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Dealing with sudden distractions. Playing with a "distraction track"?

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by Jack Clark, Oct 4, 2012.

  1. Here's a question that you pros won't be able to identify with at all, but this rank amateur had a recent bad problem with this:

    Our four-piece basically-bluegrass hobby band was gigging outdoors with a guest dobro player sitting in with our own dobro player. (Yes, that's right. Two dobros.) No rehearsals with the sit-in player. So we're four bars into the first tune and, WHAM, both dobros came in playing different lines and they're each jacked up to twice or three times any reasonable volume. (We're all amateurs, remember, so we're amateurs at managing sound systems, too.) The sudden swale of sound jarred me right off the beat and the dobros kept right on. Now I can't hear the vocalist and rhythm guitar at all, and it pretty much stayed that way, off and on, for the rest of the tune. [EDIT: There is no drummer.] Took me a couple more bars to figure out where the soloist was and by that time the dobro boys did it again. The rhythmic quality of that tune was non-existent.

    Well, thinking about it afterward, I reasoned that this was my failing--that I need to be able to keep a rock solid beat through an earthquake, bomb explosion, whatever. So, I decided three things:
    1. I want always to be positioned where I can hear the rest of the rhythm section and the vocalist, i.e., on the opposite side of them from the dobro(s).
    2. I need a lot more work with a metronome.
    3. (And this is the one I want to ask about) I made what I'm calling a "distraction track" to play behind a play-along tune when I'm practicing alone. It's a track with nothing but loud swales of a-rhythmic music for several bars. These irregular bursts of sound come on randomly about a minute or more apart. I don't know when they're coming or for how long they're going to last, and the idea is for me to maintain a steady beat through it all and still be right on beat when the blast of sound is over.

    I know this sounds ridiculous to you pros, but I'm just a rank amateur who doesn't practice four hours a day. I'm looking for any way to get over this distraction problem which, with my hobby band, I'm pretty sure is going to happen again and again. I'm noticing considerable improvement in handling the distraction track already, and I've only used it twice.

    So what do you think of this idea, and—more importantly—do you have any better ideas for dealing with this distraction problem at my level?
  2. TNCreature

    TNCreature Jinkies!

    Jan 25, 2010
    What is a "swale"?

    It sounds like there is no drummer?
    Only you know if your timing needs help and I wish everyone would practice with a metronome.
    But you did nothing wrong. Any musician can get distracted or lose the beat especially when you brain is vibrating from a painful blast of noise.
    If there is no drummer the guitarist is the most obvious choice for rhythm keeper. Definitely stay close to him, work on visual cues and make sure everyone gets their levels together before a performance.
    You are on the right track. Just keep practicing.
  3. "Swale" is a made-up word in this context. I'm using it to describe the way dobro players sometimes both swell their sound in volume and vary the pitch down-and-up. It's not really necessary to my question, though; I could have just said "swell."
  4. Thanks, TN. That's encouraging. More work with the metronome, definitely. I've been using the "distraction track," with the metronome, too.
  5. Jack:

    A metronome might help. But what you really need to do is concentrate hard on the "pulse" of the music.
    That means more than just playing a metronome note. Pulse means the note has to have some kind of feel to it too. That usually comes from the guitar's rhythm and the mandolin chop so try to make your timing drop in with that....with authority. Different bands can have different pulses.
    If there is no feel for the "pulse" of the band there is the danger of making everything sound like a march.
    Good guitar and mandolin players make it easy for the bass player to nail down a pulse. When those same players are weak, playing bass becomes hard work.
    Just some of my thoughts after years of playing in hundreds of jam sessions and several bands.
  6. Thanks for this. This is just the kind of help I need now.
  7. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    Everyone in the band is part of the drum set. If you aren't with the rest of the group's rhythm, you are detracting from it. When in doubt play less. If someone in the band is playing too loud or too much, tell them immediately in no uncertain terms to play softer and/ or play less. It's all about clear communication. If the band is not comfortable with the sound or the rhythm, the audience won't be either. Each band member should always be thinking "When in doubt, play softer or play less."

    Any knucklehead guest who is on your stage with your band needs to be able to figure out what is appropriate in terms of volume or note density. If he can't figure it out, he needs to get off the stage after only one tune. Any knucklehead member of your band who gets in a volume or note density war with a guest needs to have a time out from the stage if the guest is going to remain on stage for more than the one tune. The band needs a leader and a traffic cop to keep from falling into complete anarchy.
  8. chopsy


    Jul 3, 2012
    Utica, NY
    great advice Steve. I am in a band similar to the OP's and needed to hear some of that!
  9. Sputter


    Mar 14, 2012
    Columbia, SC
    I'm with Steve, and I really agree with his last paragraph. Someone needs to make sure that both dobro players aren't playing at the same darn time and fighting each other. "Volume or note density war". Very well put. That would cause me to tell whoever is leading the band that it needs to stop.

    When occasional rhythm trainwrecks happen, it's often that they are at the beginning of a song, or at stops. Sometimes a banjo player will have a weak lead-in, or such, and it confuses the mandolin player, or whatever. Sometimes it's an indication that the rest of the band is hopelessly dependent on you as the bass player! Meaning without your constant 'pulse' they have some rhythmic issues. I've seen that too.

    So don't worry about this too much. Sounds like the leader of the band might not have been leading and allowed the two dobros to get totally out of hand.

    As far as who is the drummer in the band - that's a question I ponder a lot. Some mandolin players think they are - doing chops on the upbeat. Rhythm guitar players are as well. But as a bass player you are responsible for the pulse of the music and you are the one who holds that tempo with an iron fist. (But again, as the band leads in, that lead instrument provides the initial tempo, and if they lead in shabilly or don't command the band, then it's not your fault. Initially. You didn't start the trainwreck, but you need to get it back on track.)

    I play slap bass - which some will say is not traditional bluegrass (mostly said by those who don't realize that the origins of Appalachian bluegrass usually had old school hillbilly mountain slappers) - so I tend to see the bass as the rhythmic core. But regardless, the objective is to keep it solid, and lock in on the downbeat. If you do slap, lock in precisely with the mandolin or banjo chops. Hold it down either way.
  10. I asked bassist Marshall Hawkins once what you do when the soloist goes off beat. He said that if it happens in rehearsal, you just stop everything and work it out. But if it happens during a gig, you have to adjust to the soloist in the interests of the gig. Of course, Marshall's such a pro he can adjust in a way so most people wouldn't even notice anything bad had happened.