2-minute read. Last update: December 7th, 2016.
You are a musician and you are making music in a band? Learn the role of your instrument when it’s played together with others. What is expected from your instrument? How can you contribute to the overall sound? Read the most hands-on tips here.
Why do you need to know how to make music in a band?
Playing by yourself, practicing with a teacher or performing for your mom is one side of the story. Playing with other musicians is a completely different one. You are expected to know, which role your instrument is taking in the whole process.
When you cover famous songs, these roles might be clear: The guitar plays the song chords, the drums the rhythm and the singer sings the lyrics. These roles might shift or change when you are jamming or writing own songs. Or if there are more instrumentalists playing the same instrument. And if you are intending to rearrange famous songs, you might want to play with each instrument’s repertoire. That’s why you need to know, what is your function in the band sound.
If you are already a professional, those tips might not add anything new. If you starting out to play in a band, they will help you. The tips are mostly useful for jazz, pop and rock music.
Which types of instruments play in a band?
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How to sound amazing in a band?
1. How to make music in a band as a Band Leader?
A band leader isn’t mandatory but can be really helpful if there are more than 2-3 musicians in a jam. The leader can change from song to song. Any type of instrument can lead the band. Here’s what you need to do:
- Tell the tune and the chords before you start the song. It might be not all of the musicians are familiar with the chords – help them out. Demonstrate how the “A” and “B” parts of the song go before you start playing it.
- Be the leader. When it comes time to calling musicians to play (solo e.g.), call their name or instrument.
- Watch for the end. It’s up to the song leader to decide when a song ends – so let the other musicians know when it’s time to wrap up. When you play in a cover band, it’s mostly the singer who is in charge of the song structure.
- If you are leading a song, play it to the end. It’s no crime to forget the words or chords. Just repeat a part you already sang, whistle or improvise, invite an instrumental interlude. In your position as a leader, you make sure everybody else is guided. They don’t really care if you’re playing perfectly.
- Ask your fellow musicians, what they might want to play – or let somebody else be the leader after a couple of songs.
2. How to make music in a band as a Chord Instrument?
- Be sure about your chords: You are the harmonic basis of the song. Make sure you know which chords are played when.
- Don’t stop playing if you make a mistake. It’s most important to keep going and stick to the whole structure.
- Decide who is playing chords: If the guitar, piano, vibraphone all decide to play the chords, it’s going to get muddy. Changing who holds down the chords every few choruses can make for easy, cool dynamics. If it gets too much, defer to the piano, with the guitar just playing accents, turnarounds, etc. Less is more.
3. How to make music in a band as a Guitarist?
There are 4 roles for a guitarist in a band or jam session:
- Rhythmic guitar: You play the chords and lay down the basic rhythm.
- Melodic guitar: You play with the melody of the song and mostly solo.
- Harmonic guitar: You decide on the harmony of the song and key for the rest of the instruments.
- Textural (aka The Edge; use of guitar effects): You are in charge of the artsy part. You might be less needed during solos and melody parts.
All of them can be used in a jam but not at the same time by one player.
- If you use guitar effects, make sure they fit the current tune. Switching to heavy distortion during a jazz tune might not be the best idea.
- Make sure everything is set up for a solo: Is nobody else currently playing a solo? Is there enough harmonic support if you change from playing chords to soloing?
- Don’t cut another soloist off by jumping in.
4. How to make music in a band on Piano or Keyboards?
- Keep the form: You often have a flexible role. Similar to the guitar you can do a lot to keep everyone from losing the form.
- Fill the gaps: Be aware of what instruments are being played in the session. Depending on that you can focus more on harmony/melody/solo.
- Whenever you play a solo: Same as for the guitar, make sure there is enough harmony support and nobody else is playing the solo.
- Let go of the bass notes: If there’s a bass player, let them handle the bass notes.
5. How to make music in a band as a Bassist?
- Be a background superhero: Usually, you provide the rhythmic and harmonic foundation of the session. Like Batman, you are often the hero in the shadows!
- Be a stylist: Depending on the way you play you can completely change the style of the song. Feel free to make use of that to add variation to the jam.
- If you want to play more artistic bass lines, ask the chord and melody musicians to simplify whatever they are playing to create room for you.
6. How to make music in a band as a Drummer?
- Be in control of your dynamics. Bring it down for quiet soloists, like a flute or a bass.
- Be careful of your volume/dynamics at all tempos. Fast doesn’t always mean loud.
- Playing drums in online jam session can be tricky as drummers often feel the latency more than others. If that is the case, make sure to have a recorded metronome or something similar around so that you can be guided by its time.
7. How to make music in a band as a Singer?
- Learn the songs that are played often. There are some famous classics that are always played in sessions. Find some rock classics here. And here are some Jazz standards & Pop classics.
- Prepare a text. Download some lyrics of songs from the internet or write your own text. Then you have a basis for jamming and can improvise over the lyrics.
- Improvise without a text: Sing some single words, lalala or dubadupada. Everything is possible.
- Don’t sing over a solo of an instrument. And if there are other singers, decide who is singing solo when.
- Learn how to improve your voice over time.
8. How to make music in a band with a Melodic Instrument?
- A melodic instrument is every instrument that doesn’t play chords. It can be a Sax, Trombone, Violin, Cello, Voice, Guitar etc.
- Develop the melody. Depending on the situation you can start with a melody from the very beginning or spice things up by adding some licks every now and then.
- Use space. Don’t play every riff/scale that you know in the first minute. Save some ideas for later.
- Don’t cut another soloist off by jumping in.
- Be sure to do some ear training exercises on a regular basis.
And no matter what instrument you play, there are general tips for jamming and playing together. Become the star among your musician friends!