How to Play in a Band

Before you start playing be familiar with the hierarchy of good band manners.

First, be in tune. Everybody’s uncomfortable when something sounds sour and is out of tune.

Second, play in rhythm. Groove with the bass. When in doubt, pause and listen for the next down beat. Play as little as possible. I’m not sure of the author of this quote but it’s made a lot of sense through the years “It’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t play”. The less you play, the easier it is to play on the beat.

Third, play the right chords. Do your homework and be prepared. Learn the chord chart before you come to rehearsal.

Fourth, learn the notes of the melody- they’ll come in handy at a bunch of different times and on different levels.

After you start playing follow these rules when possible:

First- Start together and end together. Beginnings and endings frame the song you present on stage. It’s the first and last thing that the audience hears and remembers. If these are tight, other “discrepencies” will be forgiven.

Next, when someone starts singing, play softer so that the singing is featured. Create a sonic support/safety net for them. The vocalist is is the most exposed member of the band- make them sound good. In general, build volume in the chorus.

Lastly songs are cycles of repeating musical ideas. Try to add something different each time you play through a verse or chorus or bridge. Something simple- an extra note, a different voicing, a rhythm motif. Add interest to the performance.

Be kind to your band members. Support them musically. Make sure everyone gets a chance to shine. Playing music can be as challenging as it is rewarding. We are at our most vulnerable when on stage. Make it fun for your bandmates and they just might return the favor.

Essential Old Time Music Recordings

I’ve often been asked what are good recordings to listen to. One reply that I often give as an absolute “must own, listen and learn” is the first Fuzzy Mountain String Band album.

This great album was recorded in two living rooms live to a a two track tape recorder and was one of the first albums released by the Rounder label in 1972 (ROUN0010).

There are so many things that I love about this album. The spirit in which it was made, the choice of tunes, the instrumentation, the totally shoestring manner in which it was recorded, the album packaging, and on and on. If you’d like to learn more about the musicians that made this and the various bands that were spawned by what was originally a gathering of friends getting together at local homes to play and enjoy old time music then visit the site of the original Red Clay Ramblers.

There are twenty cuts largely taken from the Henry Reed repertoire. These tunes were collected by the great fiddler Alan Jabbour. These tunes show up regularly at every jam that I’ve ever attended. If anyone wants a good place to start in building their own list of tunes that they can feel comfortable playing on, there could hardly be a better place to start.

Rounder combined thirty-three cuts from their first two albums on a CD release in 1995 (ROUN11571).

Some of my favorites from this venerably vinyl disc are Old Mother Flanagan, Magpie, Protect the Innocent, Frosty Morning, West Fork Girls, Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine, Santa Anna’s Retreat, Quince Dillon’s High D Tune. If you’d like to listen to me playing some of these tunes with my friends, I’ve posted a bunch of MP3’s on my Banjo Hangout music page.

This is a video of me playing one of my favorite Henry Reed tunes that I learned from the Fuzzy Mountain String Band album.

More from the Me & Thee Coffeehouse

Last month we played a show in Marblehead at the Me & Thee. The incredibly hard working all-volunteer staff made the night a wonderful experience for us. The person with the vision for an all-Marblehead band opening night (and the opening of their 40th season) was Kathy Sands-Boehmer. She puts in countless hours following the New England music scene and is always strategically planning interesting and exciting nights of music for all of those lucky enough to make the trip to the Me & Thee.

Here’s a video that someone from the audience shot and them posted to YouTube. We are playing the tune “Sally In The Garden”. Left to right the musicians are Tim Baldanzi on the mandolin, Etienne Cremieux on the fiddle, Ren Price on percussion, John ‘JP” Price on Guitar and me (Tim Rowell) on banjo.

Jubilee Mule at the Me & Thee Coffee House

Jubilee Mule, the band that I’m lucky enough to play in, opened the 40th season of the Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead. It was such a pleasure to play in a place that didn’t serve beer or didn’t have the Red Sox game playing on an array of flat-screen televisions. (Although it is nice when the Sox hit a home run right when we end a tune…) The audience was filled with friends and family from near and far away. It is a great venue to perform in. The Me & Thee lives in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead.

There are about forty of these venues in and around the Boston area. Each of them feature comfortable, welcoming surroundings, a professional sound system, desert and coffee and a constant stream of todays best musical performers. These venues are members of the Boston Area Coffee House Association . BACHA stages are manned exclusively by volunteers who are dedicated to offering a wonderful musical night out for the entire family.

Here’s a video that was shot by someone in the audience and posted on YouTube. We are playing a set of tunes that JP learned from the playing of Jody Stecher titled “Old Country Stomp”.