#7 Playing as a Group

I started playing in bands at age 10. That was almost 58 years ago, so I think playing in bands must hold a high priority with me… or I’m too stupid to find something else to do. In any case, I’ve played in a lot of them, and in most cases, I’ve wound up at minimum as the musical director (or thereabouts). Probably because feel is everything to me, and one of the hallmarks of a “good band”. How it feels is really all the audience cares about… so it deserves more than a casual thought.

Notice that I named this blog “Playing as a group” rather than “Playing in a band”.

I see WAY TOO MANY “Bands” that don’t have a clue how to play as a “Group”.  Learning the parts… getting amps to match volume somewhat with the drummer… or just getting it all set up for the tone you want and letting the sound guy “mix” the band… those are all steps in the process… but ultimately have NOTHING to do with playing as a group.

As a member of a group there are a several considerations to employ to make sure it sounds  and feels like one cohesive emotional force, as opposed to several people playing ‘parts’ with little consideration for the other players. You need to ‘breathe’ together as one unit.

  • Leave sonic space for all the instruments
    Adjust your tone to separate your tone from the other instruments (tone NOT volume)
  • If you can’t hear another instrument or voice, you’re probably too loud
  • Having the other players backs
    is what you’re playing supporting and helping to move another player’s part along…or are you stepping all over their part. When they accent, do you hear it and join them on their journey, pushing their part and the song itself along?
    The utilization of dynamics is critical to playing as a group…and a great exercise or “trick” to utilize to perfect playing together. While rehearsing, try going from super whisper-quiet to the loudest you get…and then back down to a whisper several times. Practice cutting back volumes during verses…bring it up for the chorus…etc.

These are just a few tips and tricks. They may very well sound simple and rudimentary to many of you reading this. However, playing in and seeing soooo many bands that DON’T understand these principles of playing together got me SO FRUSTRATED I had to mention it. And also, last night, Playing with Déjà vu… a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young…that DOES play and breathe together as a group was so amazingly fun, for us AND the audience, that it caused me to want to share why I think that happens.

#bands, #musicians, #performance

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