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Help! I'm lost!

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Axtman, Mar 13, 2019.

  1. Axtman

    Axtman Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2008
    Seattle, Washington
    I know this may come as a shock to you, but sometimes I get lost in the music. ;-) Yes sometimes I do get "lost in the music" but what I mean is losing my place on the chart.

    Last night at a jam session, I missed seeing the D.S. al Coda and got lost on a chart and could not hear where the piano player was because he was improvising.

    Any tips on what to do in those circumstances? Thanks!
    JC Nelson likes this.
  2. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I get lost now and then too.

    One, don't just start reading the chart top to bottom without first reviewing the structure. Try to determine if it's AABA or ABBA or some other format. That will mitigate getting lost, and help with finding your place if you do get lost.

    Position your music so you don't have to look away from it. I have to stand on the Floor TOM side of the drummer so I can see the band, call tunes, and invite solos since I play upright and EUB. If I put my music to the right of me, with me in between the drummer and the music, then I have to look away a lot to see the band and the chart, being on opposite sides of me -- that's an invitation to get lost, particularly if the chart is dense with chord changes and repeats etcetera. If the music is in the same line of vision so you can see the band, that reduces getting lost due to less looking away from the music.

    When lost, play a chromatic line until you can hear the spot in the song again. Sometimes the other guys are wrong and I'm right!! If that happens, I use hand signals like tapping my head (head) or my nose (bridge).
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  3. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Tell us more about this "Jam Session". Was this a standard called in a specific key with a temporary and a feel or were you reading a big band like chart? Did you know the song or were you reading it cold? Did you play 1 tune or were you the host?
  4. Axtman

    Axtman Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2008
    Seattle, Washington
    I sat in on four songs at the jam session. The song in question was a jazz standard and was given the Fake Book chart by the singer. I was not that familiar with it and have forgotten the title. When I got lost I played softer and really listen to the piano player (the only other instrument besides drums).
    Sam Sherry likes this.
  5. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Oh, the irony!
    I guess some people would say that "you play like a Female Jazz Singer".
    (Aren't you the "gentleman" who started that Thread? My apologies if this is not you.)
    If it IS you - Google the following phrase: "People who live in glass houses......."
    You're Welcome.
    Dudaronamous and rickwolff like this.
  6. Axtman

    Axtman Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2008
    Seattle, Washington
    The piano player was embellishing the chords and I had a tough time figuring out where he was in the song. It did not help that I was not familiar with the tune. I fooled around with walking bass notes in the key of the song until the singer came back in at the head. I meant to ask the piano player if it was obvious I was lost, but I never got a chance. My friend who was with me, a really good female jazz singer and music teacher (not the one singing), told me that that I played really well and could not tell I was lost. I think I lost 10 pounds of sweat on that song.
  7. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Okay. So, getting lost cutting your teeth at jam sessions is a right of passage. Don't sweat it.

    But, figure out what songs tend to get called at that session every week (by the way, I see you're also a Seattlite, which session is this?) and learn them. Get reference recordings and internalize them. al coda on a jam session is not...typical, but a jazz singer, okay, at least she brought her own chart.

    Assuming they aren't all like that. The songs that get called every week at most sessions are fairly predictable. Not necessarily the same session-to-session, but if you keep going make note of what gets played every night. Go home, find recordings and internalize them. Learn them, use charts if you must, but learn them aurally as well as structurally. It's a lot easier to listen for changes if you know how the song goes. If you got lost in all four, you're trying to play songs that you haven't invested in knowing yet.

    Don't get discouraged, keep going back, just do your work in between. The guys on that session who make it look easy have thousands of hours of work in it and they too got lost at jam sessions for a while.

    Also, are you sure that the piano player wasn't lost?
  8. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, D'Addarrio Strings, Aguilar Amplifiers
    Great advice here. I would add that it helps to REALLY scan the chart before diving in. Make sure things like a D.S. have registered before you start playing.
    Garagiste, mtto and Sam Sherry like this.
  9. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    You're not wrong, but honestly on a jam session (and I'll bet the universe that I know which session he's talking about, but I'll wait for him to tell me) I would ignore a d.s. al coda, play the song and keep eyes and ears on the rest of the rhythm section. Does that singer who brought a Fake Book chart to an open mic know what d.s. al coda means? Maybe.

    If it's a gig and you're rehearsing it the way you want to play it, that's different. A jam session is not a performance, it's a jam session. Listen and commune, then go hang with other players. Go home, do your work, come back next week and repeat.

    But, there were 3 other songs, so this is only part of the story.
    Sam Sherry and Jeremy Darrow like this.
  10. powerbass

    powerbass Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    A good skill to learn...scan the chart, look for the obvious like time signature, key signature, feel (swing, latin) form (AABA etc), what is different about the B section, does it change key? how many measures (12/32), can you feel the 4/8/12 bar phrases? Even after 1 run through of the head you should be singing the melody internally, this will head anchor your playing. If you get lost stick to the I,V of the key the tune is in that's a safe bet. If you don't know the tune ask questions before you start playing
    Seanto likes this.
  11. Axtman

    Axtman Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2008
    Seattle, Washington
    The jam session was at the Skylark in West Seattle. The singer was really good. Her phrasing threw me a little. She would get a bit behind the music. I think at one point the piano player and I played a measure twice because she held out the note. I love charts with words. That way I can more easily find where the singer is in the song.

    I played on an instrumental song where it did not follow the form of the iRealPro chart. The A parts were repeated more often, but I could hear and predict when we went to the B part.
  12. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I was wrong about which session. There is one tonight at the Paragon that singers line up down the block for with charts in hand. It's tough being a good jazz singer. It takes much more than having a good voice and many of them drop or add beats and or measures and get lost.

    Do you follow them or hold the form? An age old question. But, the rhythm section has to do whatever they do together. If it a paid gig and the singer booked it and hired you, you follow them and talk about it before there is a next gig. At a jam session, I would err on the side of holding the form and if you make a correction for the singer, you have to all do it together and you're bailing her out, not the other way around.

    The Skylark session is at an inconvenient time for me or I would love to come by. Have fun with it, this is how you get out there. But, take advantage and do you're work in between.
  13. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    We've all been there... and will be there again. The GOOD news is that you knew you were lost! That's probably because you heard the top of the tune but intellectually thought you should be somewhere else and so then had a moment of indecision: do I jump to what I just heard or play where I think we are in the chart?
    It's always tough, and with a good harmonist who's altering the changes as they go, it's much more challenging, but, IME, it's best to go with your ear, not your brain. Jump there; you might still be a measure or 4 behind, but then the same thing will happen - you'll hear that you're off and your ear will tell you that you're "there". Jump to "there", as smoothly as possible of course.
    I almost always find that my ear was right and my brain was tripping me up.
    You can practice this; it's easiest with a friend, but you can work tech to do it too.
    Worst case, do what you did, work the key center until you hear the V chord and then reset. Actually, worst, worst case: lay out and wait until you know where you are again.
    Dabndug, Jeshua and unbrokenchain like this.
  14. Hammertime3


    Apr 23, 2008
    I've played "Steel Guitar Rag" with a steel player, naturally, and a real good guitar player, and when they take their turns the second time around, I MUST hum the melody along with their playing or else I'm a lost ball.I find that humming along helps tremendously when the improvisation gets "out of hand".
  15. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    If an unknown tune has the same or similar format as another tune you know, you can sing that tune in your head when an instrumentalist is going out on a tangent that sounds unrelated to the melody. For example, anthropology is something I sing in my head during a rhythm changes sometimes to keep the form square without counting measures. This obviously doesn't work for unique tunes, but so many jazz standards follow one particular pattern or another at least with regard to number of measures.

    Sometimes, though, if I actually get lost lost, I just stop looking at the chart altogether and just listen and play, chromatic passages work wonders as pau ferro said, because if you put the right emphasis on the notes it can sound like you intended some dissonance, which is even cooler to some jazz folks than just playing the right stock line. Then you can catch the top again with a cue from the drummer. The real trick is not turning beet red and sweating when you're ejected from the visual cues :)
    madbanjoman, Garagiste and Jeshua like this.
  16. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    When I was in high school in the middle 60s, the guy who taught the chorus played bass on jazz gigs on weekends.... without music!! I thought it was magic. I asked him to teach me how to do it. He gave me a basic theory lesson and at the end of it said "If you get lost, play down low, keep the beat swingin, and listen hard for help." Best advice I ever got.
    Jason Hollar and Sam Sherry like this.
  17. This is so painful to do! But I have definitely done it on tunes that are new to me.

    When I've found myself lost (get it?) during another player's solo, I have pedaled on the V. A couple times this has earned me smiles from other players...which I gratefully accepted.
    Tom Lane and Dabndug like this.
  18. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I haven't played much in recent months but feel that I got reasonably good at recovering after getting lost; fast enough that no one notices.

    I don't think there are any hard/fast solutions. It's a skill you build that is supplemented by learning lots of songs and memorizing a lot too. To me, the idea is to have your inner ear start to get used to looking for forms in a song and get used to how many tunes come around. Learning lyrics is also highly beneficial to understand phrasing and how singers come in and out of tunes so you can be ready.

    IMO if you really on charts and following along with just your eyes, you will never get it. Another good reason to get your head out of the fake books.
    Sam Sherry and Jeshua like this.
  19. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    And that underscores a point you might not have intended to focus on. You feel that pianist wasn't playing to help you. Bad news: There are wonderful players who won't spend any time helping you get through their music. Their attitude is, "Axt, I'm not going to play simple just because you think, rightly or wrongly, that you need simple from me. Play with me on my level, starting . . . now!"

    + + +

    There a lots of ways to learn the skill of playing unfamiliar songs. One way is to practice. Grab an unfamiliar disc of standards, press random, play along in the comfy confines of your home. Do it every time.

    Because ultimately, relying on charts will get in the way of playing the best music in these situations. Perhaps -- gasp! -- the chart may be wrong. Or, as @TroyK so astutely notes, your bandmates may be playing it wrong. And no matter what, your job is to make them sound right.

    With time and practice, exploring without a map can become a lot of fun.
    coldtrain and Tom Lane like this.
  20. GutJazz


    Mar 5, 2019
    Roma - Italy
    Again: read the chart BEFORE the start and, in case, ask. Yell: "where the ... are we??" the pianist (or others) will be glad to display his skill showing you the bar on the sheet. No shame, everybody have the right to get lost once in a while (until he plays right the rest of the numbers...)

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