Bobbe Seymour wrote:
Hello fellow players,
I got so many emails praising Bob Hempker’s insights into pedal steel guitar playing that I’m going to let Bob do an entire series of newsletters for me. Take it away Bob.
We got several questions from readers concerning the last newsletter and I’d like to answer a couple of them. One person asked how important it was to play exactly like the recording when you sub or sit-in with the artist who recorded the song.
When in doubt, if you know how the recorded arrangement went, start with that. Singers are all different. Some of them want their material played just like the record and some of them don’t. To cover yourself, if you can beforehand, know the recorded arrangement. If the singer wants it done differently, you just sort of have to wing it.
One other thing that you might encounter is the signature licks on the recorded arrangement may have to be played in a different key since the singer has raised or lowered the key since they recorded it. For example, Ray Price, Loretta and Little Jimmy Dickens have all lowered their keys.
This is another reason you should practice songs in different keys when you’re learning them. Boy Scouts aren’t the only ones who have to be prepared. Musicians do too.
Another example is if you have a female singer singing a hit song that a male artist originally recorded or vice versa, you can bet it will be in a different key. A female singer in many cases will raise the key a perfect fourth. For example, if a song is normally done in the key of C by a male singer, a female singer will want to sing it in F. This is not etched in stone, but it does happen frequently. You can use it as a guideline.
One of the responses came from a lifelong friend of mine named Wayne Kaiser. Wayne, I remember sitting in as a kid with you and your brothers Louie and Ross. Wayne played steel, Louie played bass and Ross played accordion. Thanks for putting up with me as a kid.
When I left off on the last newsletter, I was getting ready to talk about fills, turnarounds, solos and endings.
The main thing about playing fills behind a singer is to not play over top of the singer, to play between the singer’s phrases. Again, you have to listen to what’s going on besides just listening to yourself.
Sometimes you will get in a rotation with the other lead instrument you’re playing with. If you play fills on the verse, the guitar player or fiddle player will play fills on the chorus and you rotate around until it comes back to you. Some songs have little signature licks that maybe you’re playing parts with the guitar with.
Again, listen to what’s going on, keep eye contact with the different players in the band. If you’re playing parts with someone, try to blend with them, you need match their volume, their phrasing and play in tune with them.
Some songs have lines that you may want to echo the singer with a melodic echo of what they’re singing. Every song has a different feel to it so get involved in the song and the feeling of the song will take over. It’s about working as a team on stage instead of one person show-boating by himself.
Now let’s address turnarounds. Sometimes a song just calls for a simple four or eight bar turnaround. You may play it all yourself or you may play half of it and another lead instrument play the other half of it.
One neat thing I like about working clubs where people are dancing is normally the rule of thumb is each lead instrument will play a whole chorus and you’ll have a whole solo to yourself. In a club if people are dancing, they want you to stretch the song out as long as you can.
I look at this as great practice because you’re having to play the melody of the song without sometimes really knowing the song. It also gives you a chance to play around the melody and improvise.
As far as endings are concerned, in the situation where you’re winging it, again make eye contact with everyone else who is onstage, listen and you will hear when the end is coming and act accordingly. Again, keep your eye on the singer. Sometimes they will repeat or tag the last line. Sometimes they won’t.
You don’t want to play over them if they’re going to tag it and thus end it while they’re still singing. On the other hand, if they are going to end it, you don’t want to keep on playing after they’ve ended it. The importance of good bandstand communication is vital for a band to sound like a band.
We’ve all heard bands where half the band sounds like they’re playing one song and the other half sounds like they’re playing another song. They don’t teach bandstand communication at any music school, you have to learn it through experience.
Every time you sit down to play, you learn something. I’ve never met anybody that I couldn’t learn something from, even some simple little thing they might play a little bit different than I would.
Again, Bobbe’s DVD Intros, Fills and Turnarounds is a great resource. www.steelguitar.net/videos.html
This is Bob Hempker substituting for Bobbe Seymour.
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