Listen Up!!

I just got back from a trip to Southern California for my son’s Class 1 soccer team. Their last game was against a very good team and we lost, 0-4. Our coach, in a talk to the parents, made an interesting observation (and I paraphrase):

“The team we played was very good, especially in communication. They talked to each other more in this one game than our team did in all 3 games. “

I thought about how this relates to playing in a band. You can communicate both musically (getting louder or softer or playing a passage that signals the end of the song) or you can communicate with a look or a hand signal.

Getting comfortable in a band that has been playing together for years means this kind of communication. Everybody knows what to listen for. You replace anybody in the band and everybody has to acclimate to this new person. The change is dramatic. Replacing one person in a 5 person band can be quick (I did it once in 2 weeks time) but I had to listen for queues, look around and keep an eye on the bassist, check to see what the drummer was doing, etc.

And on a related note…..

Guitarists DON’T LISTEN!! We don’t. We want to crank the dang thing up to 11 and think “Check THIS out!!” and go crazy. When we end our solo, do we remember to turn down? Not always. Now the singer has to compete with an elevated decibel level and scream to be heard.

Exercise in listening: if you are advanced enough, sit down with another guitarist and just play free form. I used to do this with Bob Culbertson, another teacher at SMI. It would just flow. It was like having a musical conversation. It was give and take. We didn’t decide on what to play, we just came up with an idea the other built upon. We’d do this for 30 minutes at a time.

To sum: band members need to communicate effectively and listen to others.

Rock on,

Spencer

Ways of Effective Practicing

Practice.

The very word conjures feelings of dread and commitment. Maybe you think “I didn’t practice last week and my teacher really got on my case…maybe I’ll tell him I was sick or something…yeah, and my dog ate my pick!”

What you really need to do is structure your practice by setting goals for yourself and rewarding yourself for reaching those goals. And the goals have to be realistic, not something like “I’m gonna figure out Yngwie Malmsteen’s solo on ‘Riot in the Dungeon’ and I won’t eat until I nail it note for note!!” These goals, though admirable, lead to discouragement since they’re not practical.

Let’s say your teacher has an assignment for you to practice playing the G major scale against a II-V progression (Amin7 D7). If you have a tape recorder, you can tape those chords (most boom boxes have a built in mic) for say five minutes, then play it back and work the scales against it. Set a minimum time of 15 minutes to work on this every day, backing up the tape and replaying as needed. Once you’ve met this goal, you can crank your amp, put on Metallica or whoever and rock out. Have fun – hey it’s music! This is the reward time!

This goal is much more achievable and you reap good things from this. Sometimes if I have a hard time with playing a particular passage, I’ll say “OK, I’m going to play this 10 times a day until I get it right and it gets easier”, so you make the *work* the goal, not necessarily the end achievement (which is a longer term goal).

The problem is oftentimes we don’t work on new (translate: harder) things and play the old (translate: easier) things that we’re good at. If you discipline yourself to work on the hard things, they get easier! It’s true!

If you want to run a 10 mile race and haven’t run before, you’d have to lay out a practice/training schedule, starting with maybe one mile, and then increasing the distance say 10-20% every week until 10 miles is doable for you.

I have in mind to make and market a practice CD for the budding guitarists. It will consist of backup tracks of guitar, bass and drums and will play various chord progressions in various keys and it would last a significant amount of time (plus you can put your CD on “Repeat”). This will be fun to make and I plan to start working on this soon.

So keep practicing and be watching for my CD!

Spencer