by Bob Stump
There is no substitute for a regular schedule of solid practice for a band who’s members are committed to that group. However there are times when the usual lineup of musicians are not always available. Enter the “Pick-up” band, a last minute thrown together ensemble who must somehow look and sound as if they have been performing together for years.
Here are some survival tips for the “on-the-fly” band:
It is much easier to lead than follow, though it is much harder to follow a weak leader. The leader needs to keep in mind the audience, the patrons and the ensemble. Set lists are helpful for reference but one might consider keeping them flexible.
Set up the ensemble to utilize good eye contact and body language. Without a chord chart in front of them many musicians can get by simply by watching the hand positions of whoever is leading the song.
Song presentation. Starting out, consider playing songs that are easy to follow with not too many chord changes. Not having to execute a tricky arrangement right off the bat will make band mates comfortable and the audience will sense that all is well. The leader should call the tune softly to the band, for example; “ Key of A boys, with a *one five intro then it’s one, four, one, five. “ The audience will hardly notice this quick lingo and as the band is gearing up with capos, etc, the leader may speak into the mic and direct the song at the audience such as ..” Here is a nice number written by the legendary Jimmy Martin (or whoever) and it goes like this… then count the tune. The band will sound like they’ve been doing it all their lives.
Play a few songs in a row and avoid dead air. The leader will plan the intro to the songs so the band mates can anticipate the upcoming song.
Keep the volume of the band at a medium level. Leave some room for solos to have a little volume boost. Musicians need to control volume and texture so the different parts of the music stand out from one another. Don’t get into volume wars otherwise known as “the more me syndrome” within the band, make space for each other.
Don’t forget to introduce the band, often times the audience doesn’t know who is playing and a timely introduction will focus attention on the featured performer or soloist and serve to draw the audience closer to the musicians emotionally. Try changing stage positions. One possibility would be to bring the soloist up to the front mic during a song. This creates interest. Creating memorable moments for the audience is one of the keys to a successful performance.
Do not save the best for last. Perform the high energy stuff when the audience is most abundant and or attentive, usually about 2/3 of the way through the night but this must be judged according to the event. Opening a set with one of your best numbers isn’t a bad idea either.
Often times it is about the audience or attendees not about you. Do not feel bad if you don’t rally up an applause every time you finish a song or solo. Don’t worry, the folks are enjoying your music.
Strong starts and clean endings are essential. Starting songs…..simple one chord vamps; One, Five or other turnarounds. Potatoes as needed.
Ending songs …..verbal “lets take her home” then two choruses or a tag. The leader could walk the notes to the chords so the band mates know where to resolve, etc.
Keep smiling, dress for success and Don’t Quit Your Day Job!
* convert chords to numbers (see the Nashville number article by Wayne Fugate this month) when performing, numbers are easier to remember and it also enables quick communication with fellow musicians, for example; “lets hear some fiddle on the four” and goes right past the audience.
Bob Stump is a songwriter and musician performing roots inspired music in the Hudson Valley region.
His original songs and other material can be heard at his website.