An Educator’s Review and Guide to JamKazam for Real-Time Small group Rehearsals and Music Lessons (Part 1).

JamKazam logo

By Saul Richardson.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with the JamKazam platform for playing in real-time over the internet. To summarise, it can work pretty well, but I’d like to share some thoughts and a basic guide to using it for teaching children music.

JamKazam is an online platform and app that promises:
‘Play music live and in sync with others from different locations. Rehearse without travel or space; Co-write and produce music live; Join open sessions to jam with others; Record and live broadcast sessions; [and,] Connect with other musicians and bands’ (www.jamkazam.com).

My experience has been that it can facilitate all these things, but it isn’t without issues. Here are some pros, cons, and cautions from the perspective of a music teacher.

Summary of Pros and Cons

Pro:

  1. It can work! I have managed to use it to play live, in real-time with other musicians over the internet, something many of us teachers have been looking for during the current Covid-19 lockdowns. I have played with individual students and small groups all based in Sydney (where I teach). I have also jammed, in sync, with other jazz musicians based in Europe and North America. That was amazing
  2. It includes voice chat (obviously), as well as optional video and text-based chat. The text chat can be especially useful if the audio doesn’t work, which can happen – see below.
  3. The app and service are free to use. The website advertises various paid offerings but avoid these because they don’t actually exist and aren’t needed.

Con:

  1. The basic usage, once you are set up, is quite easy. However, audio setup can be a nightmare – see below.
  2. Hardware requirements can exclude many or most students.
  3. It is a largely defunct service. It is still there and still works, but has hardly been maintained or developed since about 2016 apparently. Interest in JamKazam is much greater now than when the startup was launched. Very recently there was a software update, so maybe there will be some action again to improve and maintain it.

Hardware Requirements*

Firstly, the hardware requirements. JamKazam works best when all users a) have an external audio interface with low-latency and a decent external mic, b) use a wired connection to the internet and, c) have a fast internet connection with decent upload and download speeds.

Obviously, many or most of these conditions could exclude most students, especially in Australia where we have terrible internet speeds and poor reliability.

JamKazam can work by just using the built-in mic of a computer, but lag caused by audio latency can become a problem. Using it over Wi-Fi almost always makes JamKazam unusable. That’s a problem, because many laptops have no ethernet port and fewer students have an ethernet cable in any case.

*Note: my experience is using a PC laptop. YMMV.

Audio Setup & Support

Audio setup, to get JamKazam working at all, can be complex. This aspect of the app is poorly designed, and support or useful information is largely non-existent. There is a forum that has become quite active during Covid-19 and users are pretty generous helping each other, but very few users have expertise or experience. The forum is overrun by new users asking for help. This complexity can rule out many students from using the app.

So far, some of my students have been able to connect and use JamKazam. Others have set up the app and connected but had no audio. Others, without the ideal hardware, have connected and had sound, but their connection had been laggy and/or had very poor sound-quality. Sometimes I have had my bass or guitar connected but been unable to use voice chat at all. It can seem a bit hit-and-miss at random.

Child protection issues

JamKazam has some issues teachers need to be aware of if their students are children or teens.

Firstly, the app includes two forms of text-based chat. One is for ‘in session’ and the other is ‘global’ A session is equivalent to a Zoom meeting – it is where you are for your rehearsal or lesson. The session chat is only for users in your rehearsal and is private, but the global chat includes every user currently on the platform and so, stranger-danger. You don’t have to look at the public global chat but can only toggle between it and the private session chat. Neither chat can be disabled. Besides chat, another potential issue for child-protection is public vs private sessions.

Sessions can be public and open to any user who wishes to join, or private. It is very important for teachers to set their sessions to private during the setup, otherwise random adults can join – mostly just looking for people to play with but, again: stranger-danger. This is even more critical because JamKazam has video, audio, and text chat.

If an under-18 student makes their own account with JamKazam, the app puts the label “Child” after their username. This can be good and is well-intentioned, but could also be problematic in a public session if another user was a predator or a troll.

Setting Up a Session for Teaching

Here is how to setup a session to keep your session private and your students safe. A JamKazam ‘session’ is euuivalent to a ‘meeting’ in Zoom.

1. Create session

In the app click on CREATE SESSION and you’ll see the ‘start a session’ screen.

2. Start a new session

Select START OR SCHEDULE.

3. Schedule your session for now

Select I WANT TO START A NEW SESSION RIGHT NOW FOR OTHERS TO JOIN and you’ll see the ‘What Are You Playing?’ screen.

4. Enter general details about what your session

Fill in the details as requested: genre, name for your session, and description of your session. Use a name that will be easy for your students to recognise. These details are mandatory. At this stage you can also upload sheet music for your session if you want to. I haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds very useful. Click next and you’ll see the ‘Who Is Playing With You?’ screen.

5. Choose who’ll be playing with you and your instrument

This is where you invite students to join. The critical thing here is to DESELECT the little check box that says PLUS ANY INTERESTED JAMKAZAM MUSICIANS THAT I APPROVE (otherwise it can open the door to strangers crashing your session).

Students must have JamKazam accounts. If a parent has set up the account for them, make sure you know the account name. You can skip inviting anyone at this stage if you want to and invite them later. Fill in the other details about your instrument as appropriate. Click next and you’ll see the very important ‘What Are Your Policies?’ screen’.

6. Set your privacy policies

You must select ONLY RSVP MUSICIANS MAY JOIN on the first dropdown menu. On the second dropdown, select FANS MAY NOT LISTEN TO SESSION. Leave ‘standard legal agreement’ checked, it doesn’t really matter, and accept the terms & conditions. Click next and you’ll see the ‘Review & Confirm’ screen.

7. Review and confirm your settings

Double check that your privacy settings are correct for keeping your session private. Click next to start your session – it is similar to starting a Zoom meeting.

So, that’s a basic guide to using this potentially amazing app for teaching. Please let me know if you have any other advice, tips, or questions about JamKazam as a teaching tool. Good luck, and hope you find this guide helpful and JamKazam useful for your teaching. Part 2 (forthcoming) will cover some more technical issues around audio setup and minimising latency.

14 thoughts on “An Educator’s Review and Guide to JamKazam for Real-Time Small group Rehearsals and Music Lessons (Part 1).

  1. J Chlebak says:

    Saul, thanks for the thoughtful review. I noticed lower latency when using mac with SoundFlower. (8 ms)

  2. Andrew says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s good to hear that there is something workable that can be done on top of Australia’s internet infrastructure. I’m looking forward to Part 2. Also, have you looked at Jamulus or SoundJack?

  3. Pete Schaab says:

    Three of us in Alaska have been using this for a few weeks. We are wanting to record and following instructions have been successful with a few glitches. Mainly there is difficulty in getting the finished product. It apparently requires the app to upload the recording on its servers for ‘finishing the tracts and mix’ and sending it back. This hasn’t happened for us as yet. Also tract sound levels seem to be random on the recording and independent of the master mix. Any experience with these issues?

  4. JWA says:

    Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment. Yes, I’ve also tried Jamulus and Soundjack. In the end, Jamulus turned out to be the easiest to use, involving the least setup and no special logins etc. Setting up a private Jamulus server is tricky, but joining a public one is very easy. Just remember that there is no privacy on a public Jamulus server and anyone else on the server can hear you – though you can mute them. This isn’t great with kids if you are a teacher, but for jamming it works well. Soundjack is very good, a little bit more involved to setup and with more options. Only JamKazam has video, if that matters. All three are workable solutions, even with Australia’s substandard internet.

    I found that the following to be important, in order of importance, with all three: 1. Ethernet connection. 2. Audio interface.

  5. JWA says:

    Hi Pete. We encountered all sorts of issues, sometimes at random (work perfectly one day, then unusuable the next for no obvious reason). Adjust sound levels for each avatar on the screen as well as the mix. However, it can be hit-and-miss. Thankfully, for us here in Australia, we are back playing together again. How’s it going for you?

  6. Lokman says:

    Hi Saul, I managed to get Jamkazam working from Sydney this morning, thanks to the positive review in this article. FYI, the Audio Gear setup reported 19 milliseconds of latency. So far my (public) session has been tested only with some strangers from the USA and Canada (who were very helpful). We noticed immediately that, when I clapped my hands on the beat to some music which one of them played, they heard my claps off-beat. So it would seem 19 ms is enough to generate a noticeable delay. Is this what other people experience? What latency values do you get? (I use a wired Ethernet connection with separate external mic and headset connected via USB)

  7. Carol J Cohen says:

    HI Saul- thank you for the useful summary of JamKazam in Part 1 of your article. Is there a part 2??

  8. JWA says:

    Hi Carol, thanks for the feedback and I’m glad you found it useful. Part 2 is due, but obviously delayed. We are back to face-to-face teaching here but it is still a crazy year and lots of work just keeping everyone going, as it must be for many teachers.

  9. JWA says:

    Hi Lokman, I was getting around 10 milliseconds but it varied. JamKazam have done a lot of updating since their platform suddenly gained popularity. I’ve not tried it recently because all our teaching went back to face-to-face again. Has it improved?

  10. Patrick Frederick says:

    Thank you for the article! I am a high school band director in the United States and I am interested to know how JamKazam might work for live band rehearsals. I assume that a full concert band (40-60 students) would not be able to use JamKazam, but what about a standard jazz ensemble (“big band”), which would be roughly 18-20 players? Considering the cost and complexity of the individual setup for JamKazam, would something like the JamBlaster (which to my understanding works through a smartphone) be a more practical/economical option? Can that support 18-20 players?

  11. Ian says:

    Thanks for the article!
    I started out using Jacktrip on a preconfigured Raspberry Pi single board computer and USB audio adapter.
    Installation was fairly straightforward using the public Jacktrip server which allowed me to select a connection about 350 miles from my home. This gave me an internet latency that was listed as 30 to 50mS and did not indicate the audio adapter latency. Using the server loopback feature, tapping on my mic gave delay back to me that was probably a little more than this. 50mS delay is about what one would hear from a source that is 50 feet away through the air. The delay dismayed the person I was setting it up for, who tried it briefly using voice with me. She wanted it for chorus rehearsals.
    I tried JamKazam using a Windows 10 laptop with the same USB adapter. The 20mS latency JamKazam indicated would probably be only the USB audio adapter latency, and the internet latency was not displayed.
    A 10 second trial with a passing stranger on JamKazam (who had only a guitar audio connection to my mic connection) found that when I tapped my mic as a metronome, he started playing in sync but soon lost it. I have no idea where the server is, and distance to the server is probably the biggest factor in overall latency. It is also possible my helpful stranger was rhythm impaired.
    If anyone knows where the server is, and how to get overall latency numbers, I would appreciate a reply.

  12. JWA says:

    Hi Patrick, thanks for your question. Jam Kazam almost certainly will NOT work with more than small ensemble. I found it started to struggle with more than five musicians, and they all had good equipment and connections. Jamulus was actually better, but with even worse privacy issues for school students. I believe that if Jack Trip ever becomes user-friendly that it might offer the best solution. You could always try big band rehearsals with JamKazam – let us know how you go if you do that. Otherwise, sectional rehearsals are certainly viable. Best wishes, Saul Richardson.

  13. JWA says:

    Hi Ian. I’m not sure where the server is. I got sub 20ms latency on a windows10 laptop. I use an RME Babyface Pro FS usb interface but also got good reults with a basic Focusrite too. Ethernet connection too, not wifi.

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