Jamming by yourself on the guitar is probably one of the most fun things that you can do as a guitar player and as a musician. Admittedly, it’s not as fun as playing along with other people, but it’s still a great time. I feel the same way as Rick Beato, the producer-turned-YouTuber, who says that he finds practicing more enjoyable than producing sometimes.
He made a video all about how much he loves to noodle around and I share that sentiment for the most part. I love practicing the guitar sometimes more than even creating music. It’s just fun, maybe because it’s an active form of meditation that takes your mind off things. If you’re new, you might not be sure where to start; just know there are a few different ways of going about it.
To jam on guitar by yourself, you can play along to a backing track, a drummer track like what’s in Garageband, you can play along to popular songs on streaming services, radio stations, CDs, and vinyl; you can make your own loops in a DAW, or you can use a Looper Pedal like the MXR Clone Looper.
Obviously, there is more than one way of jamming on your own, however, I would say my favorite way of doing so is using either a looper pedal like MXR’s Clone Looper, playing along to popular songs from Spotify, or creating my own drum loops in Garageband. I also find myself jamming over chord progressions and melodies that I’ve used for the foundation of a song I’m working on. Let’s talk more about how to do all of this.
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What Tools You Need To Jam By Yourself on Guitar
The following list of tools is all of the things that I use to jam on my own. Which one I use depends on how I’m feeling at the time, but I would say that I mostly use the MXR Clone Looper pedal (which I got for a good price on Amazon), songs I’ve made in Garageband, or a metronome.
1) MXR Clone Looper Pedal
Using a looper pedal is one of those tips – (that I’ve discussed in other blog posts including this one) – that can really make a big difference in your understanding of music theory, harmony, and rhythm. And to top that all off, it’s just great creative purposes and having fun.
It allows you to create an instant jam track, or you can use it to see how different notes sound over chords. I couldn’t recommend it enough. There are a lot of looper pedals on the market but this is the one that I bought, and for 2 reasons: it’s simple and it works.
Looper pedals like the Boss RC-500 (also on Amazon) are really cool and they have a ton of features. I have no doubt they’re probably great for live performances and for people who are very familiar with pedals, however, for jamming purposes, a simple unit like the Clone Looper is more than enough.
I find the Clone Looper pedal has all of the features I need, including 6 minutes of loop time, the ability to add more and more dubs to one single loop (my guide to overdubs), reverse looping, in addition to the volume control on the playback. In fact, even this pedal is more than I need.
I only use the Volume knob on it to control the volume of the playback as well as the Record and Play buttons. You don’t necessarily have to get this particular looper pedal if you don’t want it, obviously, but you are making a mistake if you don’t at least have some type of looper pedal or technology that makes it easier to jam and improvise.
2) A Metronome
You probably already knew this item was coming, but a metronome like this one from Amazon is always worth talking about because it’s such a useful tool. A long time ago, my brother bought me a metronome as a way of telling me that I needed to work on my timing, and at the time, I thought he was just being rude, but over the years I’ve realized that he was right.
I really did need to work on my timing, and I always try and play along to at least some type of pulse. If you’re like me and you still need to work on your timing, then a metronome is pretty much an essential tool, although, let’s be real, I still noodle all of the time without one too.
If you’re not used to using a metronome (I have a guide on here on how to use one), you’ll find it pretty difficult because you won’t be accustomed to actually playing the chords or notes that you normally do in a way that’s rhythmically consistent with a time signature.
That’s exactly why a metronome or some other kind of time-keeping device is important. A pulse and a rhythm are part of what makes it sound like music to other people’s ears.
3) Garageband’s Drummer Track (Drummer Loops)
You don’t necessarily have to use Garageband’s drummer track because you can use other drum loops, samples, or VSTs if you want to. I also find that playing along to a drummer, even though it’s not a real person, is a lot more fun than playing along to just a metronome.
You can play along to all kinds of modifiable patterns including a switch to a different genre altogether. In my opinion, playing along to a drummer track in this way is actually how you get yourself to play music rather than merely playing the guitar.
There’s a difference between the two. As I said earlier and I’ll say it again, having some kind of rhythmic backdrop is actually how you get your riffs, melodies, and ideas to sound like music to other people, including to yourself if you record it and listen back to it.
4) Music Players like Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, CDs, Vinyl, and the Radio
Another great way to jam on the guitar by yourself is to listen to your favorite songs on your player of choice (I use Apple Music and Spotify) and play along to them. First, figure out the key signature of the song using my guide here and then understand what kind of scales and arpeggios you could play over it.
How you go about this is really up to you, but I usually use Apple Music and Spotify these days, as I don’t even own an analog music player anymore like a CD or vinyl record player. One thing that’s super important when doing this, however, is to record yourself playing, because you want to be able to hear what your music actually sounds like.
Obviously, it’s not like you have to record yourself playing along to it all of the time, but it’s wise to do it a good portion of the time because I find that it’s easy to think that what you’re playing sounds amazing, but then when you listen back to it, you realize it doesn’t sound as good as you thought.
It’s really kind of a weird phenomenon because you don’t think that would be the case. But it does make sense because you’re not actually paying as much attention to how the playing sounds with the music as you think you are. You’re more focused on your technique and playing style, and not how that style and technique actually sounds in the context of the music.
5) Sample Packs and Backing Tracks
Some people actually sell backing tracks that you can play along to, including JTC, JamPlay (one of my favorites which you can sign up for here), and many others. These are just pre-recorded pieces of music where every instrument is there except the lead guitar, which practically begs you to fill it in. Using backing tracks can be a lot of fun, and I recommend doing so.
Samples and Loops that can be found either with platforms like Loopmasters or just in Garageband’s Apple Loops is another way to get cool bass lines, drum loops, and other patterns to jam over, and the nice thing about Apple Loops is you won’t have to pay for them.
Additionally, there are quite a few backing tracks available for free on YouTube, including ones that are made with some of the most common chord progressions like ii-V-I. This particular jazz backing track video (on YouTube) runs through the progression I just mentioned in every single key. It’s one of my favorites.
How to Jam By Yourself On The Guitar
1) Playing Along to a Metronome
Playing along to a metronome isn’t that hard. Each point on the marker designates how fast the tick will oscillate back and forth relative to a certain BPM (beats-per-minute). The metronome that I own and you can see in the image above starts at 40 and goes up to 208.
To play guitar along to a metronome, set the speed with the clamp according to the BPM designations on the left and right-hand sides of the needle. Pay attention to the way you play the notes on and in between the ticks of the metronome, and increase the speed when you’re totally comfortable.
You won’t need any more than 208 or less than 40, because anything slower than 40 or faster than 208 is pretty much impossible to play along to. One tip I’ll share with you is to always have your metronome somewhere close to where you actually play your guitar.
In my apartment, a lot of my gear is spread out and stashed away because I don’t have space. However, I’ll have my metronome either sitting on my amp or on the coffee table in front of my amp at all times. I do this because if I don’t see it, I won’t use it. It’s as simple as that.
One thing I will say about using a metronome is that it’s the least fun thing on this list. I use it for when I’m too lazy to put on a backing track or a music player, or if I’m too lazy to turn on my amplifier and my looper pedal (it can also be due to the fact it’s late at night as well and I don’t want to disturb people).
Tip: In the case where you struggle to play something with the metronome, just slow it down and start over. There’s no sense in rushing it, although, it’s easier said than done to put this into practice. It’s a pretty common tendency to either rush or lag
2) Playing Along to a Backing Track
This is where things actually start to get fun because playing along to backing tracks is a pretty good time. The ii-V-I backing track I showed you earlier is a great way of just playing along to a song and enjoying yourself. You can use it to practice some ideas you’ve been working on lately, or you can use it to practice harmonies and arpeggios.
One thing I like to do a lot is use the YouTube to mp3 converter and then I drag and drop the mp3 file into Garageband. I do this for a few reasons: 1) to have better control of the volume, 2) to be able to pan it, and lastly – and probably the most important – 3) to loop certain sections.
In the image that you can see where I have Blue Cat Audio’s Axiom loaded up (my favorite Amp Sim from Plugin Boutique), I have that very same ii-V-I chord progression that I showed you earlier except it’s loaded into Garageband in mp3 format. Now, I can loop it in any way that I want, or turn the volume way down or up.
You could also slow down the track considerably if you wanted to use the audio editing function. An advantage of these too is that there are tons of these online, in addition to the ability to use things like a drone track which we’ll talk about later.
3) Playing Along to a Drum Loop
This is probably one of the most common ways that I’ll practice playing the guitar when I’m actually trying to have a good time with it. I’ll usually use Garageband’s Drummer Track to find something cool, and then I’ll adjust things like the syncopation (via the sing button) as well as things like the half-time option to experiment with different rhythms and patterns.
To jam on guitar with Garageband’s drummer track, use the shortcut (Option + Command + U) to bring it up and then select your parameters in the drummer region. Use the count-in button to ensure you have adequate time to get ready to start playing.
One tip for doing this is to extend the bars on the drummer track so it’s really long, that way you don’t have to keep pressing play and starting over from the beginning. Another thing that you can do is you can just loop it as I showed you earlier. Also, chop and cut up the drummer track in different sections and tempos if you want to (by the way, I have a whole guide on this very topic).
4) Playing Along to Popular Songs from Music Players, ie, Spotify, CDs, the Radio, or Vinyl
Playing along to Spotify, the radio, or your favorite albums is a great way to jam and enjoy yourself while doing it. What’s nice about this is how quick it is, and it’s also really useful for practicing your ear for time signatures, chord progressions, and more.
To jam along to songs, whether it’s from Spotify, the radio, or LPs, first, find out the key signature of the song. It would be helpful to find the chords for improvisational purposes, however, it’s not entirely necessary with modern music because much of it isn’t harmonically complex.
What I mean by that is that modern pop songs rarely use non-diatonic chords which is just a fancy way of saying chords outside of the key or scale. You also won’t hear chords like A7b9 or Diminished 7ths that often, for better or for worse. While one could argue this isn’t great for music, in general, these songs are great for beginners to improvise over.
If you’re anything like me, what’s easiest and most accessible is usually what you’ll go with in terms of practicing. And playing along to a music player is one of these things. You could use Loopback like I showed on my other website to record songs straight out of the player and then slow them down, decrease the volume, etc.
5) Using a Looper Pedal like the MXR Clone Looper
One of my favorite things to do when I’m playing the guitar is jamming along to little melodies and chord progressions that I’ve created with the Looper pedal. To use the MXR Clone Looper, you have to press the Record button the moment that you start playing the phrase that you want to put on loop. If you press Record at the perfect time, the loop will be seamless.
I’ll admit that there is definitely somewhat of a learning curve when it comes to using the Clone Looper. I imagine it’s not much different when using other pedals as well. Another important tip for using this device is that you want to end the loop right at the end of the phrase that you’re playing.
In other words, if your riff, melody, or chord progression is 4 bars, you want to hit the play button right as the 4th bar is ending. In the tutorial video that I shared above, you’ll see how I’ve done this. However, I haven’t quite mastered how to play a progression along to a metronome and then have the loop stay in time with the metronome.
You can also use the looper pedal to create a pulse as if it’s a metronome. There are a lot of things that you can do with this.
6) Playing Along to a Drone Track
To play guitar along to a drone track, load up a software instrument track like the String Movements soundscape in Garageband and then loop that note. Drone tracks are very easy to play over because they’re usually just one note or chord, although, they can be more.
In case you don’t know, drone tracks are what they sound like: it’s a drone, usually of one single note. I find drone tracks are the most useful for practicing things like modes. For example, if you play the notes of C Major over an E note, you’ll get a Phrygian tonality.
The Best Way to Think About Jamming In Solitude
The best way to think about jamming by yourself on the guitar is to think of yourself as playing with other musicians at all times. You can mimic the presence of other musicians in a number of ways, including with a metronome, with Garageband’s drummer track, with backing and drone tracks, and all of the things that I mentioned earlier.
Whenever I play by myself, I try to do one of two things:
1) jam along to a pulse, backing track, AI drummer, or song,
2) or I practice along to a Guitar Pro file. Frankly, I do enough noodling on the guitar as it is, and it’s a habit that I try to avoid as much as possible.
Although, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with just messing around either. In fact, I think a lot of great ideas come from noodling. The issue for me at this point, however, is that noodling has become the entirety of how I play the guitar for extended periods of time throughout my life, which is obviously not a great thing.
Even worse is that much of this noodling was done without an amplifier so I wasn’t able to hear the excess string noise, muted notes, and other imperfections as clearly as I thought. I wasn’t even aware of them. This is another reason why I couldn’t recommend recording yourself playing enough.
I do so quite frequently, even when I’m playing along to a Guitar Pro file (Guitar Pro from Plugin Fox is another one of those great tools that every guitar player should have).
It’s insane how many of your mistakes and imperfections are not even audible to oneself while playing the guitar (my guide on scales will also help with this) . You get finished shredding something that you think sounds awesome, but then when you hear it played back, it’s a nightmare.
Anybody who has ever tried to record a guitar lick that they’ve been messing around with for ages without keeping time knows what I’m talking about. It’s way harder to lay down a track alongside a rhythm section than you think. It’s easier to be a hero in your own mind than in the world.
The Most Useful Music Theory for Guitar Jams
Music theory is one of those topics that scares a lot of people for really no good reason. I think a big part of the reason why is that guitar players have spread a fair amount of misinformation on the internet and it has effectively scared people away from the topic.
Contrary to what a lot of people believe, you don’t need to be some kind of music theory aficionado or Beethoven reincarnate to understand important musical concepts. Different people approach this topic in different ways, but here is how I approached it. In other words, there are two ideas that helped me a lot.
1) The C Major Scale Is the Scale By Which Other Scales Are Compared or Created
This means that if you just think of the C Major scale as the scale on which most of western music theory is built, it suddenly starts to make a lot more sense, and you begin seeing parallels and similarities all over the place. One such example is the Melodic Minor scale.
The Melodic Minor scale is just a Major scale but with the third lowered. And that’s all it is. If you just understand what the Major scale is and you know the modes of it, everything gets a lot easier to understand. Perhaps the greatest and most easy-to-digest example of this is the minor pentatonic scale.
The pentatonic scale is just 5 notes of the minor scale. “Penta” means “5.” The minor pentatonic that all guitar players just love to use is just 5 notes of the Minor scale. Let’s use another example.
Modes, More Specifically, Mode Shapes of the Major Scale
The Dorian mode is the second mode of the Major scale. This means that if you play the notes of C Major, starting from D, and ending on D, you have the notes of D Dorian. Playing those notes won’t necessarily sound very Dorian unless you’re playing the notes over a D minor chord, which is the second chord of C Major, but that’s not important right now.
So once you know what the modes are, in this case, the Dorian mode, when someone tells you that the 4th mode of the Harmonic Minor scale is Dorian #4, you know that it’s basically just the Dorian scale shape but with a sharp-4th. Additionally, when you know what the Phrygian mode is (it’s the 3rd mode of the Major scale), if someone tells you that the 5th mode of Harmonic Minor is Phrygian natural-3rd, it’s just the Phrygian mode with the third note raised by one semi-tone.
A good way of explaining what I’m trying to say is the following: the more music theory you learn, the more it all starts to make sense because the knowledge is compounding. Understanding the modes of the major scale is going to help you learn the Harmonic Minor scale.
Knowing the Harmonic Minor scale is going to help you learn the Melodic Minor scale, and knowing those is going to help you learn the Harmonic Major scale, and so on. And then from there, you’ll have a massive body of scales and modes that you understand simply by learning the major scale and the modes of it.
2) Knowing Intervals and Arpeggios
Furthermore, once you figure out what intervals are, you now have the tools to identify chords and make them seem less like an alien language. For instance, “Bbmaj7add9” looks really scary. But really it’s just a major 7th chord starting on Bb, and with a 9th note of the B Major scale added to it. The notes of that scale are Bb-D-F-A-C.
As I’ve explained before in my guide on why chords are named the way they are, arpeggios are just notes of the chord but played in succession, rather than all at once. Once you understand what the scales are, and how chords are built from the scales, you then can also learn how easy it is to learn arpeggios and apply them or make your own.
For learning arpeggios, I would say knowing the major, minor, dominant 7th, diminished, m7b5, and a couple of extended minor and major chords is all you’d really need, but I digress. Really understanding these two principles reasonably well has made a big difference in my understanding of music, however, I’m still learning.
How Do You Jam With Other People On Guitar?
To jam with other people on guitar, by far the most important thing to understand is what key they’re playing in. This will be your guiding light because so much can be understood simply by knowing what key it is. Once you know what chords they’re using, you now have all of the information you need.
Every scale has 7 notes in it and using those same notes, every note of the scale can be used to build minor, major, dominant, diminished, and in some cases, augmented triads. Knowing the order of these major and minor chords will give you an idea of what chords sound good in that key, and if you know the arpeggiated versions of those chords, you have quite a bit of pragmatic knowledge ready to apply.
How Do You Jam On Guitar With Confidence?
The best way to feel confident about yourself when jamming on the guitar is to practice regularly and to believe in what you’re playing. If you’re confident about what you’re playing, other people will see that and they’re more likely to appreciate your performance as well.
Another way to feel confident about yourself is to practice constantly. Practice doesn’t make perfect contrary to what many people say, but if you practice all of the time, you’ll get better and better at it, assuming you’ve gotten the proper guidance. This brings me to my next point.
How Do I Get Better At Guitar Jams?
To get better at guitar improvisation and jamming, you want to record yourself to make sure that what you’re playing sounds good, and you want to practice every day. Alongside learning with a great teacher, a lot can be accomplished with focused effort and a daily routine.
There are a number of ways to improve at playing the guitar but repeated practice under the guidance of a teacher and/or with a proper practice plan is the best way to make improvements fast. A lot can be done on your own, moreover, most of your practice will be on your own time, but a person needs other people to get better at a skill.
How Do You Jam On The Guitar Over Chords?
Jamming over guitar chords is fairly straightforward (more on that in my guide), although, the more complicated the chord voicing and the more non-diatonic chords there are in the chord progression, the harder they are to play over.
For simple major, minor, and dominant chords, knowing the key is probably enough for you to jam over the chords, but as the progressions get more sophisticated including non-diatonic harmony, your music theory knowledge will have to grow more sophisticated as well.
Also, you want to pay attention to the notes of the triad and find notes that go with it. For instance, playing the root note of a chord can often sound boring and interesting, but if you play the 7th of the same chord, it can add something cool.
Important Things to Note About Jamming By Yourself
1) You’ll Make the Most Progress By Jamming With Others and a Teacher
Maybe it’s a thing among other musicians as well, but from what I’ve seen, the idea I’m about to talk about seems to affect guitar players the most. I think a lot of us have the idea that we are an island and we can become awesome players on our own.
While that may be true for a short while, there will be a point where you have to get a teacher to fix mistakes that you’re not seeing and to put things into a proper perspective when you’re not thinking about them in the right way. All of the things I mentioned here are great ways to practice and have as a player.
But all of the things in combination with an awesome instructor and also other musicians to play with is even better because you’ll learn so much from other people.
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2) Boss RC-500