What’s it like to play in a band? I get that question all the time. Playing in your bedroom is something completely different compared to playing with a full band at rehearsals or on a stage. In this feature we’ll look at some important things to keep in mind when you’re making that transition.
I’m sure many of you are much more experienced than I. I’ve been playing in bands and recording for nearly twenty years but I don’t consider myself a touring musician. We do a handful of shows every year and spend most of our time in the studio, writing and recording.
Still I’ve been through most of the frustration and hopelessness of trying to find my place in a band as a guitarist. We all want to be heard and for everyone to recognise our amazing tones but it can be a real challenge to get there.
Most of us has spent days, weeks and years in our bedroom practicing and fine tuning our tones. We know all the sweet spots and every nuance of our gear. The natural step is to form a band and conquer the world.
Your bedroom, or livingroom, is a relatively small space and most amps will provide almost stadium-like power filling every corner of your room. Each pedal is hand selected to fit the amp and ambience.
Everything will change once you translate that to a rehearsal room or stage. It might be obvious that you’d need a bigger amp but you’re now sharing the frequency spectrum with drums, bass, keyboards, vocals and perhaps a second guitarist. Unless you know how to fit into that mix, your guitar often end up completely lost.
Before you start replacing pedals and tweak your amp, you should have an idea of what sort of guitarist your are. Or, what sort of band you are and what that band need.
We all want to be lead guitarists but maybe you already got one. Maybe your band doesn’t want solos or maybe you want a bit of both? Both rhythm and leads.
Solos and lead work needs to cut through. Your worst enemy are the cymbals and keyboards but too much low end will fight with the drums and bass as well. Mid range is the key ingredient. Your ears are designed to focus on the vocal range, which lies in the mid range, so your solos and leadwork should have more mid range than bass and treble.
This is one of the more frustrating aspects for translating your bedroom tones to a band because too much mid range in a bedroom will often sound way too harsh and you will lack some of that low end and sparkle.
That’s why pedals like the Tube Screamer is often misunderstood. Alone, it sounds thin and “boxy” but in a band, nothing cuts through more for your solos than a good old TS9.
Rhythm playing is different. You don’t want too much mid range as you would take up the space of the vocals and other lead instruments. Rhythm playing should be balanced well within the overall mix of the band and this will also allow you to cut through when you hit more mid range oriented tones for your lead work.
You can balance the amount of mid range, boosted or scooped, with different amps, amp settings, pedals and pedal settings. Read more about choosing the right pedals for your amp here.
The hardest part for any guitarist is to know when not to play. It doesn’t really matter if you’re an instrumentalist like Steve Vai or a part of a band like David Gilmour. Your music need dynamics and space. Regardless of how long or short that space is your listener will be exhausted if you just go on and on trying to show off all your skills in one song.
David Gilmour comes from the old school of bands having one guitarist sharing the stage with a keyboard player. David is a master at knowing when to play and what. The rhythm playing is delicately underlining melodies and or strengthening chord progressions. He leaves a lot of space for the keyboards and knows when to allow space to create more dramatic lead work.
Guitarists like Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore mastered the difficult art of complimenting the vocals and leaving space for the dramatic interaction between the two instruments. They never fought each other but used rhythm work and leads to create a dynamic sound.
Volume is tricky because you want to be heard and you want to be able to hear your own playing, but you also need to fit into a mix, which again goes back to knowing what sort of guitarist you are or what your part is.
My best tip is to have a volume pedal ready on your board and use it to create dynamics in your tones and playing. Not just for muting the volume.
Consider your playing as if you listened to an album. Some parts are mixed louder or lower than others depending on whether it’s lead, rhythm or effects. If you just keep everything at 10 then your mix will be messy and without dynamics.
On stage, a sound technician will balance the mix but it’s not always the case if you’re not traveling with one that know your music. Using a volume pedal to create a mix for your self, will help the sound technician to create a better mix for the audience.
This is even more important when you’re in a small rehearsal room where everything often gets too loud and dense. If you’re playing both rhythm, solos and perhaps some ambient stuff you should always use a volume pedal to create that balance and mix between your parts.
As we discussed above, different types of pedals, with more or less mid range and compression, will also help you control the overall volume.
A question that I get a lot is a concern about how to approach a new band. You’ve given the spot in a well established band but will they appreciate your style and tones?
First of all, assuming that the band has hired you after hearing you play, you should be confident that they really want you because of your abilities. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have asked. That being said, you should have some idea of what they want and what they expect you to contribute.
It all depends on what type of band you’re joining and what sort of guitarist you are. When we bring new musicians into the band, for touring or recording, we do so because we want to add something new to the sound but we also want someone who will understand what our band is all about.
I think any band would like to be challenged but as a hired or new musician you should also know a bit about how the band like to work and find your place with some humility. It’s a fine balance and you shouldn’t be afraid to be yourself and be proud of the musician you are. Who knows, maybe you add something that will be a great new element to the band.
Please use the comments field below and share your experience!