My Non-Traditional Musicians: THE GIG!

This Sunday, my “Alternative Music” class (see my other posts for an explanation of what this class is…) is having their first honest-to-goodness GIG!  I guess I really wasn’t prepared for how UNprepared these students would be.  In my band classes, jazz band, and marching band (drum corps- see my other posts for an explanation of THAT one too…) I always strive to have my students consistently rehearse exactly how they will perform.  More simply put- I say “Good- now do it again” about 1,000 times before it is ingrained in them at the very sensory-motor level how a performance feels.

In watching my “special” class prepare, to my horror, they left some VERY big details for the last possible moment.  To be sure, I have been giving them feedback (and grades) on their progress, recording them, and having them evaluate each other’s performances with suggestions on how to improve.  I even had them write a “success plan” for having a successful performance.  All for naught.  For example, my blues group- while they have a pretty good understanding of the 12-bar blues form- struggled today with how to find an ending for their song.  I had to keep myself from laughing out loud (I know that sounds mean) but it was like they were on a highway and kept missing the exit!  Each time they reached the end of the form, they would launch into another chorus, and couldn’t for the life of them figure out how to cue each other that they were about to end.  I spent a half hour having them play just the last chorus with an extended “fill” for the final chord (we tried a IV-I kind of double-fill blues ending- if that makes any sense to you- but they couldn’t feel both the extended IV chord AND the extended I chord, so we had to simplify it.  (I guess I could have explained that better…) suffice to say that they were VERY frustrated.

I gently chastised them about having left this to the very last, and that it simply wasn’t acceptable to “figure it out when they got there”.  They would HAVE to get it right enough times to be comfortable or they would risk falling apart at the performance.  To my surprise, they seemed to be OK with the risk!  Now, my “traditional” musicians would have been beside themselves and working extra hours to correct the problem (no doubt due to many years with me “guiding” them toward that conclusion!) but with this group, it was OK to be just so-so because there were any number of excuses why they couldn’t possibly fix it- all of which had nothing to do with their lack of musicianship!  “My guitar needs new strings!” “This bass pedal sucks- I can’t get the drum to sound the way I want” “I’m used to a different amp” and so on.

Some very basic non-musical things were working against them:  they did not have the actual instruments they planned on performing on- “I’m going to bring my guitar from home to play”.  I told them that it was a really bad idea to practice on one set of instruments and then switch for the performance!  Also, it never occurred to them that they should stand in a certain fashion or face the audience, not each other like a “jam session”.  Little things like that.

I believe that this is exactly the way they approach their other classes, study, and homework (life skills?).  Just trusting that somehow it will magically work out without really working at it and getting all of the details worked out.  I know that my finer “traditional” band students are also outstanding students.  Kind of a chicken or egg thing:  did they develop great study habits and scholastic skills because of their exposure to music, or are they fine musicians because of their innate study habits and skills?  I am very interested to explore this question.

I will post video/audio of the “gig” so you can see these guys (and gals) in action.  Most of them will be pretty good, some are going to learn a painful lesson, but in any case- what I wanted to teach them about the amount of work it takes to put on a live performance, rather than just recording tracks into a computer, is about to be driven home!

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8 Responses to My Non-Traditional Musicians: THE GIG!

  1. Ken says:

    Owen- This is a great post and brings up a lot of important questions. I have noticed the same issues with students and adults who typically play guitar, bass and drums and have never been involved in a large ensemble experience.

    I am a relatively new guitarist (just started about 4 years ago…) and occasionally I am asked to “jam” at a buddies house or fill in for a church gig. When I’m in charge of the rehearsals for these groups, I have learned the hard way that I need to spend about 60% of the time practicing the opening, segues between numbers and the end, and the other 40%- the part when the group is up and jammin’, always takes care of itself. If I’m not in charge, I usually end up going crazy and it’s just a waste of time involving pointless jamming.

    A poorly planned gig is kind of like a sandwich made with 2 pieces of crappy bread; all the meat, cheese and good stuff inside never gets enjoyed because the slices of bread (the beginning and the end) are no good…

    I really think it’s all those years of playing in bands and orchestras and understanding the ritual of showing up on time, with my instrument, and my music ready to play so I don’t get my a** chewed out by the conductor when the downbeat happens is telling.

    Perhaps there is a misconception among young guitar, bass and drum players that any attention to detail or formality will be misconstrued as unwelcoming or not allowing for an authentic music experience…who knows?

    Good luck with your crew. It’s great you are offering this class. I can’t wait to see the video.

  2. Music Man says:

    Good Read, thanks man

  3. Music Man says:

    I will be bookmarking and waiting for more posts like this

  4. Stengel99 says:

    I wonder if the problem might not only lie in their musicianship, but in their understanding of the rehearsal process. Maybe those musicians were simply not used to the idea of rehearsing a short section of music over and over again. Most traditionally trained musicians are accustomed to micro rehearsing, playing a couple measures at a time until it’s right. As a band/orchestra director, I rarely have my students play through a piece from start to finish until a couple weeks before a performance. About 50% of the time we start rehearsing a piece somewhere in the middle, not just from the introduction. I can’t exactly imagine a garage band starting a rehearsal by saying, “Good morning, guys. Let’s start at halfway through the guitar solo of Highway to Hell.”

  5. owen bradley says:

    great point about the rehearsal technique- hadn’t considered that- love the ac/dc reference!

  6. J. Pisano says:


    Where have you been? Hope all is well down in Florida… it’s been miserable cold in PA! 😦


  7. Kyle Gardner says:

    I had a choir teacher in college that had a name for part of what you mentioned. He used to always call us the entitlement generation. I think it pretty much nails my generation on the head.

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