As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 20 – Summer 2022
Performing along with other musicians is one of the most magical experiences one can have as a player. Each person uses their musical abilities to add a piece to the overall song and performance. It is a team effort, and we all know there is no “I’ in team. So, what exactly does this mean? How does a musician learn to play along with others? Although there are no secret ways to do this, I can offer a few tips to help you blend in when performing with others.
The goal of performing with others is to create a nice musical balance, where one instrument doesn’t stick out over another unless you are taking a solo or performing some main melodic melody line. The key to having this balance is to be actively listening to the people you are performing with. Ask yourself if what you are playing is complementary to what others are doing. For example, is your rhythmic pattern too complicated and competing with the rhythms the drummer is playing? Are you voicing your chords too low and interfering with the bass line or keyboard player?
Volume-wise, you shouldn’t be sticking out above others, and that can be remedied during soundcheck by asking some of the other musicians if they can hear you clearly or if you are too loud. You can also tell other musicians that they may be a little loud or too soft from what you can hear at soundcheck. It can be very difficult to hear how loud you are if you are standing in front of your amp, so asking others is a better gauge of volume. I sometimes ask a trusting member of the audience what they hear and if anything is out of balance. Of course, when you solo, you need to turn your volume up a bit so you can be heard over the rest, as that is your time to be featured in the performance.
When you look back in history at all the great bands that existed, you will notice there was chemistry between them all. They all understood their places in the song and did not try to outshine one another when performing. Our goal as musicians is to add to the song. It is important that we support the person soloing by giving them a nice musical foundation to play on top of without getting in their sonic way. If you want to work on these skills, listen to your favorite songs, and instead of listening to the singer or the soloist, pay attention to what the musicians are doing behind them. Tune into the drummer, or the bass player, or the rhythm guitarist. What are they playing to support the soloist?
Knowing your place in the music is definitely a sign of a musician that cares about the song, more than showing off your skills. Once again, there is a time to show off your skills during a solo, but the entire song is not about one musician in particular. Becoming a musician that has a good grasp on this balance earns you a lot of respect from your fellow musicians, makes you a fun player to perform with, and will keep your gig calendar full of gigs. Be mindful of these things, and you will find yourself on the road to success.