Do You Have Holiday Jamxiety? - Jam Session Nerves

pedagogy corner Nov 17, 2021

The holidays are approaching and with that (ideally) comes opportunities to make music together, lifting spirits and connecting our festive hearts. But who’s going to start the music-making once the big holiday dinner is done?

Being the first to kickstart a jam session can be intimidating and create nerves. You want to set things off on the right foot. Come out with a song that encourages everyone to join in. Here are four things you can do to help alleviate some of that jamxiety and get that holiday singalong off to a great start!

Pick a familiar song

It goes without saying that if you want people to join in with you, you’re probably best to choose a song that most will know. Holiday time can be great for this, with lots of old standards or radio favourites.

No Jambusters!

A "jambuster" is a song that has too many chords to be easily picked up by ear (usually anything over 5 or 6 chords is a jambuster). Other jambuster hallmarks: too many words (e.g. Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" for anyone who isn't a millennial), melodies that cover a huge range (e.g. "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"... great song, but hard to sing!) and songs with unpredictable structure (e.g. "Bohemian Rhapsody" wouldn't be my first choice for an after-dinner jam with the grandparents).

If you’ve got a room full of ukulele players, you’ll likely want to choose one in a key that’s easy to play in, as well (e.g. C, G or F). Quickly review those chords with a short go-over of the main progression to get folks comfortable and 'in the zone' with the song. Now you're on your way!

Know some words 

Memorize some or most of the  lyrics so you can confidently take it through a decent amount of the song. Two verses (plus the chorus) for a minimum. Any less than that and the song will likely go belly-up after about a minute.

Make sure we can sing it

There's nothing worse than starting a song in a key we love to play in but that we can’t sing in! We all have different ranges we’re comfortable singing in. Scan your songs for their highest and lowest vocal notes and then see how they feel. Ask someone with a different vocal range to try it out, too! 

Find that courage!

Sometimes it’s tough to break the silence. But someone’s got to do it... and why not you? Take a deep breath, employ the tips above, and you’ll be well on your way to getting the music making happening this season. Here’s a reasonably easy and familiar tune to get you started: Deck the Halls.

Have fun!

P.S. Want a sweet little jazzy version in your back pocket to wow family and friends this season? Be sure to check out James' free tutorial on his jazzy version of Deck the Halls!   


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