How do I know I'm ready to play in a blues jam setting live?

Hi, sorry if this is not the right topic to post the question.

Blues jams have been my long-term ambition and I’ve been practising blues for more than a year. But I feel lost as to what to learn to be prepared for a first blues jam.

What I know/can do:

  • What 12-bar blues progression, turnaround, quick change
  • I can play a basic shuffle in any key
  • I know 7th chords with roots in 5th and 6th strings
  • I can play along blues shuffle songs like Sweet Home Chicago, How Many More Years etc.

Here is what I tried, where I’m puzzled, and my questions in bold:

  • I read and watched every result on Google and Youtube. The information there is mostly about what not to do, etiquette etc. Specific information about what to learn seems to be a bit lacking.

  • According to the internet, I can learn 7th chords, learn to play 12-bar progression and I’m ready to go. But I went to blues Jams and spoke to a couple of different jam leaders. One of them told me to “learn my A blues and E blues” but did not give much more specific information than that (hard to hold a detailed conversation in jams due to noise and they tend to be busy). The other said I should be able to play almost all styles, like shuffle, swing, slow, etc. in any key.

  • Now that feels very hard to do. I can’t even find a list of blues styles (or find very long lists). How can I figure out what specific chords/rhythms to learn?

  • A discouragement for me is: I do not see any beginner (or even intermediate) players (also the case when I go to Jams). Everyone sounds professional and seems to know how to play that specific song really well. So it is hard to gauge how much worse than that would be acceptable.

  • Another thing I’m trying is to try and play along to various blues jam recordings on Youtube. This is what discourages me the most because when I try playing basic 7th chords along to them, it almost never works well. Most songs have a specific way to sound the way they are. Replacing them with 7th chords does not sound good to me at all. How do I figure out a few ways to play that could work for most songs?

  • I also spoke to other players in these jams. The advice they gave me was “You are over-exaggerating. You are probably fine. Learn a couple of songs, and come and say you want to play them”. But there are a couple of problems with this advice:

  • In all jams I’ve been to, people play at least 4-5 songs on the stage. No group gets off stage after only 2 songs. So I do not see how learning “a couple” of songs could work.

  • Secondly, if I’m not singing and calling the songs, I surely cannot say it will only be songs I know to play, right? I should be able to play 4-5 songs the singer of that group specifically wants to sing. So, as long as I’m not singing, it is not up to me which songs my group will play. Is this correct?

  • Finally, there’s always more than one guitar. If I only know how to play a shuffle on the low notes, what do I do if the other guitarist starts to play the same register as me? Do not I need to know how to play each style in at least two different ways?

Sorry for the long wall of text. I was unable to clarify the answers so far and the uncertainty is holding me back to step up and try my first blues jam. Would appreciate any information that would clarify these for me.


I agree with the guy that told you to learn a couple of songs and then ask to join in. Go to a few of these jams and write down the songs that are played. Learn the rhythm. You said you know the shuffle in E and A so that’s the best place to start. Keep talking to the jammers and let them know you would like to join in at some point.
You need to remember every one of those players where in your shoes at some point. There will probably be a couple of egos there but most will be easy going and willing to give you a chance.
Also show up early, its easier to talk to people before the jam starts. They may even let you up on stage but want you to play very quietly or with your sound off. This is to help you get into the groove, make mistakes and have fun without drawing attention to any mistakes.
Have fun and try not to be to nervous


I agree with everything stitch said. I certainly don’t agree with the guy saying you should be able to play all styles. Join in on the styles you like and are confident with and just sit there quietly on the ones you don’t know.

From what you’ve described about your abilities you are well and truly ready to join in. You won’t be one of the lead players as in those super stars we are all in awe of at jams until you get more confidence.

When I went to my first jams everyone was really encouraging and patient. Those weren’t blues jams but blues were welcome. Soon I found a meetup group that had monthly blues jams and they were also very welcoming. As far as they were concerned, the more the merrier.

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Hey @tony @stitch, thanks a lot for taking the time to reply.

The guy who said I should be able to play many styles in all keys was the jam lead (frontman of the house band), so he was the decision maker as to who played that night (he was very friendly and helpful otherwise).

In terms of learning a couple of songs and going, I can play 6-7 popular blues songs already - basically the same shuffle rhythm in different keys - but surely I do not get to call those songs if I’m not singing do I?

@stitch I indeed tried to make a note of songs that were played by going to same place multiple times. The challenge is - how do I know which song they are playing?

On the typical 2 hours I spent there (I went a few times to listen), what I observed was: The jam leader announces the next group, that group goes on stage, plays 5-6 songs, and then is replaced by the next group. I did not know many of these songs, and nor did I recognise them.

I’m sure people will be friendly and welcoming but I’m afraid of not being able to keep up with one or more of those 5-6 songs while my group is on stage.

To clarify - the jams I’ve been to are played to a public audience (customers of the bars) rather than musicians coming together to make some music.

My view is that would depend on the jam. Not singing does make it a little harder.

With the way you described how the jam leader announces the next group, etc, it sounds more like an open mic that has people jamming along so the dynamics there are a bit different.

The jams I’ve gone to and been referring to in my response were more informal. We sat in a circle and each person got a turn to lead a song (or pass if they weren’t comfortable) and when it came to each person they would usually announce the name of the song and often say which key it was in.

I have been to more informal jams where someone not singing would not cause any issues or concerns. The more jams you go to in your locale the more people you’ll meet and you’ll find you really connect with some and they’ll help you out either by singing for you and telling you who to ask (before hand) if they’ll sing for you.

Here is an example from one:

Are these bands that are going up or guys getting together?
This looks like a improve or jam band style. They aren’t playing any specific song more of an improve (jazz like).
Does any one get up with the house band and play or sing? The one jam I use to go to you could get up and play with the house band without singing and someone would get up and sing.
Mustang Sally was really popular with a couple of the girls that sang but didn’t play any instruments.
I can see why the jam leader said what he did. It’s hard to just get up with straingers and jump right in if your not familiar with their style.

Most of the jams I go to now are what Tony discribed more acoustics and either go up on stage with the house band or sit around table in the bar taking turns playing.

It is 4 or 5 (if singer does not play an instrument) strangers going up to play.

I only saw house bassist once filling in for lack of a bass player.

I think, since most have tons of experience and frequent goers, most know the songs like back of their hands and probably used to playing with each other too. I did not see any inexperienced players there.

Another jam I went to was like you described - get up and join the house band. In that one, the house band was so ridiculously good (I later found they caught some fame in the past) that although a guitarist who went up there was a lot better than me, he sounded comically amateur among them. That one felt even more frightening to try.

Hmm, I chose a bad video to post. It is normally blues songs played. Here is another one: