Something I’ve learned being a part of three ensembles at berklee is that everybody in a band/ensemble/group/orchestra has a part to play. However subtle, everyone, every part, every instrument has its role and importance. Sometimes the instrument (or vocal section) is supposed to be subtle and that is ok. For instance background vocals, play a very important part in carrying the lead singer through and supporting the little nuances. In some respect the background vocals may have a “harder” role to play in terms of harmonizing melodies vocally.
Same thing goes for the rhythm section. While the vocalist is singing, their role is primarily to support and provide a backing for the vocalist. There’s no approximation, or room for guess work per se. The base guitar has to play his part, play the right root/chord… follow the exact progression. Same for the guitarist if his role is to give the rhythm… They’ve got to have everything they’re doing tight. Its got to come together like one piece with the vocalists as well. The background vocals (in some cases) keep it very simple in an ensemble setting – no extra vibrato or embellishments to the notes.
Having said that, everybody or some people may get their part to break out of the “pattern”. The improv/solo section. For instance after the bridge of a song, we can go into a solo section and ask the guitar to show some chops. This also may seem like its completely improv, but contrary to popular belief there still is some sort of structure to it. For instance the rest of the band will be playing the cord progressions for the chorus or verse while the soloist does his thing. The soloist in his mind knows the chords, structure, no of bars (or form) and pattern that the group is following. So essentially while you’re in your improv section, the chords of the song are still more or less the same and hence the mood of the song carries through. So that you have some sort of belonging when you come back. So… the soloing is left for the solo section. Not while the singer is doing his verse; the pianist or guitarist should not be going off in tangents or playing a contradicting melody as such… keep that for the solo section.
Another thing that I feel I’ve picked up on that I may have somewhat not consciously enforced in the past is having it all down to the T. Again no room for sloppy beginnings, transitions between sections, or endings for that matter. In both my ensembles, we’ve had to repeat sections, multiple times, such as an ending just to have it down. If this is how we’re ending then this is it. These many bars will repeat. These are the chords that we will play. This is what the vocalists (background and lead) are doing. And this is the chord we are ending on. The vocalists have to perform with conviction, there’s no room for guess work like I said before. If the drummer is ending with these crazy licks, and then the ensemble plays the last chord together, then everyone does it in unison. The pianist does not go off on a tangent after the last hit, nor does the guitarist, or vocalist for that matter. There is a definite end to a song, and its end is certain. No one is left guessing “oh is the pianist supposed to do that?” If we are ending on this chord, then the silence after that chord defines that end.
These are all little things that I’m going to take back. I’m not in anyway saying that this is how it is and these are the rules. These are the things that I have understood and picked up from my ensembles and the tips and instructions our ensemble instructors have given us. And I’ve seen it in practice at various performances now by faculty or industry professionals… and look at them and be like… aah that’s what they’re doing… the light bulb goes on and it really is a great moment.
This was a bit technical in content but I hope you enjoy the read regardless!