How to run a worship jam session

How to run a worship jam session

Jason Chollar wrote us a great post last week on the idea of jam sessions for worship teams. The photo shows one at his church (the drummers are out of sight in the biggest drum booth ever). One of the questions that came in as a result of this is “Sounds great – but what do you actually do at a jam session”. Here Jason explains all:

Jamming is just a term for an informal music making session.  I’ve been doing them for years at my church though, so let me walk you through how mine works.

Jesus And Music
In the very beginning I advertized our JAM time as a cute little acronym for Jesus And Music.  Not sure if I heard that somewhere or came up with it, but feel free to steal it and make it your own if you want.

We have a weekly JAM session that is open to the public and do indeed have mostly jr./sr. high kids, but we also do have some brave parental types who join in, usually with some experience already.  Many of the kids have little to no experience.  I try to recruit some of my older players with more experience to help, which makes it WAY better. They are often willing to come to give back, because this is how they learned.

When? How long?
We do it after school on Wednesday afternoons for 1 hour (right before Worship Team Dinner and Practice).

Right in the main worship center (sanctuary, …)

See my other blog post:
Jammin your way to a better worship band

Very Size and group specific
Because the meeting is usually a fairly small group (anywhere from 2 to 20) I tailor the meeting specifically to that group.  If everyone already knows each other and knows all the instruments, I skim through the first sections and do more in depth teaching or go straight to the instruments.

1. Introduction to what JAM is
I start out calling everyone to join me in a sitting circle and pray, and then talk about what JAM is: a time to explore this wonderful gift God has given us called music.  I then take 2 or 3 minutes (or 5 or 10 depending on the week) and explain some basic theology and teaching on music.  I’ll explain that in another post.

2.  Introduction to each other
Then I have people introduce themselves to one another, often with questions like:

-Name – Age and – One of your favorite bands (so we get to know each other a little musically as well).  Depending on how many people there are you may have to move quickly through this or you’ll never get to making music!

3. Picking instruments
Now this might scare you, but this is how we do it.  I explain that the Kingdom of God works upside down from the law of the jungle, so first timer’s and new people and younger people get first pick.  So I change it up a a little to make it fair, but first timers get first pick of the instruments and can pick anything they want: any of the instruments up on the platform.  I have had our church over the years buy basic, no frills but decent instruments so we have drums, piano, keys, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and then I even have people run sound and words on the screen.  And of course singers.  And if we have extra’s you can always add another acoustic guitar or djembe or cajon or shaker egg anything else people bring.

4. Your existing Worship Team as Coaches/Teachers/Trainers
If you can swing it, get as many of your experienced, regular worship team players to be there to assist.  For example, your bass player can help train anyone who wants to play bass.  If no one does, he can just play!  If you don’t have anyone who knows how, buy a bass anyway and let them play around with it and buy the beginner DVD on They’ll be off and running in no time.  As a matter of fact, getting your church a library of videos that you can lend out to potential players is a GREAT idea and a wonderful investment for your church.  Once someone has watched it, have them bring it back and send home with the next guy.  Also, we regularly cross train one another on the worship team.  There isn’t anybody on my team who hasn’t had to at least try all of the instruments we have once.  You never know!

5. Start with a click right away if you can.
I have a whole blog post (which we’re going to publish at Musicademy in the next couple of weeks) on the advantages and how to’s of playing with a click, but my advice is to hook up some kind of metronome (laptop, ipod app, dedicated little electronic device almost like a guitar tuner, …) and blare that puppy right throw your mains and monitors and have everyone count along: 1, 2, 3, 4  …..

6. Start SIMPLE!
Pick an easy, easy, well known song.  Like Revelation song (D, Am, C, G) or How He Loves (C, Am, G, F)

These two songs for example have the same chord pattern over and over for the whole song.  You don’t even really need a chordchart, although it’s really helpful to have those for everyone, and even to have a leadsheet (with melody line written out with those little black spots with flags up against 5 straight lines…. you know?) just in case you have someone with some training or an instrument that really needs those (flute, violin, trumpet…)  Songselect service provided by CCLI here in the states has the ability to print out lead sheets (with melody) and it’s transposable, which is awesome for when you have someone show up with an instrument that is built in a funky key (Eb or Bb Sax for example, …)  Then you can print it out in their key as well and they can play along just fine.

Other songs I have used: I could sing of your love forever (D, Em, G, A for everything but the bridge, so just forget about the bridge until later) or Every move I make (G, C, D, C with the same bridge issue) or there are plenty of songs that are fairly well known that have chord changes that don’t move too fast (How Great is our God, Forever, etc…)

The main thing is to keep it simple and fairly repetitive.

7. Make it even simpler if you have to!
Forget about playing whole chords.  On the piano/keys, have them play just one note at a time instead of the whole chord.  Same on guitar (think power chords with just 1 note).  Once they’ve mastered that, then think about trying to move up to chords. It’s not uncommon for me to actually ask my keyboard player to just play 1 note (maybe 2) on a nice long lasting ooozing pad sound for live playing on Sunday mornings and anyone can learn to do this.  Same on bass.  Just about anybody can learn to do it with little previous experience.  Stand there and point to the spot where they should put their fingers and call it out right before they should play it.  Seriously, anyone can do this.

Drums are probably the hardest, but if they are really struggling to play a basic Kick and Snare and … backbeat, then just have them play the “we will rock you” pattern on the kick and snare: kick kick snare, …. kick , kick, snare … Stadiums filled with people can do this.  I’m sure you and your team can learn to do it too.  And you can use that basic beat for just about every worship song there is (unless it’s in 3/4 or 6/8 or something).  And voila… they’re off and running.

8. Start SLOW
Who cares how fast the song really goes. At first you just go through the notes one at a time without even the click or anything, to make sure everyone knows which 4 places they are going to put their fingers and in which order.  Then try it at a really slow tempo.  If you can do it repeatedly and correctly at a slow pace, then move up the tempo a little at a time until you get to the tempo it should actually be at.  Be patient. You’ll get there!

9. Celebrate every little success
If you made it through the whole song very slowly and got half of the notes right, celebrate and then do it again and see if you can get a few more right notes the next time around.  Just taking the risk to actually step out and play a new instrument can be a daunting task, so shower beginners with praises just for trying.

10. Send ‘em home to practice up for the next JAM Session
Send them home with music, find some way for them to borrow an instrument from aunt Hilda and tell them to practice up for next week.

One final note… be prepared for it to sound terrible at first (that’s pretty much a given) but have fun anyway!   At first it all sounds disorganized and messy.  But be patient and give it some time and practice and have fun with it and you’ll be making beautiful music in no time!

Another way to think of it is this: give free group music lessons to whoever is willing to keep showing up and eventually you will have some great players at your disposal!

I know another church who started doing this in town too and now they have most of their worship team that came from these jam sessions too.

Have you done this before?  How has it worked in your church?

I’d love to hear!


Click through to Jason’s blog for more great articles