So let’s assume you’ve gotten together with another guitarist and you found some common musical ground. The next step is to build a set list. Sure, it’s fun to get together a few times and just play the same few tunes but to perform in front of a crowd, even at a party (a good first “gig” that I’ll talk about in the next installment), but you’ll need at least a dozen or so songs to even think about putting it out there.
Mixing up slow and faster songs is important. This keeps interest level high. Beginning with an up-tempo song is far better than starting with a slow one because it shows enthusiasm, which is contagious. Professional bands always start with a bang and then often settle into the building of something like a climax in the performance. In recent years I’ve seen quite a few bands that feature a section of slower, more intimate songs in the middle of the show, then begin building toward a big finish. This is a great way to do things assuming you know enough tunes. In the various groups I’ve played with if we were playing three sets in a bar we would often use our slower or moderate tempo stuff in the middle set. These days it seems that bar gigs often consist of one fairly long set, more like a “show” – the term “gig” is rather passé` these days I fear – and in that situation the building of the set is more critical for success.
Each time you get together for a practice session, try to bring along a new tune or two to try. The new ones may or may not work or seem worthy of work but throwing them out there may serve to make you and your musical mate or mates think of more new tunes to try. Be sure to take the time to download and print at least the lyrics and changes for the next rehearsal, which will save a lot of time compared to simply demonstrating a song to others.
The next logical addition to your fledgling band is a bass player. Unfortunately, bass players are often difficult to find and it may be necessary to purchase a bass and each guitar player learn to play it at least in the most elemental way. In acoustic bands it is great to have someone who plays stand-up bass but those players are even rarer than the ones playing electric. But the sound of a stand-up is great with acoustic guitars.
Next you may want to add a drummer or percussionist. This will be perhaps the most difficult task of all in putting together a band, not because of a lack of drummers but because few inexperienced drummers really know how to rehearse. I know that sounds like a big dis of drummers but believe me, it is a fact. Drummers ALL want to POUND – that after all is coolest thing about playing those things! – and worse yet, many don’t understand the importance of putting down the sticks between songs so the melodic instrumentalists can communicate about elements of a tune that will need work. Many drummers find this process incredibly boring and will begin to slip into random taps, raps and bangs until it gets to the point that no progress is being made and the song in its entirety (when the drummer will finally get to play) becomes impossible to achieve. Someone has to be willing to say to the drummer – hey, please be quiet for a minute! This is fraught with peril form an ego perspective. Be very careful how this problem is broached or hurt feelings or worse can be the result.
This brings up another issue. In almost all cases, someone has to function as something of a leader in rehearsals. It would be wonderful a rehearsal could move along without one but that is hardly ever the case. Without a doubt, this is the most delicate problem that most young or inexperienced bands face. What usually happens is that without it being stated or recognized someone falls into the role. That person is the one who needs to keep the rehearsals from becoming random jam sessions or ineffectual noodling. “Hey, let’s try (fill in the blank),” is all that needs to be said. If one member of the group knows a song better than the others he or she should be willing to show and demonstrate it without recrimination if the other member or members seem unable to play it. The worst thing you can so is lose your temper or let frustration with bad playing become a verbal assault. I did that once, and sad to say, it was the first major crack in a good band that soon after came crashing down. I regret my words to this day. Suck it up, shut up, and keep practicing. It’s fine and necessary to explain and demonstrate the right way to play something, just don’t let it get personal.
At this point in the growth of your band it may be time to think about bringing in other instruments, especially ones that have a different tonality than what you already have and can take solos. A saxophone or other brass instrument, flute, harmonica, ukulele, mandolin, dobro or fiddle can really add depth and interest to the sound of any band. Keyboards are fantastic additions but using one will require work so the guitars and keys aren’t playing essentially the same thing. If you’re lucky enough to find someone who can play a couple of those instruments you’ve struck it rich! And if that person can sing too, well, call me up. I want to join your band!
Next I’ll talk about the all-important next step: putting it out there. Getting gigs. Oops, I mean “playing shows.”
Peace & good music,