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On the spot
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5945 posts
May 07, 2019
6:53 AM
Tonight I found myself up playing with a band, sitting in on songs I didn’t know, unrehearsed.
Ouch. It was a bit scary but I’d already accepted the idea of falling down and I know I must be prepared to go out on a limb or I’ll forever be stuck in my current comfort zone.
I wasn’t really prepared except insofar as I’d packed a set of harps when I left home. I thought I might get involved in a jam, but I had not expected to be called up by the band.
I have been thinking about such a situation but i hadn’t really made any plans about how to deal with it until I was on the spot.
A few people indicated to me that they liked it, so I suppose I should feel encouraged by that. One has to start somewhere and I have had plenty of stage time. I found I could actually think a bit about what to do. Better than I have in the past at least.
I know I can improvise in 1st position a bit, at least for one song, so I looked for an opportunity to do that.
I was fairly happy with how that went, I went for a second chorus, holding a 9 blow while the guitarist played lead against it. It seemed effective. Later in the song I went back to second position and did something similar but on the 4/5 shake, just holding it for 10 bars while the guitarist came up and worked off the tension. It was something I’d like to do in my own band but we never really have. I think I’ll introduce the idea.

So, if for no other reason than taking that idea back to my band, it was worth packing the harps tonight.

There were other moments too. Mainly I was trying to not do the easy habitual things I’ve done in the past and that lots of harp players do. Not that they’re wrong, just that it’s so common to turn around in some ways and too predictable I think. So I worked at resisting the easy way and forced myself to find another way.
Too often I go to the octave and descend. Or I go straight to the 5th and bend it then descend. So I tried the 5th below instead. And eventually I remembered to try going up to the 5th via the 4th.

So it was good, not too many songs so I didn’t run out of ideas and I began the process of breaking out of old habits. And was fairly well received so that was good for confidence too.
425 posts
May 07, 2019
3:25 PM
I understand that you were up against some songs you didn’t know, but am interested in the extent to which you may have based your improv on melody or parts of melody you might have picked up after hearing a verse or two. I envy your experience, and hope to do less of the easy habitual things, thoughtfully (consciously?), as time goes on. It’s one of the things I’ve been doing with jam tracks...hear myself do something too canned, stop and fiddle around working up alternative lines, or start with a melody and repeat with variations. Work in progress....
Phil Pennington
5946 posts
May 07, 2019
3:49 PM
Yes Fil, I definitely employed that idea.
The main thing I did was slow down and leave space.
I think lots of us struggle with this. There’s a temptation to just keep playing sometimes. Maybe because we hear all the really great super fluent players.
I’m not that good so usually those attempts will derail. But I can play short ideas
Last night I maintained some presence of mind and remembered to pause after each idea. Just long enough to consider what to do next. Often the thing I did next was to repeat the thing I’d just played.
If you do that, you don’t have to have quite as many ideas, and you start to feel as if there is some coherence to what you’re doing.
This is why I think I had time to consider where it was going next, and avoid the cliche.
I remember at one moment I thought something like ‘this is going well so far’ and I could anticipate the conclusion but I could hear it was mediocre so I didn’t do it, and just went somewhere else. Because it was the final statement in the chorus I didn’t have to answer it so it seemed less of a risk to play something I wasn’t quite sure of. I mean, Jerry McCain for instance made a style element out of not playing a turnaround so less can definitely be more at times.

And yes, even just a part of the melody can be used to make a solo chorus. I believe I know what you mean about jamming with tracks.

I’ve seen people on Facebook complain about playing blues and being bored with nothing to inspire. That’s because they don’t have a melodic idea. If you listen to great instrumentals there always is a theme. It’s not just every note in the scale in various order. You can make a phrase using only 1 note.
I’m really only just starting to understand these things, having heard it for years.
Some people catch on much faster.
Ronnie Shellist gave me some advice which I accepted without fully understanding. Funny how sometimes you have to do the thing before it makes sense.
I’ll try to come back to this point. I think I can articulate it better but now I have to go to work.
5947 posts
May 08, 2019
3:35 AM
I probably covered it. I think that’s right about taking time.
It can seem like you have to make a big statement right up front. I think that’s fine if you have material prepared but if you’re making it up and you’re not a genius or a pro player I don’t think there’s much to gain from pretending otherwise.
Ronnie Shellist advised me to just be in the moment and I think that’s key. I didn’t know what song was coming up, I didn’t have a preconceived idea of what to play, I didn’t spend my time trying to think of a great chorus. I’ve done that in the past but it doesn’t really work I think.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I did anything special. I think it was ok, and a step in the right direction. I think I had a strategy which has a better chance of success than things I’ve tried in the past.
426 posts
May 08, 2019
5:33 AM
The advice I've read or been given most consistently has been keep it simple (less is more), build to your big statement if you're going to make one, think melodically (improv with relevance), and leave space. In the limited jamming I've done, these have worked, more or less, for me. Not so much by conscious design as necessity, to be honest. I like 'be in the moment'. When I think too far ahead, even with a just track, even with a solo I've gotten down all but note for note, I lose my place in the moment. I think you've got a pretty good strategy going for you.
Phil Pennington
92 posts
May 08, 2019
6:15 AM
On the subject of less is more I always like watching videos of Dennis Moriarty playing with a group called bone dog at the Sugar club. For some one like me who hasn't played with others it's good to watch and learn. Brilliant player.
There are several videos on you tube.

Last Edited by knight66 on May 08, 2019 6:19 AM
5948 posts
May 08, 2019
6:43 AM
I love Dennis Moriarty’s stuff. He posts here as bigd.
65 posts
May 12, 2019
7:17 AM
Sitting in with a band not knowing the songs was harder & easier than I thought. I did it last summer & totally gagged a few parts and pulled it off on some others and songs I didn't blow a note on. My approach is I'm not a front man, leave a lot space, less is more especially with limited chops. I think that comes from playing in bands off and on for a long time and have always been a sideman, sax, second, third guitar & mandolin. The crowd seemed to like the band I don't even know if they heard me but after the gig the drummer told me it sounded good and He liked having a "real harp player" I just smiled and thought He didn't hear me either ! But now thinking about it saying I didn't know the songs is not true they were all cover tunes we all know and love so that made it much easier. Anyway it was big fun playing it safe and simple.
5995 posts
Jun 01, 2019
6:59 AM
I’m continuing to do this, and I really do think it’s helpful.
I’ve just played a gig on which I was backing another singer for 10 of the songs. I only had limited prep time so I did learn a couple of things and memorised 1 in particular but the rest was just having an ‘approach’ worked out and then winging it.
I mean, I couldn’t have learned and memorised it all if I’d wanted.
I’ve also noticed that songs I’ve played for quite a while are getting changed too. I’m taking more risks. They don’t all pay off, but some kind of do.
Mainly I seem to do ok in 1st position because somehow I’m just kinda clicked in to it...somewhat. I’ve sort of learned what will work and if I’m not quite right I have an escape route. So I am mixing up my 1st position songs and getting more wins than losses I think
I had also forgotten there was an F# song and I’d left my B harp behind. Eventually I got brave and picked up a Low E, and played a bit of basic 3rd position. I was actually quite pleased with it. Nothing flash but it worked.
In second position my main strategy is to focus on the vocal and then try to invoke something of that in my solo. Maybe some of the melody, or maybe the dynamic structure. Just something evocative so that the solo sounds like part of the song. And I’m really trying, with mixed success, to liven up the endings of the solo so they lead back into the vocal.

Anyway, I think it’s forcing my brain to evolve some new ways of operation. I’m still very rough technique wise, and inexperienced with note choice but getting better.
Will have another go on Tuesday at the monthly club gig.
6007 posts
Jun 09, 2019
9:37 PM
Well, the Tuesday night turned into 3/4s of my band plus guest guitarist performing 4 songs which are regular part of our show so that didn’t advance the improv much, except insofar as I was playing Born in Chicago which I have not performed for some time, and I thought why not do something unrehearsed with it so I went for an extra solo and to my surprise I played a chorus from William Clarke’s ‘Daddy Pinocchio’. I mean, I realised what it was about 3 bars in and then just played it through. It was interesting though. I hadn’t ever thought about using it in BIC.

Also, some video surfaced of the previous gig and I heard that my improv was really fairly uninspired but that’s ok. I’m trying to develop.
564 posts
Jun 10, 2019
10:12 PM
A few weeks ago i went to a new venue(to me) advertising a jam night.I thought jam automatically meant Blues but no, this was actual tunes Yikes!
My name came up ,so against my better judgement, i got up on stage and proceeded to basically make a fool of myself.
No way i can just ad lib an actual melody so i held back and just, almost inaudibly,comped along.
I think the other guys maybe felt sorry for me and the third tune they played was at least a straight 12've bar where i managed to rip out some good stuff.
But yeah a 'Jam' playing Pop music?I dunno how that can work.
278 posts
Jun 11, 2019
2:31 PM
I know we tend to jam to tunes..mostly just "jazz" them up a bit.
Tunes work for us or the vocalist wouldn't have much to do..some improv vocals but really we look for tunes.
but we do old stuff and never out at public jams..figured we would be way out of our element.

I remember going to jam with friends and they would just go on and on at mega volume...
So we burned out on that pretty quick.

You know with the video and someone with the uninspired comment...I swear I cringe everytime I notice we're getting filmed...
You don't get to hear all the good comments but somehow a negative one will work it's way through it seems...

Last Edited by Spderyak on Jun 11, 2019 2:33 PM
6011 posts
Jun 12, 2019
3:44 AM
Oh, no, that was my own critique of what I heard on the video. I see now the sentence I wrote above conveys a different idea.

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