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Playing guitar in a band

 

You’ve been playing the guitar for a while now, but instead of it being a solo venture in the comfort of your own home, you’re ready to get out there and jam with some other musicians.

If you’ve never played in a band setting before, there are a few more aspects that now come into play that you may not have had to think about when you were jamming by yourself at home.

 

The first big difference to consider when playing in a band is to listen to each other!

This is not something that you may have had to think about when you were practising alone, but there is a big difference between a band and a group of people playing (hopefully) in time with each other.

A band will listen to each other to complement the musician who is leading the group, which more often than not would be the lead vocalist, or perhaps a guitarist who is taking a solo.

It is crucial that all members of the band listen to this frontman or woman to play around and support what is carrying the song.

There is nothing worse than having the lead vocal drowned out by a few loud guitars and crash cymbals.

If you’ve never had to do this before that can be challenging, however, and you may not initially know how to best go about it.

A good start is to simply make eye contact with the other musicians and to constantly be glancing up at the vocalist or soloist.

This will force you to listen more closely without even realising, not to mention it looks a whole lot more interesting from an audience’s perspective to see a group of musicians engaging with each other and the audience rather than some people staring at their feet and/or pedalboards.

This simple trick will allow you to hear where you sit in the band as a whole, rather than just your own part that you play.

 

The band should be one block of sound melted together, not 5 different instruments bashing away simultaneously.

 

To be able to engage with the band in this way is assuming that you’re already comfortable with the part that you’re playing on your instrument, which is going to be a whole lot easier if you learn and practise your part at home.

 

A mistake that beginner musicians and bands often make

One mistake that beginner musicians and bands often make is assuming that rehearsal time with the group is to learn the songs.

False.

The material needs to be learned away from rehearsal time so that when everyone is together you can focus on playing more as a band.

Not to mention you may want to change things such as keys, tempos and arrangements with the songs, which would require you already knowing it upon arrival.

I can promise you from experience that the rehearsal is far more enjoyable if everyone is prepared and can prioritise making good music and sounding tight rather than what the next chord is.

You will probably notice that there may be a few grey areas on your part that sounded fine along with the recording at home, but now in rehearsal, these have been exposed because you haven’t got the security of the recorded track to guide you through.

Rehearsal is a great opportunity to figure out these sections that may need more attention during your next solo practise session, to fix before the next rehearsal with the band.

 

A big part of playing with a band is to properly balance your volume levels

As guitarists we are often guilty of being too loud, but over time we develop a sixth sense for what is too loud.

There are also times where you may want to be louder than others, for example during your solo you will want enough level so that you are able to be heard and won’t be drowned out, but in the verse of the song this same volume level will most likely be too loud and will be in danger of drowning out the lead vocal.

A great way to judge if you are too loud is to listen to your singer and imagine it is you singing.

Now, would your guitar be too loud for you if it was you on lead vocals?

If you are using an array of effects pedals then it will also be important to check the levels on each of these.

A simple setup is to usually have no gain pedals on for a simple clean sound, maybe an overdrive for a dirty rhythm guitar sound then a distortion pedal for your solo sound.

Typically (this could very likely be different depending on the band/setting you are in) you may want to have your clean sound and overdrive rhythm sound at roughly the same volume level so that there aren’t any big changes to the overall volume as you switch between these.

A big mistake that people make with their lead solo sound is that they make them too distorted and too quiet.

It can be hard to judge how loud to set your distortion pedal without the full band playing, so this is something I will often tweak on the fly when I take my first solo.

You also don’t want it to be too distorted, as this can make the sound unclear and muddy. Quite often a good solution is less gain and more volume to cut through the mix.

On that topic, you may want to differ your amp settings when you’re playing with other people to how you normally set them at home, meaning adjust your EQ to cut through the mix.

That lovely warm and lush guitar sound you had at home with a bunch of reverb may not work in band rehearsal, and could actually cause you to be drowned out and muddy.

A little less bass is a good place to start, as we are already getting those frequencies from the bass guitar and kick drum, we want to fill in the mid and high frequencies on the spectrum.

This is another thing that you will get better at judging over time, and will most likely change depending on the room/venue that you are playing in.

You may be in a big boomy room with a high ceiling one rehearsal, meaning you probably won’t need as much reverb.

Another day you may be in a tiny dead sounding room, meaning you may want less bass and a little more reverb.

The point being you should judge by ear what the best way to sit into the full mix of your band is, not on where the controls on your amp and guitar usually sit.

 

Another mistake that lots of beginner guitarists in bands make is that they use too much gain

For some reason when we go to jam our favourite AC/DC riff, many of us use about twice as much gain as there is on the original recording.

A lot of the power that we hear on those classic rock recordings actually has a lot to do with the attitude and timing of the riffs, rather than the amount of gain.

Less gain will also help us to cut through the mix and will avoid us being drowned out with an over-saturated sound.

Again this is something that you will learn to judge based on the band and the room that you are playing in.

So there’s perhaps a few new things to keep in mind when you show up to your next band rehearsal, but above all remember to enjoy the time spent playing music with your peers!

A lot of problems such as interaction and performing as a group will solve themselves simply by having fun and enjoying playing together.

Over time as you gain more experience as a musician you will develop these skills mentioned above, and without thinking you will be able to judge these key factors.

For now, the best thing that you can do is to grab your instrument, and get jamming!