If you still think being in a band is a good idea, that’s awesome. If I have given you pause, that’s awesome, too. It’s all awesome, really, because if you want to be in a band, it’s probably because you fancy yourself a guitar player.
I love guitar players, don’t get me wrong. I have been very fortunate to get to play with some very good ones. I’ve even had a ton of fun playing with some guitars players that weren’t great, but their heart was in the right place. Today, though, I’m going to start off with some advice for those of you who prefer six (or more) thin strings.
First, when the band decides to call it quits at the end of a practice or even during a break, this does not mean it’s your time to shine. For whatever reason, though, many guitar players feel like they need to play for another few minutes at the same volume everyone was using during practice. I used to put up with this stuff and hope they would get the message when I put my ear plugs back in or left the room. I wouldn’t do that anymore. Life is too short.
Please take the time to read the room, dear axe men and women. If everyone is done, then you should be, too, or at very least, turn way down. Often when a band has had a good rehearsal, they are pretty spent at the end. There is a reason I don’t work on bass riffs I’ve been thinking about at the end of the night (or day, for that matter). It’s out of respect for everyone wanting to be done with loud music.
Also, please don’t play Guns N’ Roses riffs.
There is a reason there is only one Slash and this goes for trips to Guitar Center, too. No one wants to hear your tortured version of “Sweet Child 0’ Mine.” Fuck that stupid Irish song. It is Irish, isn’t it?
Good guitar players listen to what the other members of the band are doing and try to put another layer on the mix if they can. While there is nothing wrong with the bass and guitar playing the same riff, it is a nice thing to branch out from time to time and play something different. I realize that bass players have responsibility here, too, but everyone should be willing to pay attention to what each other is doing and attempt to take a song to greater heights if possible.
Tuning is something we need to talk about, as well.
I’m all for alternative tunings. I like playing in drop tunings, but it can also be easily overused. If you don’t have a lot of extra guitars laying around or roadies, you should probably stick to one or two tunings during a live set. Your audience and your bandmates will appreciate it.
For new folks out there, buy a good tuner. It is worth a few extra bucks for something decent because it will last longer and probably do a better job. Don’t be afraid to use them. There is no pride in it. Most live musicians do not tune their guitars and basses by ear on stage for a reason. Your ear will develop if you play enough, most likely, and you will be able to make minor adjustments on the fly, but when it comes to getting ready to play a set or practice, make sure you are good and tuned up.
If you are recording, check that tuning between every song unless you completely trust your instrument. There is no shame, again, in tuning a lot. Better to tune a lot than to ruin a take and waste money by recording something that is out of tune. I have made this mistake myself in the early days and it sucks.
I should also say I’ve made a lot of the mistakes I’ve been talking about, but I learned how to avoid them by listening to people with more experience than myself. I also am a big fan of common sense. Just because you’re in a band, you still need to use common sense. It’s amazing how many musicians I know seem to forget that simple thing.
Drummers need to tune their drums, too. If you’re not sure how to do it, take a few lessons. The best drummers I know are not ashamed to take the occasional lesson or have taken a lot of them in the past. Learn to tune your drums, especially if you are going to record your music.
These are preparation things. It’s cool to wing a few things here and there, but not all the time. Like tuning, changing your strings is important, too. For bassists, we can get away with not changing them as often as a guitar player might want to swap’em out, but we still need to do so. Yes, the strings can get pricey, but you don’t have to let the dude at Guitar Center talk you into some fancy rotosound shit if you don’t need that sound.
Find strings that feel good and, most importantly, sound good to you. Don’t be afraid to try some new strings out from time to time, either. I have probably played at least a dozen different types of strings. What works for me, though, might not work for you. Different styles of music will work better with different bass strings.
I don’t know as much about guitar strings, but again, find ones that feel good to you and sound good. There’s about ten times more guitar strings to choose from than bass strings, so you might need to experiment a lot to find the ones that work best for you. It’s also not a crime to have an extra set or two with you at every practice and show.
Being ready to play is very important. Your bandmates will appreciate you not wasting their time.
See you tomorrow.
Good bands get to play things like this. Work it.