Seems like most beginning guitarists can’t wait to join a band. For many, that is the whole reason they took up the guitar in the first place. Making music with other people can be one of the most fun and rewarding things we musicians do. It can also quickly become a frustrating experience if you aren’t prepared.
Here are 5 tips to help you better prepare yourself to play with other musicians:
TIP# 1: Learn one really POPULAR COVER.
Most of the time when musicians meet up the situation resembles a rehearsal much more than practice. Don’t expect to figure out any new material while you are there. You should know by now the kind of solitary focus and sheer repetition needed to play anything confidently on guitar. You simply have to put that work in on your own ahead of time. Start by preparing ONE cover song to the point where you can play all the guitar parts with confidence, up to speed, from start to finish.
I actually think you should learn as many popular songs as you can. But if I tell you to learn 2 or 3 songs right now, chances are you’ll get distracted and won’t complete any of them. So I say start with ONE and don’t add any more until you’ve got your first cover song completely polished and ready for the stage. I like to think of it this way: There are songs I sort-of remember how to play, and then there are songs I keep in my back-pocket. The back-pocket songs are ready-to-roll, ready to throw down at a moments notice. The songs I kind-of remember how to play are USELESS in a band situation. Only back-pocket level songs are truly ready for the full band experience.
Keep a list of your songs as they reach this back-pocket level and play them once every day so they stay super sharp.
It is important that you set your own tastes aside when choosing your first few covers. The more popular or “classic” a song is, the more likely you are to find a drummer or bassist who is prepared to play that song with you – not to mention an audience that might want to hear your performance. Often times ensembles of professional musicians will just call out one hit song after another and then just play them really well – even if they’ve never played together before! This works because each musician has prepared their parts ahead of time.
Realize that ALL musicians tend to favor music from very obscure sub-genres. But, if you only learn the music of your sub-genre, you will be a very shallow and boring musician to play with. Do your future self a favor and start learning a few hits so that you can be ready to play with the vast majority of the musicians in your town.
There is sort of an informal list of standard hits that work well with the standard rock setup : guitar / bass / drums / vocals. Generally, these songs tend to come from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The following songs are a few examples:
AC/DC “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Weezer “Hash Pipe”
The Clash “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”
Green Day “American Idiot”
The Cars “Just What I Needed”
The Beatles “Day Tripper”
Blur “Song 2”
The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”
The Beastie Boys “Fight For Your Right”
There are literally hundreds of songs that are considered “standard” by today’s working cover bands. The ones I listed above are good ones to start with because they are short and don’t have any overly elaborate solos. In other words they are SIMPLE. I’ll have more to say on this point in future posts.
So, in closing, this tip has 2 components. #1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Show up prepared and ready to rock. #2: Don’t shy away from the hits. We know you are cool. (Duh, you play guitar!) You don’t have to prove anything by only playing obscure songs. Other musicians will not respect you for that. On the contrary you run the risk of being tragically too cool for school. And don’t just suffer through the hits because that’s what people want to hear. EMBRACE this as our musical common ground. Use these hits to get the party started with musicians whom you will be playing with for the first time. In time you will learn to make them your own. You will bond with other musicians over these songs and maybe one day you’ll write something that will be good enough to add to this list of classics… OK, now I’m clearly just spilling out my own aspirational thoughts, so I guess that means that is all for this tip!
Hope to see you back here for the next one!