Q: I practice a lot, but I don’t get to play music with other people all that often. How important do you think it is that I play with other actual humans?
A: The short answer? Extremely important.
There is no shortage of reasons why this is important, but here are the most important in my book:
What you are doing may be very cool to your ears, but it might not always be the most musical thing. Also, you may be on the verge of something pretty cool and all you need is a slight suggestion from someone and… WHAM! there it is!
Think about it, is there anything in life that you can truly master without instruction, guidance or some kind of interaction from others? Maybe, but I’d bet it comes much slower (if at all).
Having someone there to bounce musical ideas off of both verbally and musically is invaluable.
Seek out musicians who are more musically advanced than you too, and play with them. This gives you immediate insight into what else is possible and provides the opportunity to ask questions and get some direct answers to things that might take you weeks, months or years to discover on your own.
On the flip side, playing with others that are at your level provides you with immediate feedback in a low-pressure environment. Someone there may have a better grasp on “A” while you have a better grasp on “B” and, if you two get together, you will both understand both A and B much more quickly. Playing with those who are less developed than you are is also helpful as it provides you with an opportunity to teach, thereby forcing you to articulate what it is you know which reinforces what you know in your head in a big way. I’ve learned more from teaching than I have from gigging or rehearsing in many ways. Teaching is one of the most fantastic (and rewarding) ways to grow as a player. I often find myself learning as I speak because I am forced to articulate a concept and I almost always make a discovery in the process.
Fun = elevated attention span = more knowledge per hour (kph?)
The act of making music and exploring your limits is fun (or at least it should be). When you’re having fun, you will get more out of the experience and can do it for longer periods. For those who hate practicing by yourself and often have to struggle in order to keep yourself focused, you probably find that when you’re making music with others, hours can roll by without me even considering doing anything else… checking email, glancing at a website, flipping through iTunes to look at new music and all of the other distractions we face today. You’ll be 100% focused on the task at hand and learning more because you’ll want to be focused at the task at hand.
If you record your rehearsals or jam sessions (highly recommended, by the way) you also have a keepsake as well as a means to critique yourself (and the group), which leads to further development.
As part of my routine, I love flipping through old recordings I have on my hard drive and even more important: love hearing my development as a player as time goes on.
This also allows you to listen back that night or the next day and evaluate what you are playing and how it impacts the music as a whole. We all know how hard it can be to listen to the band as a whole when we are performing in the moment. This type of feedback is invaluable.
From concept to reality
Rehearsing or jamming is also the perfect time to experiment with ideas you’ve played with while practicing at home. I don’t care how cool the loops are you create at home to play along with, you will never truly know how an idea works musically until you play it with other humans who will react to it.
For example, say you’ve been shedding different modes over a one chord vamp. When you are practicing at home to a loop or drone, nothing ever changes regardless of what you play. In real life, musicians react to the music and to the soloist and players might start adding other chords to the vamp, changing their rhythms to build intensity, or even cue a different portion of the song (forcing you to alter your mindset and work your ears as your platform shifts).
It’s easy to see and conceptualize how playing with other musicians can not only challenge you in new ways but lead to interaction and feedback that can greatly improve your abilities in less time.
Imagine trying to learn a new language by only ever reading out of a book and listening to Rosetta tapes. Now imagine how much faster you’d learn if you were in a group of people (all of whom were learning that same language) trying to have a conversation, play a board game or go out to a restaurant only using that language. You would become conversationally adept and learn new words, phrases and usage in far less time and with far more functionality than you ever could at home with your headphones on and someone repeating the word “cat” in French over and over again.
Get out there and find someone to make and explore music with. You have absolutely nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain!
As always, I love hearing your feedback. Share your thoughts and experiences on the benefits of playing with others in the comments.
Photo by Tim Lorenz