Join the Group: Making Music With Others

Mar 17, 2015

For many people, making music is a very private thing. Music has a very strong connection to our emotional core, and the act of making music can be a cathartic experience you may not want to share with others. For others, usually beginners, sometimes the thought of playing with another person, or even a group can be daunting. But if you fall into one of these groups, or have another reason to keep your music to yourself, today I am going to try to change your mind. Music is social magic, and as such, begs to be shared. Needs to be shared. There are all kinds of benefits that can be had from sharing your music with others, and this week we’re going to take a look at some of them, as well as some ways for you to find people to play with.

Let’s start off with the group of musicians that can benefit most from playing with other people: beginners. A lot of beginners are comfortable playing alone in their rooms. At first. But soon the struggle of first beginning to learn start to fade, and you start to develop a real talent, and that’s when playing by yourself can start to get really boring. Playing with friends or a band helps to liven things up again, all while teaching new lessons you didn’t even realize you were learning and you can’t learn all on your own.

The first of these hidden lessons is timing. When you play alone you can go at your own pace, slowing down faster movements to learn them correctly. While this is am important beginner’s technique, playing with a group will force you to come back up to speed, utilizing what you have learned. But this force doesn’t come without aid. Playing with a full band (i.e. a drummer, bass player, guitarist, piano, etc.) gives you more tools to help keep up the tempo. The drummer keeps the group together on the beat, while the rest of the band give each other’s pieces context. Being able to hear the other instruments, played by live people in real time will help to develop timing better than any metronome can.

Another benefit beginners can reap from playing with other people is an increased motivation to practice. When you practice alone motivation can become sometime of a tug-of-war sometimes. Life can get in the way, or that new series on Netflix. Distractions can occur and it can take a lot of willpower to make yourself spend the needed time and effort with your instrument. On the other hand, if you play with a group, there is motivation to practice built right in, in the form of positive peer pressure. “Peer pressure” is a buzz phrase we often hear with a negative connotation, but there are times is can be a force for good too. In the case of music (or sports, or other group activities), when you play alone there is very little incentive to improve, other than for your own growth and amusement. However, if you make a commitment to a group, the pressure to improve can increase. It is fun to play with others, and you will want to continue to improve with them, growing your skills individually, and as a group.

Lastly, beginners can also benefit from playing with a group because the group can reveal both your strengths and weaknesses, while also reducing the pressure you place on yourself. I know this thought seems kind of contradictory, but bear with me. Playing with a group can teach you your problem areas, while also showing you what really matters, and what doesn’t matter at all. Maybe there is a few things you’re really struggling with, and are spending hours and hours practicing to get it right. Some of those things may not be important when playing with a group or band. On the other hand, if there are things you struggle with that are important when with a band, the very fact that you are playing with a group reduces the pressure. Attention is always directed towards the group, not individual band members, making playing a low pressure event.

Of course there are a few benefits anyone can take away from playing with a group, not just beginners. First and probably most important, playing with other people is a lot more fun than playing alone. Music has always been a social activity, and that is never going to change. You cannot imagine the different, interesting people you will meet when you play with groups. There are all kinds of ways to join people in playing, and it can be done with any skill level. While having fun should always be the focus, the social aspect of music doesn’t have to end with fun. Playing with others is also a fantastic way to network. If you’re a beginner looking to learn more, or a seasoned musician looking for a few new gigs, all if takes is a smile and a friendly disposition. Musicians talk to one another, and news can travel far and fast within the community. Remember, no one wants to play with the guy that can shred like Slash if he’s got the attitude of Axl!

Another benefit for all skill levels that should be considered is the challenge. Musicians can become comfortable with their own style, or lazy in their techniques, but playing with others can keep you motivated to learn, and keep your skills sharp. Every time you play with new and different musicians you will undoubtedly be challenged by their own styles and preferences. This challenge can do nothing but help you to better yourself and your own style. Just like the athlete that gets better by competing again those who are better than him, musicians can get better by playing with those who are more experienced, or have a different style. Seeking out opportunities like these to challenge yourself can only result in improvement.

By now you’re probably saying to yourself, “That’s all well and good, but how do I find people to play with?” Well, I’ve got a few suggestions. There are levels of dedication some people may be willing to commit to such a thing. Understandably, life has a way of eating up all of our free time. So if you are one of those people who struggle to find a few extra minutes to yourself every month, less structure may be best. For you, I recommend trying to create a monthly jam session. These are much more informal without the commitment of a band. Find a group of people at your own skill level, or slightly more advanced, and get together to have some fun every few weeks. You never know what you might learn, and informal collaboration like this has created some of the best original music.

Another possible avenue to explore is joining a local group, like a church band. Many churches are often on the lookout for musicians for their bands to run weekly services and seasonal programs and shows. Some may be put off by the idea of playing for a religious organization, but these programs often offer a wide variety of musical styles, and it is a great way to meet and play with musicians on a weekly basis. A lot of these groups also have a musical director, someone you may have an opportunity to learn a lot from.

And lastly, and probably the most obvious, and intimidating option: start your own band. Invite friends to play, and if you can’t find enough musician friends to fill all the spots, advertise with fliers or on social media like Facebook and Twitter. There are always people out there looking to play with a band, and you can set the skill level at whatever you want.

No matter how you go out and do it, I suggest you give something a try. Music can be very private, but it is so much more powerful when it it shared.