As musicians, we are always working on our craft (we should be), always practicing, always improving. That’s important. The minute you stop, you start to degrade. You lose your edge, your facility. And as music evolves and changes, so should you. The way you played 10 or 20 years ago is not necessarily the way you should be playing today. Look at artists like Bowie and Prince, they played much of the same music over their long careers, but the music often changed to stay fresh, stay relevant.
But let’s look at technique. It’s great to practice playing faster, better, in weird time signatures, etc. But how relevant is that in the real world, to the gig/s you play right now? Hey, I’m all for practicing everything, but the problem a lot of musicians have is building up all this technique, and an arsenal of licks to go along with it, and then thinking they can use it any and everywhere!
One thing I constantly tell my students is:
The song will tell you what to play.
Really, it’s that simple. If you are playing a Motown type song, then it will dictate a certain type of playing. You’re not going to try and play like RUSH there (at least I hope not!). The idea of all that time spent practicing is to have the facility to play what is needed when it is needed. I repeat: when it is needed.
Real genius lies not in doing all you can, but in doing just what is needed.
A bit of a story here: I was hired to record on a track. I showed up at the studio, unloaded my gear and set up. I went into the control room and listened to the track once, talked about what they wanted, then went in the studio and played. I tracked it one time, went back and listened to it, and they said, “Thank you”. That was it. It took more time for me to set up than to actually play my part.
In many ways it was easy to do, but that’s only because when I listened to the track, I listened for what it needed, not what I needed to play. There’s a big difference. I practice all the time, I’ve come up with a lot of unique sounds and ideas, and it would be easy for me to impose them (and my own ego) upon whatever musical situation I am in. But that’s not the way it works. Yeah, I’d love to show off all this cool stuff I can do, but I’m more interested in playing for the song. I’d much rather play what is needed to hopefully elevate the music.
But all this takes time to learn. I remember in my younger days often doing just what I wrote not to. I would impose the wrong musical ideas, usually playing way too much. It took time and maturity to temper my ideas and technique for the better.
In the end, if you have the choice of playing less or more, always go with less. At least it’s a better place to start, because you can always add to it as things move along. It’s a lot like cooking: you wouldn’t put a cup of salt in your soup just because you have it in your cupboard. You’d make your soup, taste it, then maybe say, “It needs a little salt.”
Articles Origin: Less Really Is More