've started the song.  This sometimes happens when someone has quietly began a tune and the local 'legend' hijacks it by belting out a louder version. (Some of the best, and most sensitive, singing and playing comes from quieter musicians, not volume freaks)

Donít sit down at the table, or tables, set aside for the musicians unless you are going to play.  (Seating is normally at a premium and itís annoying for musoís to have to sit, or stand, away from the centre of activity because a non-player has hogged the best spot.)

Keep your ears tuned to other players.  Youíll quite often find someone has quietly begun to play something and you donít want to be regarded as that player who just starts sallying into a different song with no consideration for others.  

Celtic music is often played in three tune sets. Many musicians have their own preferences for the tunes that go into these sets. So, listen to the person or group that started the set and follow their lead.

Some singers and instrumentalists have adopted one or two songs which they regularly perform.  These tunes kind of unofficially belong to those people.  The regulars know this and, out of courtesy, won't sing these songs, reserving them for the ones who first adopted and introduced them to the session. (If you go regularly you'll quickly know which tunes belong to which person.)

You can ask someone ĎWhat key is it in?í, but donít expect anyone to call out all the chord changes for you.   Some musoís do call out the chords at the beginning of a tune, but this is a bonus.

NEVER rubbish anyone elseís playing however badly they play.  Not only is this bad manners, but itís demoralising for someone whoís only trying to do their best.  Even if they should stumble over the lyrics and chords or if they canít hold a tune, the polite thing to do is applaud their effort.

Donít start playing an alternative style of music to the one the venue is devoted to.  There are exceptions, but itís considered bad form to radically change the style of music at an established gig.

These sessions are generally for acoustic instruments and, in most cases, amplifiers are a no-no.  Even if youíre unable to hear your own instrument because youíre overpowered by louder instruments like accordions, pipes, tin whistles etc. donít go to the car for your amp.  A good musician will quickly realise when theyíre playing too loud and temper their volume to allow others to be heard.  If you should strike the odd player who is blissfully unaware theyíre hogging the show, donít voice your annoyance, just accept this is not the right venue for you - there are plenty of other places for you to play.