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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- The basic usage, once you are set up, is quite easy. However, audio setup can be a nightmare – see below.
- Hardware requirements can exclude many or most students.
- 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.
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.