If you’ve been taking music lessons for long enough, you’re going to want to eventually play music with other people. Playing music with other people can be a very rewarding, beautiful experience. Chances are, you have also heard your fair share of musicians playing together, just observing and listening. You may have made some observations about how some groups sound “great live” and others may just sound like a bunch of noise.
The Noise Zone
Improvising is a great way to get started in a new project. However, when every instrument is improvising, you can get into that dangerous “noise” zone if everyone isn’t careful. Improvised music is very much like a conversation. If everyone is saying what they want all at the same time, nothing is going to get accomplished. If someone makes a compelling point about politics, and the next person starts rambling on about ice cream, the conversation is going nowhere and no one is really going to enjoy listening to it either!
Listen If You Want To Speak
The most important thing to play music with other people is to listen to what everyone is saying. If you listen intently, you have a much greater chance of contributing something worthwhile to the conversation. Similarly, the most important thing every individual can do in a band is listen to each other. If you are listening carefully, you will know what to play to make the best contribution possible.
If you are not being constantly mindful about listening, it is very easy to slip into a state of “What can I play next?”. Once you stop thinking about the overall sound coming from every musician involved and shift the focus only onto what you are doing, chances are, it’s not going to sound that great. Always keep the whole picture in mind. Remember, this is the key to working with others.
This may make sense and sound very simple, but once you are in the mode of playing, it is very difficult to keep the focus on the whole rather than on what you are playing yourself. Think back to music as a conversation. How many times have you been involved in a conversation but only thought about what you are going to say next? It happens to everyone! It happens even more in a musical setting because playing an instrument is not nearly as intuitive and free-flowing as speaking. We have been speaking since we were toddlers and we have been playing music for one, two, five, or ten years? In any case, playing your instrument is going to require some internal thought. It takes a serious effort to leave room in your mind to truly listen to everything happening around you- no matter how long you’ve been playing! You can learn how to play congas or a guitar or any other instrument online.
You Can Do It
Can we practice this? Of course we can! The more we play music with other people, the better we are going to get at listening. That is, if we make the conscious effort to truly listen the whole time. If we slip, it’s ok! Just observe it and get back into it. It’s good to have a mantra, even if that mantra is simply “listen”.
Play Music With Other People
The most important thing to do is keep playing with others, keep practicing on your own, and go out and listen to other musicians play as well. Just keep those ears open! Listen to every part of what is going on and practice contributing to the best of your ability. The more we talk to each other, the better we get at holding down a conversation. The best way to get better is to keep playing! You’ll get a little bit better every time you do!