There are several elements that make a band sound great. One of those elements is the ability of the individuals in the band to listen to each other. Paying attention to what each person is playing and supporting the lead instrument so that the band sounds like a cohesive unit . No matter how brilliant the individual musicians are, if they don’t listen to each other the overall sound can be cluttered.

Bass virtuoso Victor Wooten uses this analogy to describe playing as a band. He says it is like having a conversation. When you are having a conversation with a group of people, not everyone talks at the same time. Someone is always leading the conversation and everyone else listens. They might nod and say a few things in agreement with what the lead is saying but that is only to support the lead. When everyone starts talking at the same time it becomes noisy and cluttered.

In this live performance of the track “Monterey” from the smooth jazz band Fourplay, Nathan East (bassist), Lee Ritenour (lead guitarist) and Bob James (pianist) play some of the most inspired improvisations I have heard:

The interplay between the three of them is simply brilliant and the way their solos blend with each other can only be that smooth because they are listening and supporting each other the entire time. And they are also able to express themselves fully because drummer, Harvey Mason, has built a solid support structure to keep the entire band going. He builds up and slows down, plays quieter or louder all depending on what the other instrumentalists are doing.

 

The same thing applies when the lead instrumentalist is the vocalist. Sometimes, we as instrumentalists, can get so carried away with what we are playing that we compete for space with the singers. Instead of supporting the vocalists and giving them space to be heard we overshadow and drown them out. In gospel music, words are very important. It is from the content of what is being sung that people can actually hear the gospel. We can aid in that process or hinder it, depending on how well we support one another musically in the band.

 

This is Keith and Kristyn Getty performing their song “In Christ Alone”. Notice how the piano and the vocals work together. The pianist supports the vocalist so that we can truly appreciate the words of this great song.

So next time you are playing in a band, it will be helpful to ask yourself a few questions:

What are the other members of the band playing?
Is what you are playing blending in with what they are playing?
Is the band creating space that allows the congregation to actually hear what is being said in the songs?
Is it possible for you to play less in order that the entire band sounds better?

Written by Stephen Braimah

To know Christ and make Him known. A Software Engineer in Ghana who enjoys animation, playing music and theology. Tweeting at @stephenybraimah

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