Have you ever play or sing with a jam band? A jam band is a makeshift band and the musicians probably played together for the first time unrehearsed either in an impromptu performance or in a Jam music bar. Jam bands usually play jazz or blues both these genre of music have fixed music chord progressions and free form personal interpretation can be weaved into the chord sequence.
Since most jam bands play to a small audience, there is usually no sound technician to balance the sound produced by the bands and thus the musicians have to be 'sound sensitive' and able to detect unbalanced sounds and adjust their volumes and timbre themselves.
So how to play good and balanced music when you play with a jam band? Here are some pointers.
a) Listen to the lead singer
If you cannot hear the singer's voice and the lyrics, then the musicians should turn down the volume of their instruments immediately so that the singer can be heard clearly by the audience. If a fellow musician is unaware, do not be afraid to remind him to play softer. Even if the singer is too soft and shy, it is always the duty of all musicians to play softer so that the singer can be heard.
b) Be attentive to the song
Certain parts of a song are sung softly and sweetly perhaps the introduction, or the first verse, or at the emotional part. The singer will usually take the lead. If these parts of the song are supposed to be quieter, then play softly. If the chorus is more energetic, then play louder during the chorus. But once the next verse arrives, we tone down for the softer verse.
Whenever we have such alternating dynamics of loud and soft, the listener will be captivated, moved and thus sing with more emotions and feelings. There will thus be 'expression' in the music, as opposed to having just one full volume all the way. If you listen and pay attention to the whole performance, you will automatically know when to go softer and when to let down your hair and rock away.
c) Bass player should listen to the volume of the kick drum
There is always a tendency for bassist to play too loud. The volume of the bass guitar should be at the same volume as the kick drum. If you cannot hear the kick drum, then bring down the volume of the bass.
d) Pianist must take the lead role in controlling musical dynamics
The pianist should listen attentively to the singer and know what kind of style and emotion the singer wants to portray in the songs. When the pianist softens, then the drummer, guitarist and bassist should follow suit. When the pianist starts to crescendo, then the rest of the band can rock and roll along.
e) Singer should feel free to guide the band and tell them to play softer, louder, faster or slower. The musicians must remember that your main job is to back the singer, to help make the singer sound good. So please oblige the singer while on stage and let him have it his way. Do not oppose the singer no matter how bad he or she is. If a musician wants to take the limelight and be a star, then wait for your turn to do your solo.
f) Listen to the soloist
If a soloist is playing, all other instruments should not be louder such that the soloist is drowned. When the soloist is soloing, do not compete with him by playing all sorts of fancy stuff on your instrument that is totally unrelated to his solo. Just play some back up chords will do.
g) Give everyone a chance to solo
One of the reasons why many musicians do not play dynamically in a jam band is because they are eager to show off and be heard. We as musicians all want to be heard and noticed, so there is a tendency for us to make sure that we are loud so that the whole world can hear us. I believe one reason is because the musicians are not given ample opportunity to solo and be a star of the moment.
Perhaps this is the reason why jazz musicians seldom have problems with dynamics. Jazz musicians always seem to know when to play soft, when to play simple, when to play harder etc. This is because they have already been given ample opportunity showcase their talents during their solos so there is no more need to fight to be heard and noticed.
Keep these pointers in mind when you play or sing with a jam band the next time and have a rollicking good time.
About the Author
Chris Chew plays with impromptu jam bands regularly.Read his blogs at Singapore Jam Bar and
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