So I walk into the club, have a seat at the bar, order my favorite beverage, and begin listening to the band. It is going well, I am very impressed with the obvious musicianship of the band members. Then it happens, causing me to think, uh oh!
So I walk into the club, have a seat at the bar, order my favorite beverage, and begin listening to the band. It is going well, I am very impressed with the obvious musicianship of the band members. Then it happens, causing me to think, uh oh! The band begins to play a song in a style that several, if not all, of the musicians are not well acquainted. It appears they have not put in enough time absorbing that style of music, enough to give them the ability to get “inside” of the music. It is never too late to take the time to practice styles of music you are not familiar with so that you can interpret them “correctly”. No, there is no real “correct” way to play a style of music, but it would benefit you to respect those who have paved the way in that genre, by studying how they did it. I often talk about the subtleties in music, in every style, from the simplest to the most complex. There are certain elements that make any music groove, reasons why it affects people the way that it does. There are certain qualities that make each style of music feel good, or right.
We all have music we are most comfortable with, maybe its the music you grew up with, or the style you spent the most time practicing or playing. It’s the music you naturally gravitate towards, you don’t even have to think when playing it, just comes naturally. Then there is the other stuff, music we think is too difficult or easy to play, music we don’t personally like as much, or music we do not consider as valid as our favorite music. In any case, when we are asked to play one of these styles of music we are not as familiar with, our shortcomings become painfully obvious, maybe not to us, but to those who know that style of music.
I remember reading a story about one of my all time favorite bass players. Apparently, when he moved to a new city, he was called for a recording session playing country music, a genre he was not that familiar with. But it is country right?, how hard could it be, 1-5-1-5, yee haw, I hear you thinking. Well, he was sent home early from the recording session. Of course for him, already being a legend in r&b and pop bass, this was unheard of. When he asked the producer why he was relieved early of his duties, he was told
that what he played was not appropriate for that style of music. His story fortunately has a happy ending because he, at that point, learned what that music was suppose to sound like, and was later successful with top artists in that genre. Why the happy ending, he swallowed his pride, even as a legend, and took the time to really learn a different approach or feel. I remember early in my career being told, during a gig, to stop playing, lay out, by the late organist Johnny Hammond Smith. It was humiliating as he took control of the bass with his organ pedals and preceded to show me how walking bass was suppose to sound. But after that humiliation, I made it a point to find out more about walking bass and how to swing. I learned it was not just playing quarter notes, there were a lot of subtleties and not so subtle things I was missing in my execution of this style.
You may say to me, but Andrew, I don’t get many opportunities to play style X, how am I suppose to get better, or master it? Legitimate question, but there are many tools available to help you learn a new style. You can download midi files in that style and remove the bass, purchase music by major artists in that genre, buy books or instructional material in that style, also video instruction like my “Bass Survival Guide” will get you on the road to becoming more proficient in different styles. As you become more proficient, you will get more opportunities to play that style, people will hear about you as you improve and apply yourself.
You don’t have to necessarily become an expert at any one style, but at least gain an understanding of what that style is suppose to sound like. Find out who the best players are in that genre and listen to them carefully to find out what makes them special, or why people call them. You may surprise yourself and stumble upon a gift you possess but did not know about, find a new favorite style of music, create more opportunities for yourself, or at the very least expand your personal musical palette bringing something new to your own favorite style of music.