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How to Sound, Practice, and Perform Better

How to Sound, Practice, and Perform Better

A Guest Post by

Earlier this year, Pavoh held its first “Featured Artist Contest” for teenage musicians looking to share their music. Aside from the genre-specific categories, we also named a “Grand Prize Winner” for best overall submission. Last week, we caught up with Sam Baler, Johnnie Gilmore, Sam Rochelle, & Adam Rochelle of our Grand Prize Winners, Centre, St to talk about their music, their performances, & the nuts and bolts of the band.

Q: How did the Battle of the Bands at TCAN go? What was it like to play there? Did you know a lot of the other groups?

It went great!  We all agreed it was our best short show so far.  It was awesome to have professional sound equipment and control going so that we didn’t need to worry about it ourselves as we usually do.  I think we all would have had a lot of fun at this particular show even if we hadn’t won!

We’re great friends with the 2nd band that played, Ask Me Later.  Their sound is kind of similar to ours; they’re very songwriting-based and play a lot of alternative or funk sounding music rather than heavy rock or metal music like many other bands our age play.  We’ve done a couple shows with them, and their drummer (Alasdair MacKenzie) played with us when we were just starting out a while ago.  We’re gonna be playing another gig with them coming up at the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham on July 6th!

Q: Tell me about how you guys practice as a band. How long do you play, how often, and what do you try to get done in a session? How do you balance jamming and writing- tightening specifics and working on your overall performance?

We try to practice every week that we don’t have a performance.  Practices last anywhere from 3-8 hours, and we usually focus on preparing a couple new or revived songs for an upcoming gig.  Sometimes we spend the time recording for demos in Sam B.’s basement studio.  A lot of the rest of the time is spent just jamming, starting with one song and seeing where it goes; sometimes it’ll evolve into something new for a half hour and sometimes it’ll segue into another song or two.  Not knowing where the improv will go is a lot of the fun of it!  So we generally balance the fun jamming with a couple goals of learning or tightening songs.

Q: Thinking about Turn & Visiting Timbuktu, how do you all come up with your original material? How do you arrange it for the band? Is it more collaborative or is it determined by a single person brining the song to the group?

Often one person will come into a practice with a song all ready, and then we’ll learn it and make changes together as a band to make it better.  Sometimes it will be a concept of a song that we finish together, and other times two or three of us will meet separately to write with the intention of eventually bringing it to the band.  We try not to learn more than one or two songs a practice so that each one has a chance to sink in and develop.  But Sam B. and Adam are constantly writing and working with Johnnie and Sam R. on songs, so we have a waiting list of dozens of songs ready to be learned.

Turn and Visiting Timbuktu specifically are great examples of different songwriting paths.  Adam wrote Turn at 2 in the morning one time (as you may be able to tell by its calmness and simplicity) while Sam R. was nearby.  He wanted more songs in the band for Sam to sing, so he called him over as he was writing the words, and the song was essentially finished from there.  It has grown to include more guitar and feature a bass intro, but the song itself was just one person writing at one time.

Timbuktu on the other hand was a much longer process; Adam and Sam B. began working on it 2 years ago when in their previous band.  In fact, it came from two different songs they were working on.  When Centre St. came around, they eventually dropped parts of the two songs and glued them together with some new sections.  This song as well has experienced some development over time just by playing it, but much of the writing was a collaborative effort over the past couple years!

Q: What sorts of gigs do you guys like to play the most? The least? How do you book shows?

We love gigs where we can showcase how big our repertoire is.  Recently, we’ve been playing a lot at the Tavern in Framingham where we usually do 2 hour-and-a-half sets.  Even then we only get to about 2/3 of what we know, but its great to get it all out there and keep playing.  Most of our setlists are original songs, but we have a couple covers sprinkled in as well.  Not that we don’t enjoy stuff like TCAN, but we certainly like having our time constraints lifted so we can play a lot of songs and give them each plenty of time to breathe, especially when they’re very improv-based!  Similarly, we enjoy going down and playing at the Natick Farmers Market, because there we bring out a bunch of cool acoustic stuff (guitars, congas, banjo, saxophone, melodica, etc…) and have a ton of time to play all our music in that cool, relaxed setting.  Many of these shows we come across online just by looking for places there are openings for us to play (the Farmers Market gigs came at the suggestion of TCAN in fact) and bringing demo CDs around to local venues.

Q: What advice do you have for bands who are just starting out and looking to play more shows?

Understand that you need to play some under-attended or inconveniently-timed shows first before you get some great Friday or Saturday night gigs.  Our first show at the Tavern was on a Sunday early evening, and only family members were there.  But once we proved we could handle the show, we got to start playing in time slots where strangers would walk in and listen. Some of them have even come back to see us again!

Another piece of advice is to build a diverse repertoire.  Rather than making everything a guitar solo or just 100% energy from the first note, have some variety, even within a single song.  Thats why Turn has worked out so well; its a very simple, catchy song that serves as a breather in between longer or more intense songs.  Experimenting with different styles helps just as much to keep the audience interested.  If you do the same thing over and over, people lose interest.

Q: Do you guys have musical plans for the future as a group? As individuals?

Right now we’re building up our gig schedule and hope to start planning the summer really soon.  We won some studio time from TCAN so we’ll hopefully get in to start working on some good recordings soon as well!

Centre St. Bio

Centre St. is a teenage band from outside of Boston that plays jazz-infused rock music. We go for genuine, fun, and enjoyable music with a mix of recognizable covers and originals in many styles. The band consists of Guitar, Keyboard/Saxophone, Bass, and Drums; three of us sing. We like bringing improvisation into our songs and performances to add to the fun and interactivity of the show. We’ve played many kinds of gigs, from on-stage rock performances to restaurant background music to acoustic farmers market shows. We play music from from all sorts of backgrounds and genres and write tons of original songs, adding up to hours and hours of material. Check out the music on our Facebook or videos on our YouTube page!

Are you in a band, or do you all just play at the same time?  Effective musical expression, performance that communicates to an audience, is hard enough when you play alone. “Am I playing in time? In tune? Am I establishing a musical narrative? Am I bringing the piece to life?”

Achieving that musical expression with a group of other musicians brings in a whole other level of difficulty and questions to answer. “Are we playing together? Do we have the same understanding of the structure of the piece? Are we listening to each other? Are we using our practice time effectively? Is it ok if I take a bathroom break?”

This week, Pavoh spoke to musicians, teachers, and music professionals to get their thoughts on how to sound, practice, and perform better as a group. The group consisted of Christopher Vuk, Director of School of Groove and Founder/Music Director of theBoston String QuartetAnderson Mar, General Manager at School of Rock Boston and lead singer for Sans NomenclatureMikel McCavana, Community and Content Coordinator at Ourstage.comDerrick Campbell, guitar instructor at Music Maker Studios and lead guitarist for Element 78; and Audrey Blood, former cellist for World Youth Symphony Orchestra and Texas All-State Orchestra.

Christopher Vuk

Christopher Vuk

As an instructor, what do you focus on when working withgroups of musicians?

At School of Groove, our primary focus is to get students ready to perform well. Once they can play their music, we want them working on putting on a good show. How do you interact with an audience? How do you put together a set list? Are you wasting time on stage, standing around? In terms of instruction, we really work on group dynamics to help make for a better show.

What helps you practice with other musicians?

As a professional musician, the first thing I like to do with the people I’m playing with is to establish a rapport – and that means to just start playing music. I don’t want to be talking for the first few minutes. I want to play.

Anderson Mar

Anderson Mar

What advice do you have for bands that are just starting out?

In a city like Boston where clubs don’t have regular attendees, it’s all a numbers game. They don’t care if you’re good- just that you bring an audience. Even if you’re a terrible punk band, if you have a lot of energy and pull lots of antics on stage and you bring an audience, you’ll be able to book from Boston to Atlanta.

What do you feel is most important to a band’s success?  

At School of Rock, we really emphasize teamwork and respect at all levels of band instruction. You have to be a team player to play in a band, and you have to know that it isn’t going to be perfect the first time.

Mikel McCavana

Mikel McCavana

When you go out and see bands, what separates the good from the bad?

By far the most important thing is the rhythm section. It has to link up tightly. Whether listening for it not, people can instinctively tell when a band’s rhythm is off, and that can really make or break a performance.

What tips do you have for bands who want to use their practice time better? 

When you’re learning songs, you have to break them down into sections. You work out each section and then you work out the transitions between them. The best way to practice any music is in short, simple, succinct runs. It’s like high intensity interval training: you focus on small things that end up reinforcing each other in the long run.

Derrick Campbell

Derrick Campbell

When can you call a group of musicians a band?

I’d say you can call a group of musicians a band once the rhythm section, including the guitar player, can make adjustments to compensate for the singer forgetting lyrics, and can do it without having to speak to each other.  I don’t mean for that to sound like I’m anti-singers, as I’m not and understand how their job can be very difficult.  However, singers forgetting lyrics – in a cover band in particular – is going to happen, and once the other members have the mental telepathy to quickly adjust to that situation or other similar situations, I’d say you can call them a band.  On another level, being able to stretch out and improvise and then land on your feet, so to speak, is another important aspect of playing together, and that just takes time, and consistency of playing with each other.

What tips do you have for bands who want to use their practice time better? 

As far as tips for practice, for cover bands I’d recommend selecting one person as the authority on whether or not the song is being played right (i.e. correct number of verses, chord changes, etc.) and having that person come to each rehearsal with some sort of written arrangement.  A lot of time gets wasted on people arguing over how the song is supposed to be played, and a lot of time it’s by people in the band who are the least likely to know.  If you’re stopping rehearsal to go check out tabs online, or to listen to the song, you’re wasting valuable time.

Audrey Blood

Audrey Blood

What do you think are common problems that chamber groups, ensembles, bands, etc. have when they play together?

There are lots of people who are amazingly talented, but bringing that into a group setting is an entirely different experience. You have to know who to listen to at what point, when you’re leading the piece and when you’re providing the backdrop for someone else.

What makes a great group performance?

Performing as a group is all about communication. Obviously, you have to know your music – and not just the notes. You should know its history, its significance, and you should allow yourself to personally connect to the piece. What makes a great ensemble is the ability to communicate that connection you have to the music with your fellow performers. The audience can sense when the players are communicating that intimate connection to the piece with each other. There’s a spark when that happens. That is what creates a great performance. Without that communication, the music can feel stagnant.

This article was written by Henry Hoagland, Editor. He can be reached at



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