Every musician has a moment when they have had hours of practice under their belt and are starting to feel confident about the ability to handle their instrument. In other words, you’re good…so now what? The next step is taking those skills and collaborating with other people.
The feeling of playing in front of others even at a rehearsal can seem intimidating at first. With these few tips and things to be mindful of, you can learn to thrive in those moments.
Becoming a musician that can play well with others is dependent on how much you prepare. Just getting to a place where you are comfortable and considering playing with other people is an accomplishment in itself. However, there is a difference between practice and rehearsal. Practice is what you have been doing prior to collaborating. It should be at home or on your own time. Rehearsal is everyone applying what they have practiced in a combined setting.
There are subsets of practice. On one hand, practicing to get better at your instrument, and on the other hand practicing to play well during rehearsal. Being ready for rehearsal includes familiarizing yourself with the song in all its dynamics. Let’s say the singer wants a key change to better fit their voice. The ability to take a song and transpose it on the fly is a staple of a well practiced musician. Take notes on each song. Provide yourself a mental map of changes in dynamics, chords, lyrical cues, and parts that stick out to the listener.
One of the most common hoops musicians have to go through is managing nerves. Being a student of the music first can not only help you but will only make your group better. Preparing for rehearsal through practice shows your work ethic, willingness to contribute, and builds your confidence with your instrument.
Listen and Look!
One of the most important facets of jamming is listening. Imagine a symphony orchestra with no structure and every instrument playing something different. It would be complete chaos, and shortly after you’d have an empty music hall. Listening is critical for sounding good cohesively and developing your ear. Keep your ears and eyes open. Paying attention to the rhythm and locking in with the groove of the song will make you play better. Your eyes can pick up cues as well. Oftentimes body language can say just as much as verbal directions.
Observe your band mates along with listening to them. Implement a few standard hand cues that everyone can use. Examples could be holding a fist up to cue a stop or a head nod to a specific member in the band to lead into a solo. The important part is keeping your head up. In most team sports, if you are caught with your head down the team will suffer. Being attentive to your bandmates is crucial to developing chemistry. A band is only as good as their least attentive player. If someone is in their own world then the rest of the band has to adapt to them even if they are way off. Listening and looking for those cues will pay dividends to your cohesive sound.
Knowing when to play is a skill that is cultivated by your ability to listen. If you go into a song with the goal of making others sound good, you will be highly regarded as a reliable musician. Conversely, musicians that have the sole interest in playing all their fancy riffs and fills to make themselves shine do not have the band’s best intention. Music is about community. More “we” than “I.” That is not saying that lead guitarists shouldn’t have their moment in the sun, but knowing how to fit in well is equally as important as what you play. In other words, play when you need to – not when you want to.
Each instrument has a role on the sonic spectrum. Your respective instrument has a certain frequency. Being able to recognize your role and where you fit in makes the group sound more harmonious. Think of the bass and drums as the heartbeat of the song. The drums carry the time while the bass gives the low-end groove. The piano and guitar are close on the harmonic spectrum so it’s important that both aren’t playing the same notes but instead ones that compliment one another. Being in the same register can cause conflict in sound and create competition for what grabs the listener’s attention. Recognize your role and when to play, and the band will succeed as a whole.
Applying these tips mindfully at your next rehearsal will only make the group sound better. Being in a band is like playing on a team. If you are well practiced, have an open ear, and realize your role in each song, playing well with others will truly build your ability as a musician. Remember it’s okay to make mistakes! Embrace the humility to learn from them and grow!