Author: Campbell, Bruce

The Persuasive Arts

Iím one of those nutjobs who enjoys band practice. I really do! This goes way back to my earliest days in a rock band, when we were all novices and it was just miraculous how putting some time in together can smooth some of the bumps in a bandís sound and allow them to bring more difficult material into the bandís repertoire.

Iím also a longtime note taker. I had some band practice notes that are so old, they detailed this particular bandís first attempts at bringing in a song that required bar chords. The initial notes indicated that the sound was very rough, and we may have to just skip this song altogether. (I remember the song: it was the Rolling Stonesí song ďWild HorsesĒ). But subsequent notes indicated progress, and finally, one of the band practice notes entries read ďOne of our best tunes.Ē

Itís still true. Paradoxically, though, it seems that simple songs suffer if rehearsed too often, but difficult stuff really benefits from careful practice. When you first start learning to play an instrument, your teacher will tell you ďDonít practice mistakes.Ē, and this holds true for band practices too. If thereís a spot in a song that seems to be a rough spot, just playing it over and over again may not help. Somebody will need to determine the
cause of the rough spot and find a way to remedy it.

Sometimes, everyone just isnít on the same page. Thereís a chord change or some timing issue that someone in the band does seem to understand the same as everybody else. This sounds self-evident, but a lot of bands donít take the time to unravel the rough spots. They may practice diligently, and regularly, and their band will achieve a nice consistency, but they may never progress musically. Their repertoire may grow, and their sound will solidify, but they will have trouble getting to the next level.

This dynamic requires somebody to speak up to break this cycle. And it requires willingness on the part of band members to change something when the problem is identified. Thereís a visceral reaction when someone tells you youíre doing something wrong. Some people's reaction is to be defensive or angry. My natural reaction is to feel hurt, and embarrassed. I have had to develop a thicker skin, and not take it personally. If Iím really playing the wrong note, I want to get it right. Itís a little more unnerving if youíre told youíre not playing something the way theyíd like, but I have learned to bite back the panic and try to understand what is being asked of me.

Another deep fear I have is being asked to play or sing something in a way that Iím simply not capable of. A couple of times, I have been able to tell that my best effort isnít quite good enough, but usually that will lead to some leap in development, so the humiliation wasnít for nothing.

How the suggestion is presented to you makes a world of difference too. Some people have a gift for gentle cajoling, and make it easy to communicate with them and align your playing to their particular vision of the song. Conversely, some people donít have these gifts, and their suggestions are interpreted (rightly or wrongly) as mean spirited. Weíve all encountered this in school and in our jobs. Some people get the best out of the people around them by gentle persuasion, and others cause strife and feel frustrated that theyíre surrounded by opposition.

Of course, Vince Lombardi achieved great results with a very prickly demeanor, so it wouldn't surprise me if gentleness is the wrong approach. I hear Bill Monroe ran a pretty tight ship. I donít know if Iíd last ten minutes in that outfit!
Posted:  7/15/2009

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