So what are the ‘ground rules,’ and the ‘unwritten rules’ of being in a band? And ultimately how do you become an awesome band member as a guitar player?
This post is your ultimate guide to help outline everything you need to know for being a reliable and awesome band member.
These 11 vital tips are what I and other musicians have learned from personal experience over the years.
Let’s get into it beginning with tip number one…
#1 – Know your Band’s Vision and Goals
No matter what kind of band you are joining (or thinking of joining) original, cover band, or even school band.
You must understand what you want and expect from the band, and have a clear understanding of the band’s visions and goals.
Whether it’s a casual cover group looking to play once a month for a laugh, or an original band gunning for the ultimate dream of securing a record contract.
No matter what the vision and goals are big or small, you should know (being the new member) the goal and vision for you to be fully committed and on board with the project.
This should have been discussed during the audition or before joining the group.
You need to have an idea on goals, vision, the genre of music, and your role within the band musically.
Over time, the band’s direction can change which is fine, just know what you are joining at the start. If not, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.
(Story time) My Experience Joining a New Band
I once came across an advertisement on ‘join my band’ for a local ‘indie’ band with all original songs searching for a guitarist. I quickly became interested, and after checking out their music on their Soundcloud account, I liked their stuff, so I applied for the gig.
After learning four songs and a successful audition later, I was offered the role, and everything looked grand.
Why It Quickly Went Downhill….
After a week or two, however, out of the blue, they rolled out all this random hidden material which was never mentioned to me at any stage.
The singer and lead guitarist without any input from the rest of the band decided to ditch the majority of the songs on their Soundcloud which I happened to like.
Presenting all this rough material (all guitar parts written and ready to go) which I classed as some strange and weird version of ‘alternative rock’ and not to my taste. This sudden sh*t, sorry I meant to say ‘shift’ in musical direction was not what I had in mind.
This caused quite a bit of tension meaning my commitment slowly started to head south. I played two gigs just to give it a go, but after a short while I left the band (on good terms of course.) Considering I was using my precious time to play a musical genre I had no interest in playing.
The point is, let this be a lesson for you to understand your band’s full plans laid out bare to save wasting your precious time and the bands time in the process.
#2 – Learn the Material Quickly
If you have joined an established band, a good tip is to learn the bands material as quick as you can whether it is an original or covers. This will score you brownie points with your new bandmates showing that you are keen, committed, professional and a fast learner.
Turning up to a session knowing their catalog in a short amount of time shows them the new guy is the ‘real deal’ giving you some early respect and portrays your substantial commitment.
If they have their act together, they will have their songs recorded on social media or music streaming services such as Soundcloud or Spotify.
Build on what you learned for the audition and get a good foot through the door meaning you can all push on with new songs and material once all the material has been learned.
There’s nothing worse than a new member ‘coasting’ taking their time to get up to speed with the setlist which is slowing the band’s progress as a whole.
#3 – Learn & Practice ‘In Your Time’
Want to know the single most annoying method for annoying your bandmates, and jeopardizing your credibility as a band member? It definitely has to be not ‘practicing and remembering’ your parts and practicing them… ‘in your time!’
There are countless stories of when last week’s band practice goes great, everyone knows what to play, and it all sounds smooth and polished. The songs sound great, and everyone has nailed it as a musical unit, and band moral is on a high!
Fast forward to the next week; however, during the session, everything just sounds terrible!
Why? Everything was great last week. Well, it turns out the guitar player, drummer, singer or whoever. Did not take the time to practice and remember what to play ‘in their time.’
Now the band has to take precious time to get that person back ‘up to speed.’ Losing all that vital progress from the previous week. Not cool.
Don’t Be That Guy!
Funny thing is, the person who didn’t practice will have tried to wing it during the song. But mistakes don’t lie; they stick out like a musical sore thumb.
So when you’re sloppy, keep playing the wrong chord or notes at the wrong time during a song. Everyone will collectively glare at you, then telepathically look at each other (and it’s not lovely thoughts.)
So don’t be that guy, always remember and practice what you built on from each week in your own time. Getting a group in the same room together is tough so every minute you have together as a band is precious.
If you are a cover band and asked to learn a new song, then learn it! Learning it doesn’t mean scroll through the tabs and work it out during practice. Listen to the song multiple times throughout the week.
Practice it on guitar on the run-up to the next session, so you know the song inside and out, so when practice session comes around again, you nail it. Band practice is to practice ‘as a band’ not for you to learn how to play the song.
#4 – When Practising Do Not Play When Others are Talking
Behind the previous point, this has to be on par with being the most annoying band practice sin during a session.
Picture the scene, you and your band members are all sat around with their instruments discussing new ideas and parts for a potential new song. Meanwhile, you think it’s the perfect time to play a random set of chords, or a random solo, or test that new pedal you brought to the session.
In a split second, you drown out what the other guys are trying to discuss with one another. I know from personal experience how annoying this is!
So again, don’t be that guy. Instead, be present and interrupt them with suggestions, ideas or comments with your voice. Not with the random sound of your blaring guitar.
This will instantly make you the least popular person in the room. You can mess around as much as you want or test that new pedal at home in your time.
Practice time is for practicing as a band so don’t interrupt with your noodling instead, be focused and present on the creative process.
#5 – Your Band Members Want Commitment
Make no mistake; being in a band is a big commitment. Even if your band practice once a week, it’s still a large commitment.
You will find yourself learning new songs, coming up with new ideas, practice ideas, practice songs, turn up to sessions on time, play gigs, promote your band and practice for your own benefit.
Doing all this while juggling the daily stresses of life, that being school, work, and family life. Not to mention costs for equipment, transportation, practice sessions and studio time.
You have to realize, being in an active band will take up a lot of your time and can cost a fair bit depending on often you practice. But the downside is worth the reward if your group frequently gig and you love and enjoy the aspect of playing in a group with other like-minded musicians striving towards a common goal.
Don’t Skip Sessions
You and other members will miss the occasional practice session, and that’s fine because priorities, sickness and life’s emergencies do happen. Just do not make missing practice sessions a habit for the only reason that you are not committed to the band anymore.
In that case, it’s better to tell the band straight up in an honest way and tell them that you can no longer commit for whatever valid reason.
Most bands would prefer a guitar player with less ability but 100% committed to the project, rather than a guitar player with more skill, but with no commitment whatsoever.
Commitment and dedication is probably the keyword used in the advertisement to describe the person they wanted for the position. No matter what type of band you are in everyone has to be onboard to get the best out of it. An unmotivated and uncommitted member of the band is essentially ‘dead weight’ within the group.
#6 – Learn to Take and Give Constructive Criticism
Everyone will have their own opinion on what sounds best when it comes to music. Disagreements are bound to happen between band members that’s pretty much a given it’s just the normality of being in a band.
For example, if your bass player is continuously playing a section of the song wrong, then you and other members will need to have the confidence to the point that out to the person. At the end of the day, everyone is there including you, to make the best music possible and quickly progress musically as a band.
The Correct Environment
Ideally, you should be in a band environment where each member are allowed to give constructive criticism without judgment and to cause tension openly.
As a musician, you are open to criticism as not everyone will agree with everything you do musically as the guitarist in the band. You may agree with them or strongly disagree.
For example, your members might disagree on your efforts that you contribute to the band musically. These could be… how you play the song, your creative ideas, your ability, your guitar tone, your musical tastes, the list goes on.
Don’t Take it Personally
The point is, remember not to take musical criticism personally because it is not a personal attack on you. This is just the normality of being in a band. In a way, constructive criticism can make you a better musician and improve the band as a unit in the long run.
It’s whether you agree and decides to act upon the criticism. A benefit is that you will gain thicker skin meaning you are better prepared to progress and stave off bad criticism in the future.
#7 – Leave Your Ego at the Door
No matter what band you are in, egos exist including your own. A good tip is when you enter the practice session, leave yours at the door and manage the egos within the band. Within a band, you may find that some of the members have more ego than actual ability.
Or one member of the band is the ‘quiet guy’ but the one that can actually play their instrument they just haven’t got the biggest mouth. Either way, a healthy band environment is where each member leaves their egos at the door during a practice session and put the band’s music first.
#8 – Be Prepared for Band Politics & Hierarchy
More than likely there will be a leader within the band that calls most of the shots which is normal. However, remember it’s a band, not a dictatorship! A healthy band environment is where everyone has a say and contributes to the music.
If you feel egos are overpowering and not allowing you to have your voice, then do something about it. Otherwise, you are going to feel just like a session musician in an average Joe band without getting paid.
I remember a good way of deciding a dispute was to have a vote within the band. It’s a simple “raise your hand if you prefer to do X or Y?” The more hands raised gets the deciding vote.
I know for a fact this voting system does not exist in all bands. In reality, the leader will force something through which sometimes you have to get on with it. Especially being ‘the new guy’ in an established group, you may find you don’t get much of the decisions.
The Story of ‘Comfortably Numb’
I remember reading a story about when David Gilmore and Roger Waters from Pink Floyd on recording the iconic song ‘Comfortably Numb.’ Had an infamous raging argument in the studio about how the song should be arranged. The argument was so big and fierce that it almost split the band there and then.
David wanted it to sound one way; Roger wanted it sound the other. In the end, the song turned out to be a compromise of both versions of the song. Who knows how different that song could have sounded if David or Roger got their way?
Arguments are Standard
The point is that disagreement and is the norm of being in a band. No, I’m not saying you should have fierce arguments on a daily basis because that would actually be wrong. What I’m saying is that disagreements will happen which can cause some tension within the establishment.
This happens when your big ideas for a part of a song which you may become emotionally attached to them and see this as a personal attack when they are dropped and forgotten about.
Just remember this comes along with the territory of being in a band so sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth and go along with some decisions that you may not agree with.
#9 -Be Prepared For Your First Gig
As a guitar player gigging is up there with the best feelings in the world, and I’m not just saying that!
But for someone who is a noob to the band scene, you must be prepared for your first gig considering you lack experience gigging and possibly playing in front of crowds.
The best advice and I cannot express this enough is to be 100% prepared musically and with all of your gear.
Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail!
Remember tip #3 ‘learn and practice your guitar parts?’ Well, this point is the same just on steroids. If you or the band are ill-prepared musically for a gig, it won’t just be you who look stupid; it will be the band who look stupid as a unit… in front of an audience.
You or one of your other members do not want to be that person who lets the band down because they were unprepared.
First, make sure your band has practiced and rehearsed enough before a gig. For example, if the gig is on a Saturday make sure you have rehearsed at least twice that week leading up to the event.
This practice time should be used to go through the set list multiple times until it sounds tight and ready for an audience.
Practice at Home
When the band is sounding on point, you should also practice individually at home, so it is fresh in your head. You should have a recording of the gig on your phone, so you can listen and play along at home.
Playing at home in a comfortable, relaxed environment is fine. However, the nerves on stage will definitely affect your playing especially being your first gig so practice as much as you can.
Nerves are going to be the main cause of errors so do not leave anything to chance learn and remember your material like the back of your hand. A good way to think of it is…’don’t practice until you get it right; practice it so you can’t get it wrong.’
Practice Difficult Sections
If you have a riff or a solo within a song that you can’t quite master at band practice and frequently mess up, the nerves that take hold during a gig will undoubtedly make it likely to mess up again.
This is when you should practice this section at home so you cannot get it wrong and sounds tight at the gig. When the music is rehearsed ready and rock solid, it’s time to think of your personal preparation when it comes to your gear.
I could write a separate article on preparing for your first gig however to sum it up quickly a solid gig checklist would go like this…
- Does the venue have amps and equipment to use? (Use your amp preferably)
- Does the venue have a PA system?
- Guitar (intonated and working optimally)
- Amp (if you can bring your own)
- Tuner pedal (do not tune your guitar out loud on stage)
- Pedals or effect unit (if you use them)
- Gig bag – protecting the guitar and carrying small essentials
- Spare Strings – if a string breaks
- ¼ inch jack cables and spares – never assume the venue have spare cables if one dies
- Spare plectrums – they are easily lost
- Backup pedals – if your pedals break or die
- Backup power supply for pedals (either battery or 9v power)
- Spare power tubes for your amp – in case a tube fails on stage or breaks in transit
- Optional: earplugs (protect your hearing from the start)
#10 – Be Prepared for the Studio
Going into the studio for the first time can be daunting but also an exciting time for a guitar player. The rules don’t change, however. Preparing for the studio is similar to preparing for a gig.
The similarities start with the band requiring to know their material inside and out and having your gear prepared and ready to go. You as the guitarist also need to have your riffs, parts, solos engrained in the mind before setting foot in the studio.
When recording a solo in the studio, don’t leave it to that moment of inspiration, know what you are going to play and record.
Ideally, have it tabbed and written down. Don’t try to work out guitar harmonies there and then. You need to have done your homework and worked them out before entering the studio.
Ultimately, when it comes to the studio… time costs money. You and the band want the recording process to be as smooth and quick as possible to save money.
Prepare Your Equipment
Save yourself and the band a headache. make sure your equipment is on point and studio ready before recording.
Do not bring a guitar that will not stay in tune or is having intonation problems. The studio will not be able to make a bad sounding guitar sound good.
You want your equipment to be functioning optimally to ensure you get the best sounding recording you can possibly achieve on the day.
Also, another tip, change the strings 3-5 days before, so it gives the new strings a chance to wear in and settle. Don’t change them the day before give them enough time to avoid tuning problems on the day.
- Respect each other’s musical tastes, each member’s influences are the ingredients that combine to create an original band’s sound.
- Make the time to socialize with your band mates outside of practicing and gigs
- Do your part to promote your band via word of mouth or social media
- If you cannot make a session let the band know in good time
- Having top-notch gear is not essential, but better gear makes for a more professional set-up
- If there’s another guitarist, offer to lend your gear, guitars, and amps for a weekend so you can lend theirs.
- Handle musical disputes by both coming to a ‘compromise or band vote.’
11# -Have Fun Being In a Band
The last and most important tip is to have fun and enjoy yourself! Playing in a band is the most rewarding experience being a guitar player, getting out there playing with friends and making fun memories as a musician has to be one of the best skills to look back on.
Gigging is also one of the best feelings; being on stage and performing what you do to crowds is the ultimate of being a guitar player. Your love for music is the reason why you picked up the guitar in the first place so do the most with it and be apart of a band and unite with other musicians.
Being in bands regularly will push you and improve your ability while exposing you to other musicians and styles meaning with experience, you will mature as a musician like a fine wine.
I noticed my ability grow with time while playing with other musicians plus the pure fact that I was constantly logging hours on my guitar.
Thanks For Reading!
The tips I have mentioned you will more than likely discover along the way on your band playing journey. However, being new to a band, it’s always good having a heads up in life so take these tips and make some music.
I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I did writing it. Show your appreciation by getting involved and commenting below. So let me ask you, what were your experiences being in your first band good or bad? Let me know below! Thanks for reading and hopefully see you again soon.