Do you ever find yourself listening to one band for a while, not listening to them for months or even years, and then rediscovering them? This happens to me all the time. it even happens to me with books, movies and video games.
One of the oddest experiences is when I play one song on my guitar or piano and then start playing a riff or start singing words to a different song; one I wrote years ago and stopped playing because it was juvenile and not worth keeping in my repertoire. Suddenly it is new again. Having forgotten half the words, I am forced to rewrite them. That is OK by me seeing as how I judged them unworthy of perpetuation in the first place.
That did not happen to me recently. I had a similar, although completely new, experience.
Most of the music I play is loud. Even at practice, which can make things difficult. For the past month or so, our drummer has been wanting to perform at a creative writers / visual arts conference put on for local middle school kids.
No, this is not typical of the shows we do. Although with a couple of weddings under our belt, it is not the oddest of shows. Our drummer is a music teacher at a local junior high or middle school, so I think he felt pressured into signing us up.
The point is we did it an acoustic show, which is something a little different for us.
- First, our drummer limited himself to a djembe (an african hand drum) and a frottoir (read washboard).
- Second, our bass player brought his upright. After practicing for an hour and a half without bass, this came as a marked improvement.
- Third, I used Mandolin or banjo (not at the same time) in place of keyboards, which is usually a substitution for our lack of horns now that the band seems to be moving in a slightly different direction. That was the intention anyway. We always seem to come up with another horn player for shows, so I usually find myself comping.
- Fourth, I took over on lead vocals. Usually I sing harmonies. To myself. From time to time I get a microphone (more and more as the years go on), so other people can hear my harmonies during shows, but not every song lends itself to good harmonies. Our first lead singer is in Oregon doing grad school. Our second lead singer was in Moab for spring break. That left it to me.
The point of all this is: I forgot how much fun it is to play acoustic stuff like that. Maybe I was the only one who thought it was more fun than the other shows we have been playing recently. And maybe it was because I was more involved in the show. Regardless, all of our songs seemed happy and optimistic. Even the more morose ones.
It reminded me of the not too distant past when I played more bluegrass. I won a blue ribbon once. It makes me want to play more. And not just bluegrass, but anything. Especially anything acoustic. With the onset of spring (maybe. hopefully.) and the progress my wife is making learning guitar, it makes me want to take her (and anyone else who wants to come along) to a park some sunny afternoon and just play. That would be nice.
And I also learned a few things from this acoustic gig. Which is nice.
- First, I need to practice taking solos more. It is not a completely foreign skill to me, but there is a learning curve involved in translating that skill from trombone and piano (where I learned how to do it) to guitar. Especially because I have to set up my computer to play through the changes because I have no other opportunities to solo on guitar. Everyone needs me to be doing bass, horns, keys, or anything else. I think that shows how many guitarists are out there; I am faced with filling other voices, because guitarists are so bountiful. Sorry Jer. That learning curve continues after switching a guitar out for a mandolin or banjo.
- Second, learning all the lyrics to a dozen songs does not happen over night. Even though we have been playing these songs for eight years, I still switch the first and second pre-chorus on one song. I even found a whole section where our lead singer admitted he never knew what to sing and would just make stuff up. So that is exactly what I did.
- Third (in the same vein as one and two), it is much easier to improvise lyrics on the spot than I previously assumed. If improvising solos is a skill I am still developing on guitar, improvising lyrics has been a skill whose development makes me sweat like a sinner on Sunday. However, after blurting out a random line, I was able to find enough verbage (not verbiage, but a deliberate portmanteau of “verbal garbage”) until I could think of a way to complete the rhyme. Now to make it better than suck.
- Fourth, I have always felt the upright bass was a waste of good music. It seems as though bands (not orchestras, mind you) which use the upright bass always cover it up. As a bass player, I know it is not the most important part for the audience. I also know the other members of the band need it to supplement the drums’ rhythmic foundation and add a melodic foundation as well. This means it has to be heard, a feat upright basses never seem to accomplish for me. So I have always preferred electric basses to acoustics. I here admit I was wrong, at least about uprights. You may need to mic the bass or get it a pickup, but there is a significant difference between an electric bass and an amplified upright. Each has its own rightful place and the one is not superior to the other. I still reserve the right to dislike acoustic bass guitars and would invite anyone to change my mind.
In case you were wondering, we played most of our original songs (although some were re-worked and some just did not fit the acoustic style, mostly due to a lack of a drum kit) and we played Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” The Cure’s “Friday (I’m in Love),” Flogging Molly’s “If I ever Leave this World Alive,” and The Soulutions‘ “Memorial Day.”
Now that we have done a completely acoustic show, the band may be making another direction. We may play in more acoustic settings. In fact, there is a show in May we have our eye on.