Jam Session Etiquette Tips

An open jam session for musicians can quickly turn into chaos unless everybody abides by a few basic principles. It mostly comes down to “The Golden Rule” –  showing other people the same level of respect you would want for yourself. Here’s a list of the top etiquette tips to succeed at an open jam session:


1) Use the sign up sheet

Reserve your spot on the stage…include your name, your instrument and what songs you’d like to play (if applicable).

2) Don’t play off to the side while other people are jamming

Again, remember “The Golden Rule” – show everybody else the same respect you would like for yourself.

3) Play what you need to play in a few choruses…don’t hog the stage

Share the spotlight. “The Golden Rule”, again…seeing a pattern here?

4) Don’t play what you don’t know

If you can’t play by ear, and have never played the song, it’s probably best to sit that one out.

5) Don’t play over the singer

See rule #3…share the spotlight!

6) Don’t try to show up the other players

This isn’t a competition…it’s all about building community, supporting each other and creating something cool together.

7) Go prepared with a few songs

If you pick a few tunes you already know ahead of time, things will go faster and you’ll feel better prepared.

8) Play in tune

Bring a clip-on tuner, guitarists. Make sure you use it before you hit the stage.

9) Learn, get experience and have fun…don’t sweat it

This is going to be fun! See rule #6.

10) Buy drinks, bring friends…support the venue to keep the jam alive

We couldn’t do this without a good venue to host it; let’s all work together to make it worth their while to open the doors for us.

11) Check it out once before you play

If you’re not sure, it’s fine to visit once and just listen before you sign up to play.

12) Listen to the other players

This is a characteristic of good musicianship in general; if the band is playing soft, you should be, too. If someone else is soloing, don’t jump in at the same time.

13) Play with the other similar instruments…find coordinating parts

If you play guitar, and there’s another guitar player jamming with you, find a different part to play that compliments their’s. Same for vocals and every other instrument.

14) Respect the leader and thank them for stage time

The leader is trying to keep things organized and flowing smoothly so that everyone has a great night. Do what you can to make their job easier.

15) Thank the house band

These guys are donating their time, talent and the use of their gear. Respect that and express appreciation.

16) Play no more than two songs

Give everybody a chance to play. See rules #3, #5, #6 and #13.

17) Get permission before using house band gear

A few basics will be provided, like a drum kit and guitar amps. You should bring your own guitar. If you need to borrow something from someone, make sure you ask first.

18) Don’t noodle between or during songs

Remember rule #2? The same thing applies when your ON stage, too.

19) Don’t noodle offstage, either

When you’re about to play, tune up (in silence, if possible), set your tone and levels, then stop playing until the song begins.

20) Look to the song leader for your cue to solo

Somebody will be leading the song (usually the singer). When it’s time to play a solo, they’ll usually give you a nod. Watch for it.

21) Balance your volume with everybody else

Be aware of the stage volume. Drummers, don’t overpower everybody else. Guitarists, keep your amp volume at an appropriate level. Trust the sound guy to make sure you are heard.

22) Listen, listen, listen and pay attention

Almost all of these rules can be summed up by this one. It’s not all about you…you are part of a larger musical community, and participating in jam sessions like this one can help you find your place in it. There’s so much you can learn from jamming with other musicians. Don’t be so self-absorbed that you miss out on it.


“Musicians spend too much time alone in a small space working on their craft…trying to master an instrument. The jam session is ultimately about getting all of us out of that room and into life. Music can be the essence of life: emotion, communication, a spiritual journey of self discovery. But life is meant to be shared with others.” – Nate Shaw