Posted by: Mike Lambe | September 29, 2008

Beyond the Campfire

I’ve been working on this post for a while, not quite sure how to whittle down what I’m thinking into a cohesive piece. What I’ve decided to do is use this as sort of a conversation starter and discuss some points further in their own posts as warranted.

Over the years I find myself more and more frequently in the unusual position of being a more experienced player than some of my musical co-conspirators. It’s forced me to think long and hard about what that experience has taught me, what I might pass along to a younger player if asked.

I enjoy music most when played with others – it’s probably why I don’t practice nearly as much as I should. As I have said before, I believe I’m a stronger ensemble player than a soloist. For a player in a band or ensemble of any kind, this element of musicianship is a much more important quality than talent. So without the benefit of that musical education, what would someone need to do to make the transition from casual jams to a band? 

We’ve all sat around the campfire, enjoying someone playing guitar, only to have the whole thing fall apart when a second guitarist or (heaven forbid) a drummer enters the mix. Whether it’s ego or insecurity, some players are so focused on what they are doing they cannot hear or feel how it fits into the whole. There is so much more to musicianship than just being able to play your instrument. A little time spent focusing on the following aspects of playing will go a long way to improving that campfire jam. These are just some random and generic bullet points that could apply to any player.

  • Learn lots of simple songs. They can help form the building blocks you’ll need to play harder stuff.
  • Learn the underlying concepts of harmony, rhythm and form in each song. You’ll be amazed how frequently they will reappear in another song.
  • Look around, make eye contact, see if anyone is trying to cue you to do something different.
  • Be open to suggestions and criticism. Don’t take it personally.
  • Know when to stand out and when to support. If you don’t have a lead, do something complementary or contrapuntal, or just find a simple pattern to vamp on. Don’t compete for attention when it’s someone else’s turn.
  • Sing only if you know the words. If you’re singing harmony, try to match the phrasing and style of the lead.
  • Paying attention to dynamics (not just volume, but also crecendos and accents) will instantly set you apart.
  • Serve the song. You don’t need to use the whole box of crayons on each and every picture.

I’d love to hear what you think. What do you think is important for musicians seeking the proverbial “next level” of musicianship? Some of these ideas, yours and mine, will be fodder for future posts.

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Responses

  1. Found an interesting read on the same topic here:

    http://keithmoore1.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/the-art-of-jamming-with-other-musicians/

  2. And Keith learns a few things in return! Thanks for stopping by. The big learning tip for me is learning lots of simple songs. I always feel this need to develop a more complex song or use a more exotic chord, but when I put the leash on the song opens up and unleashes a powerful simplicity.

    Not to mention people like jamming with me more. 😉

  3. If you don’t have an ear and good timing nothing else matters. Mike, you and I could play something cool right now even though we haven’t jammed in 10 years.

    *edited by myclam to correct the misspelling of a two-letter word*

  4. Some nice advice, Dr. Clam!


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