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Some friends formed a group. They sound really good at rehearsals, and they all are solid musicians.

The problem is that when they play for an audience, the live conditions change every time, sometimes sub-optimal everything is what they are forced to work with. No monitoring, terrible acoustics, all that stuff.

This is reflected on their performance. They don't sound as good, they make mistakes. Most mistakes can be attributed to not being able to hear each other. I think that's their weakness, they depend too much on each other for timing and cues.

I want to help them out, but I'm not very experienced in the band field. What can they do? What exercises and practices can help them lessen or remove their dependence on each other?

I'm thinking that the ideal scenario is for them to play the song the same way, every time, even if they can't hear anything else at all. I know flexibility is desired, but maybe that can come after they lessen this dependence that is often biting them.

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"I think that's their weakness, they depend too much on each other for timing and cues." I disagree with this analysis. Independance in timing and cues is indicative of an inexperienced band. Expect every gig to be suboptimal. Many problems can be mitigated in some way, but listening to the rest of the band will always be crucial. –  Marcks Thomas Jun 19 at 14:20
    
@MarcksThomas I'm not talking about willful ignorance of time among members, I'm talking about being able to play through a set without optimal monitoring and acoustic conditions without sounding like you don't know what you are doing. I have worked with bands that can play a beautiful set regardless of the suboptimal (and sometimes just horrible) conditions. Your claim "Independence of timing and cues is indicative of an inexperienced band" doesn't make sense at all. This skill set is not something you achieve by accident, is experience and practice what will carve that tool belt. –  JCPedroza Jun 19 at 16:29
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My argument is that you're tackling the problem from the wrong end. I'd argue not relying on other band members is a flaw rather than a skill. If communication is difficult, for instance due to a lack of monitors, the 'fix' (other than installing monitors) is to communicate better, not to communicate less. –  Marcks Thomas Jun 19 at 21:00
    
@MarcksThomas If you read the question you'll notice that I'm talking about being able to listen to each other, not about avoiding any kind of interaction or communication. The complete quote is. "Most mistakes can be attributed to not being able to hear each other. I think that's their weakness, they depend too much on each other for timing and cues." I never said that less communication would be beneficial, and I don't know why and how you managed to understand that. –  JCPedroza Jun 19 at 21:19
    
@MarcksThomas Also, how is improving your skills and adding new tools to your skill set a flaw? Lessen dependence doesn't mean external cues are undesired or need to be avoided. The cues will be there if the conditions are met, but when conditions are not met you will have more things that will carry the performance through. Visual communication can suffer too in certain lighting conditions. In a perfect storm you won't be able to communicate at all. Why is being able to perform in every scenario a flaw? Again, to me you are making no sense at all. –  JCPedroza Jun 19 at 21:29

4 Answers 4

As part answer ( the rest later), the 'can't hear you' syndrome makes everyone turn up, and the listening is even more difficult. It should be possible - often is - for a band, just about any band, to be able to play without monitors. I've done without for a couple of years, at gigs up to 300 people, by keeping volumes down so everyone can actually hear. This tends to be drummer dependent, and some only last a couple of gigs !!Placement of speakers is paramount, so higher in the air is good. Not needed for bass, as it's not really directional, but not just behind the band between their legs.At rehearsals, it's worth setting up as they would on a gig, rather than the preferred 'in the round'. This will get them used to the difference in sound. Let's face it, some stages/ auditoria are not that good for bands, so you're not going to win every time.

Being able to see each other is an obvious solution, but on stage proper, it really looks naff if they keep looking at each other. A small nod should be enough, as in a jazz situation 'take over here'.Guitar necks work well as batons, as do vocalists hands. The drummer has perhaps the worst job, as everyone should have their back to him. It looks bad to keep turning round to look at him. Perhaps, if each number is prescribed and learnt properly from top to toe, there shouldn't be a problem anyway.

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Lots of eye contact and body language is essential to an improv band and also creates a stronger bond

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o add to Tim's excellent advice:

If you can, find time to make time for a soundcheck. Don't practice during that soundcheck, don't bitch about late arrivals or whatever, all that is for some other time.

Focus on who can hear what. Don't play whole songs, just a verse will do, then stop. Talk. Change what needs changing, then do it all again, until it's as good as it's going to get.

Whether you get five minutes or fifty, use every second to get the sound right. It makes a big difference.

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I recently got this advice that has been very useful to other bands with this same issue: include in your regular rehearsal schedule the practice of all songs without the vocals.

Seems that one of the most common and important issues is a little too much dependence in the vocalist(s). Instead of counting, some people build a dependence on the vocals as the cue to everything. This can lead to complete lack of counting, and the dependence gets stronger with each rehearsal.

This doesn't need to be intentional. Sometimes it's only until you have lost that reference that you notice how dependent you were. "I can't hear the vocals, I don't know which part of the song we are supposed to be playing". It's too late by then.

Including practice without vocals gets you back to the basics. It's important to pay the most attention to the counting, rather than building new cue references with other instruments. Knowing other instrument cues is very helpful, so don't ignore that new information, just don't go back to that dependence and give the priority to counting instead.

"Counting" doesn't need to be the literal acknowledgement of every beat and bar; it can be "play two times this, then three times that". Count with the abstraction level you feel comfortable with.

The intention is to build references around everything and nothing. Know the cues of every instrument (if any), and also be able to play without any reference at all. The goal is to be 100% certain of where you are in the song, regardless of the monitoring conditions.

I found that some people go beyond that and also practice every song by themselves, having counting as the only reference. This might come as a "you don't say" advice for some of us that commonly implement time in our practice and playing, but there are countless solid musicians out there that have never played with a metronome, or that never count in their heads. They just play, and it all comes out naturally. This advice is particularly useful for them.

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Most bands know where they are without hearing the vocals as most bands don't have good practice set-ups or PA's in some cases. –  Dom Jun 19 at 17:32
    
Interesting concept. Could that also apply to instrumentals, and lead breaks? The drummer SHOULD be helping by putting a significant break in at the end of , say a verse, or to move onto a middle eight. –  Tim Jun 19 at 17:33
    
@Dom I don't know if "most bands know" is accurate. I've tested this with many bands, some of which are well known and have many commercial and successful releases with big labels, and found that this dependency doesn't discriminate PA setups, experience, or overall context. In fact, the person that told me this advice is a very successful and experienced producer and manager, that has found this issue to be common among bands of all types. –  JCPedroza Jun 19 at 18:34
    
@Dom In the other hand, all the bands I know can hear the vocals in the rehearsals. I guess bands with no mics and no amps are already implementing this advice without knowing it, but at that point I would prioritize getting mics and amps over practicing using this advice, as hearing yourself/others and practice using ampification is as important as knowing how to play under sub optimal conditions! Not everything translates perfectly between non amplified and amplified scenarios. –  JCPedroza Jun 19 at 18:40
    
@Tim I believe it would be very helpful to instrumentals too, and in more than one way. You are not only preparing for monitoring failure (of any kind, of any instrument), but also building and improving that intern metronome with every rehearsal. I saw this advice close to the old "practice hard, but also practice smart". Similar to how we can actually worsen our technique with constant practice if it is not done carefully, and with each practice those negative patterns become stronger and stronger. –  JCPedroza Jun 19 at 18:56

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