There’s anticipant silence as the guitarist plugs in. The whine and screech of feedback. The crisp rapping of two drumsticks as a voice barks, “One! Two! Three! Four! …”
And the rocking, ladies and gentlemen, has begun.
Only it’s not a concert stage or even a smoky nightclub; it’s a garage. And it’s not a leather-clad band of groupie-dogged rock gods; it’s a dude and his dad. Or his cardigan-sporting, axe-shredding mom.
It happens secretly in homes across America — not in silence, mind you, but in seclusion. From the outside, these folks look like normal families, earnestly attempting to fill the age-appropriate roles expected of them: goof-off kid, incommunicative teen, sedate and sober parent.
But inside — perhaps during the unscheduled hour between homework and dinner or on an unscheduled Sunday afternoon — they’re gathering around pianos and bongos, picking up harmonicas and tambourines, pulling out the weathered old Stratocaster, and making music.
Sometimes it’s a symphony. Sometimes a cacophony. But the sound, I’m told, is the least important product of the Family Jam.
“It’s fun to play with someone who is easily impressed,” explained my husband, a longtime guitarist who plays AC/DC with our 10-year-old drummer. “I like being able to pass on what I know about music before he gets too cool to listen to me … and gets better than me.”
The idea of handing off the musical baton to the next generation appeals to Dan Diamond, too — that and the “chance to get my musical rocks off,” he said.
Diamond, who learned to play from his dad, now plays blues guitar with his 13-year-old son every week. “If we hear something on the radio we think would be fun to play, we jam on it,” he said. “My father died about 10 years ago. I am sorry he’s not around to listen and jam with us, but I’m thrilled that [my son] has the ear and skill that I know is inherited.”
Laurie Deans took up rock guitar after three years of shuttling her son Avery to music lessons. He’s 19 now, and they still “noodle around” when he’s home from college.
“It’s a great role reversal,” Avery said. “It takes you out of the parent-child relationship and puts you in a musician-musician relationship.”
Deans and other parents admit there’s also a sporting element to learning music with your kids. “Lead guitar is a massively competitive thing — though probably more for guys than middle-aged mothers,” she said, “but, yes, I am totally stoked to show off by playing him the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ solo!”
Their musical tastes differ; she likes heavier rock, and more distortion, than her son does. “But it’s great that we’ve gone through the potentially conflict-ridden teenage years sharing a common interest,” she said, “being really passionate about the same thing.”
Those of us who don’t play (although I do hog the microphone) must assume the joy of the FamJam is similar to that of building, or baking, with your kids. It’s the melody of creation paired with the harmony of cooperation.
“There’s a certain language to making music,” my husband said, “not just chords and notes, but song structure and dynamics. When you play with other people who can listen to what you’re doing and respond to it, it’s like you can read each other’s minds. That’s the best part of music-making. If I can teach my kid how to do that, it’s something he’ll always be able to do, with anybody.”
Then there’s the, um, other benefits.
“He doesn’t care about this yet, but when you hit high school, being in a band is a really good way to get girls interested in you. He’ll thank me later.”