Simple songs, good simple songs, are deceptive.
▪A beginner musician picks them because, well…they’re easy.
▪An intermediate musician passes them over, saying to himself, “I’m too good to play that.”
▪A seasoned musician asks himself, “Am I good enough to play that song?”, because he knows how easy it would be to ruin it.
A simple song, a good simple song, will test your musicianship. Good musicianship is, in my opinion, the ability to manipulate your instrument so that it compels the audience. There’s no better test of musicianship than whether or not the audience wants to listen. It’s not about being clever, or playing a lot of notes, or knowing some arcane voicing of a chord. It’s about turning compression waves in the air into emotion–which is a small miracle.
Presenting a simple song is mostly about knowing what not to play, and then having the good taste not to play that stuff. My wife, the corporate trainer, says this: “Don’t tell them everything you know, and don’t tell them what you want to say. Tell them what they need to know.” A wise musician friend of mine said it this way: “Only play notes that make money.”
Ed’s rules for presenting a simple song:
- Don’t be better than the song.
- Ask yourself, “What’s the least I could play, and still get the point across?”
- Play at about 60% of your capacity, technically, so you leave room to play with emotion.
- Play with emotion. Always, always, always play with emotion.
- As you practice the song, pretend there are people listening. Hear it through their ears before they do.
- Serve the song first, the audience second, and yourself last.