Did you ever listen back to a recording of your band or contemporary ensemble and think, “Something’s not right. We’re playing and singing all the right notes, everyone is in tune, the tempo is right, the mix is good…but it still sounds ‘off?’”

Sometimes it can be a matter of simply not ‘playing together’ and not having a ‘tight’ sound. It might just sound ‘loose.’  If this is the case, there are some things to listen for and even practice when you get together at rehearsal.

Hand in Hand

Ever wonder why professional bass players like to stand near the drummer during a performance? One of the main reasons is that they want to hear the kick-drum as clearly as possible. Drummers and bass players often (if not always) try to match the kick-drum pattern with the main ‘groove-pattern’ of the bass player. The more those line up, the tighter the sound will be.

If you’re a bass player and you’re not paying attention to what the kick-drum is doing, you are really missing out on an opportunity to make the rhythm section sound pro! Next time you rehearse…listen and watch the beater! It’s ok to play ‘around’ the kick pattern, too, but for the most part, stick with the drummer.

And drummers, same thing goes. Pay attention to the pattern you’re playing. When you change it up for the verse or the chorus (which is often a good idea) make sure you and the bass player are on the same page. You guys go hand-in–hand! The rest of the band is counting on you.

Rhythm guitars can add so much to the vibe of a song. They can really take it to a new level…or bring it down. Guitarists, be careful not to be in your own world. When playing that all-important pattern on either acoustic or electric, be careful to listen to the rest of the rhythm section. If you’re playing an eighth-note strum pattern and the drummer is playing eighth notes on the hi-hat…be sure those line up!!! Nothing sounds ‘looser’ than an acoustic guitar playing at a different tempo than everyone else.

Piano players make sure you get your eyes off of the keyboard score and listen to what is happening around you. If you have a drummer and bass player with you, you can probably leave out a lot of the left-hand stuff. They’ll cover it. Listen to the guitars, too. Often, keyboard arrangements try and cover strum patterns or certain riffs. They’re designed/arranged for a piano player playing alone. So, if the guitar is doing it, leave it out and let them cover it!

Listen to this sample of the original studio tracking of the “Glory to God” from Mass of Saint Ann. In the beginning of this audio clip, you hear the click-track, which actually continues throughout while we are recording. (It’s only at the beginning on this sample so you can here everything else) The click track sets the tempo…the drummer counts it off, and everyone plays.

There is a ‘shaker loop’ also happening throughout. Notice how the acoustic guitar stays right with it the whole time! Notice how the piano isn’t playing tons of notes either, but rather adding a few things here and there, making sure to stay locked in with everyone else. (not much in the left hand at all!) Listen to the bass…it is right with the drummer (kick drum). No one is trying to ‘outplay’ anyone else, or step all over someone else’s part. They are working together to create an arrangement where every instrument has a purpose.

It takes practice, but it gets easier the more you focus on it. Once you know what you’re supposed to do, get your eyes out of the music and listen. You’ll be amazed at the difference when everything comes together.