Start Jamming with Your Very Own Backup Band

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I think everyone should be making music on a regular basis. Beyond that, I think everyone should be making up new music – jamming, or improvising – on a regular basis. Listening to recorded music is wonderful, and singing familiar songs or performing with an ensemble is great, too, but there is nothing like making your own music to help you tap into your creative side. Sometimes, though, lack of technical skill on instruments like guitar or piano can make improvising or creating your own music seem hard.

But never fear! If you want to make your own music, I have a perfect solution for you: play-along albums!

One of my favorite go-to albums for helping me and my clients create music is Getting It Together by Travelin’ Light. With Sam Pilafian on tuba and Frank Vignola on guitar, this album aims to help musicians learn jazz improvisation by providing backing tracks in several keys and styles. Each track is long enough that you can experiment musically, make mistakes, start over, and still end with your “band.” The tracks are musically interesting, too, with enough variety to prompt changes in your own playing, even on tracks that only have one chord. (This is why I prefer these to Garage Band tracks or the pre-loaded loops on electronic keyboards.) The CD version even includes a 20-page booklet with all the scales that fit each track, spelled out note for note. Of course, this album is also available as an MP3 download.


You can get similar play-along tracks from the Band in the Pocket series. The several albums in this series offer backing tracks in different styles, including jazz, blues, and rock. I have the rock and blues albums and have used them for myself and with clients as a musical backdrop for improvisation and as a support for songwriting.

What instruments can you use? Well, I’ve jammed with these CDs on voice, drum, oboe, and piano. I’ve had clients jam with these CDs on voice, marimba, and drums. Really, you can use whatever instrument you have, and it sounds great.

In my next post, I’ll share a little more about how I use this music for some self-care, but until then, let me know what you think about play-along albums. Have you used them before? How have they inspired you musically?


  1. Faith Halverson-Ramos on September 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    I hadn’t before thought about using play-along albums in improvisation, but I think it’s a great idea in that a good track can provide depth, dimension, and musical interest to the improv experience that isn’t always possible to recreate in a music therapy setting.

    While it can definitely be satisfying to improvise only with the people and instruments available, I can see where such tracks would be beneficial and a lot of fun.

    Thanks for sharing this resource!

    • soundscapemusictherapy on September 1, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Faith! I’m most likely to use these in a therapy session when I need to directly prompt someone playing an instrument and I don’t have enough hands to play the accompaniment myself. I also can only do so much with one instrument, so it’s nice to have this for the thicker texture. Of course, you lose some musical flexibility.

  2. Kat Fulton on September 1, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Awesome – Sounds like the +1 series that my jazz friends use. Thanks for writing this really helpful post!

    • soundscapemusictherapy on September 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      I haven’t heard of the +1 series. Thanks for the suggestion!

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