By Chris Lang
What many musicians don’t realise is that it’s not enough just to be able to play your instrument; you have to know how to be in a band – it’s an altogether different skill. While spending tons of hours at home practicing is important, it’s also vital that we get together with some other musicians and make some good noise together. When you first get together as a band, the noise may not be so good, but as you develop your ability to play together, it will slowly get better.
There are a number of skills that you need in order to play effectively in a band.
1. Knowing what to play
First start by knowing what key the song is in; when I play in a worship band I often have a list of all the songs and the keys the worship leader wants to do them in. If you know the key, and the scales that go with it, you’ll make far fewer mistakes.
Preparation for playing live music is a 4-stage process: 1. practice, 2. rehearsal, 3. sound check, 4. performance. We might miss these out when we try to practice during the rehearsal, and sound check during the performance.
2. Listening to each other
The simplest way to do this is to think about the sound a band makes in terms of a bass, a midrange and a treble. The bass is covered by the bass guitar and the kick drum and floor/rack toms. The midrange comes from a rhythm guitar, keys and vocals, which treble comes from the cymbals and perhaps keys, lead guitar and female vocals. Worship bands often have more instruments, like brass, strings, an organ etc. which can sometimes mess things up a bit, especially if everyone is trying to play in the midrange or treble. When you’re improvising, think about which bases are already well-covered, and play elsewhere.
Also, make sure you’re all tuned up, and all tuned to the same note. If you’re playing with a piano, you’ll have to tune to the piano, not to a tuner. Whatever you tune to, make sure everyone is the same.
3. Knowing when to play, and when not to play
Some musicians feel that they have to play all the time. The best musicians are the ones who know when not to play. What we don’t play is just as important as what we do play (rests are just as important as notes!). Sometimes space needs to be filled, sometimes it needs to be left as space. Knowing when to play or not is not an exact science…be brave, try different things. Sometimes I won’t play at all in a verse and come in with strong power chords in a chorus…this can give the song a big lift going into the chorus. Try things for yourself.
4. Understanding the song
When playing in worship bands we need not only to understand the musical theory behind a song, we also need to understand message in the song . Worship songs represent our expression to the Creator, and what we play needs to tie in with what a song is putting across. Before you start playing, read the lyrics and make sure you understand them. I love the haunting intro to ‘Inside Out’ on Mighty to Save and United We Stand as I think it really fits with what the song is saying. Think about other examples where a guitar part really fits in with what the song is saying, both Christian and non-Christian. Also, think about when a song really doesn’t want a guitar-intro – some songs work so much better when introduced with keys or synth. We need to have the humility to say ‘Actually, I think that would really work with a piano intro’.