Music is a practice, not just something we practice. Everyday I’m again humbled by how much truly great music there is. How many new masterpieces are being written. How many ingenious ways there are to play common instruments.
We all work diligently at our craft. No matter how we practice we all practice. We may not “practice” with a metronome running scales, sight reading music, or reviewing rudiments, but we’re learning songs, improvising solos, or listening back to recordings of our playing asking, “how could that have been better?”
While there are countless resources on improving our personal musicianship, advice is scarce about improving as an artist or as a band. Starting a band is hard enough, having the courage to write songs on our own is rare, and keeping a group together is something special. Once we have that chemistry as a solo artist or group how do we practice? How do we go from pretty good to something special?
There are two ways we can accomplish this. The first is to play shows; a lot of shows. For the first 100 or so shows you play as a band take anything. It is important to hone the stage craft, to know how to introduce your songs: how to pump up a crowd, how to emote a ballad in a loud venue. Take audio and video and ask, “Where did we struggle? Where did we shine?” If your town is small and there aren’t gigs falling from the sky, have an extra rehearsal every week and open it up to friends and family. Get a cooler full of beer and a basement, garage, or backyard with enough of an audience that you can’t stop to work out a part, you just have to play through it.
The second way we can practice as a band or artist is to always serve the song. We do this by asking ourselves, “does this make the song better?” In every situation this is the question that matters most. Everybody, musicians included, want to be accepted, to feel loved. So often this can seep into our creative process. We want to add a killer solo here to show off our diminished licks on this progression, a high note to end this section because we can hit it powerfully, or a big fill to slam out the end of a song.
But, what we need to ask ourselves is, “does this serve the song?” Sometimes, even often, the solo is unnecessary, the high note isn’t the best melodic choice, or the fill is too bombastic to lead into the end of the song. Other times it might be just what the song needs to build momentum or hit a climax, but it is about what the song needs not what we want the song to be. This goes into the studio as well. Does that synth lead serve the song or is it in the way? Is that cool kick drum sound the best sound for this recording? Does that harmony really help me make my point? We can always ask this question, and always follow the answer to a better song.
That begs the question, how do we know if something is serving the song? I offer this: music, like poetry, seeks to communicate an emotion to the listener on a visceral level that would be difficult or impossible to talk about. The sum is greater than it’s parts. So, when someone listens to your song because a friend told them to check it out, are they going to hear your song and think, “they know exactly what I’m feeling, what I’ve never been able top put into words” or is there some of your ego still in the song still in the way of your message?
Written by guitarist Jake Galambos.
Post by Corey Kleinsasser
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