How Jazz Music Can Make You a Better Guitarist

(by guest blogger Chris Huff at Behind the Mixer)

Jazz music, specifically instrumental jazz, forces the listener to focus on the instruments and the arrangement. You can’t get lost singing along. Jazz brings all the instruments to the forefront and it’s there where you will learn a lot.

Great jazz musicians know how to play off each other, how to play behind the other instruments, how have the right sound for their instrument, and how they sound along with the other instruments.

Electric guitarists (that means YOU), have spent a lot of time and energy finding that perfect tone you love to hear from your guitar. It might even be song-specific. But there are two questions I have to ask you; 1) did you set your tone based off what you heard on the stage or from the house speakers? 2) did you ever check that tone against the other instruments?

There is a lot your sound guy can do for shaping your sound and the sound of the band. HOWEVER, the best modifications are made first at the instrument level. Welcome to some extra time in the church sanctuary.

The five steps to a better sounding electric guitar tone;
1. Arrange time with your sound guy to work in the sanctuary when it’s not in use.
2. Set up your equipment in the middle of the sanctuary. Connect to the audio system with the help of the sound tech.
3. Play and listen to how it sounds from the house speakers.
4. Tweak your settings (guitar, effects, amp).
5. Play and repeat step number 4 until you find the best sound.

You’ll find that great tone you thought you had on the stage sounds different in the sanctuary.

Now that you’ve got that great tone, how does it sound against the other instruments?

I’m not saying you have to drag the whole band to the sanctuary. What I am saying is there are specific instruments you should work with during your practices to create the best complimentary sounds. Specifically, the bass player and the keyboard player. The two instruments can fight for audio frequencies that you share and if there is more fighting and too much sharing, your instruments will sound like mud.

For example, a keyboardist playing pads can really fill out the sound of a band. But if the pad sound sounds so much like the electric guitar effects, then the sounds blur together. The sound guy can tweak the frequencies to a limited extent but when the two instruments are so similar in frequency / sound, then the mix (your sound as a band) will suffer.

Therefore, the next time you are practicing with the band, spend some time with the bassist and the keyboardist one-on-one so that you have all found the best patches and effects that prompt the great sound of your respective instruments while also making room for the other instruments in the mix.

What Type of Tomato Are You?

Odd question, definitely, but follow me on this point. The sound tech is like a cook. I can take all the ingredients and create a pot of chili. The success of the chili, however, is based largely on the quality of ingredients I use. Rotten tomatoes, dried out beans, spoiled meat…are these ingredients you’d want to make a pot of chili? View your sound as an ingredient and you’ll find yourself striving to be vine-ripened. And if you want to know what it sounds like to have instruments that make a great pot of chili, look to jazz.

–Chris Huff.

(Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to improving instrument sounds. He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.)

15 thoughts on “How Jazz Music Can Make You a Better Guitarist

  1. Typical ost from a “sound guy”. In all seriousness, great post. Us guitarists need to start thinking as part of the band with our tone and not just our playing. It’s all fine to say “let’s create space” or, “use layers” or, “other cliche worship guitarist line”, but if our tone doesn’t work with the other musicians, it’s all useless.

  2. Thanks Samuel. I should have mentioned in the article that I play guitar – used to play on a worship team or two or three. It came down to always being on the stage or in the sound booth on Sunday so I picked one so I could spend the rest of the time worshiping with my family. So I’m not saying anything that I haven’t lived. 🙂

  3. good points. but i think choice of notes and dynamics are more important than tone. don’t get me wrong, tone is important … but that should be up to the soundguy to figure out the best way to mix on the board via EQ. of course it helps if the source tones are already EQ’ed properly 😉

  4. I really like some of your suggestions. Our keyboard player just recently started experimenting with pads and I think we need to spend some one on one time figuring out how we interact with each other. Especially with her being new to it.

    I usually work with the sound guy to get my tone to a place where it melds well. We keep the amps in a back room which I have found helps me understand how I sound to everyone else. Usually if there is an EQ issue we try to fix it on the amp first and only use the eq on the board for quick fixes during a set.

  5. Don’t forget Piano as well. But I agree choice of notes / chords shapes and dyanmics are more important. A good rhythm session also helps.

  6. Notes and chord shapes are definitely important! I had to draw a line somewhere in the article and that was it.

    You don’t want your sound guy yelling out “Try that with a G Dim7th instead!”


    • fwiw, the article was good and you made your points clear about tone … and soundguy yelling the progression would really be something 😆

  7. Hey thanks for the suggestions, I just might do that middle of the sanctuary thing. Unfortunately guitarists like other fanatics on this planet are a bit irrational at times, and we don’t want to even consider the possibility of our sound being sculpted better at any other source than our amp. Maybe because we spent a pretty dollar on it? Maybe because the house speakers can’t match the perfect ones inside our cabinet? Haha insert any other slightly ridiculous reason here.

    But every Sunday, it does travel beyond that point, so it’s good to know what it sounds like further down the line. I’ll say it’s transmitted, not replicated, so as not to injure the source *pats amp*. I’ve listened to CD’s of our worship service but I can’t remember how our sound guy records it–if it records the straight in sound before he mixes it or if it records the mix he lays down. Anyway, I am interested in how it sounds to the audience, with the best way hearing it with other instruments.

    And on the jazz, playing with other musicians always helps. I’m always impressed by a musician who can meld well.

  8. Hearing your self form the middle of the sanctuary is a great idea. I recently got myself a wireless unit for my guitar and was actually able to stand out in the seats for a few songs during a Sunday am run-through (we’re a portable church meeting in a school’s caf-a-gym-a-torium so Sunday am is the only time I get to hear the main system) and it was really useful hearing myself in that context.

  9. The other option if you can’t get to the middle of the auditorium is to place a recording souce there. I have a little flash based recorder, the zoom something or other, and it is GREAT about showing flaws and successes in performance.

    The other thing to consider as well is that sound changes once you got a bunch of people in there, so all that time you spent perfecting your tone is going to have to change again.. ah well.

    Thanks for the great post.

  10. What’s the best option for using an amp to get good tone through the house? Direct out through the speaker out or with a dynamic SM58 offcenter?

  11. @BenG – Between the two options? I tend to go with offcenter. Direct out can work but I like capturing that true “from the speaker” sound.

  12. Hi there Chris! Thanks so much for this post, very helpful. As a guitar player I really struggle with finding good tones. There’s so many variables from cords, pickups and amps to pedals, mics and mic placement that it’s a really hard thing for me to find good tones, especially distorted or overdriven tones. Gonna see if I can really get some time to focus on getting a good tone for all applications within the church. Thanks for the tips, and I really love your site!

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