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Question for folks who have started/been in a lot of bands.


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Hey all.  I've recently been getting the desire to start playing with people.  The problem is that I've always self-taught and produced all my own music solo.  This has left me in the unfortunate position of not knowing a lot of official music theory, not having the ability to read music, and not knowing entirely how things work in a band setting.

Now, I'm basically afraid to try to get into something collaborative, because I worry that they'll start throwing around a bunch of lingo that won't mean anything to me.  "Play [x] key with [x] scale at [etc., etc., etc.]"  Then I worry I'll look like an idiot who doesn't belong there!

I'm doing my best to start learning some of these things, but in the meantime, I'm curious about your experiences in group settings.  Have you played with people like myself who didn't know all the technical aspects of music?  Did it cause problems and if so, what were the hardest to overcome?  Or is it pretty much expected that anyone joining a band can do these things?

Or, contrarily, have you worked with someone like me and still had it be a positive experience where you were able to work within those limitations?  Am I just being too scared, and should I try and get out there anyway?

Any general advice for someone in my position?

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I never had a lesson & don’t read. It’s never been a problem. The only time it ever could be is if you apply for a pro-gig job where sight reading is essential.

I’ve played with people who read and learned bits & pieces from them along the way. That’s the way good musical collaboration should work. It’s more a case of getting on with people than what you know. Most everybody in bands though, just busk.

In my main band, I probably know more chords & theory, but in the band I recently joined I am the only non-reader.

Now one of them is a music teacher, another is a music student, and the others all rely on written music in practice and on gigs. They won’t play without the music in front of them.

I made it clear to them from the outset that I learn & play by ear. They asked me to join despite this and I am accepted fully.

They do work differently of course, but it is not a problem. At practice they call across to each other “what have you got for bar 62?” (comparing chords & charts) or similar.

 

On the other hand the singer in my main band knows just a few basic guitar chords (only uses a guitar as an aid to song writing – not performance), and I get satisfaction helping him to realise his song ideas. I try to be encouraging to those who know less.

So it doesn’t matter what level you are or even how much you know. What does work is a mutual desire to make music together. With that, all barriers drop.

If you are unlucky enough to find an ***hole to work with, you may need to look further, but such people are few & far between in my 45 years of experience.

Jump in & go for it I say.

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Hey Cutaia,

I have been in a few bands these last five years and currently play in a cover band I have been with going on 2 years.  I don't think anyone in the band is versed in music theory.  I also don't believe any of us can read music, let alone sight read.  That being said, we all can learn songs by ear and certainly are versed in the names of notes and chords, etc. My band mates are fine musicians, despite our lack of theory knowledge.  That being said, I think having that knowledge is helpful and a plus, but definitely not necessary.  Some of the finest players I know can't read a note and some players with more music theory knowledge than I could ever hope to know, are not very good players.

My advice is to jump in.  The key to a successful band is not being versed in music theory.  It is being able to get along with your band mates and avoiding drama.  Each player will have strengths and weaknesses.  As long as you can play off of each other's strengths and weaknesses you are half way there.  The other half is devotion to the craft.  We practice once per week and each of us spends much time learning the songs at home before practice.  Each member comes to rehearsal knowing there parts from working at home and we refine it, as a band, at rehearsal.

It takes alot of devotion to have a successful band.  Knowing music theory, while a good thing to know in my opinion, is not necessary to have a successful band.  Personalities and devotion are the keys.  If it is your passion ... jump in.  It has always been my passion, yet it was not until my wife surprised me with a trip to Rock 'N Roll Fantasy camp 5 years ago, at age 47 that I first really played with other musicians.   It convinced me I could do it. I came home from the camp and put my first real band together.  That band ended due to drama, not music knowledge.  I then put other bands together and couldn't be more pleased with my current band.  We gig about 1 to 3 times a month and all share a passion for playing music.

Though I would love to do originals, I satisfy that part of my passion by recording music on my own.

Good luck,

Dave  

Edited by GocartMoz
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I've been in a few bands over the years and also worked professionally as a songwriter/producer for 10 years. I have never been able to read music and I still can't. Chords are what you need to know, and be able to remember, that's how it works. Not in a way that you need to know every chord there is before hand, you just need to know what chords are in what song and learn and remember them. Then you're good to go. Scales? Well, if you intend to make people scream 'cuz you just dropped the most amazing improvised solo ever played, sure, you must learn scales. But remember, solo's can be learned and thought out and still sound improvised. All that said, it surely don't hurt to know them all, I'm just saying you don't have to know to start out.

But my best advice is to do what I did, most of the bands I was in, I played drums. Problem solved. =) =) =)

S

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But my best advice is to do what I did, most of the bands I was in, I played drums. Problem solved. =) =) =)

Haha, no joke, I decided the other day that I need to get a drum set so I can do exactly that.  I realized it'd be a much more comfortable starting point for me.

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I've recently been playing in irish pubs in "sessions". These are wonderful  places to get your feet wet in playing with others. In irish music you almost never see sheet music....obviously you need to know how to tune your instrument and it never hurts to have some knowledge of keys. You don't need to be a music major though. A knowledge of where your instrument fits in is important. A bass player shouldnt be constantly trying to play solos  etc. When coming into the company of experienced musicians it's always a good idea to keep your ears open and speak little. In a setting like that it isn't about what you say, it's about what you play. A person can brag all day about their training and qualifications, but the proof is in the playing. In a band situation you might need to flex your objectives musically with others. It's a group and not an individual, but it can expand you in so many ways and also make you reach further or in different places than you would playing solo. In fact, I don't feel a musician is really well rounded until they master playing in a group of some kind.

I do tend to be pessimistic about a new band and for good reason. There is probably a less than 20% chance that a new group will survive past a year. The criteria and the people involved will either make or break it. It can be a royal pain or it can be very rewarding. In my own experiences it works best if it isn't the most important thing in your life, because if it is, you are likely headed for disappointment in one way or the other.....don't take yourself or them too seriously. Have fun. If it works great if it doesn't don't continue to force it or loose sleep over it.

One idea might be to have something similar to a session where people just show up to play. The good ones tend to stick and the less committed ones are seldom seen or drift away. In this way you could get a "core" of people who like to come and play. You need a leader though or it could all go ape nuts on you. For example you could put an add in that you're meeting at so and so and invite people who play or mix a certain genre...could be pop, rock or techno, whatever. If you can find a bar or shop to host it all the better since it's a communal place where everyone can feel comfortable. Too many rules will make creative types all run the other way. It should be a relaxed atmosphere...no pressure.

 

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I spent around 10 years fronting a couple of bands a while ago (to a reasonable level, fair sized gigs, big support tours etc and studio time). No one ever got deep into music theory and terms... but I'm sure you could easily find yourself with some musicians who do... But why worry.... You're writing songs, you'll probably be taking the lead... you don't have to get deep into theory and lingo. I've not got much clue what I'm doing, I knew less then... and managed fine...but in a band you just play it and the other guys pick it up...they add something... you add something... a lot of talk like "try it more like (insert example song/artist/played chord/ mouthed impersonation of what the guitars/bass/drums should do)" rather than talk of keys and scales and time signatures... (suppose it depends on the kind of music you're playing but for general rock/pop/dance... I don't think it's any issue if you can sing/play/hear things right/know roughly what chords/notes you're playing...as I'm sure you can (I often can't).

If the other members know more theory than you...so what.

The trick is finding the right people to be in a band with, in terms of personality as well as musically. And collaborating live with people, especially with a full band, is really different to working alone or even collaborating online....unless you are meaning you want to collaborate online - I've done a fair bit of that too and everyone involved always knows more than me, it's never been an issue.

Dek

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  • 2 weeks later...

First band I ever played in, I didn't even know the difference between a major and a minor scale? We played covers, and I just learned the chords, and the guitar solo by listening to the records. It wasn't until I met a guy in the local music shop  who was looking for a few gigs, and I invited him along to jam with us that I learned any music theory at all!  He didn't read music, but he taught me quite a lot in the way of scales and chords that had 7ths and 3rds, and timings. And how to write out a chord sheet to follow a song. Here's one I found a few days ago!

 

MusicSheet.jpg

 

Which was pretty easy to read on stage!

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I've been in a few bands, and even toured when I was a young pup. Theory was the last thing anyone worried about. THEORY CAN BE LEARNED, TALENT CAN NOT. It's as simple as that. There are great musicians throughout history that didn't know a lick of theory just as there are those that do.

Most instrumentalists know about key and chords, etc. but very few know the deep theory. And us guitar players are probably the worst sight readers in the history of any instrument, lol. If you want to learn more about this stuff, go for it, but don't let it stop you from playing in a band if that's what you want to do.

Regards as always.

Peace,

TC

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3 hours ago, HoboSage said:

Yes, that's a compliment. :)

And one hell of one.  Thank you!

I'm definitely on the hunt to get working with some people out there in the real world now, guys.  You've all been incredibly helpful here.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I think it pays to remember that everyone is self-taught. There's no such thing as stuffing information into people's heads. Even in university, someone lays it out before you, and you have to make sense of it as best you can, in your own way.

I'm a "schooled" musician, probably because I come from a brass background where reading and theory is a must, but I've played with lots of pop, folk, and other "unschooled" musicians over the years. The best thing to do, I've found, is just to jump right in and suss one another out until you work out ways to work together.

People tend to be friendly, and generally want to see you fit in and have a good time. And if the vibe is bad and/or uncomfortable, most of the time no amount of chops and knowledge is going to fix that: it's usually a personality thing, and situations like that it's best to walk away and keep your sense of humour.

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