IDEA #5—Change your definition of success.
What is a well-played song? What does that even mean? A while back I went to New Holland Brewery to hear a couple of friends play in a one-time Tom Petty Tribute Band. I’m not a huge fan, but I wanted to hear them play. The place was so packed I had to stand in the doorway. From the opening guitar riff of ‘American Girl’, they audience was yelling and whistling and applauding. Later I talked with the bass player. This guy is a GOOD bass player. He said, “It went okay. There were several spots where I didn’t like what I played. I could have done better.”
I know what he meant, but I disagreed. They had that audience begging for more. In my opinion, you just can’t do better than that. He drove that band along to great groove after great groove. He succeeded. They came to entertain the audience, and boy, did they. They succeeded.
After all these years of playing music, my definition of a well-played song has boiled down to this:
If a song connects with the audience, if it moves them in whatever way you hoped it would, then you’ve succeeded. All your imperfections are forgiven, or more likely, unnoticed. If your music does not connect, all your correct notes will have been for nothing.
At rehearsal, keep it simple enough that everyone is almost immediately up and running on the song. This gives you room to make it feel good, and that’s FAR more important than correct notes.
The Tom Petty Tribute Band had so much fun they decided to do it again, and when their keyboardist couldn’t make it, I jumped at the chance to join them. Here’s a short video of that performance. Watch the dancers at about the 2:30 mark, as the band kicks back in after bringing it down. Success!
Note: Watch out for using only overt visual cues to gauge how you’re doing. In our case, the goal was to get people dancing. That’s not your goal at church, usually. You want them to be moved–but not everybody shows outwardly when their heart is moved. Get to know your people and you’ll know when you’ve moved them.
IDEA #6—Emphasize the basics.
First, before you attempt to dress up a song by adding ‘cool stuff’:
- Make sure everyone is playing from the same music. Don’t laugh. I played at a church two years ago, and the director gave me three versions of a song, then didn’t play the same chords as any of the music he gave me.
- Lock the bass and kick drum. Time spent making sure the bass player and drummer are playing the same beat is worth every minute. A good foundation means everything else sounds better.
- Make sure you can all hear and see each other. I know this is not always ideal, but do your best.
- Separate the guitars and piano into separate ranges. If the piano player is playing in the middle of the piano, capo the acoustic guitar up a little so the sound person can separate them. If the acoustic guitar is strumming fast 16ths, make sure the electric guitar and keys are playing simpler.
- Decide dynamics—the ups and downs of the song’s energy—and then make sure you’re actually doing it. Think of the band bringing it down, and then back up in the above video. That’s a simple thing, and very effective.
These things have to be done first, and done every time you approach a song. No point it in adding the cool stuff if the song is floundering on the above points.