Team-building exercises for musicians?

March 12, 2010 3:46 PM

I posted this question over in AskMe, and then remembered that we have a whole music section.

So, I'm looking for guided-improvisation exercises if anyone knows any.

Admins, if this is an uncool use of MeMu Talk, delete away.
posted by lekvar (10 comments total)

I'm looking for guided-improvisation exercises if anyone knows any

Yes - it's called jazz! Just kidding lekvar. Or kind of kidding...

Other MeFiMu regulars may well know of "team building" stuff for musicians - personally, I don't. Not sure that that kind of management theory stuff is really all that applicable or appropriate to groups of musicians, but I'm always open to persuasion. In my experience the "team building" comes simply from a band playing together. Like any social exercise, there is a complex range of dynamics involved in getting a good musical "team". And it's not always obvious. I mean bands like The Who used to have regular punch-ups and didn't get along with each other too well sometimes but, in improv terms, they could rip the place up (check out Live At Leeds). Sometimes a bit of friction makes things hotter. It's not just about musical compatibility, it's also about personalities, time & place, and loads of other complex variables. In sum, all I'd advise is: get with a bunch of people you like (or dislike!!) and respect and.......just play man.
posted by MajorDundee at 1:52 AM on March 13, 2010

Admins, if this is an uncool use of MeMu Talk, delete away.

Nope, totally fine!
posted by cortex at 6:47 AM on March 13, 2010

With the last band I was in, I think "team-building exercises" translated almost directly into "heavy drinking".
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:16 AM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

With the last band I was in, I think "team-building exercises" translated almost directly into "heavy drinking".

posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 12:31 PM on March 13, 2010

With the last band I was in, I think "team-building exercises" translated almost directly into "heavy drinking".

Yeah, and I recall that the following also helped build
- driving up and down motorways in death-trap, knackered old vans;
- sleeping four to a room in flophouses;
- playing toilets and extracting revenge on small-minded club-owners*;
- mutual hatred of management, autocratic producers and/or label suits;
- a shared interest in recreational drugs;
- appraisal of the totty in the audience and vying for "favours";
- arguing abut writing credits;
- arguing about hitting on girlfriends when backs are turned;
- farts that could strip paint - particularly when released in said death-trap vans;
- and on and on

Learn these things my son and you will be a man. Or a broken, disillusioned wreck...

* I recall the entire band pissing down the recently-carpeted stairs of a club where the manager tried to swindle us out of our due fee because we were too loud. Ahh, those were the days.
posted by MajorDundee at 12:47 PM on March 13, 2010

There were some other things we did, too. Sometimes, we'd try to play the song the band in the next practice space over was playing, then use that to improvise further. Or we'd bring in an outside musician to jam with us, which usually made the rest us feel more cohesive by comparison.

For the most part, however, growing together in an improvisational direction came from getting bored waiting for the lead singer to finish preparing the recording equipment, checking everything's levels, making constant readjustments, etc.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:39 PM on March 13, 2010

I might be able to help, but it really depends on how "improv-y" you really mean. Judging from the MeTa post, I'm going to assume more along Gyrophonic lines than most would be willing to go, and that's more than fine by me.

The first response on the MeTa page isn't bad--Eno's Oblique Strategies can be a pretty good way of approaching things. You might also look into some stuff by Pauline Oliveros. She's all about Deep Listening and Sonic Meditations. They've both been rather helpful for me, and numerous others in free improvisation.

One thing I particularly endorse is trying an improv where everyone is playing an instrument that they don't really know how to play, but have at least a basic understanding of how it works. You might find you're able to think of new sounds and textures to create than someone who's already intimately familiar with the "proper" way of playing it would be willing to find.

Beyond that, listen to as much Sun Ra and John Zorn as you can get your grubby little mitts on. They'll change your life.

Finally, from my own experience in improv, these are the four most important things I can offer:
1) Focus on the quiet things, and hold back on the really loud until it absolutely feels right.
2) If you need to listen even more, close your eyes to block out distractions.
3) Don't be afraid to fail. You can usually learn more from a failed improv than you can from 5 successful ones.
4) Do, or do not. There is no try. The moment you try to make something happen like happened before, or even try to make something completely different than has happened before, the improv will fail.
posted by askmeaboutLOOM at 11:42 PM on March 13, 2010

I'm reminded of an exercise my friend told me about back when he was at a jazz retreat. They were in a free jazz workshop and the instructor presented a scenario (ex: son wants to borrow the car keys from dad; mom wants son to clean his room first) and assigned each musician a different role. The musicians then acted out this scenario using only their instruments to convey the message and move the plot forward.

Depending on the caliber of your musicians, this could either sound beautiful or excruciating; the bigger achievement, however, is that it gets the musicians to listen to each other and maybe sniff out personalities &c.
posted by The White Hat at 1:18 PM on March 14, 2010

My experience with being in a band proper (as opposed to just sitting in on open sessions) was limited to about a year and a half in a noise band in college, and I gotta say that the late-night breakfast at Perkins that followed most of our shows was just about as enjoyable as the shows themselves, and were definitely a team-building/bonding experience.
posted by usonian at 7:35 PM on March 14, 2010

These suggestions are great. Thanks for all the input.
Where were are, currently: The drummer and I have been playing for ages, and we've picked up enough tricks to get us through. The guitarist is an enthusiastic n00b; not a lot of skill, but tons of enthusiasm and no fear. Our last practice, the guitarist said, "I'm tired of banging away at the same three songs. Let's just fuck around for a while," which is just about the closest thing to foreplay I've ever gotten from another musician. That's what prompted the question.

the_very_hungry_caterpillar and MajorDundee, I remember those days all to well, they were fun at the time. It'd take me a week to recover from any one of those exercises these days. Rock-n-roll's young man's game :)
posted by lekvar at 12:38 PM on March 15, 2010

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