January is always a slow month for musicians, myself included. Last night, I got to play a show with a trio I lead- my first gig in about 3 weeks. Last night’s show made me realize several things that get rusty when you’re haven’t played with others in awhile:
1. Long sets. Even when I practice for 3+ hours a day, I still find myself pausing or getting distracted, which is fine as long as I don’t overdo it. As a result, no matter how much you practice, you simply can’t build stamina the same way you can when playing in a group.
2. Staying on rhythm. I’m fanatical about practicing with a metronome, and building rhythm in general. Still, there are bad habits everyone slips into when they’re not playing with others (especially slight rhythmic pauses and hiccups), and they become glaringly apparent when you’re playing in a group.
3. Compensating for other’s irregularities. No two musicians play the same song the same way, and it takes a little while to get back into not only hearing the rhythmic and melodic differences of the other musician’s interpretation of the song, but adjusting to it in a musical way.
4. Playing songs straight through. It’s so tempting in home practice to stop and work on trouble spots, but it often keeps you from making your songs “flow” from beginning to end. I’m going to be focusing on playing my songs straight through more often.
5. Leaning on other musicians to fill out the sonic field. When you’re alone, you tend to overplay. Making room sonically for other musicians is super-important, especially if you haven’t been able to jam with others in awhile.
One final note: after re-reading this blog, I might have made it seem like last night’s show as a train wreck. It was actually a huge success- we played really well together, and the audience loved it. Like most musicians, I’m the most critical of my own playing, and all of the above things I talked about are areas I’m going to focus on getting even better at in the next few weeks.
I hope that as musicians, we can all learn to fully celebrate where we are at the moment, while developing a detached critical picture of our own playing to help us improve in the future. I feel both the critical and the celebration of the moment aren’t incompatible, and can and should be held in a healthy balance.