So, you're playing with a band. Perhaps you're in a cover band, a jazz band at school, or even a band that writes and performs original music. Or maybe you're planning to do some playing at a local jam session. Here are some tips from years of experience playing in various bands.
"Cutting contest" is an antiquated expression, but it used to be a very real thing in which jazz players would try to battle one another. No, there were no knives or weapons used. The winner would be whoever outplayed the other, in terms of technical superiority and complexity. You can imagine the level of stress, embarrassment, and dejection that one might feel in such an environment.
Today those kinds of jam sessions are few. But there is sometimes that guy (or girl) who comes into a gig with an attitude like "I'm the best one here; you guys are not as good as me; I play way harder gigs than this; this music is too easy," etc. Don't be that guy (or girl). You know why? Because even bad players get gigs and need to hire musicians, and having an attitude will quite often get you on the "do not call" list.
Ok, a few quick mini-tips if you're scoping out a jam session or thinking of sitting in:
Rehearsals can be incredibly productive opportunities for a band to solidify their performance... or they can be nothing more than glorified practice sessions. If everyone comes prepared and ready to rock, then rehearsals allow the band to work on details and finishing touches. If everyone is not prepared, then they usually quickly devolve into trying to bring those who aren't prepared up to speed, which is the musical equivalent of "hurry up and wait." Advanced players know that this is a toxic mistake in terms of band chemistry, so don't let it happen to you.
In a school situation, you often get the music at the rehearsal and jump right in, sight-reading and playing. For some this is nerve-wracking. So here's the tip: most band directors love ambitious and prepared students. Ask for the music in advance so you have time to work on it and avoid surprises and nerves. More often than not the director will be happy to oblige.