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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9
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Ask Charlie...

What Are Your Intentions?

by Charlie LoachFebruary 2024

Hello Troubadourians! In this column I have often written about my love of rehearsing. And, my love of recording and performing. These are three very different activities with very different intended outputs and, ironically, an idea I’ve only recently explored. All three require a primary focus on playing and/or singing either alone or with others. Simple. But what each activity ultimately seeks to accomplish is very different. Let’s discuss…

Rehearsing: Rehearsing is all about learning through repetition. It could be memorizing lyrics, an arrangement, a vocal part, or a chord progression. And we do this so that we can get the basics of a song into our mind and heart and out through our fingers and voice. It is also to build consistency in our performance. This is essential when we’re playing with other musicians, but also for ourselves. There are so many things that can go wrong with or distract from a performance, we need that time spent in rehearsal to counteract them so we can play to the best of our ability every time. Rehearsal is also designed for working out ideas and deciding on an arrangement since both are essential, whether you are working on original material or interpreting a cover song. When you are playing in a group with other musicians, it is important that you are predictable—even if there is some improvisation—so that everyone knows what is happening and is going to happen. Even when the length of an instrumental solo is strictly defined by the song structure it is still important to be consistent in what you play. I make it a point to begin and end my solos the same way so that my bandmates know where I am in the song. I might take some liberties in the middle but I always begin and end the same way. Those signature phrases alert everyone that the solo is beginning/ending just in case someone’s attention has wandered… next is starting and ending together. This should be self-evident, but it doesn’t—or shouldn’t—happen by accident. You may have heard musicians use the term “tight” when describing a band. Starting and stopping together is where being tight begins. Finally, you have to rehearse your dynamics. Even if you are a solo performer, playing and singing with dynamics keeps your audience engaged.

Recording: Not everyone is interested in recording. But if you are or become interested, there are a few things to keep in mind. Being in a recording studio is like playing under a microscope. Every detail and nuance are exposed to outsized proportions that can be unnerving to someone not used to that environment. I’ve been playing in recording sessions for many years and sometimes even I find myself “hearing too much” when I’m recording. You have to know what you need to hear and what you don’t need to hear. Having everything in your headphones isn’t necessary and is distracting from the performance you are trying to deliver in the moment. Talk with the recording engineer and/or producer and have them adjust to what you need. Don’t be rude, but don’t be afraid to ask. Be prepared for your time in the studio. Know the material you plan to record or if you’re just a hired gun, be well up on your chops. Not everyone has to read written charts these days but being able to follow a lead sheet with chords is essential. If there are vocals already on the track, ask if you can see the lyric sheet. Pay attention to the lyrics as you may want/need to tailor your playing to suit the mood and content of the lyrics. You don’t want to be playing salt on someone’s strawberries… And remember, the entire point of recording is to capture that one magical take that is the perfect part for the song. Maybe it’s the first pass, maybe it’s the twentieth pass, but you only have to get it right once.

Performing: This is where it all comes together. For most performers, your rehearsal time is what gets you here. Be prepared musically and technically. Know your material inside and out and be ready to adjust to changes in schedule and the shifting mood of your audience. Technically, have backups for your equipment as is possible. (I’ve written about this in many previous columns, including those from the last couple of months). But you’ll also want to have backup songs prepared just in case you need them. As I mentioned above, not everyone is recording their own material for publication and performance. But for those of you who are or who want to do so, you have the advantage of the recording process to augment your rehearsal time. You will have heard every song in minute detail and by now they are part of your DNA. You can play them in your sleep… and if you’re anything like me, you probably do. There are very few things that a musician can experience that is better than having the opportunity to perform for a live audience the songs that they’ve created or helped to bring to life.

But here’s the point of all of this: it doesn’t matter how well rehearsed you are—as a band or solo performer—when you are playing live, things aren’t going to be perfect. Read that again. I’ll wait… live performances have essentially infinite variables, most of which you as an individual can’t control or even predict. Even professional touring acts who have the benefit of playing the same set every night with the same sound, lights, and support crew will face differences during their performances from show to show and venue to venue. The best you can do is to anticipate that something will go wrong or be different than what you were expecting and rely on your preparation to compensate. Most of the things that can or will happen will go unnoticed by your audience, and maybe even unnoticed by your bandmates. Let it go and move on. Every performance will be—and should be—unique. That is the point. That is your intention…

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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