Thursday, October 27, 2016

Are You Phoning it in

I attended a multi-band event with my brother, who had a very successful teen rock band years ago. Part-way through the third band’s set, he made an interesting comment: "I don't get it. In my day our job was to get the party started." He was referring to the unfortunate fact that many of the performances were lifeless and lacking enthusiasm. The bands played as if they'd been doing it so long it had lost all meaning for them, had almost become a chore.

I suppose it's like any job that you don’t find interesting enough or challenging enough. Or maybe these players have just become too comfortable … too complacent.  Whatever the cause, it would seem that the thrill is gone.

Playing music is awesome; for me, playing is its own reward. And when I'm on stage, I have a responsibility to the audience as well as the other musicians. This is even more critical if I'm being paid.

Music is a great way to create, unwind, entertain, and more. Now, I may not be an exciting player to watch, but when I play I put 100% into the music, the energy, the creativity. In fact my favourite indicator is the dance floor. If it's filled with bobbing heads, then I know I'm not phoning it in. And if there is no dance floor, I watch faces and feet.

What I've found is that a job is generally as interesting as you make it. Even the lousiest jobs can have positive elements. But music is supposed to be our thing -- it’s in our blood, as we like to say. So how can anyone not be as excited as possible to have a chance to play? We may not always have an appreciative audience or a pay check, but even then it should still seem like fun. And if we're playing for money and a crowd, well I think it's our job -- our obligation -- to 'get the party started' and to never phone it in.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

And a One and a Two

That's how we generally start tunes. And it's a very good way. It sets up the tempo and gets everyone on board for the down beat. It can also highlight the basic rhythm: In this case 1 &a 2, which suggests an up-tempo swing.

It's called counting, and it's a very good tool. And it's powerful enough to get the entire band started. But a lot of people don't bother with counting when it comes to the actual playing. Counting can be just as important once the tune is underway.

Understand Internal Structure, the Subdivisions
The expression '1 &-uh 2' gives us an indication of the rhythm, in this case, medium to up-tempo swing in 4/4 time. Counting also helps us to understand the subdivision of the beats. Every type of note and tuplet has a corresponding count, and keeping track of these can help us interpret the rhythm more accurately.

Identify a Tune's Structure
The simple process of counting bars (1234, 2234, 3234, etc.) can unlock the structure of any tune. And if it's a particularly complicated arrangement, just write it down.

Polyrhythms & Other Tricky Stuff
It would be nice if we all could just hear complex rhythms and then play them. Most of us have to find some way of counting them. For example, I learned to play quarter note triplets with 'Pass the gol-durn butter'. I use 'serendipity' to count 5-lets. Doesn't really matter how you count things, as long as it works for you. 

Embed Odd Groupings, Time Signatures
The easiest way to learn to play an odd time signature is to play it while counting. Try playing 7/8 for the first time without counting. It can't be done. Eventually you won't need the counting, but in the beginning, it's the only way to get there.

Fake It Till You Make It
Some things come easily, perhaps naturally. Other things may need a bit of help. There's no shame in counting. In fact, rigorous counting can take you places you wouldn't get to otherwise.

For best results, count out loud!