Very few professional musicians would say that you make the best progress on your instrument by playing alone 100% of the time. In fact I would go as far as to say that none do. Well, none of the good ones anyway…Of course you do need to practice at home to perfect individual techniques and the like, but time spent playing and jamming with friends, professional players and teachers, is practically self-practice on steroids. The benefit of hearing other musicians’ different approaches to chords, solos, tone etc, is invaluable as it can get you out of your own comfy ‘I hope I don’t have to learn anything new’ bubble. You learn new stuff, its fun, you get to steal your best mates licks and it doesn’t feel like practicing.
So that’s great, now we know that playing with people all the time is the best way to improve.
The problem is, all too often I hear students say that they would love to play with others but they feel they aren’t ‘good enough’ yet. I myself was guilty of this when I was learning guitar at school. But in all honesty, that kind of thinking really doesn’t help anyone ever (other than your neighbors who don’t like it when you have a jam at your house). If you start down that road, you will never think you are good enough. No matter how much you improve you will keep shifting the goalposts and never be satisfied with your own ability. So lets put that thought to bed once and for all. Even if you only have the ABSOLUTE BASICS down, you are already able to play with other people!
Only know 5 chords? Congratulations, you can now jam over AC/DC’s entire repertoire (no disrespect to AC/DC). Only know 1 position of the Blues Scale? Awesome, you can play along on B.B King, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters (basically any old blues tunes). And if you don’t know a song that someone else does know, ask him or her to show it to you. Learning songs in a collaborative environment makes them seem way less daunting. Plus, the little bit of natural pressure that we put on ourselves to play as well as we can in front of others will enable you to surprise yourself nearly every time.
The other benefit of playing with other people is that it greatly increases your awareness of other parts of a performance. For example, playing in your room alone will never properly simulate a drummer and bass player getting annoyed because you are far too loud for the song. Playing to a click is great technical practice, but it’s never the same as playing with a live organic rhythm section. Being able to finish outros, move to the second chorus, or nail the bridge of a song in a jam setting is unbelievably rewarding and beneficial, as you simply cannot get that experience alone in your practice room.
Try to give it a go! Most other players aren’t a scary bunch really. Everyone wants to improve, create music, have fun and try to put off growing up for as long as possible.