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David's Tip of the Day: Preparing for Performance - Listening to the Instruments

David Barrett Admin's picture

School of the Blues students rehearsed for their Fall student concert Sunday and one of the areas they could have benefited from doing beforehand was to listen carefully to what the band was doing in their song. They did work out what the groove was, the key, the opening, ending and if there were breaks, but what they missed was what the instruments were doing within the groove of their song. In many cases this level of detail was not needed, but in some it was essential.

A good example was "Blue Midnight" by Little Walter. This is basically just a slow blues, but to achieve the right feel, a couple small pieces of information will help the band to give you a much better representation of this song.

The most obvious thing is the bass line. Learn the bass line so that you can play it for the bass player. On the harp it's 2-hold 3' 3 5 5+ 4 and repeat. You don't need to learn the IV and V Chords, just the I Chord is needed, they can do the rest.

What most students miss is that the drummer in the recording used brushes. If your drummer uses sticks, it will completely change the feel of the song.

Also, there are two guitars... one playing the bass part and the other playing fills. At our rehearsal we had a bass player and two guitarists. What to do? In our case the band was well prepared and gave the harmonica student two options...

1) Guitar 2 plays the bass part (like the original) and the bass player plays a traditional two-beat (root note on beat 1 and 5th on beat 3).

2) Guitar 2 and bass play in unison.

The harmonica player was then able to choose how they wanted to play it. He chose option 1.

It's typical for students after a song is rehearsed to be asked, "How did you like that, did it work?" and they say, "It was okay, but the feel is not quite right." The band then asks, "What was not right... what do you want changed?" and the student shrugs their shoulders and is not able to verbalize what change is needed. You don't want to be the guy/gal who can't answer that question. It simply takes a little bit of time beforehand to become familiar with what the ensemble is doing in the recording. If everything goes well in rehearsal, then nothing needs to be said, but at least you were ready to answer any questions and have a better appreciation for what the rest of the band is doing.

If you're not sure what you're hearing on recording, seek out the assistance of a professional musician/band leader. Ask them, or pay them (I've done this many times), to sit down with you and tell you what's going on in a song. In time you'll gain experience and won't need to hire someone to help you.