Tuesday, November 25, 2008

They Got Lost

I love to brag about the convenience of doing impro. Most musicians working in bands or whatnot spend time rehearsing particular songs, getting everything right, working together as a group, then coming together at a performance to recreate the stuff they've practiced. I'm lucky; I rock up, set up, make some stuff up, then go home. Because it's not planned or rehearsed, it's easy in impro to make mistakes, right?

Let's be clear - I make mistakes when I play. A lot. Why? For starters, all of the material for a show is made up on the spot. Just like the actors, for a muso sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Actors are going to get tongue-tied on occasion, and the words aren't going to come out right; I'll flub notes and hit things I didn't mean to. Actors are going to have complete brain-fades now and again as well, and the same goes for me; I might nail the chord progression I wanted... shame it was awful.

I'm also more or less self taught, so I've missed learning about the theory and technique that would give me the tools to both write and perform stuff on the spot.

Sometimes in a musical game, where people are actually paying attention to the music, dropping clangers could be disruptive. They don't have to be. :)

One of my rules to live by as an impro musician is this: When you make a mistake, you can fight it and bring it back to what you had planned, or you can let it take the lead and drive you somewhere you wouldn't otherwise go. Stuff it up, and it's a mistake. Repeat the mistake three times, and it's good.

A chord progression that sounded great in my head might not hold together as well when played. I'd say this is a pretty frequent thing, perhaps once a show. However, I've found that recovering from that flub is easy - do it again! And again! And after the third or so time, you've set up a pattern, the players have adjusted to sing with you, and the audience perceives that thing you did as both intentional and structured.

Same as the actors - be confident and power through what you're doing, even when you make a mistake. The audience isn't going to remember a few dropped words/notes here and there - they'll leave the show talking about the amazing scenes your group put together right in front of them, and forget the rest.


Jason said...

I have lived by the same theory for some years now in guitar bands and also brass. (Kris - I'm not sure if I stumbled upon it myself, or if it was through working with you...) If I stuff up a bass riff, or walk to the wrong note... I'll do it again the very next chance I get (usually the next bar). Works a treat. Other band members usually grin at me, cos they know what I'm doing, but the audience hasn't got a clue!

Kris said...

Wow, that's cool. I've become so used to impro that I hadn't really thought too much about following that rule for "normal" performances too. I think the cover band I was in just out of high school (Magnus Octopus, awesome) was pretty concerned with absolutely nailing songs to perfection. Now that I think about it, "mistakes" contributed to changing and evolving songs in the more recent originals group (Pretty, which I loved).

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