I've played guitar for a few years now by myself with no real goal other than to learn any songs I like and maybe make up a couple of my own riffs etc. But now, quite regularly, I get the chance to play with a couple of friends who have played much longer than me. I have found that when we try to jam I just end up sitting with a blank expression on my face.

My friends tell me to just play whatever comes to mind and have confidence in myself and my abilities, but the problem isn't that I am embarrassed to play, it's that I really have no idea WHAT to play. Absolutely nothing comes to mind...

Lately, I have been thinking that the solution might be to learn basic guitar/music theory.

Am I correct to think that this will help? Or does it seem like something else holding me back?
Last edited by rossel95 at Feb 24, 2015,
First of all, learn more songs, learn them by ear. That way you'll learn some "basic tricks" to play when you have nothing in your mind. Ear is really important when it comes to jamming. Jamming is all about reacting to what other people play. You get ideas from other people's playing. It's like a musical conversation.

But really, if you have no idea of what to play, start with a chord progression or a riff that you have written or something. It can also be a real song (for example Smoke on the Water - well that's a bit unoriginal, but it's a song everybody knows). 12 bar blues will always work, same with jazz standards (but if you are not jazz musicians, maybe it's not that great of an idea).

Many times when people start jamming, they don't start from out of nowhere. They have something to start with, for example a riff, a chord progression, a drum beat, a bassline, a well known song... Sometimes people come up with a new riff or a chord progression spontaneously, but that doesn't happen all the time. So I think it's good to have some go-to chord progressions or riffs/grooves so that the whole jam session is not just people sitting around and wondering what to play.

I would recommend first playing some other bands' songs. They are easy to start with if you don't have a lot of band playing experience. I mean, you need to learn to play in a band. And I think that happens easiest if you play songs that you know well and are comfortable with.

And about music theory - I think good things to know to play in a band are keys (for example what it means when a song is in the key of A - and what it means when somebody says "let's play it in the key of D"), chord functions (what a I-IV-V progression means) and transposing (how to play the same riff/progression/melody in a different key). Good ear is the most important thing.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.


Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Feb 25, 2015,
I couldn't agree more.

You have a chance a lot of people are too intimidated to try and grab. ALWAYS grab any chance to jam with people who are better musicians. It irritates me no end when I see teenagers in music stores listen to me fro a couple of minutes and put the guitar down. Wrong thing to do, go try to play a little. Even if you suck, you'll most likely learn something.

Pay attention to what Maggara said. Learn some songs by ear. I learned sheet music in high school but I sucked at it, I learned my parts a little at a time and memorized everything. Concert band, marching and jazz band, I memorized every note. At the same time I had been playing guitar and singing with two uncles that were 10 years older than me since I was 5, by high school I didn't even bat an eye if they started into a song I had never heard. By that time I could learn it on the fly and never look back. By the 3rd or 4th time we played it I was good to go.

Learn what chords fit together in whatever key the song starts in. A, for example...90% of the time you're working with A, D and E. That's I, IV, V in the Nashville numbering system. G, same thing, G C and D. Again I, IV , V.

You don't say what type stuff you're into, but consider this one. John Fogerty, Rockin all over the World.


It's in D, easy chord progression, D, G, D, A, D. That's I, IV, I, V, I. Hear how simple his lead is? And it sounds great. Main thing to remember starting out is this...

KISS...Keep It Simple, Stupid...

Get the simple things to start with, and if the guys you jam with have any sense, they won't be throwing any Kansas or Rush tunes at a beginner...Find some pretty simple songs you might be able to play a little, learn them by ear and get to know where the chord progression is going before it gets there. That's the key to playing lead, learn to be the best rhythm player you can and know where the chord progression is going before it gets there. Once you do it for a while you'll be able to play without thinking about it.

And practice in the dark so your hands know where they're going, that will help you get to the point you don't have to think about it to play, your hands already know where the chord is.

If your friends are already trying to jam with you they probably already know you're having problems and still doing it so they apparently don't have a problem with it. That's a good thing. No need to be embarrassed or intimidated, start simple and if you make a mistake so what, we've all been there. I've been playing since 1960 and still make mistakes onstage and in the practice room on a regular basis. The guys laugh at me and we start over. I do the same thing when they screw up. But onstage we don't let it show, we just play right through as if it never happened.

Get them to go with some simple stuff, if they still are jamming with you and know it's an issue they don't mind, so just roll with it.
Hmmm...I wonder what this button does...
Last edited by Paleo Pete at Feb 25, 2015,