Playing blind as a standin

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by schmig, Mar 21, 2011.

  1. schmig


    Nov 30, 2008
    Hi folks,

    Played my first "blind" gig during the weekend, standing in for another guy with a band I'd heard maybe once, just playing bluesy stuff (i.e. lead guy calls "12 bar shuffle in E"), a few Hendrix, Bill Withers, Cream, Elvis, i.e. stuff most people would be at least familiar with.

    Went fine, I made my share of mistakes but nothing crucial for the best part. Have been playing in public for about a year and a half so was happy enough.

    Posting here to ask for general guidelines when playing in these situations. I came up with some the other night:

    - Forget the lines you remember or the lines you hear internally. Find the drummer's pattern ASAP and match it.
    - Be as mentally acute as very carefully for signals and gestures as you can make no assumptions about what's next.

    Any pointers? I am hoping to establish myself around this part of the country as a usable "blind" standin.
  2. I play blind all the time. I call it jamming. It's just Tom and I, Tom is singing and playing rhythm guitar accompaniment to his vocals and I provide the bottom end with my electric bass.

    No sheet music and I have no idea what song is coming next. I look at his hands to get the key knowing it's going to be one of three; C, G or A. As Tom does not have anything but the lyrics on paper he wings his accompaniment, i.e. his chord progressions are what he feels - at the moment and he fills his playing with runs, fills, etc. I have no idea when he is going to take off on a run. Others have tried to follow Tom's progressions and given up in disgust. I found it hard at first, but, we've played together enough that I can work with him. Here is what I do, perhaps this will help and answer your question:

    I stopped watching his hands trying to match his chord changes and now just go with my ear. We have discussed this and did decide it would be best if I just went with roots and change when I hear the change. If I miss a change just keep going.

    That got us working together and now I pretty much use a R-5-R-5 or R-3-5-8 (simple stuff) with chromatic runs to the next chord. That, by the way, is classic Country bass anyway. I sing the song with him - under my breath - and let his vocal set the timing.

    This means I'm assuming a I IV V I progression, I think the same way you are using the 12 bar blues progression as a guide. Works for us.

    It's all feel ..... I'd say trust your ear and rely upon the 12 bar progression ..... and have fun.

    Be interested in what other "blind" players have to say.
  3. anonymous122511

    anonymous122511 Guest

    Dec 28, 2010
    When I was in school working hard with the metronome I started dropping/adding beats to turn the time around just as an exercise. I had no idea when I was doing it but this work stood me in good stead when I started doing pickup gigs with no rehearsal often with people I'd never met. Even good players occasionally drop or add a beat and if you can seamlessly go with them when they do you look like a star...if they even notice.
  4. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Shew, guys, there's a lot more to it than that when it comes to sitting in. More than I wanna say right off. For one thing try to pick groups that play a genre that you are familiar with, if possible. You can go around listening to bands and take notes on what tunes are getting played the most on average. But ultimately, if you don't know the tune, you might be in trouble. That is, if they call for Unforgettable, you best know the changes. Even if you know theory, if you've never heard the song, it won't help. As for the I IV V 12-bar blues, that's the one thing you can do, as long as it's standard. But many songs that use only those chords don't necessarily do them in that order. If the song is diatonic, knowing theory enough to read someone's fingers when they call for a 1, 2, 3, or whatever chord helps. Sometimes you can wing a song if you've at least heard it before. Hopefully, you can get it figured out the first time through. For songs that you DO know, then you can do the things you were talking about, like just watching for signals, etc. heh, even then, some folks don't give very good signals, if any.

    I hate sitting in unless we have practiced at least once, but then the pay doesn't reflect all that time, so it's not worth it usually. I also hate jams unless I know all the tunes. Nothing worse than being the bass player who doesn't know what to do because you don't know what is being played.

    I don't know what the solution is other than to know as many songs as possible, and watch and listen carefully for the rest of it. There's no guaratee.

    One more thing, each type of music playing usually has a "book" that's getting played a lot, so get familiar with what's going around by asking other players.
  5. tjh


    Mar 22, 2006
    "Nothing worse than being the bass player who doesn't know what to do because you don't know what is being played."

    this is a great thread, that really hits home .. I play with a worship group on Sundays, that is progressively adding new tunes, and they usually practice them on Wednesdays for that Sunday .. problem is, I live some distance away, and dont get to the practice, and show up at 9 on Sun morn, with a half hour to run through each song once, if that, for the first time I have heard it ... I get the comment to "just follow the chord changes", BUT, what they don't get is that I (or THE BASS PLAYER) is the one that is supposed to be leading them from through those changes ...

    .. so relative to the thread, it is one thing to be able to fill in and 'follow' enough to pull it off, but quite another to actually perform the function of providing a clear and leading flow of where the changes are going, at the same time providing a strong foundation, and tight pocket ...

    ... and in reply to the OP question, that would be my insight ... try to stay ahead, and play with confidence, rather than sitting back and waiting to see if something is going to happen ... especially on the second and third verses and chorus repeats after you have seen it once ... can be easier said than done when intimidated or being cautious though, I agree ... JMHO
  6. marmadaddy

    marmadaddy Supporting Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Rochester, NY
    Get good at this and it can turn into some cool work if you get a reputation as someone who can fill in on a moment's notice.

    I've had a couple of situations where I was just supposed to sit in for one or two songs with touring singer-songwriters and after the second song I've been told "stay right there, you're not going anywhere." Happened just this past weekend. And a different s/s who this happened with just booked me for a festival gig in Texas.

    As for general guidelines:
    - Play with confidence but be as unobtrusive as possible on the stage.
    - Give 'em a little bit of a groove. "It feels good" trumps "it sounds good" every time.
    - It's a skill that can be acquired. Play to recordings of songs you don't know from beginning to end without stopping. It's good ear training.
  7. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    Open your ears...WIDE!
  8. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    When the bass is wrong, it really stands out. There's no way to know what to play if you've never heard the song. I shudder thinking of the last jam I went to. There I was, an accomplished veteran pro player, only no one could tell because I didn't know what to play on those tunes. (Why is it like that at jams, guys wanting to call up obscure stuff when they know everyone won't know it?). Guitar players, keybord players, horn players, you name it, they can all limp through something they don't know, but not the bass player. The bass part has to be right. At least the roots have to occur where they are supposed to. No more jams for me unless I know everyone.
  9. Not wanting to steal the string, however, we have talked about most styles do play from the same "book".

    Have any of you starting using iPhone - iPad - Kindles, etc with cheat sheet chord charts?
  10. There is a level of intuition that develops over time when you do this for a loooong time. I've sat in with so many acts whose material I don't really know it's not funny. I don't always do a great job in IMO, but good enough to keep getting work (it's not my main line of gig work, but it helps to fill in the calendar)

    One skill that I have spent time deliberately working on is what I call guitar hand reading. That is, standing where I can see the back of a guitarist's left hand (if they're right handed, reverse if necessary) I can "read" the handshape for most of the common chord shapes (E G D C A etc.) as well as some uncommon ones. That combined with an attentive ear, an eye on the drummer (at all times!), and a strong intuition (developed through experience) about scales, chord changes, and genre, will take you 90% of the way.
  11. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Yep. I'm glad I'm also a guitar player, so I can watch their hand. Sometimes it's still hard to tell, though. Success can also hinge on how the guys you're sitting in with are about telling you things about what you're about to attempt. Hopefully, they'll give you some idea about what type of beat the song has, and if you're lucky holler out some changes before you get to the very beat where they occur. Some genres are easier than others to fill in with. Jazz can be tough, country can be easier, for instance.