Band Tips for Beginners #5

File away those song sheets!

My take on the use of song books, song sheets, whatever you call them requires a sort-of policy agreement. This will not apply to situations where the music is complicated, or the set you are playing is likely to be long, and particularly if you are playing covers – whether it be jazz, pop, rock, whatever.  If the music is your own composition, then you’ll anyway have a good handle on what to do.

Look, in the beginning, when the band is new to a song, of course everyone has to have the sheet-music or chord chart. The singer(s) must see the words, etc. Otherwise, how on earth are you going to practise the song?

But the fact is this. The point in time arrives, pretty soon actually, when those same song-sheets become a burden. This is because, psychologically, one gets attached to having the music in front of you. No need to feel inferior about this, it’s just human nature.

And then the problem is this. Actually, there are a few problems.

  1. First, staring at a music-chart inhibits your audience contact. Now, troops, this is really important when it comes to creating vibe. Just do a check the next time you go to a concert or a gig as a member of the audience. Who do you engage with; who on the stage is entertaining you? Mostly, it’s the person who engages with you.
    Of course, it’s likely to be the vocalist, but doesn’t have to be. If you are the bassist, brass-player, lead-guitarist or whatever, make eye contact and engage with your audience! If you don’t believe me, watch Jack Black in “School of Rock” where he teaches the kid guitarist how to do it.
    Thing is, ladies and gents, if you have your noses buried in a song chart, you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of communicating with your audience. That won’t mean you are not playing great music, necessarily, but it will mean the gig is a bit washed out, maybe? I cannot emphasize enough how music is a human phenomenon. And humans communicate.
  2. The other important aspect is that having your eyes glued to the song file means you cannot invest feeling and passion into the playing because you are so locked onto the piece of paper in front of you. And if you are in an energetic band (not a symphony orchestra in other words) onstage stuff is just as important to create that vibe and groove. Can’t do this if you need to see what the next twenty bars or notes is telling you to play, now can you? Remember, Groove!
  3. The last point is that you need to be at one with your other band members.  It is so important that you are in touch with what they are doing. Again, same old story – if you are fixated on the chords on the paper in front of you, it really deprives you of the ability to ‘connect’ with the others. And this connecting is achieved by the ability, mostly, to see:  eye contact, or subtle non-verbal communication such as a finger point, shrug of the shoulder, whatever. Read Bruce Springsteen’s fascinating autobiography “Born to Run” (Simon & Schuster, 2016) and there you will see how he refers to just a subtle shoulder move from him, and the entire E Street Band, behind him, knows what to do. if you have your nose stuck in the file in front of you, you’re gonna miss it all.
  4. Lastly, it is just much more fun!!  Playing from the heart is so much more fulfilling than following chords on a song sheet. So – learn it all off by heart.

Remember I’m not talking about complicated jazz stuff here, or classical, and so forth. But for the band or group starting out, and that is what this is about, take my advice – for the sake of your own enjoyment, and the sake of your performance, and that of the band: learn your part as soon as possible and then keep the song-file closed and firmly stashed in the bottom of your instrument bag. And then, start soaring.  I promise you, it works. It is easier than you think – and you will feel the polish, let alone hear it!!