Thursday, May 26, 2011

And the Beat Goes On

October last, I sat down with some musicians who had a weekly jam session and uncased my guitar to try and sing and play along. They called themselves the NFUs, for No Fuck Ups, and the name was a joke meant to convey the idea that the players were not that. Guy who ran it knew my wife through work, and he invited me to drop round.

This was my first experience trying to play with a group, and it came to be one of the highlights of my week. Mostly, they were better players and singers than I. Most of them could play more than one instrument. Much of the repertoire consisted of numbers I didn't know, standards, blues, oddball songs from hither and yon, but by dint of practice, I was (mostly) able to keep up. Not able to take an instrumental solo, I do rhythm and a little fingerpicking, but I could manage the chords, and each session, I learned more about stuff you don't get practicing on your own.

Lou, the guy who sponsored the group at his house, pulled the plug in April. He was in another home jam group, plus he had been asked to play harmonica with some folks who were actually getting gigs and paid and all, and he wanted to concentrate on those. Couldn't blame him for that.

Most of the NFUs had other musical venues, and they went on their way. I didn't, and having gotten a taste for it, I looked around for another jam group I might join. 

I found one, the Closet Musicians, not that far from my house, and after some back and forth via email, was invited to drop by. 

This is an older group, some of the players and singers are in their eighties, and I've been going there for four or five sessions and having a fine old time.

It's a different experience. 

The NFUs had a songbook, and somebody would suggest a number, count it down, and we'd roll. They had memorized a fair amount of material. Different people would sing the lead, there'd be instrumental breaks, and different players would take a solo. If you had something new, you'd bring the lyrics and chords and give it a go. We drank beer, played for about three hours, and finished with pie. 

The CMs have a whiteboard with a few songs on a set list, a couple of tryouts for new stuff, for which we get emails with the chord sheets, and a couple of songs that we have played once or twice and are still deciding if they will go into the repertoire book or purgatory ...

Sometimes we have cookies or hard candy, but they aren't beer drinkers. I know some of their songs, but there are also standards and oddballs I haven't played, or in some cases, ever heard. Mostly everybody sings along with each tune, now and then somebody will do a vocal solo, and with the players who have shown up since I've been there, nobody plays lead instrumental solos.

In the NFUs, I was the newbie who had to work to keep up. In the CMs, I'm still the newbie, but vocally and musically, I am, relatively speaking, better than I was in the NFUs.

Always a student, of course, but now, oddly enough, sometimes people are asking me questions.

That's interesting. I've long thought that you can learn as much teaching as you do being a dedicated student, I've seen this in silat for years. If you teach a thing, you need to know it well enough to show it and explain it, and when people ask questions, you don't always know the answers and you have to work them out. 

So my musical chops aren't getting polished as much, but my theory is having to get better. Somebody asks, "Where do I have to capo to play this in G?" I have to look at the chart and figure it out. 

There are some CM players who are much better than I, from what I hear, but none of them have made it round yet. Until they do, if there is an instrumental break, I'm going to have to learn how to play lead. 

Scales? Scary ...

And group dynamics are interesting, as in any social setting, so I have to figure out how I fit into those. 

Never, as I might have mentioned here before,  a dull moment ...


aa said...

Hi Steve, When I was in Florida I had to try to find people to train with. It was a strange experience contacting, negotiating and then physically punching another guy who I really didn't know. I imagine its similar intimately playing with people you've just met deciding if you'll like these people you've just met.

Steve Perry said...

I'm thinking I'll go take a how-to group class at a local music store, meet some other players that way. Networking ...

steve-vh said...

Played with another group last week from craigslist just to check it out. Leader was a "pro" from LA and was serious about playing out. Still strange group dynamics.Didn't really want to hear what you said. Musical tastes all over the board. Ziggy Stardust to Social Distortion and everything neededto be "faster". In my current group it's mentioned pretty much every gathering how consistent my time keeping is. In this on the leader was getting frustrated that I wasn't going fast enough. Uh, you started it, I locked in the pocket. Finnally realized it wasn't me at all. yeah, fun stuff to play but personal dynamics, I could see where that would be headed, I'll pass. But you never know till you try (out).

steve-vh said...

oh, and I like the pie afterward idea! Brilliant!

J.D. Ray said...

A friend of mine recently gave me a scale sheet with a whole slew of pentatonic (sp?) scales on it, pointing out two that were, as he said, almost universally useful in group settings. I'm going to see if I can find some time alone to practice them and see what I can come up with. If I get those down and do a little solo practicing to knock the rust off my playing, I'm thinking of trying to find a group myself. I'll be coming from WAY behind the curve, so they'll have to be patient and accepting. Or I'll go through a lot of groups, working my way up in skill. It should be fun, though