VIDEO: The Answer teach you how to jam

The Answer show you how to jam
The Answer show you how to jam

When Total Guitar joined The Answer recently at a pre-gig jam session, we watched them write a song before our very eyes.

A high level of musicianship is key here, but simple communication skills are also vital. While they might not sound like 'skills' exactly, maintaining eye contact and nodding at your bandmates to let them know your screaming solo is about to end will help keep you together.

It's communication like this that will help guarantee you a productive jam session and a good vibe onstage - as well as helping you find the best time and space to improvise.

Three-chord riffing

The riff from The Answer's improvised song is made up of three simple chords: E5, D5 and A5. This shows that great riffs don't necessarily require massive technical ability.

Guitarist Paul Mahon and bassist Micky Waters quickly came up with their riff by adding two or three extra notes to these basic chord shapes. Check out the tab in Example 1 and you'll be able to see how Paul uses the basic E, D and A chord shapes to produce his riff.

A key part of the creative process in jam sessions is developing your riffs into new parts - this helps your song evolve. A simple approach is to repeat your initial idea in a new key (transposing into a new key), but this usually sounds quite repetitive.

Instead, try to create a textural change by altering the rhythm, introducing new chords, adding an effect or even playing a solo. After their initial riff, Paul and Micky improvised two new powerchord sections, as shown in Examples 2 and 3. Finally, Paul makes up a solo on the spot. You'll probably find that most of your jam sessions will include solos like this, and while they're great fun, they're not all that productive.

When you're rehearsing an improvised solo section, stop and listen carefully to the rest of the band - it's important that your solos sound good with the backing. You can even use the notes from the chords in your solo.

Page two: tab and chord charts

Page three: Total Guitar's top 5 jamming tips

Example 1: the riff

Paul and Micky wrote this riff by jamming together around an E, a D and an A chord, so all the notes come from these simple shapes. Watch how drummer James counts Paul in and keeps him in time as he plays through the riff at the start.

(Click tab to enlarge)

Example 2: adding extra sections

If you've written a riff you'll need to think about its place in the song. The Answer decided to add a new section after the main riff. There are no vocals at this stage so the new section could be a verse, a chorus, a bridge - any section really. Listen to how the A and D/A chords change the feel of the track.

(Click tab to enlarge)

Example 3: changeover

The next idea the guys had was to take their previous riff up to a B5 chord followed by a D5. This variation lifts the track and helps make a feature of the changeover between each section.

(Click tab to enlarge)

Example 4: the E minor pentatonic scale

Check out Paul's solo on the video. He uses the E minor pentatonic scale, which we've shown here. If you're new to using scales in your solos practise this one first then, as you gain confidence, try sliding along the string from note to note or even bending the strings.

(Click tab to enlarge)

Example 5: Paul's solo

(Click chord chart to enlarge)

Don't worry about nailing a killer solo if you're just jamming out ideas for a song. If you think about the main riffs and where they fit in the song, you can then tailor your solo so that it fits with the chords. You can practise strumming the chords too. This will get your ear accustomed to the chords and you can use notes from the chords in your solo too.

Next page: Total Guitar's top 5 jamming tips

Total Guitar's top 5 jamming tips

1. Don't worry about mistakes. Jamming is about expression and you'll be more likely to create that killer riff if you let go a little.

2. Always listen to what everyone else in your band is playing. Your music will be tighter, and your creativity will flow better too.

3. Set up your band's sound (volume settings, positioning of gear) so that everyone can be heard clearly by each band member.

4. Listen out for any 'hooks' (memorable, repeated parts) that could form choruses/ instrumental breaks in song arrangements.

5. Make sure the bassist stands on the hi-hat side of the drums. From here your bass player can lock in with the rhythm a lot more efficiently.

Chris Bird

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.