Bandmember with slooooow learning curve...

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by GeorgiaHonk, Jun 7, 2004.

  1. Here's the skinny: The core of our band (me, drummer, singer/rhythm guitarist) have been playing together off and on for around five years. We mesh, like the same tunes, get along, etc. For a variety of reasons, the lead guitarist is the "rotating spot" in our situation ---- we're on about our fourth one right now.

    The current guy (let's call him "Billy") seems to concentrate far too much on his soloing and not nearly enough on his rhythm playing. (I know, you're all in shock right now. Recovered yet? ;) ) But the larger problem is that it literally takes him weeks and weeks to learn a song.

    We reformed this band back in January. We started with a nucleus of songs that our old band performed, so "Billy" had a relatively steep learning curve at first. To make it easier on him, we also learned several songs that he already knew, then we began learning songs that were new to all of us. Now here it is, five months later. We've got less than 40 songs on our setlist, and he's still struggling with almost everything on it. ("Wait, what key are you playing that in?", "Show me that riff one more time", "Don't give up on me, I'll get it eventually", etc., etc.) :confused: To be honest, most of these songs are classic rock songs from the 70s that "Billy" has heard a million times, so it's not like we're expecting him to learn Steve Morse tunes or anything like that.

    The singer has developed into quite a good guitarist, but he can't sing and play complex parts at the same time. Whenever a complex riff or run appears while the singer is singing, the song just falls apart because "Billy" doesn't know his part.

    We've tried being patient, but obviously that's gotten us nowhere (<40 songs in five months). We've tried to encourage him, to boost his confidence, etc. I've even had him come over to my house for dinner, and we practiced one-on-one for two hours. He's now forgotten everything I showed him. The lack of effort on his part is incredibly frustrating. We've all got lives too, and our time and money is every bit as important as his. If we've got time to practice on our own, then so should he.

    We all like the guy --- he's a nice fellow and a decent person. Not only that, but he owns the PA system and the practice space we're using. :bag:

    We've been telling him that we're not ready to give up on him, but that we want to see that he's expending a little more effort to try and catch up with the rest of us. The next step would probably be to bring in a third guitarist strictly for rhythm work. That would allow "Billy" to continue to be a participating member of the band and enjoy his moments in the spotlight as the "lead guitar player", and still thicken our sound with added rhythm chunk.

    Thoughts? Suggestions? Comments? As the bassist, is there anything I can do during those thin sections of a songs when the singer can't play the rhythm part and "Billy" doesn't know his part?
  2. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    It depends on a range of factors, such as what your goals are (play together for free at "Billy's" rehearsal pad or go out and earn some money gigging) and how much you want to perform accurate covers of the songs.

    If you mainly just enjoy playing together and might occasionally like to do a friend's party or something like that, then maybe Billy's still your man. If you chop the songs around or adjust your basslines to cover some of the rhythm guitar part, then you can also continue with him. If not, it might be best have have another frank chat with him. Perhaps he can be your 'manager / producer' and just come on stage for a few songs that he's confident on or perhaps he's best off finding another band that is more his leve?

  3. I've once read that James Brown used to fine his musicians when they f***ed up, maybe you could try that in your band.
    And once you've collected enough money, buy yourself an Akai Uni-bass, so you can play his part too.

    This way you don't have to fire the guy, you'll still have the rehearsal space, your band will sound good and you'll have a free Uni-bass. :D
  4. Level with him. Tell him that he needs to step it up. He does not sound too dedicated though. If you are a serious band, he needs to go if things don't change.
  5. Speaking for Billy I would like a real definite idea of what you want and where you are going. I say this cause maybe Billy is like me and got caught off guard when my band decided to step it up a notch to play out. I just didn’t want to go there enough to put in the work necessary to do it, so they dumped me, took a couple of days but I got over it.
  6. levijames


    May 29, 2004
    I agree with Wulf-if you are just a play for fun band,thats one thing.Be careful what you wish for-I have seen some great guitar players who have an ego and are tuff to be around.If it was me-I would tell him you guys want to take the band thing a little further-play some paying gigs and
    you all gotta really tighten it up.Maybe he just thinks its a goof around fun time deal and is busy at home and if he he knows you really want to get derious,he may bow out.Tought deal,all of my bands were throw together deals,just jammed,no real set list,and once in a while play for a gathering.
  7. What was the "variety of reasons", besides the reason of the current one?
  8. The first one was a phenomenal guitarist who was damn near impossible to get along with. He is widely known in our area as the best player, but equally as well-known as the biggest a-hole around. (He's currently serving time for drug-related charges, but that's neither here nor there.)

    The second one was a very good player, but was a bit younger than us and therefore he had a bit different frame of reference musically from the rest of us. For instance, he was heavily into shred guitar which generally did not fit with our style of music (classic and southern rock covers). He also lived about forty miles from the rest of us, so logistics involved with gigging and practicing were complicated. On one hand, he had more hassles to deal with as far as getting to and from practices. OTOH, he usually had less travel involved with gigs, and he almost never helped load gear before or after a gig. After a while, we began to resent his attitude and his not helping with load-ins and load-outs. When his gear systematically began to malfunction at every gig, the cumulative effect of all the other problems made it easier for us to tell him he was out.

    The third one seemed like a decent guy and a decent player as well, but about the time he joined the band the drummer decided to get a divorce, change jobs, and move to another state. The band just kind of dissolved after that.

    The drummer has moved back to the area and we'd all like to get back to playing again. Not as intensely as we used to --- we used to play out four or five consecutive weekends at a stretch. We've all agreed that, as part-timers with regular day jobs and lives and everything, that we'd like to gig no more than two weekends a month, and preferably only once a month. But the focus has always been on eventually playing out again. "Billy" has not been misled in this area --- he knows we eventually plan to play in front of audiences. We have no illusions about making that much money, we just enjoy the experience and want to make enough folding money to make the setup and breakdowns worth the effort. But if we sound like sh*t nobody's going to be having any fun, especially us.
  9. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    How does the band sound as a trio with occasional icing from a second guitar? That might work if you want to take a lot more of the load as the bassist? If you try to get another person in you're potentially going to have two major problems to face:

    1) You've been struggling to find the right guitar player so there's no guarantee that the next one won't have their own baggage to contend with

    2) If Billy feels sidelined he may get fed up and start causing trouble or using the PA system and practise space as bargaining chips

    Very tricky.... if I was the bassist, I'd certainly start by working over the songs to see how my basslines could be adjusted to take up more of the slack but a lot depends on your playing taste.

  10. That's good advice, and I've definitely thought about ramping up my basslines on some tunes. Although I try very hard not to overplay, but I may be backed into a corner on this one. I've also begun experimenting with using overdrive to thicken my sound. Maybe I should check into some other effects like octaves and/or choruses to thicken the background rhythm. I'm fairly effect-ignorant though, epsecially when it comes to effects for bass.

    Thanks for the feedback, folks.
  11. Spiritfield


    Mar 2, 2004
    I really don't have any advice that is on point, but our band is having a slightly similar situation. We just lost our new rhythm guitarist so our old lead guitarist is now doing double duty. We are now essentially a power trio with a front man doing originals. I too am having to look at rearranging things and thickening up my bass parts to help out the guitarist.

    I'm looking at chorus and overdrive pedals as well, and am essentially effects illiterate (being primarily a root oriented groove player) so I'm also interested in any advice regarding that issue...
    David (I feel your pain!) :bassist:
  12. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    It's not overplaying - you've still got to be tasteful and leave some room. Especially if you add some FX into the mix, you can easily drown everything in a wash of noise, which normally isn't a good idea!

    Instead, your goal is to avoid the song sounding too empty. Sometimes the answer might be a busier bassline but there are a range of other approaches - maybe a chordal approach, throwing in more muted percussive sounds or perhaps even throwing a second amp into the mix and running your signal in stereo (bass amp on one channel and, perhaps with some of the muddy low end filtered out, an effected guitar amp on the other, as on possibility).

    Some songs probably still aren't going to work this way but you should find a number that come quite easily.


    ps. Listen to some rock trios... although you have to be careful they haven't got another guitarist guesting during their live sets.
  13. Humblerumble


    Feb 22, 2004
    It sounds like the guitarist needs to put in a little more effort if he knows the deal and I would probably "remind him" of what the deal is. Else you are kinda beatin a dead horse. I'll never be accused of being a studio musician who comes in and does things on the first take, but I try to make up for it with effort. tell him to make himself a songlist with keys and chordsheets for the songs he keeps forgetting. If he comes in at the next practice with some handwritten stuff then you'll know he is putting forth some effort and can go from there.
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Ask yourself these questions:

    1) Does he make notes?
    He obviously has problems remembering material, so if he doesnt make notes he's either an idiot or he doenst want the gig too much

    2) Does he get better week on week?
    If he doesnt then the chances are he doesnt pratice in his own time, which says to me that he's not serious about the gig.

    To blunt, I'd give him the boot. You could be all 'nice' about it, but it doesnt sound like he puts in the hours, so you need to find someone who does.

    Re: His rehearsal space & PA - that's definitley not a reason to have him in the band!

    While I completely understand this comment, personally, I would dismiss it. I dont think there's enough room for egos in any band. If someone has an ego, balls to them, basically!
  15. Well, here's the plan for this weekend: we've decided that we're going to open practice with the easiest songs on our setlist, in particular the ones we haven't played in a couple of weeks. If he appears to struggle with the easiest songs we do, it's obvious that he'll never catch on at any kind of acceptable rate.

    During our first break, the drummer and I are going to start complaining about how thin the songs are sounding, and begin wondering out loud about whether we should consider finding a third guitarist to play strictly rhythm. This way, "Billy" is spared the hurt feelings of knowing that it's his fault we're bringing in another guitarist. Far from it --- heck, he's even in on the decision.

    This seems to be a sort of gutless way around the situation to me, but none of us want to hurt the guy's feelings and none of us want him to fire him or even have him quit. In a perfect world he'd just wake up and catch on. Maybe another guitarist will thicken our sound and ease the pressure on "Billy" so he can relax and enjoy himself more. Maybe that will improve his playing more than anything we coud do.

    Thanks for the advice. You guys are a great sounding board.
  16. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    you actually WANT to work with 3 guitarists! are you some kind of pain loving mad man?! ;)
  17. thewanderer24


    Apr 29, 2002
    SJ, CA
    In my limited experience, adding another guitarist will not do anything but add the requirement for even more time and effort to get things tightened up. No way, I ever play in a band with 3 guitarists unless I am a hired hand.
  18. A few thoughts:

    1. This guy's relatively new, and may not be as "in-sync" in playing with the group as the rest of you all. More time may solve many of the problems.

    2. Knowing a little less than 40 songs in five months is a pretty good feat, in my book. It's not always easy to learn that many songs at a time.

    3. It could be a case of "learning songs" overload. If I have to learn three songs in a week, for example, I can do that and keep them all separate in my head. If i have 20 to learn, they may blend together and get confusing in my head (aka - which is what part, etc.) This could be what the guy is going through.

    Suggestion: Try "assigning" him three or so songs every week to learn between practices, and tell him they need to be well-learned and essentially perfect when he comes back. By breaking it up into smaller chunks, he may be able to get his mind around the tunes better. If after a few weeks of this he's still not learning the two-or-three songs you assign him each week, get rid of him.
  19. giantjerk


    Jan 18, 2003
    Allen, TX
    Not everyone has the ability or capability to commit 40 songs to memory regardless of the amount of time that you give him. This can be even further complicated if you are knocking back beers at practice.

    I was in a similar situation when I joined a band not too long ago. I was the new bass player du jour. The guitar play gave me between 8 to 10 songs a week to learn for about 4 weeks. I was unable to commit all this material to memory so I took some time and wrote the songs out in a way that I could easily glance at my book for reference. I didn't write everything out note for note but rather gave myself blocks of information for reference as to the structure of the song.

    I was able to gradually move away to almost all reference to the book but I still keep it around.

    I had the desire to actually learn the songs. You need to just sit down and talk to him about it. ask the guy if he is really committed to learning the songs. If not you can't instill that in him.
  20. A couple of you have mentioned this. I totally understand and agree; however, this doesn't apply here. We're talking about simple four-note riffs that have yet to sink in after five months of practice. We didn't chunk all 40 songs at this guy in January and say "learn it". On the contrary, we all learned them gradually, at the pace of about four to six songs week, with periodic down time to let things "sink in". About two months ago, "Billy" asked us to stop adding songs so he could catch up. As far as I can tell, no progress has been made.

    And just to prove that I not only sympathize with "Billy", but I empathize with him: when I joined this band ~five years ago, they had just completed a successful audition for one of the biggest live music clubs in our area. The gig date was set in stone, and I had six (6) weeks to not only learn all of the songs on their setlist, but to teach myself to play bass (yep, anudder converted geetar player here.) I got myself some practice tapes and played along with them every night until I pretty much knew the basslines cold. When I showed up to the first practice with the entire band, I was able to play right along with them on just about every tune they did except for a few arrangement and/or timing issues. After about four practices, things were going so well that the guys even began to want to add new material!