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Learning songs on stage
#3024323 01/18/20 06:42 AM
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Over the years as a professional keyboardists in different genres, I've often been faced with playing songs I've never played or even heard before. And I'd like to think that I've become quite good at it. I have a saying, "Learn it on the ONE, play it on the TWO": Anchor your ear on the bass player, guitarist, or whatever musician who DOES know the song, and play on the offbeats. Use the first verse/chorus to play very quietly and just learn, so you can play stronger on the second time around and provide a natural build at the same time. By then you can switch to playing on downbeat if it's more appropriate to the groove. I would say a good 1/3rd of my normal rock/pop catalog (about 300+ songs) I learned when it was sprung on me on stage. Personally, I love it, I find it to be a wondrous challenge.

I figure most musicians have developed their own techniques on how to face new material on the fly.


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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024326 01/18/20 07:02 AM
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Yeah, that's a fairly routine part of my gigging existence. You got it exactly right: as keyboardists, we usually have the luxury of being able to lay out on the downbeat without disrupting the tune. Bass players not so much.

Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024328 01/18/20 07:26 AM
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This is why I'm at the Sunday night jam every time I can be there. I get to play in the house band and throughout the night as I'm often the only keyboard player. When there's another keys player they play on my rig and I switch to sax. Along the way, I've learned a bunch of tunes while playing – blues, rock, jazz. I love it. It's what makes it fun. I tell the jam leader and the house band that it's free music lessons in playing live. I tip the house band generously. They're some of the best players in the Bay Area and it's a privilege to get to play with them ... and learn some tunes while doing it.

I watch the guitar player's left hand for chords and changes, listen for the bass, listen to vocals, watch everybody for hand signals, eye contact – chords, stops, play the head, ending, etc. Sometimes it's like jumping off a cliff but controlling the fall and landing softly on your feet. When it all comes together, it's a thrill. If it's headed for a train wreck, just drop out. When in doubt, lay out. Music is for enjoyment. Some of the highest musical highs have come when I'm playing something that I don't know and it all just falls into place – a magical groove or a solo that takes off and goes to new and wonderful places. A woman I knew a long time ago said "music is magic." Sometimes it is.

Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024329 01/18/20 07:28 AM
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As Dom Famularo said in one of the recent "The Sessions Panel" YT with pianist/producer Doug Emery said.... "rehearsals are for cowards".

Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024331 01/18/20 09:03 AM
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A fun thing to explain to those mere mortal non-musicians who we occasionally converse with.


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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024342 01/18/20 12:55 PM
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Yes to all of this. I've been part of the house band at open mic nights, and you never know what someone will ask to come up and sing. As long as at least the bassist and/or guitarist know the song, you can find a way. If you'd never heard Bohemian Rhapsody before, that could be problematic, but most stuff is fine, and it is a lot of fun. And conversely, sometimes you're the one who best knows the song, and then it's your job to be extra communicative with everyone else.


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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024360 01/18/20 03:01 PM
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I haven’t been in on any open jams in many, many years, but I am called upon often enough to fill on for a keyboardist who’s missing a gig at the last minute and love that I have the reputation for being able to do so. I will say yes to all that’s been said above, and add that it’s handy to have a volume pedal under the rig to fade out and back in quickly if the need comes to pass.

My main gig these days is a big band style corporate/wedding ensemble and on many occasions have learned songs in the car on the way that the bride has requested at the last minute. It’s unnerving when it’s a piano/vocals only song which I’ve never played, and don’t yet know the key the vocalist will be most comfortable in. That, to me is where I’m truly tested. Depending on the song, that’s right on the edge of my comfort zone. And if the singer says F#, I’m not afraid to admit, if it’s a song I don’t really know, I’ll say “You’ve got a choice... F or G”.

Last edited by stillearning; 01/18/20 03:02 PM.

I would like to apologize to anyone I have not yet offended. Please be patient and I will get to you shortly.
Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024368 01/18/20 03:41 PM
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I've never thought of it in quite the articulate terms you did here, but yes, that's what we often do as keyboardists. Play just a little bit behind the band to learn the song. And you can even make it sound like you're doing it on purpose. Hey folks, listen to my cool offbeat compings. Now watch me switch to the downbeat, just for variety. No one ever needs to know you're flying blind.


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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024372 01/18/20 04:04 PM
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It helps a lot to know the math. Music is a lot like Chess tactics where you internalize pattern recognition.

PS - That probably made no sense but it works.

Last edited by CEB; 01/18/20 04:06 PM.

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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024375 01/18/20 04:12 PM
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Love this thread! Yes, pulling off an unfamiliar song on the fly is rewarding. With the advent of smart phones, I've found myself increasingly fed lead sheets on the fly to my cell phone. Back in the day, it was "ears only"... which provided a greater thrill and sense of accomplishment when I pulled it off.

Others mentioned the keys player often has the luxury of easing into a song, unlike the rhythm section, which usually needs to come in strong on the downbeat, whether or not they know the tune. I'm always impressed when a bass player can navigate an unknown tune on the fly.

Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024376 01/18/20 04:13 PM
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On a non-paying gig, learning tunes on the stage might be necessary; it's fun and exciting.

But, I would never take a paying gig with musos who either don't know the tunes already and/or no rehearsal.

IMO, on a paid gig, it's unprofessional and disrespectful to the client and audience who have to sit through musicians learn a song on stage.

Even worse is when someone sitting out in the audience is either a musician and/or a music enthusiast who knows better.

Many years ago, I did a gig in a small bar. After we finished playing, a non-assuming guy sitting at the bar called me over to talk. He complimented my playing and then he ran down everything the musicians played without confidence or incorrectly.

I already knew the strengths and weaknesses of the musicians. So, I didnt use the guy's counsel to berate anybody. I didn't bother to tell them.

The takeaway for me was to always be prepared because you never know who's listening and the opportunities that might arise as a result of it. cool


PD

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"
Re: Learning songs on stage
CEB #3024377 01/18/20 04:15 PM
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Originally Posted by CEB
It helps a lot to know the math. Music is a lot like Chess tactics where you internalize pattern recognition.

PS - That probably made no sense but it works.


This chess analogy resonates with me.

Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024378 01/18/20 04:29 PM
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Great thread!

All of the above experience & applications.

Mostly I chimed in to thank CEB for changing his avatar.


Rod
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I feel stupid and contagious; go ahead now, entertain us.
Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024379 01/18/20 04:32 PM
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I turn my volume down and ad lib suitable background parts.



Re: Learning songs on stage
stillearning #3024387 01/18/20 05:23 PM
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Originally Posted by stillearning
And if the singer says F#, I’m not afraid to admit, if it’s a song I don’t really know, I’ll say “You’ve got a choice... F or G”.

That's why there are transpose buttons. ;-)


Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our new video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out!
Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024393 01/18/20 05:47 PM
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Did this at church, because the way I joined the church band (as a sub at first) was that one of them knew me from high school and waved me over 1 minute before the service started and told me the regular keyboardist couldn't make it, so...


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Re: Learning songs on stage
ProfD #3024403 01/18/20 06:28 PM
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Originally Posted by ProfD

IMO, on a paid gig, it's unprofessional and disrespectful to the client and audience who have to sit through musicians learn a song on stage.


We will have to agree to disagree.

I cannot count the number of requests my bands have had at gigs. If somebody in the band knows the song, we'll give it a go.

Two notable examples - we had a request for a "Madonna song" (despite being all males). The singer/strummer had been watching the Lucky Star video quite a bit on MTV - yes, years ago.
We played it on the spot, on the fly. The requester dropped $100 in the tip jar.

We played Lawyers, Guns and Money and some guy shouted out "Warren Zevon". So I led the band through Carmelita, something they'd never played before. That was a $100 tip as well, just a couple of summers ago.

Lots of lesser examples, too much typing. If you make them happy, they will make you happy. Cheers, Kuru


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: Learning songs on stage
KuruPrionz #3024421 01/18/20 07:59 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
Originally Posted by ProfD

IMO, on a paid gig, it's unprofessional and disrespectful to the client and audience who have to sit through musicians learn a song on stage.

We will have to agree to disagree.

I cannot count the number of requests my bands have had at gigs. If somebody in the band knows the song, we'll give it a go.

Lots of lesser examples, too much typing. If you make them happy, they will make you happy. Cheers, Kuru

We're not in disagreement there.

Requests to play a song is different.

If the band feels they can pull it off, go for it. thucool


PD

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"
Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024423 01/18/20 08:11 PM
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I think it would help to clarify what the context is for the "learning on the 1" moments. Did I get hired and not know what tunes were going to be called? Of course, I'd listen to the form and find my way in. Hopefully I can get the chart pulled up with the left had while the right hand is spelling basic harmony--or else just know it by the time the second verse comes around.

Did I get sent a set list in advance? You better believe I am going to already have the chart deployed ("alphabetize" tab in iReal or ForScore does wonders...), and would not insult either the person who hired me or the audience by faking my way through something I was told would be on the set.

Request? All bets are off. Join, don't join, First Do No Harm.


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Re: Learning songs on stage
AnotherScott #3024429 01/18/20 09:08 PM
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Originally Posted by AnotherScott
Originally Posted by stillearning
And if the singer says F#, I’m not afraid to admit, if it’s a song I don’t really know, I’ll say “You’ve got a choice... F or G”.

That's why there are transpose buttons. ;-)

Unless you forget to transpose back!😮

Plus sometimes I’m cursed with cognitions dissonance between eyes and ears. Though usually not when it’s just a half step.

Last edited by stillearning; 01/18/20 09:11 PM.

I would like to apologize to anyone I have not yet offended. Please be patient and I will get to you shortly.
Re: Learning songs on stage
stillearning #3024431 01/18/20 09:32 PM
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Originally Posted by stillearning
Plus sometimes I’m cursed with cognitions dissonance between eyes and ears. Though usually not when it’s just a half step.

Yeah, I can go a whole step and be okay with it. Beyond that, it's whacky.


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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024448 01/19/20 12:48 AM
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Oh man. I think it was around 2009 we had a stretch of 11 gigs in 10 days during the summer fair schedule. Vocalist were tired and decided to down tune the entire show one semi tone. The S90XS had a transpose button. The Hammond didn’t but I found where I could menu dive and change it. First tune was REO ‘Roll with the Changes’. The song is in C but I’m hearing B. That whole night was whacked. A friend who is a producer from Nashville was home visiting family and was there in the crowd. It messed with him too. 😀. He said the looked on my face during the first set was distressed.

Last edited by CEB; 01/19/20 12:49 AM.

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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024467 01/19/20 03:11 AM
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Damn. I used to think that my ability to "join in by verse 2" was unusual. Now I find out that everyone on this forum can do it. I hate you all! taz

Seriously, I'm glad others get to enjoy that gift. And I relate to the Chess analogy.

P.S. to CEB: I had always wondered what happened to my Combo Compact. I hope it's bringing you lots of enjoyment. I still miss my oboe stop.


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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024491 01/19/20 05:14 AM
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Re: Learning songs on stage
mate stubb #3024500 01/19/20 06:18 AM
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I’ll never forget the time I was faced with an audible tune call onstage. I looked at the bass and told him I didn’t know it. He responded,”You’ll love it - one, two, three, four!”


�Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!�
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024501 01/19/20 06:55 AM
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I still have my Farfisa Compact. My first electronic keyboard. It’s at Dad’s house but I have not turned it on in years. I’m afraid what it might do if I turn it on. Caps are probably all dried out or worse.

Last edited by CEB; 01/19/20 06:55 AM.

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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024504 01/19/20 07:26 AM
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A few years back I was filling in with a cover band, and they called some modern country song I didn't know. So I was learning it on the fly, and quickly ascertained that it was the "Don't Stop Believing" changes. So when they pointed to me for a solo, I played the "Don't Stop Believing" guitar solo on piano. Apparently they had never noticed that the changes were the same, and this completely blew their minds. Then next set they called some other modern country song that I also didn't know, which also turned out to have the "Don't Stop Believing" changes. So I did it again. After that one I said "You got any more? I'll keep doing this all night."

Re: Learning songs on stage
Josh Paxton #3024523 01/19/20 03:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Josh Paxton
Then next set they called some other modern country song that I also didn't know, which also turned out to have the "Don't Stop Believing" changes. So I did it again. After that one I said "You got any more? I'll keep doing this all night."

Yup, it's one of these...



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Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024533 01/19/20 03:51 PM
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Beat me to it, Scott. I use that video sometimes in lessons.


I would like to apologize to anyone I have not yet offended. Please be patient and I will get to you shortly.
Re: Learning songs on stage
EricBarker #3024536 01/19/20 04:03 PM
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This thread reminds me of this Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen story
Quote
But one of [Chuck Berry's] most memorable local shows came a few years earlier, on April 28, 1973, when he played a show at the University of Maryland with fellow rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis, and an opening act who would go on to become one of the biggest superstars in rock — Bruce Springsteen. Better yet, Springsteen and the yet-to-be-named E Street Band took the stage with Berry as his impromptu backup group. ...
As Springsteen recalled in an interview years later, Chuck Berry ... was nowhere to be seen until five minutes before he was to take the stage. He pulled up in his car and came in through a rear entrance with his guitar case in hand, but with no other musicians. ...
Instead Springsteen and his band were deputized to back him up. By one account, Berry hired them on the spot, while in another retelling, Springsteen knew in advance. Either way, though, there was no rehearsal or sound check, or even a song list to work from....
"We said, 'What songs are we going to do?'" Springsteen recalled. "He said, 'We're going to do some Chuck Berry songs.'"....

And Chuck Berry just started playing while the band tried to keep up!


Joe
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