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Preparing to Play with a Band

One of the most rewarding things you can receive from playing your chosen instrument, is the enjoyment you get from sharing the experience, and the performance with other people. This is not necessarily performing it for others, but with them. Not only is it a great way to learn and to inspire yourself, but it can build social skills and develop areas of musicianship that you couldn’t work on otherwise.


If you are looking to start playing with other people, or perhaps you have your first jam session approaching, then you would benefit from reading ahead. 




Rehearsal Space

In most towns and cities you will find a rehearsal studio that will allow you and your bandmates to play together, with a little more freedom in terms of volume and space. This is a great option because you typically have the barebones equipment for a band set up and ready to go; not having to set up a PA, amplifiers and a full drum kit allows you to streamline your session - not everyone has the luxury of space to do this at home either!


Some recording studios will also have rehearsal capabilities, and failing that you could also hire town halls, school halls and other spaces that are empty for many hours at a time - just consider that you may have to factor in time to set-up and then pack down your equipment.


Logistical points aside, meeting at a band member's house could be a good way to save money, but things can get awkward if that person imposes noise restrictions because of their family or has other rules to stick to. You may also find that, with it being their property, they consider themselves higher up in the pecking order - it should be a collaborative effort and you don’t want someone getting too big for their boots (“It’s my house, so I say we play this song instead” is a phrase you do not want to hear!).


Always remember, a rehearsal is for practicing music, not learning it. You should maximize your time and money by learning your parts ahead of time. This has broken bands before!


Material

To further ensure that your time and money are well spent, make sure everyone agrees on what you will be playing. Awkward silence, or too much joking around, is not going to help you at all. Pick songs that you can all play, or if you are planning on writing material, bring something to the table. If there is a song that has two guitar parts, and you have two guitar players, it would be wise to decide ahead of time who will play what - try not to hog all the solos! If you are the only guitarist, is there a way you can play the song that encompasses both guitar parts?


On the subject of writing music, even if the idea you bring is tiny, that could be the spark that creates something great. Some people like to write individually or with one other person, some like to write melodies or are great lyricists - play to your strengths.


If you can’t decide on a genre, or you simply don’t know what path you want to take, then there is no shame in learning some covers in a few different styles. As well as difficulty, consider the requirements of a song and if someone has the gear to perform it - choosing a song that uses a seven string guitar when someone doesn’t have one is not a good idea.


I would suggest that you don’t book anything until you are ready!





Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you are all new musicians and are just dipping your toes into the world of playing music with other people, you might be tempted to stick to the tried and tested cover songs (think ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or ‘Sweet Caroline’). However, does that really set you apart from the crowd? How many Ska bands are there in your area? If the end goal is to get lots of gigs, maybe a Ska band wouldn’t be the best choice, but it would be different and you will stand out from the plethora of boring Rock cover bands - at least that is the case in the UK, anyway. 


Something that is really unique, and stems from when we touched upon arrangements in the previous point, is creating a version of a song with a completely different style. Let’s say you are dead set of playing rock and roll, why not do a rock version of a Britney Spears song? I would pay to see that!


Personnel

It is great writing, jamming and playing with your friends. However, some people take it more seriously than others and you could clash - don’t jeopardize your other friendships by letting your mate Steve play the maracas in your thrash metal band. Playing with people unfamiliar to you will foster a sense of importance, hopefully making you take your role to heart rather than just filibustering endlessly. Surround yourself with others who share the same drive and passion - the same is true for if the roles are reversed! If you are just having a bit of fun and the rest of the band are driven to make it big time, don’t hold them back. 


In another post, I will discuss how to prepare your band for the stage, but to touch on that point briefly I would like to note that your performance onstage is often reflective of how comfortable you are with your band mates. If your band mates are going crazy, headbanging on stage but you’re playing smooth jazz, consider if they are the right fit for the ensemble.


New Skills

Playing with others gives you a chance to discover new skills, and how poorly prepared for them you might be. You may find yourself unexpectedly thrust into the role of Musical Director; you may become responsible for leading the band without realizing it and this is an entirely different ballpark as a musician. 


When playing with a recording, either an existing one or one you’ve made yourself, you should always know where you are in the song and what is coming up next - now throw in the drummer that forgets the bar of two at the end of the first chorus, or the bass player who can never remember what key you’re playing in and things soon start to unravel - how do you rescue this situation? Whilst I could tell you some common fixes, there is no telling what the issue might be so it is up to you to hold it together!


Your Sound

Gain? All of it, please. Distortion? Yes. 


If that sounds like you, then you will almost definitely fall flat when it comes to finally getting in that rehearsal room. The reason, and it is something all young metal players don’t want to hear, is that too much gain will make your tone mushy with little to no definition. Dialing that gain knob back a bit will give you a bit more clarity whilst also forcing you to improve your technique as you have nothing to hide behind. Adjusting your EQ settings so that you sit appropriately in the mix will mean that, by itself, your tone might not sound very good - the end result, however, will be much better. The general rule here is that if your tone sounds full and fat when playing solo, it will not sound great in a full mix. This also applies to other genres, and the finer details will be adjusted depending on what other instruments you are playing alongside. 

I will discuss this in further detail in my next blog post, but your ambient effects should be set accordingly too. For example, set your delay speed to that of the song so that your repeats are in time (you can then blame your drummer if they go out of time, as the pedal is going to be perfect!). 


Final Thoughts

Go out to that rehearsal area, and make all the mistakes under the sun. It is the best way to learn and everyone will do it; trial and error is the key to your success! Surround yourself with friends, but only those you can trust to support the entire project when things get serious.


There are also no expectations - I have friends who have played in the same few pubs for the last 50 years, and they love what they do - nothing could make them change where they play and when they do it. If you want to shoot for the stars, and sell out Madison Square Garden in the USA, the Tokyo Dome or Wembley Arena in the UK, then make that your number one priority!


Don’t forget - always have fun!


Alex

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