Playing in a band is most fun when the players listen to each other and work together to make the sound cohesive. Each instrument has a part to play and each musician has a job to do. The song itself is a rhythmic and harmonic puzzle, and the magic happens when all the parts come together and stay together! So its important that everyone in the band knows their job and plays their parts very well. Playing the part well requires each player to be aware of their own part as well as how their part fits with the parts played by the other instruments. This might take a little effort.
Listening to yourself and listening to another person requires some focus, but its necessary, and the rewards are tangible. Ideally, you have a solid drummer and everyone keeps good time. If you need to focus on your time keeping it may help to listen to your drummer and try to lock in with him or her. If your time keeping skills are solid and you feel confident, then listen to some of the other players and see if you can lock in with them. Connecting with the other musicians in the band is what makes the music feel good. Try to eventually connect with everyone. If someone is struggling with time keeping or staying with the song structure, or if your time keeping skills are better than the drummer's, it will serve them and serve the whole experience if you try to connect and help them stay on track with the song. The more the band stays together, the more magical it will be.
When playing rhythm guitar and when soloing its important to be aware of your dynamics and the band's dynamics. Volume control is important when playing with a band or group, and it can also be a powerful tool to engage your band and your audience.
When playing rhythm, it is natural to focus on the chords and strum patterns that you are playing, but it is very important to check in with all the instruments of the band and to make sure your volume is not overpowering the rest of the musicians. It is even more important to match the energy and the dynamics of the soloist (or the singer) as they build their solo. Ideally, the dynamics in your rhythm playing will continually be informed by the energy of the soloist or the singer.
For example, as the energy of the soloist increases, so will the energy in your rhythm playing. Having a few dynamic ranges in your rhythm playing can really be helpful to the soloist. When the soloist is playing in a lower register, you might match them with sparse rhythms in a lower register. As the soloist begins to build, your playing can become more rhythmically dense and climb to to a higher register.
The volume or intensity of the rhythm player should never exceed volume or intensity of the soloist or the singer.
It is the responsibility of the soloist to “step up” and lead the band through the solo. The art in leading requires that the soloist has a command of their dynamics and melodic vocabulary. Learning to think and play in phrases is a great way to improve leadership skills as a soloist. Phrasing can be predictable and helps the band and the audience follow you as you build your solo. Learning when to play is as important as learning what to play. Learning how to structure your solos in call and response or question and answer will help you establish a strong foundation to develop more complex ideas. Don't forget, volume control is an important part of commanding dynamics, and it can be a very effective tool to engage the audience. As the soloist, its your job to work with band, get them to meet your energy level and to follow you as you build your solo.
Play to your strengths
Gaining an awareness of your personal capacity as a guitar player will also help you decide what to play and when to play it. The goal is to learn how to both play rhythm and/or develop a solo with phrases that grow progressively in technique and dynamics.
For example, begin each solo with a simple and relaxed phrase in a lower register. Have an idea about where you are going in terms your strengths and weaknesses. Know what you can do and what you can't do. Bring your strengths to the stage and the performance, and leave the more difficult and ambitious ideas to practice at home until you are ready.
Another example, maybe its reasonable to solo for about two or three times through the song form. This means you should plan the peak of your solo to be in the the 2nd or 3rd cycle. Maybe you plan to start in a lower register and build the peak into a higher register, and maybe that's when you use your most advanced or favorite technique or lick. If you are feeling very good in the 3rd cycle don’t be afraid to try for a 4th but keep in mind that generally less is more. Don't feel pressured to play beyond your ability. Always play to your strengths.
Take your time
Once you have an idea about where you are going, then it’s important to take your time in getting there. Stay in the moment, listen to the bass player or the drummer in between your phrases. Play each note with intention. Generally, it’s more important to play one note with intention and confidence than to play a lot of notes with out melody or phrases. Too much exploring or playing too many notes risks losing the audience’s attention. That’s not to say playing a lot of notes is always a bad idea, clearly our goal is to increase our technical ability and our melodic vocabulary, but we want to maintain a sense of control and confidence while doing so.
There are endless possibilities to explore in art of playing with a band. There are always more subtle levels of awareness in regard to rhythm and timing. First listen, develop a strong ability to keep time, and learn your part. Listen to the puzzle, do your best and everything will fall into place.