Overcoming fear of wrong notes when jamming

Last update on July 6, 2013.

Learning to play songs does not prepare you for improvisation.  Although you know how to play chord progressions, beats, or solos, you haven't learned how to find notes that fit onto new music.  The result is that you may feel paralyzed by fear of wrong notes.

In this blog post I will explain how to overcome fear of wrong notes.  This will help you jam more fluently and unlock the skill of playing on the spot.

Disable "Send" when experimenting

Before you've got your bearings in a jam it may be necessary to experiment.  This will allow you to find notes and tones you'd like to play.

How do you dabble without interrupting others?  When jamming together online using jammr, disable the "Send" button.  When you are ready to share your playing, remember to enable the "Send" button again.

This way you can have privacy to find something that fits without letting others hear you trying things out.

Which key is this in?

The quickest way to get your bearings is to find the musical key of the jam.  The key tells you which scales and chords will fit.  In other words, once you know the key you know where the "right" notes are.

There are many types of music, the key matters less in some or is harder to find in others when keys are switched partway through.  But for most jams there will be one key which you can use a guide to finding the right notes.

In the beginning it's easiest to try playing a scale and listen if it fits.  If the scale does not fit, try another one until you've found the key of the jam.

As you get more experience, often playing one or two notes is enough because your feel for musical intervals, the distance between notes, will let you know which neighboring notes work without playing them.

This is why scales are important, they guide you and tell you which notes fit.  If you want to find out more, check out this fantastic video on Major Scale Chord Construction that teaches you the major scales and how chords are constructed from it.

A right note is only a half-step away

If you do hit a wrong note, then a right note is only a half-step away.  Either play a half-step down or a half-step up and you will find a right note.

This works because the intervals in a major scale are WWHWWWH where 'W' is a whole step and 'H' is a half-step.  All the wrong notes are a half-step from being in the scale.

This means you can easily correct yourself.  Either play the right note immediately or try something fancier like sliding or bending, depending on your instrument.

Hit the wrong note again!

Another solution is to hit that wrong note again.  This may seem crazy but your ear will accept the wrong note.  Many famous musicians use this technique when they play "outside" the key.

Jimi Hendrix often played out but didn't flinch, and it pulls the listener along without sounding like a mistake!

Try this out a few times and you'll realize that playing a wrong note does not mean you've messed up.  This will give you the confidence to improvise without worrying about wrong notes.

Conclusion

So there you have it.  With a bit of practice you can overcome fear of wrong wrotes.  Try out our tips and see how you begin to jam more freely.

Do you know other ways of overcoming fear of wrong notes?  Let us know in the comments!

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