A Quick Note: This is part of a series of posts about “How To Not Be a Dumb Musician”. These posts outline common frustrations associated with certain types of musicians in an attempt to become better musicians. Enjoy.
It’s not a stretch to say that guitarists are generally the most popular musicians. Most people can name the singer and guitarist in a band, but not all the other members. Cream. The Rolling Stones. Queen. Even if you know the other members, who gets the most attention? The guitarist. Well guitarists, I’ve got news for you. There’s things that you do that annoy the other band members. They don’t know how to talk to you about it, but sometimes you drive them crazy. Here’s how to not be a dumb guitarist.
Why the band is frustrated with you
The main reason everyone is frustrated with you is simple. You’re too busy listening to yourself, dialing in your tone, cranking your amp, and playing cool guitar lines to notice anyone else. Yes, you’re the most popular musician in the band, but you’re surrounded by several other fantastic musicians who are feeling ignored.
As a guitar player, you’re an incredibly important instrumentalist. You’re chunking away on chords, playing the melodic lines, and you look just so damn cool. So much of modern pop and rock music is defined by guitar. If the band were a cake, you’d be the frosting. Who wants to eat cake without frosting? NOBODY.
You may be the frosting, but you know what else is crucial? The cake. Nobody wants to eat just frosting. Even if you did, it would make you sick after a while, what with all the sweetness and tapping licks.
Have Your Cake (and make sure it’s delicious enough to eat it too)
In this analogy, the rest of the instrumentalists in the band are the cake. You could throw some great frosting on a nasty cake, but nobody would want to eat it. Similarly, if you had great tasting cake, but no frosting, it’s going to end up in the trash. Through the marriage of cake and frosting, you make a truly delicious treat that everyone wants a piece of.
Enough with the cake talk. You’re incredibly important and a crucial part of the band, but so is everyone else. Recognize that. Respect them. Listen to them. Let someone else put a fill in just before the chorus.
Alright so you’re balancing your playing with the rest of the band. Great. But you know who is more important than you? The singer. Without them, you’re just a band with no melody. A ship without sails. A cake with no icing to say “Happy Birthday Tevin.” (there I go again, sorry)
Kings and Queens
Everything the band does should compliment the singer, since they have the melody, and they’re the only one with words. Once they get covered up, people stop listening. It’s important to recognize this and play in a way that is always keeping the singer in mind. If the band were a chess game, the singer would be the King (the deciding factor on who wins and loses), and you would be the Queen (the one who gets to move anywhere they want, but still isn’t quite as important as the King).
What You Can Do For Yourself
Now that you understand the role you play (Frosting Queen), let’s take a look at specifics. Here’s a few common things done by dumb guitar players, and how you can never do these things again.
What Not To Do: Jump off the kick drum as you lick your strings, landing in the middle of the crowd. During At Last.
You gotta calm down with the showy physical stuff. You should rock out for sure, but don’t go overboard. Everyone already loves you, even if you don’t flip your guitar around your neck. Plus, the drummer and keyboard player are stuck where they are, so they can’t do anything to match your ridiculous dance moves. Having a pre-choreographed routine makes it look like you’re trying really hard. Just relax and enjoy the music.
Instead: Rock out a comfortable level, appropriate to the song and venue.
What Not To Do: Constantly tell the band about your new gear.
Look, I get it. Gear is awesome. But no one else in the band cares about how you just rewired your pedalboard, or how your Timeline chained into your Boss delay pedal into your fuzz pedal makes “an incredible sound, and with true bypass!” The best approach to take is this: make is sound awesome, and if someone asks you about it, feel free to elaborate. But in general the drummer isn’t going to care about how your pedalboard is chained together.
Instead: Don’t talk gear unless you’re asked about it.
What Not To Do: Crank Your Amp to 11 because, “It sounds better.”
A very common frustration with guitarists is volume. Guitarists tend to play too loud for the rest of the band’s liking, and the guitarist’s defense is, “It sounds better when the amp is louder.” That’s great that your tone sounds better when you’re louder, but you’re sacrificing the musicality of the entire band in the process. On its own maybe the frosting you’re making tastes better incredibly sweet, but combine that with the sweetness of the cake and you’ve got a recipe for disaster (eye rolling pun completely intentional). By playing too loudly you may sound better, but the band sounds worse.
Instead: Keep it to an appropriate level with the band.
Perfect Segue Joke:
How do you get a guitarist to turn down? Put sheet music in front of them.
What Not To Do: Be Unable To Read Music
Perhaps the most perpetuated stereotype about guitarists is that they can’t read music. For countless guitarists the stereotype is true, but the ones who can read are a Godsend. I realize that this is a sweeping generalization, but you should be able to read music at least at the same level as everyone else you’re playing with. This puts you all in the same boat and ensures you’re not the guy who can’t keep up. I promise you this: learn to read music well and the band will love you for it.
Instead: Learn To Read as Well as Everyone Else
What You Can Do For The Band
Now you know your stuff. You’re totally prepared for your part of the job. But what about everybody else? Here’s what you can do to help the band out.
Play Less Notes
If you want to win a chess game it’s important to balance out the use of the Queen with every other piece. Just because the Queen can move freely in any direction doesn’t mean it should. Sometimes you gotta let the other pieces make a few moves, like the Rook (drummer), Bishop (bassist), or Knight (keyboardist). Leave some space for the rest of the band to be able to move around. Your licks are awesome but make sure you’re not covering up the rest of the band. While we’re on the topic of playing too many notes…
Guitarists also have a bad history of noodling when the band isn’t playing. Get your practice time done at home, or if you’re trying to figure out a lick in the moment just mute yourself. This makes rehearsals much less frustrating. By not noodling whenever the band stops, you’re communicating your respect for everyone else and their time.
Guitarists, you guys are awesome. We all love you. We all wish we could be as cool as you. But don’t let that go to your head. Keep in mind your role as the Frosting Queen and be aware of the rest of the band. They’ll love you for it, everything will sound better, and the whole cake will be delicious.
Photo credit: mybulldog