Colin Falconer

MUSICIAN'S SIGN LANGUAGE by Colin Falconer

You'll always hear muso's asking what key the next tune is in.  The reply is often drowned out by chatter and instruments.  Even when someone yells out the key it's hard to tell over the noise whether they said C or D or G or B because they sound much alike.  For years professional musicians have used a series of hand signs to communicate with their fellow musicians.  Here's a mix of the standard sign language and some common ones I've used in bands over the years.  If all gig and band players adopted this there would be less confusion.  So let's learn the pro way to communicate with other muso's and sound technicians.

Musician's Sign Language by Colin Falconer
WHAT KEY?

Key of

Number of flats or sharps in key Raise or lower fingers to represent the number of sharps (up) or flats (down) in the key.  (i.e. three finger held upright means the tune has three sharps and therefore is in the key of A)
G 1 sharp 1 up
D 2 sharps 2 up
A 3 sharps 3 up
E 4 sharps 4 up
B 5 sharps 5 up
F# or Gflat 6 sharps OR 6 flats 6 up OR 6 down
D flat 5 flats 5 down
A flat 4 flats 4 down
E flat 3 flats 3 down 
B flat 2 flats 2 down
1 flat 1 down

The key of C has no sharps or flats and is generally indicated by forming the letter 'C' with your right hand thumb and forefinger, or by simply waving your hand sideways (as if you were brushing something off an imaginary table)

 
HOW TO INDICATE SOLOS, REPEATS and ENDINGS
A simple nod to a muso tells them to take a solo. (not immediately, but at the next verse or bridge).  If they shake their head it means they don't want to take the solo at this time.
Patting the top of your head means 'go back to the start of the music'
During the music four fingers held up to the drummer means he should take a four bar drum solo.  If you also repeat the sign to another muso (or musos)  then they swap four bar breaks with the drummer.  (Usually the soloist will play the first four bars, the drummer the second four bars, this is where that unspoken psychic bond between muso's comes into its own.)
A raised arm and then closing your hand to form a fist, means the tune is ending. (no more repeats)
A few muso's use crossed fingers to indicate a jump to the bridge of the music.

SOUND ENGINEER

During pre-performance sound checks (no audience) simply use your microphone to chat with the engineer.  But after the gig has started many engineers object to being given instructions over the P.A. System.  So ...
To increase or decrease volume to a particular instrument, monitor or microphone:  First make sure the engineer is watching, then point directly to the instrument, monitor or mike (a  bit of miming is often involved to clarify what exactly you're referring to) and then point either upwards (to raise the volume) or downwards (to reduce the volume).
If you can't hear yourself on foldback you simply touch your ear and then point upwards for him to raise the volume.

*****   There are lots more of these hand and body signals, but these are the most common.