Your bandmates can make you or break you.
The right comrades push you to practice hard, play with passion, and rise to your very best.
The worst will goof off all rehearsal long, play the wrong chords during your solo, and barf in your hardshell case.
But signs that your band’s holding you back aren’t always as pungent and obvious as a reupholstering bill. Some creative cages can actually feel quite cozy and pleasant—as well-worn and comfortable as a favorite lick.
Subtly or overtly, is your band holding you back?
7 Warning Signs That Your Band is Stunting Your Growth
1. Your current band requires you to spend lots of time playing rote parts.
Playing rote parts is fine if those parts are actually challenging and rewarding. But once you master them, what are you learning that will benefit you in the long term?
Five years spent playing the same riffs over and over will leave you far behind the guitarist who spent five years constantly challenging herself with new material. Do you have five years’ experience with your instrument? Or a few seconds of experience repeated for five years?
- Suggest new music that pushes your envelope
- Improvise variations on familiar parts
- Add other opportunities to improvise (solos, fills, etc.)
- Compose new music
- Increase practice on your own time
A certain amount of repetition is inevitable in most styles, so make rote parts meaningful. Focus. Try to really feel your parts, the way an actor delivers the same lines over and over.
2. Bad attitudes and egos dominate.
Band members should at least respect one another. Egotism, narcissism, and withering criticism put a stranglehold on creativity. Ideally every band member will observe some tenets of common sense and common courtesy. If not, you don’t need me to tell you that you’ve got a situation on your hands.
- Band therapy (there’s got to be a counselor doing this somewhere in Cali)
- Attitude adjustment of one or more bandmates
- Dropping really, really heavy hints
- Replacement of one or more bandmates
3. No strong leadership or collaboration.
If nobody’s assuming the role of bandleader, and anarchy isn’t working, you may end up in a situation that’s very unproductive and disorganized.
In the early days of Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi saw the need for leadership and he stepped up to fill the role: he’d make sure Ozzy was awake in time to make 9:00am practice. Tony even put mileage on his car by driving around each morning to pick up bandmates and chauffeur them to the rehearsal space.
Not long after, Sabbath began writing that dark, deep-grooving rock and roll that we now associate the band’s name with. All because Iommi noticed what needed to be done, and made sure everybody showed up.
To be a bandleader you don’t necessarily have to wear a crown and make decrees. Sometimes just appointing a person to distribute sheet music and tabs on a regular schedule can make all the difference.
- Call a meeting about the band’s direction, goals, etc.
- Search for a bandleader
- Appoint a bandleader from existing bandmates
- Step up and be the bandleader yourself
4. You have aspirations of leading a band of your own.
Perhaps your band already has strong leadership, and you’re a sideman. If you want to experiment with arrangement and mastermind your own projects, it might be time to at least consider starting your own band on the side.
Being a bandleader is an art unto itself. Artists like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and John Zorn are all bandleaders who’ve drawn fantastic performances out of their players.
- Side project, baby!
5. You want to fly solo.
Playing in a band and playing solo are completely different arenas. This is one of the greatest advantages of the guitar: it’s got a wide range; you can use it to play bass lines, chords, and melodies all at once.
The guitar is portable. Versatile. If you can perform alone, you can gig at a moment’s notice. Have guitar, will travel. And playing alone means you can’t rely on bandmates to add impact to your guitar work—you have to groove all on your own.
- Take some voice lessons, gird your loins, and get cracking. If your band hassles you about this perceived threat to band integrity, reassure them that you still love them (again, band therapy might be in order) and that your solo stint will teach you new things, ultimately making you a better bandmate.
6. If you’re chipping in more practice time and professionalism than the others
If you systematically practice every day, and you’re always pushing your own boundaries, you may eventually find yourself running circles around bandmates. When that skill gap widens far enough, the fumblings of less-motivated bandmates can really drag you down. And—worse—you might become complacent.
This can also happen when your bandmates spend more energy getting drunk than they spend on the music itself.
This problem gets especially frustrating in situations where one or more bandmates aren’t learning their own parts before showing up for group rehearsal—thus taking up your time with tiresome repetition of songs that you already nailed.
- Step up, shed your skin, and graduate into more advanced circles of players.
- Be such a remarkable ball of energy and ideas that you inspire your bandmates to practice more themselves.
- Be blunt and ask bandmates to learn their parts before showing up for group rehearsal.
7. The thrill is gone.
Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with the band at all—everybody’s getting along well and playing well. The music sounds great and it’s challenging. Yet, for whatever reason, you find yourself drawn to new sounds, new styles, new musical situations. And the same old thing just feels disenchanting.
- Side project! I’m fond of these, as you can tell.
- Join an additional band—but plan schedules carefully, please, to be fair to everyone.
- Listen to and study a new style of music: African guitar, flamenco, thrash metal… any territory that you haven’t yet charted.
- Reinvent your role in your current band. Double on percussion or some other new instrument, or go above and beyond in some other game-changing way. Use your imagination.
Eat your vegetables. Get plenty of rest. Practice often. Do your homework. And always, always, always ask yourself whether your long-term growth is being capped by any kind of disharmony in your band.