July 27, 2013

Last night I played a gig with a great Adelaide singer, Tania Savelli, in a new duo we’ve started. (Soul Inc) We play covers of classic blues, jazz, and soul music.

We both run our own teaching businesses, and play weddings & event gigs too. We’re well suited musically, and have similar favourite genres.

Our duo is sounding good, however, I was reminded of a key important point about preparing for a gig. I must know the songs in the gig rep – thoroughly!  We both were comfortable with our song list (as far as the forms, chords, lyrics etc) but I personally found a big hole in my playing. I had my charts, so I thought I could ‘wing’ the songs I hadn’t played as much.

I ‘think’ that I’m good for any gig that may come up, and ready to tackle any song that I’ve heard a million times, even if I haven’t actually played it live much.

I played in a great duo ‘Black and Blue’ with blues/rock  vocalist Brett Littlefair for many years. We were tight, but that came from years of gigs together, and knowing each others’ style inside and out. I even knew which chord voicings Brett would use in songs, so I could try and add different tones. We rarely did songs at gigs without rehearsing them.  I think that is what led me to write my blog this week.

Sometimes I watch other musicians play songs on the fly, and they can do a reasonable job with it; making it groove, swing, rock or whatever. I used to think that I also possess this skill, but you know what? Maybe I don’t. It’s not a self-effacing thing either, it’s just being honest with myself. It’s okay to just ‘get through’ a song every now and then, but in the long term it can lead to frustration.

Example – we played ‘Superstition’. I have watched both Adam Rafferty & Pete Huttlinger play their incredible solo guitar versions of that song, so I thought I’d just ‘borrow’ some of their ideas, riffs etc. It didn’t work. The main problem was that they play it solo, and I was accompanying a singer. The verse riffs that I played were too ‘heavy’ underneath the vocal line, and it just didn’t suit. The other problem was that we did the song in F, and I remembered about 2 bars in that Adam & Pete play it in E!! Oops.

There are some players around who, like I said, can pull it off, and just make it work in any key, but last night was a wake up call for me. I play through many different types of exercises during my practice time, convincing myself that I need to keep my chops up so I can be ready for any gig, on electric or acoustic guitar. I do sight-reading, scales, arpeggios…..but, in all honesty, I don’t spend enough time on my actual gig rep for that week.

It’s so important to have a structured practice plan, and to be honest about your musical abilities. “Play to your strengths” (Tommy Tedesco’s wise words), and know when to make necessary changes.

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