Monday, September 14, 2009

Don't shoot the wounded!!!

Everyone knows that every music ensemble has it's share of strong and weak players. Even the best players can make mistakes now and again. Todays tip will focus on what to do when one of our band-mates make a mistake.

Here is a quick scenario....

I was playing in the house band for a local radio show. All the musicians were accomplished and the guest vocalist heads our local college music department, so is very polished at his craft. We were handed a chart for one of his feature songs moments before the show was to go on the air live. The horn charts had printed part music, but no lyrics. I was playing the piano from a piano/vocal score.

Then.......... it happened.....................

The vocalist forgot to sing the chorus every time it came around. He just kept singing one verse after another.

Since I had the score in front of me, I chose to follow the vocalist and skip the choruses as well. The horns kept playing the chart as written. This means that they were playing the chorus horn lines over the vocalists verses. The bass player knew something was wrong and started playing by ear to follow the vocalist as well.

So, the score is, two rhythm instruments and vocalist against four horns with the drummer tapping a steady beat from the sidelines. No one stopped playing. Let me tell you, it made for some pretty interesting counterpoint!

When the horns ran out of measures, the vocalist sang a tag ending and conducted the rhythm section to a pretty nice finish. The studio audience enjoyed it.

After the show, the vocalist approached me and asked what happened. I simply showed him his sheet music, and he knew immediately what he had done. He apologized to the band, but we just figured that it was all in a days work.

So, when a band-mate makes a mistake, don't stare and point out to the audience who's fault it is. Just keep plugging along as if it is all part of the show.

I had lunch with the bandleader a few days later. (He is one of the horn players). We discussed in great detail this incident. He informed me that I was in the wrong by following the vocalist and not sticking to the chart. His premise is that the vocalist would have heard how wrong his lead line was, and it would jar his memory to sing the chorus.

So who was right?

Well, for this show, I will have to say that he was.
Why? Because it is his band and he is the one signing my paycheck.

What will I do if this ever happens again? If it is with the same band, I will stick to the chart and do whatever the director wants me to do.

If this happens while I am playing with another band? I must say that I will do exactly what I had done. My role as accompanist is to make the vocalist look good and not tip the audience off that he/she made a mistake.

So remember, when a band-mate makes a mistake, do not focus any attention on it as the audience might not have noticed. Just keep playing and encouraging everyone to play at the top of their game.

Larry Marra

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Drum Dynamics tip

Last weekend, while playing our local county fair, I learned about a neat little product that is a must for all working drummers. It is a hybrid drumstick made by Pro-Mark called "rods". I was on the piano and heard the drummer balanced with the rest of the band without being isolated in a plexiglass drum cage. He was using a new type of stick called, RODS.

They are ten small dowel rods the length of a drumstick and about the diameter of a telephone cords bundled with tape. This is a great tool for the percussionist who want to playlouder than brushes but softer than regular drumsticks. This product allows the drummer to play unrestricted but keeps the volume balanced with the other instruments.

Pro Mark makes six models of various woods and materials. They are all under $20. Log on to or take a trip to your local music store. I am not sponsored by promark, but couldn't find any other manufacturers that make a similar product.

I encourage all working drummers, band directors (especially elementary directors). To check them out.

Larry Marra

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