Making Music – Tales of Playing Well With Others from our Guitar Noise Readers

Compiled and edited by David Hodge

Guitar Noise has always been a website where anyone with access to the Internet can learn about playing the guitar, bass (or banjo!), about music theory and a host of other things. But while you’re learning and playing, we want to also encourage you to get out and play music with other people as well. If you get a thrill simply playing your guitar, then just imagine what you’ll feel when you’re making music with your friends and sharing that music with others.

We’ll be posting stories, thoughts and tips about “Playing Well With Others” throughout 2005 and we encourage you to share your experiences and ideas with all our readers. You can send them to me at [email protected] and I will get them up online.

Sharing music is what Guitar Noise is all about and what better way to do so than to help give a little encouragement to someone?

And, just as a side note, unless someone tells me otherwise, I’ll simply post up first names or initials of the contributors.



From our own Nick Torres, Guitar Noise writer and Forum Moderator:

I was talking to David a couple of days ago when he asked if I would write something about playing guitar with others.

Well sure, why not?

It turns out that it’s easier said than done.

Why is that? What makes this a difficult topic to write about?

I pondered this question for a while. Blank paper stared at me. I couldn’t take the first step. I didn’t want to expose myself to ridicule. I didn’t want the rest of the Guitar Noise community to think I was a weirdo, or insecure, or too sensitive. I didn’t want to write something I really felt uncomfortable sharing. I’m sure that you already know all of the stuff I would write anyway. I just don’t know enough to make it worth reading. I’ve really just got nothing to offer to you.

Wait a minute! Those are the very same reasons I gave myself for not playing with others.

  1. “Blank paper stared at me.” Lack of inertia is the hardest thing to overcome. Make a commitment to yourself to find a playing partner or a “porch players” group by a certain date. Mark it on your calendar or day timer. That’s how I started writing this.
  2. “I couldn’t take the first step.” Closely related to Number 1 above. Start small if you feel uncomfortable in groups. Find one friend or neighbor and just jam. Find a group if you just want to lurk and feel uncomfortable one on one. Have an opening line prepared, like “I’ve been playing for six months, a year, whatever, and I was looking for someone to jam with.” That way you can let the other person know your relative skill level without degrading yourself.
  3. “I didn’t want to expose myself to ridicule.” Everybody fears this. But keep in mind jamming isn’t a contest. You don’t need to bring something to dazzle, just be honest about your ability. You can play open chords all evening long and if someone asks you to solo, just say “I’ll pass for now.”
  4. “I didn’t want the rest of the Guitar Noise community to think I was a weirdo, or insecure, or too sensitive.” Again, this is closely related to the previous reason for procrastination, but when you are in a room with a bunch of people who have come to jam, you are amongst like-minded individuals. These people know how you feel. Once you start, you’ll get a great sense of belonging to a very supportive group and your fears will melt away.
  5. “I didn’t want to write something I really felt uncomfortable sharing.” I’m not an expert on the psyche of the budding guitarist. I’m not a professional writer. I’m not an expert on group dynamics. I’m not a professional guitar player. But I know how to jam. By the way, nobody at a jam wants a flashy know-it-all, show-off, egomaniacal guitarist anyway. The first time anyone plays with a group of strangers they feel uncomfortable. You are no exception.
  6. “I’m sure that you already know all of the stuff I would write anyway.” Hey look, if the guitarists you jam with already know all the stuff you would play anyway, that is fantastic. Think of all the material you could play.
  7. “I just don’t know enough to make it worth reading.” You may think you don’t know enough to play with others, but I guarantee you do. If you can play open chords and strum you’ve got enough. What you don’t know, someone will be happy to show you.
  8. “I’ve really got nothing to offer to you.” You’d be surprised at how much you can teach. You’d be surprised at how much others can learn from you. I have a student who is an absolute beginner and I’ve gotten so much better at the basics of thumb position, palm muting, percussive strokes, chord changes, finger position by teaching her. Get it? By teaching her, she taught me. Everybody has something to offer. Besides, company and support are always welcome.

At the end of last summer, I traveled up to see David in the Berkshires. It was time for the annual Riverside Jam, which is usually always a blast and this past August was no exception. The “main event” on Saturday night was all twenty-five musicians playing at the Berkshire Blues Café. We started in the late afternoon and played sets for the guests and Café patrons until closing time. I played and sang until I was wiped out. We had guitarists and other musicians come in from across the country – Guitar Noise denizens, some students, college buddies, friends, spouses, just a wonderful mix of people.

But the main Riverside Jam event wasn’t the best part of the weekend for me. It was the next night when about ten of us (those who decided to leave on Monday instead of Sunday), players of all ages, sizes, styles and genders, sat around David’s fireplace and jammed. I didn’t know half of the songs, but someone would yell out the chords or hand me a sheet with the chords and lyrics and away we’d go. If I had a problem with some part of the song, someone would lean over and say, “Try it like this.”

If I wanted to sit one out and just sing, no problem. If I wanted to just shake a maraca for a while, while my fingers recovered, again no problem. No expectations, no minimum skill requirement, no egos, just an amazing time of sharing a common love, making music. Go ahead and think I’m a weirdo, but it was as close to an Across the Universe moment as I have ever been.

You owe it to yourself to get out and share with other guitarists, so that they can share with you. Go and play well with others.

From J, Guitar Noise reader in Mexico:

Hi David!

I’m a big fan of your websites and also your newsletter. It’s awesome!

Ok, trying to go straight to the point my history is the following:

I always played in bands, most of them “cover bands,” which, here in Mexico, is the most affordable way to make mo-money! And the relationship with most of my music partners was a job-like relation. One day in a rehearsal of one of those bands, I knew a bass player who was very friendly. When the rehearsal finished we talked about the music that we enjoy and things like this. After that, we talked about do a jam or something just to have fun the next day.

The next day the musical chemistry was immediately revealed… We thought in a very similar way when we’re playing, it was awesome the things that both of us were delivering to our ears.

From that day we had a lot of these type of jams, and, after the first one, we always recorded every single note that we played. Right now my friend is playing in a professional rock group very famous here in Mexico. I couldn’t do it in the way he did, due to a lot of reasons (I got married and have children now and enjoy a lifestyle different than that of my friend who is still single), BUT I’m very proud that a LOT of the jams and riffs recorded in that days, are now important parts of songs that I hear on the radio. Our jam ideas turned into things like a chorus of one song, the bridge of another and things like that.

That day I made a very good friendship with my buddy, whom I knew because the fun of jamming. You might start out playing with somebody who you don’t know very well, but strong, life-long friendships can grow out of the music. This particular experience was, in my life, one of the greatest things that ever happened.

I really think that the most of your musical growing can be done if you play/practice with somebody else, rather than playing alone, or even just playing in a band without taking the time to interact with your band-mates.

I hope you enjoy my little history and I hope it can be useful to others to encourage themselves to find the way to play/practice with somebody else, just for the fun to do it.


From Mark, Guitar Noise reader in Florida:

Hi David!

Thanks for all the work you do getting the newsletter out each week – it’s always the first thing I read right after the coffee and Sunday Paper is done!

Regarding getting musicians together: I work at a large company’s corporate headquarters with about twelve hundred people working locally. I posted a free little ad in our on-line “Marketplace,” a sort of classified ads for employees. The ad simply asked for replies from folks interested in getting together once a month for some “open-mike” style jamming.

I received fifteen replies! I arranged to use some meeting space at work for a couple of hours, once a month. I got a real kick out of the diversity of talents, influences, skills, etc. that everyone brought. Coolest of all was jammin’ with a mailroom guy, a couple of directors, a vice president, and a few of us “regular middle” guys!

The routine was basically to play a couple of regular songs we worked out, then we’d go around the circle taking turns either playing a song of choice or pointing to another musician to play a specific song of the choosers wish. And everyone would join in!

We had a great time for about six months, but we have been on hiatus since the Florida Hurricanes in August-September (the state of Florida, as well as other places, was hard hit by numerous hurricanes between August and October of 2004 – DH). We do think that it’s high time to get the Music Club cranked up again!

From Paul, Guitar Noise reader in Ohio:

A special experience, but first a little background: Each Christmas I make a CD for a handful of friends with some of my favorite songs. One of the recipients is my neighbor who is the pastor of a small church. I’ve played a handful of times at his church when they’ve been short on musicians. That they ask me to play is evidence of how short they can get, since I’ve not been playing very long. Anyway, the experience is nice, though we’re not exactly playing my favorite songs. But two weeks ago on my birthday, my neighbor asked me to bring my guitar over to his house after the Sunday service because the church pianist wanted to look at it. I wasn’t sure why, but I took it over.

When I got there, the keyboardist, lead guitarist, vocalists and my neighbor (who plays bass as well as being a pastor!) were all there. He had worked out the chords and lyrics to a half dozen of the songs off my Christmas CD, including songs by Lucinda Williams, Gordon Lightfoot, the Jayhawks, Old 97s, etc. He had passed the CD around to everyone so they could get familiar with them. We then proceeded to have a couple of beers and play “my” songs.

It was so cool to play songs I like and have them come alive. Plus, we got instant feedback from the family and friends who were listening. When we play at church, you don’t get applause. This was a first for me. We had so much fun that we’re going to do it regularly and plan to have some small “concerts” in our cul-de-sac this summer. I can’t wait!

I can attest that playing with others really helps two ways – it improves your playing AND it lets you know that yes, you can make music. What more could you want?