Making Music – Playing Well With Others (and other rules Mom gave you to live by)

Guitar Boy and Girl

Parents are forever telling their kids rules to live by: Play nicely with others. Look both ways before crossing the street. Share your toys. Be careful who you meet online. And certainly no self-respecting Mom would let her teenage daughter fly off to meet someone she’d met through the Internet. And yet that’s exactly what’s happened in our household, all thanks to Guitar Noise.

Now, as a variation on David Hodge’s famous disclaimer; this is just my personal experience. I certainly do not recommend hooking up with total strangers on the Internet. And I really encourage children to practice “safe surfing” and not to talk to anyone online that they don’t already know.

Having said all that, that’s where the Magic of Music comes in. As some of you may know, some years ago, a college buddy of mine asked me to write some articles for this online guitar college that he had been writing for. The site owner was looking for a different perspective on music, a take from The Other Side. OK, no problem. Well, maybe a little writer’s block now and again, but mostly no problem. I started exploring the website, in order to figure out the audience I would be writing for. One of the articles I read was on playing music with others, the theme that David is currently exploring with our readers. Entitled Music At Mary’s, it espoused the wonders of jamming with friends; how much fun it can be and how much you can learn from each other. I enjoyed the article greatly and couldn’t have agreed more with the author, Lee Budar-Danoff. I’ve learned that playing with other musicians allows you to develop different skills than playing alone. The added benefit is that the more you play (by yourself or with others), the better you get.

Since I felt so simpatico with the author, I was encouraged to get in touch with her. One thing led to another, and we decided to meet up at the Riverside Jam 2001 in Chicago. I love playing these big jams. The musicians are easy going, partly because a jam is less pressure than a performance. The audience is low key, as it consists of other musicians that have decided not to play that song, as well as friends and family. You play when you want, usually what you want, and the rest of the time you get to be an audience member and dance, or make new friendships and renew old ones. In this very supportive atmosphere, you also feel free to try songs that you may not know (music cheat sheets abound with chords and lyrics) or to learn different arrangements of familiar songs.

Lee and I got along like houses on fire. We admired each other’s guitars, taste in music and found we were even more alike in that our husbands are both bass players! A strong friendship was sparked by meeting (gasp!) through the Internet! Since that time, Lee and her husband have had babies, and at our last Riverside Jam, she brought with her a young lady, Jess, as a mother’s helper. Jess also happened to play the guitar and, when she wasn’t responsible for the toddlers in her care, participated with all the rest of us in playing. She got along famously with the other younger musicians, including my daughter, Jacqui. Both girls joined the performance night of the jam, held at a local club. Jess played her guitar and Jacqui, her saxophone. They supported each other in their music playing, as they were both among the junior-most members at the jam.

As a consequence of this event, Jacqui flew off to spend part of her winter vacation with Jess. For someone who has spent most of her kids’ Internet careers warning about the dangers of meeting strangers online, this was a remarkable feat… I kidded with my daughter about not taking up with strangers met online, while we reveled in the friendships that music and GN have brought to us.

Similarly, through GN and the Riverside Jams, I have met other musicians that I have truly enjoyed getting to know. Playing with them has been an added bonus when we have been able to get together. The congenial atmosphere is summed up best by Wes Inman, a GN member and moderator who was a new participant to the Riverside Jam in ’04: “My first impression was that everyone knew each other so well. It was more like a family reunion. That really impressed me. Also, everyone was so helpful. Everyone was offering to carry gear in.” Ironically, many of us were just meeting for the first time, or had just met the day before. The bond built by love of music and the enjoyment of playing with others created a family from these diverse folks.

Along a similar vein, I wrote a piece called Not Just Another Pretty Face a few years back. This article explored playing in a band. As I re-read my notes, I saw many similarities between the positive aspects of jamming and being in a band. The sense of community created, the creativity sparked and the joy in the creation of your “own” sound, even when playing covers, is sublime. I love reading all the stories of readers who have been inspired to get out and play, either with a small group from work, church or their neighborhood. After all, that’s what this site is all about; inspiring and encouraging people to get out and play their guitar. So, as Mom says, go on out and play nicely with others!