Playing With a Band - Tips for Success

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.

Playing With a Band Tip #1: Be Cool (AKA, Don't Have an Attitude)

"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.

Playing With a Band Tip #2: Jam Session Tips

Ok, a few quick mini-tips if you're scoping out a jam session or thinking of sitting in:

  1. Often times the same tunes get called each week. Scope the scene a couple weeks in advance and write down the tunes that get called most frequently. Go home and practice those tunes with extra attention. Show up with these tunes well prepared.
  2. Less is more. Playing 2 or 3 choruses of an awesome solo is worth much more than 6-8 choruses of an "ok" solo. And it will get noticed by others, and remembered. So don't worry if every sax and guitarist in the place is taking 10 choruses each.
  3. Exchange names and contact info. Jam sessions are networking gold mines (translation: opportunities for gigs). Even if someone doesn't ask for your info, ask for theirs.
  4. Be polite, supportive and encouraging of others, and don't just leave once you're done playing. Stick around and get friendly with the best players (this all dovetails with #3).

Playing With a Band Tip #3: Rehearsals

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.

Playing With a Band Tip #4: Sight-Reading

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.


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