Improving How We Play
As a band, paying attention to the little details is our job in order to contribute toward making a big difference. We play by what we hear, not to create a big wall of sound, but to become better musicians in Christ. Music really begins through the act and art of listening. Learning to listen produces patience.
Whether we look at a sheet of music or hear the instruments/singers making music, we listen to the song’s message. This gives us direction, shape and tone. It’s one thing to start blaring away, it’s another to listen and enjoy the musical conversation. In essence, music truly is community.
But before we begin, how much time do we spend listening rather than playing?
When you look at a symphony or even a small combo jazz band, you experience a musical conversation. Not everyone is talking at once. There are times of huge unisons, but there are more countless times of small textures, nuances, intrigue and suspense. This is what makes music – music.
When we listen, we can hear the emotion, color and expression. This is no different than human conversation. One person can do all the talking, but it takes two to have a great dialogue.
Proverbs 18.13 says: ”He who answers before listening – that is his folly and shame.”
Don’t just listen to the notes; listen to how they play the notes. Are you complimenting their sound, or taking it away? Listen for each note and help support their role. Contribute to the musical continuity and enjoy the dialogue.
If you are a drummer: practice matching each note to equal your volume between the kick, snare and hat. Match your overall volume to the band.
If you are a guitarist: match each string, strum and picked note to be consistent. Listen to the sound of the room and become one with that sound.
Bassist: even-out the low and high registers to create a warm and smooth quality from note to note. Pulse the notes just right to fit what the kick drum is doing.
Keyboards and pianists: also play evenly to the band, not with both hands, but just play with one. Wait for the right moment to play between the spaces or chorally back-up the guitarist. Even playing just one note alone can make a difference.
What I have found is that it’s always better to listen first. Learn to wait for the right note to play at the right time. Don’t be afraid of the silence. It’s not about the notes you can play, it’s about the notes you don’t play.
Developing great music involves both sound and silence. We practice to ourselves quite a bit, but when you practice, do you have the other band members/singes in mind? It’s like thinking: this is how my bass player may play the chorus of this one song, so in response, I will do this… – or – my drummer usually reverts to a marching snare feel in this passage, here, I’ll listen first before I play a counter rhythm.
Music does not depend on you; it depends on your team. Your ability to make music is always before you. Your creativity to make greater music is found in the band that you have. Besides, it’s learning how to keep simple. Less is more.
Personally, instead of playing all I could play, I listen back to what they are playing and get out of the way. Here, texture becomes very important because it has to do with supporting the other instruments. Same is true for singing harmony. You don’t want to dominate the other singers, but rather, compliment the melody.
Don’t be the other 83%, be the few who listen and serve the other
person in their role of making music. In addition, the more space you put into the song, the more breath you will hear out of the song. At the same time, guess what else you’ll have more time to focus on: the worship of God.