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The Badass Power of Musical Improvisation

Sailun Tires

When you’re on a camping trip with your buddies, or hanging out around a fire at the beach and its time for a good old fashioned guitar jam, how impressive are your skills? A lot of dudes out there know how to sing Hey Jude and Brown Eyed Girl, but once you’ve run through your small repertoire, the jam is over. What’s much more impressive is if your musical ability is honed towards musical improvisation. Especially if you have other friends who like to jam, honing improvisational skills is not only impressive to spectators, it also stretches out the amount of time that you can play for, so that you can rock the campfire all night long.

Before the 1960’s, musical improvisation was primarily practiced only by jazz musicians. Players like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis would extend their songs to allow for extensive soloing and musical improvisation. They would even distort the traditional structure of the song for their own purposes, sometimes abandoning the original chord progression altogether. In the case of some modern jazz, there isn’t even a discernable chord progression. While this atonal, experimental jazz is not for everyone, most people enjoy musical improvisations – which can be as simple as the classic guitar solo – within the structure of a rock song.

Musical Improvisation - Mike Davis

The first band to really adapt the improvisational nature of jazz into their playing was The Grateful Dead. In the 1960’s, they were invited to perform at Timothy Leary’s famous electric Kool-Aid acid tests, famously chronicled in a book of the same name by Tom Wolfe. The idea is that the band would take LSD and then perform music for people on LSD, so that everyone was on the same wavelength. A band that had previously been a traditional rock and blues outfit was transformed into a psychedelic jamming monster that gave birth to a very specific cultural nexus of musical and hippie culture.

If you want to learn to jam like Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir – or Miles Davis and Charlie Parker for that matter – you may need to enroll in music lessons and stick with them for a very long time. However, if you have a decent foundation in music and already have several songs in your repertoire, you can learn to jam instinctually. It’s about feel more than anything else, and if you can learn to trust yourself and spend lots of time developing your instincts, you can go a long way without necessarily expanding your technical knowledge.

If you and your friends work nine to five and get together regularly to knock back some beers and blow off some steam, setting up a weekly jam can be a great way to build something interesting while you’re relaxing. When you learn to jam with friends, it releases endorphins and helps you get into a flow state where your worries dissipate and you become lost in what you’re doing.

Musical Improvisation - Psychology of Music

While the psychological benefits, as well as the incredibly fun aspect of jamming recommend the activity already, imagine being able to bust out impressive jams with your friends at parties and on the beach. It’ll definitely knock the fun level up a notch – and it certainly won’t hurt with impressing prospective hookups.


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