Musician-to-Musician Communication: 5 Tips to Improve Clarity

This post could swing about 6 different ways from Sunday and still have tons of things to cover. So, I’m going to stick primarily with communicating musical needs/wants in a rehearsal setting (this can also be mirrored in the studio depending on the scenario). Improving communication is a never-ending process and even the best communicators run into situations where things get lost in translation. Let me paint a quick picture for you: two people are in a coffee shop sitting at a table and trying to discuss the weather, only one person speaks Italian and the other, Mandarin Chinese. Assuming both aren’t bilingual, this will most likely be a rather long and challenging if not impossible conversation. Believe it or not, I’ve seen this exact same scenario in rehearsals and studio settings when discussing music and even though both parties are technically speaking a common physical language, things are really getting lost in translation. As a result, people get more and more frustrated and time is wasted. Why does this happen? More often than not, it is because people simply don’t understand or realize with whom they are speaking. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about some inflated sense of “don’t you know who I think I am?” between band mates. What I am referring to is the difference between instruments, the specific language of said instruments, and the overall understanding of how they fit into the band picture. Having a solid understanding of an instrument’s place in the band and at least some relevant terminology on both stylistic and technical fronts (even if you don’t play that instrument) is actually quite important and helpful when communicating with someone who plays that instrument. What is the end game here? To be able to clearly communicate across the band and get to the best product possible in as timely a manner as possible. So, here are 5 tips to help:

  1. Learn some terminology – As stated above, learning about the different instruments in your particular group will help you better communicate with the players. Don’t know what a hi-hat is? The difference between floor toms and rack toms? The tuning of 4-string bass vs 5-string bass? What you may want or need to learn for your particular group can vary greatly depending on the makeup of the group. The point is that the more thorough your vocabulary and understanding is of the instrument you are working with, the better your chances of communicating effectively with the player.
  2. Learn about some of the different stylistic elements of the instruments you have in your group – Want your drummer to play that cool, groovy thing like the Toto song, Rosanna? If you say Rosanna to most seasoned drummers, they will automatically know what you’re talking about. However, knowing that the particular groove you’re asking for (in it’s basic form) is called a shuffle can come in handy (and if you’re a nerd like me, the Porcaro take on the Purdie shuffle mixed with Bonham’s shuffle plus the Bo Diddley beat . . . but I digress). What about asking your keyboardist to play this sort of funky, Latin thing? You know, the Latin thing, right? With that explanation, that could be any number of things. But, it might very well be a montuno. My point here is that learning to speak the language and understanding what you’re asking for to a point can really help your chances of good communication and ultimately, a good musical product.
  3. When you run across a musical element someone does that you like, ask them what it’s called and why it works – This is pretty self-explanatory but what I will say is that it helps to foster more of a community effort when you show a desire to learn from who you’re around. At the end of the day, working and growing together is what this blog is all about.
  4. Don’t be afraid to mess it up – Say you’ve learned a thing or two about some other instrument(s) and you run across a scenario where you feel like you could use it. Guess what? You’ll misuse, misquote, ask for the wrong thing, etc., at some point or at multiple points and while this can be embarrassing, it’s how we learn. The way to turn that situation around into a positive is to admit your mistake and simply ask about the correct way to communicate whatever you’re after. It really is that simple.
  5. Be patient – Building up a solid foundation of knowledge about the instruments in even the most basic setup can take a long time. It doesn’t happen overnight so be patient with yourself and with others who are learning as well. The key is to be a sponge and learn from everyone and every situation you find yourself in.


Aaron Kusterer is a musician, producer, tour manager, and composer based out of Long Beach, CA. He has performed with artists such as Eddie Money, Juanes, Mitch Malloy, and Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson) to name a few. He has also performed across the globe during a 10-year stint with the United States Air Force Band, 6 years of which was spent as a music director and tour manager. In addition, he owns and operates Advantage Tour Management. For more information on him, check out:





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