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"just playing the song in my head..."

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by G Aichele, Aug 11, 2020.


  1. Our band plays only covers (jazz and rock from the 1930s through the 1960s or so). We get the music online. Occasionally while practicing a new song, our singer/guitar player will diverge considerably from the music and then claim that he's just playing the song as he remembers it. He makes no attempt to change. We are all well aware of recordings of all of these songs that are available online.

    I feel like saying something like "well, I can't play the song in your head," but I realize that this might not be the best thing to say. I'd rather that the band not self-destruct. Any suggestions ...?
     
    Mr_Moo, electracoyote and Reedt2000 like this.
  2. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    SEPA
    "Let's review the recording we agreed to."
    Play the recording.

    Maybe the divergent interpretation is a legitimate creative departure opportunity to make the song yours.
    I have no problem exploring alternative interpretations.
    I'll play anything, pretty much, as long as everybody can agree to the anything.

    For tributes, tho, no - thou shallt play the song according to the agreed version, period.
     
    Mr_Moo, TFunkadelic, design and 12 others like this.
  3. Paulabass

    Paulabass

    Sep 18, 2017
    If anybody ever asked me to play note for note I would pack my gear.
     
    leadfingers, DTRN, zie and 9 others like this.
  4. RSBBass

    RSBBass

    Jun 11, 2011
    NYC
    In a jazz setting divergence is fine but he should let you know what he wants to do and unless he is the band leader it should be a band decision on how you go ahead.
     
    Mr_Moo, M0ses, GlennRH and 2 others like this.
  5. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    SEPA
    There's note-for-note, and then there's complete divergence in arrangement...
    If someone decides to change the chord progression, that could be an issue.
    There's a big range of things that don't work that fall far short of note-for-note perfection.
     
  6. DrThumpenstein

    DrThumpenstein Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2015
    St Louis, MO
    I guess it would depend on band composition/dynamics. It's a cover band you said, rather than a tribute band. I'm all for taking a song and making it your on. Especially jazz! Everybody just needs to be on the same page.

    If S/G is clueless about the "team" aspect and thinks everyone should somehow clairvoyantly know about his departure from the recordings you have agreed to play, that would be a deal-breaker for me personally. If he is band leader, and he is not interested in communicating better, you might be best served in stating exactly what you said, or just moving on. If you dig the group, bringing the issue up in a respectful way is going to be the best way to solve this problem.

    In our band, usually, the rest of us can recall the part of the song in question, and if not, will give the song a listen during practice. We often depart from the recorded version, but we decide how we are going to do it together and generally there are knowing glances and subtle smiles when we pull off the change together musically. But we do not have a band leader per se, we are an autonomous collective.

    Communicating respectfully is really the key in sorting out this type of potential conflict.
     
    Mr_Moo, DTRN, smokinjoe and 2 others like this.
  7. AceOfBassFace

    AceOfBassFace

    Jun 23, 2019
    Toronto
    Diverging from the arrangements can be fun, keeps things interesting and improvisational - but the players need good eye contact/communication, and in my experience, you need to have the songs worked out as agreed before this can happen. I've only done this type of thing well with really seasoned players, and we'd all played together for years so we knew our set inside & out.

    Definitely not for the faint of heart - unless you don't mind trainwrecks.
     
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  8. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    is perfectly fine, especially with a smile, a chuckle, or a laugh. but treating him and the situation as 'fragile' is goofy and a waste of time. you know how to be appropriate! good luck with your communication! :thumbsup:
     
    Mr_Moo, Geddaric, MDBass and 9 others like this.
  9. Koshchei

    Koshchei

    Mar 17, 2019
    Peterborough, ON
    If you're playing jazz and not improvising, you're not playing jazz.
     
    Mr_Moo, SpaceJockey, MVE and 3 others like this.
  10. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Note for note I get. But you have to play the song in the right order.

    OP, either he plays the right format, or (if you're that desperate to keep the peace) have him make you guys a chord chart for "his version".
     
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  11. A bit of clarification, I hope!: we are not a tribute band, we like creative changes. But we usually make them as a group. There is no BL. However, in the cases I mentioned, his actions are unilateral. As though he is the BL.
     
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  12. Peteyboy

    Peteyboy

    Apr 2, 2018
    Los Angeles
    How do your other bandmates respond to this?
     
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  13. Blackjac97

    Blackjac97 Supporting Member

    May 27, 2012
    Maine
    Me and the guitar player I was working with at the time played one gig with a different drummer once. The guy would stop every. single. time. we played one note even slightly off from the recording. He was insufferable to work with.

    I think there's a happy medium. If he's doing things so far off that what he's doing isn't recognizable from the song, or what you otherwise agreed to play, then I think it's totally fair to address it. As long as you're polite and professional, there shouldn't be an issue. Maybe bounce it off another bandmate and see if they agree first, so you know you're not off bass.
     
  14. Ah yes, that's when the A minor that was recorded and charted becomes a C major because "that's the way the guitar player remembers it in his head," and every time you come to that spot it sounds like crap. If only I had a nickel for every time that's happened to me...

    This is why the best projects I've been in involved a music director who was academically as good or better than the rest and had the respect and clout to forbid that kind of improvisational extemporaneous non-musical activity and keep everyone on the same page. In addition, it's a matter of taste to decide when to diverge, and when to play it the way audiences are most familiar and comfortable with. Not all musicians have that sense of good taste. Their "cool improv" is actually awkward and disorienting for the majority.
     
  15. DrThumpenstein

    DrThumpenstein Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2015
    St Louis, MO
    Then what are you playing? I was in a band in med school with a guy who could channel Al Di Meola quite impressively. We covered a lot of his solo and RTF work. Not tribute close, but fairly faithful to the recordings. We improvised very little. But it was killer jazz fusion and always well received.

    While jazz can be very improvisational, improvisation is typically within some sort of overall structure. I think the OP wants some structure to help drive his own contribution to the song.
     
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  16. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Assuming of course that you all agreed to a certain version "I'd say, we agreed to play X version. That's the version I learned, let's skip this song until you have time to learn the agreed upon version."

    I had this happen to me more than once. In one band I tried to be nice the first couple of times until I finally just said, "That's not the version we agreed on, if you want to change it let me know BEFORE i take the time to learn it." I had a drummer that did that too. I finally just refused to play a song until he learned it the way we all AGREED to learn it. I feel no need to be nice to someone who is being a Richard Cranium.

    Some of you are being way to charitable. It's not fun or creative to not bother learning something you all agreed on after everyone spent the time to learn it.
     
    Mr_Moo, Ekulati, AuBassMan and 5 others like this.
  17. Jeff Hughes

    Jeff Hughes

    May 3, 2020
    Just go with the flow unless:

    a. It is played differently every time making it hard to know what is going to happen.

    b. You are reprimanded for not playing something “right.”

    c. It sounds very bad in a nonmusical way.

    d. All of the above
     
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  18. sawzalot

    sawzalot Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2007
    I like playing songs differently than the originals. But all the band members have to play it together and that requires working out the arrangement a little bit before playing the song. Even jazz tunes are loosely structured into the head, solos, etc., and everyone agrees on what the melody and changes are.
     
  19. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    I always say it's fine to change the chords, melody, rhythm or lyrics... as long as we all agree to change them in the same way.

    The pianist/singer I'm working with likes to change things up a lot (as one does with standards), but we agree to changes, and write them down so we don't forget. We work collaboratively, but I defer to her since she's the one singing. We change keys on 75% of everything, and frequently rewrite chord changes to suit our style. A lot of times she'll write it out pencil and paper, and I'll generate lead sheets in Finale. We have our book on our tablets so we don't forget what we agreed to.

    Sounds like you have a similar scenario in terms of the singer wanting to make changes. So why not just do it the way the guitarist/singer is doing it? Write it down, canonicalize it, and you've made it your own.

    Do you have a designated music director/arranger? Or leader? Doing this collaboratively can maybe work, but if one person is the arranger, he or she can write out the changes so you can all be (literally) on the same page. IME having it written down makes all the difference. Doesn't mean you can't change it later, but at least gives a common point of departure.
     
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  20. Get (all) the Real Books and resolve 98% of disputes.
     

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