Guitar/Playing With Others

Almost as soon as you start playing the guitar, you start to meet many other guitarists. Eventually, you will wind up playing with some of them, in some sort of informal jam sessions, where friends play anything that tickles their fancy.

Playing with others is helped incredibly by having some basic knowledge of music theory along with some amount of talent or skill. This is especially true if you intend to improvise a melody or chord progression. this section will provide the basics of considerate playing, along with some tips on how to keep playing interesting.

The Makeup of a Band


Even if you never intend to play in a large group, it's still important to know the basic divisions of a band, because you never know what might happen tomorrow. Learning about how a band works can also help you learn new songs from popular groups, as well as improve your knowledge of general music theory, and your appreciation for music.

As explained in the lead guitar and rhythm guitar section, guitar playing essentially breaks down to two, somewhat overlapping categories; rhythm and lead (sometimes called melody). In a band, the rhythm guitar is more generally associated with the drums, bass, background vocals and less prominent instruments, while the melody guitar would be related to the lead vocals or any other lead instrument.

Thus, when you are playing only with two people, almost immediately one player provides the chords and groove of a song, while another play contributes a melody that complements the song's progression. With more people playing, this division becomes less strict, and players can shift from playing more of less prominent parts.

In general, it is almost always better to play with more than two people, because with more people, whatever piece you are playing is less likely to fall apart when the first person screws up. If you only play with one other person, consider including a metronome or a mp3 drum track in the background. Electronic accompaniment helps you keep a steady pace, and helps you learn to not "rush" or "drag" in the group.

Proper Playing Attitudes


The most important thing to remember about playing with others can be learned by carefully listening to any piece of recorded music: Every player contributes to the song with an appropriate tone and volume, and never plays in excess of that. Essentially this just means you shouldn't try to outplay and outshine everyone else in the group, because no one likes a showoff. It doesn't matter how good you are (or think you are), you should never play so much that it drowns everyone else out.

If not overplaying is the most important thing about jamming, then the second most important is listening. The key to improvisation is to listen to the interplay of all the other instruments, and to add to that whatever sounds best. Listening is, unfortunately, a very neglected skill among beginning musicians, and really, most musicians in general.

A common tendency, especially among those who have just begun to get a solid foundation in scale theory and technique, is to noodle around aimlessly on the fretboard with little or no regard for the shape of the song that is being played, or the structure of the arrangement. This is a huge mistake, and it leads to music that no one wants to listen to; worse yet, it does nothing to develop the musician who plays it.

Pay attention to the music that is being played around you. Add to it only when it is necessary. You should begin to hear the lines that you want to play before you play them. What you are shooting for here is something akin to the old koan about sculpting: the figure is already in the marble, and you are just trying to release it.

It is also important to make sure that you do not take up too much "space" in the arrangement, which is to say, do not play so loudly that other instruments must fight to be heard. This is especially a problem for rhythm guitarists in jam sessions, who must be careful not to drown out soloists.

Staying in the Right Key


Perhaps the most important thing to do when playing with others is to remember what key you are in. The "key" of a piece is essentially the scale of notes that the song uses, but it also affects what the correct chords are to play on each note. Suppose there is only yourself and another guitarist playing, and the other guitarist is playing rhythm. The chord progression they are playing determines the key of the song, which naturally suggests certain notes for you, the lead guitarist.

Even if you have absolutely no knowledge of music theory, everyone can generally tell when you play a wrong note. Although advanced players can often add in "wrong" notes for colour (known in music theory as an accidental), for beginners it is important to know what notes are in what keys, so they can use the most appropriate notes.

For example, the rhythm guitarist might be playing a three chord blues riff in the key of B minor. Even if you didn't know the key, often the first and last chord of a progression can be good indicators of commonly used keys. At the very least, the general tone of the progression will be enough to indicate if it is a major or minor key. in this case, once you knew the key, you could immediately start soling in any B minor scale, such as the B minor pentatonic scale. However, since music is creative, it is impossible to be "limited", and you also have available a number of other soloing scales, like the pentatonic scale or any of the modes. For example, the Phrygian mode has traditionally been the "Spanish scale". Modes are much more complex and require knowledge of music theory to get the most benefit from them.



There is also a basic approach to improvising which is more simple than playing over a chord accompaniment. It also predates Western tuning systems and chords. It is produced by playing a moving melody on one higher-pitched string, while leaving a lower note ringing on another "open", or lower-pitched (unfretted) string. The static bass note is referred to as a "pedal tone". The lower note drones or stays the same and the upper note moves, creating both simple harmonic and melodic motion. Traditional instruments which have fewer strings and a smaller range than the guitar use this technique. It can be heard in many musical styles in both Eastern and Western musical traditions including those with guitar.

This technique can be found both within Western tuning systems which use 12 semitones per octave as well as beyond in more complex Eastern tuning systems. Therefore before attempting to improvise a solo over a chord progression or a series of chords in a particular key, it is useful to practice playing simple melodies on one (upper) string to familiarize your ear with the intervals, or distances between those fretted notes and a static open, un-fretted (lower) string below it which is sounding simultaneously. Another advantage of this is that with each pair of notes you play, different intervals are sounded. Your ear begins to detect these and this is a basic form of ear training.

Well-known Improv Bands

Getting Started: Different Types of Guitars | Anatomy of a Guitar | Buying a Guitar | Buying an Amplifier | Tuning the Guitar | Tablature | Lead Guitar and Rhythm Guitar
For Beginners: The Basics | Intervals and Power Chords | Open Chords | Muting and Raking | Learning Songs | Song Library
Lead Guitar: Picking and Plucking | Scales | Arpeggios and Sweep Picking | Slides | Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Trills | Bending and Vibrato | Harmonics | Vibrato Bar Techniques | Tapping
Rhythm Guitar: Chords | Barre Chords | Chord Progressions | Alternate Picking | Tremolo Picking | Rhythm
Playing Styles: Folk Guitar | Blues | Slide Guitar | Rock Guitar | Country and Western | Metal | Jazz | Classical Guitar | Flamenco
General Guitar Theory: Tone and Volume | Singing and Playing | Writing Songs | Playing With Others | Recording Music |Tuning Your Ear | How to Continue Learning
Equipment: Guitar Accessories | Effects Pedals | E-Bow | Cables | Bass Guitar | Harmonica and Guitar Combo
Maintenance: Guitar Maintenance and Storage | Adjusting the Guitar | Stringing the Guitar
Appendices: Dictionary | Alternate Tunings | Chord Reference | Blanks