Hey, it's me from the band question thingy, haha. Thanks to your advice, I've been able to write situations like practices or performances less awkwardly now. However, something that gets to me is describing what's going on with the instruments and such. Like guitars, drums, bass and such. Could you give some advice on describing their sounds and movements?
Hey again, love! I’m very happy that advice helped you :D After I wrote it, I was all nervous about it because I wasn’t sure if it was the direction you wanted. But I’m glad it worked!
This is a pretty broad question, because every instrument is different and it really depends on how deep you want to go into it. You can get away with basic information, or you can really get into the specifics of a few instruments. I’ll just cover the basics of the instruments you mentioned: guitar, bass, and drums.
Describing Musical Instruments
So I’m gonna describe each instrument with a little information on the instrument itself, its contribution to the overall sound, some common terminology, and the roles of each player in the band dynamic. Sorry if it gets a little lengthy – I’ll try my best to condense a lot of information!
Guitar – Electric and Acoustic
The guitar is often considered the “leading” instrument as its sound is most distinctive, and can function similarly to vocals in a song. It is played by using the dominant hand to pluck the strings, and the non-dominant hand to make chords by pressing down certain strings along certain frets. Common gear includes:
Acoustic Guitars: Guitar, electric tuner, capo, mic (onstage), string cleaner, picks, guitar case, shoulder strap
Electric Guitars: Guitar, electric tuner, capo, guitar cable, amp, amp cabinet, effects pedals (+ pedalboard for multiple pedals), string cleaner, guitar case, shoulder strap
There’s two types of playing: chord strumming and melody picking. Melody picking involves picking out a melody one or two strings at a time; chord strumming involves using all the strings, silencing some strings, fretting (pressing down) some strings, and leaving some strings open (not pressed).
Chords are named A through G, referring to which note is the “top note” of the chord – plus different variations of these chords, which are known as major, minor, sharp, flat, suspended, diminished, and a few more. The minor key is known for creating a more serious, somber feeling, while major is stereotypically cheery or positive.
While experienced musicians can often pick up a song by listening to it, most guitarists play using a chord sheet, which lists out chords on top of the corresponding lyrics. Here’s an example:
So this is what guitarists will be looking at during practice, as well as listening to the drummer to maintain rhythm. Throughout a song, the guitarist may give an opening “riff” or line of music unique to their instrument – they then strum throughout the song, usually shining most between verses and in the stereotypical guitar solo during the bridge of a song. Many guitarists tap their foot or bob their head while strumming. They’ll likely carry extra guitar picks in their pocket if they do (and they often do) drop a pick in the middle of a song. At the end of practice, they’ll unplug, clean the sweat off their strings, and pack up.
Guitarists often double as singers, mainly because vocals and guitar both require a musical ear. A guitarist needs a good sense of tone and rhythm, as well as good hand-eye coordination. They’ll also need a certain amount of money to afford any of the aforementioned gear – for a decent guitar, amp, a couple pedals, and the works, the total price can start around $800 dollars. And that’s not including extra stuff like new pickups, effects pedals, and a pedalboard!
Bass guitar is considered one of the easiest instruments to learn, as it deals in mainly single-string plucking, making for less clumsy playing. It’s considered a supplement to the sound as it’s not often identified (or even noticed) by the casual listener – mainly because it’s so low that it creates less of a noticeable sound and more of a feeling. That feeling is what inspires the “party type” listener to turn up the bass, as it gives a satisfying vibration when the volume is turned up.
Bass interacts with the guitar as it typically plays one of the notes out of the guitar’s chord, at a much lower octave. The bass line functions in two ways: as part of the rhythm section, and as harmony to the rest of the music. Bass creates a “full” feeling to music which often goes unappreciated.
During a song, the bassist usually begins with the drums, as they work together to keep rhythm (see: slapping). Bass can be as simple as hitting a note and letting it ring throughout each measure, or much more active with rapid picking and complicated bass lines.
The gear for a bass guitar is similar to that of an electric guitar – bass guitar, electric tuner, amp, amp cabinet, effects pedals, string cleaner, case, & shoulder strap. Some bassists use picks; some use their fingers; some interchange depending on the song and the desired sound. The overall price of a bass rig can vary depending on experience, but is typically a bit lower than the typical price of an intermediate guitar rig. Think $600 and up.
Here’s a list of common bass terminology.
Drums – Electronic and Acoustic
Drums, both electronic and acoustic, are the backbone of music. They require the most natural skill of any instrument, as a strong sense of rhythm can’t just be learned. Drums are one of the only instruments that don’t involve notes and melody – some drummers are completely tone deaf!
Drummers can be quite removed, mentally, from the rest of the music for many reasons: because their instrument is very loud and overpowering to their ear; because they work mainly as a rhythmic leader, while others cue off them; and because the nature of their instrument is so different from others.
The main differences between electronic and acoustic drums are volume (acoustic drums are naturally louder), sound (electric drums can be set to have many different sounds/effects), and transportation (electric drums require sound gear, while acoustic drums are clumsier and more difficult to move). As far as gear goes:
Acoustic Drums: stool, five drums, four cymbals, bass drum pedal, drumsticks, drum stands, drum tuner, mutes, drum key wrench, drum rug
Electronic Drums: stool, five (smaller) drums, four cymbals, bass drum pedal, drumsticks, collapsible drum stands, sound cable, amp, drum rug
While acoustic drumsets are physically bigger and require more parts, they cost less than electronic drumsets. Acoustic sets + gear come in at an average $800, while electronic sets + sound gear are more like $1000.
A drummer doesn’t follow a chord sheet, which gives them more autonomy throughout the song. But it also means they’ll need more direction/practice if they don’t know the song. Throughout practice, a drummer usually counts off the song (by clacking their drumsticks) and plays from beginning to end. There are times when the guitar begins the song, and the drummer hits the bass drum rhythmically until they come in. A drummer’s equivalent of a “riff” is called a “fill”, and it usually occurs during the transition between measures or verses, rather than taking up full measures like a guitar riff.
Here’s a list of common drumming terminology.
That’s the best I can give you in one post, but if you want more in-depth information on one instrument, be sure to send another ask and I’ll help you out! I grew up with all this information, so I might as well do something with it.
Thanks again for asking, and for your patience :) Good luck!
- Mod Joanna ♥️