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David's Tip of the Day: Band Training, Part 1 - Don't Map Solo Order and Lengths

David Barrett Admin's picture

Some of you know that I own School of the Blues in San Jose, CA and that we create house bands constructed from the student body (two new bands each year-long rotation). Within this training program they learn from me, the other instructors and through their experience working as a band in a jam session. Today starts a series of tips for you based on common challenges that these new house band deal with.

Band Training, Part 1 - Don't Map Solo Order and Lengths
It's common for new bands to want to map out everything, making each song go in a particular order of verses and solos so that it will be worked out and hopefully more successful on stage. Unfortunately, the opposite happens. By mapping this out ahead of time, the stress level is now on remembering how EACH song's order of verses, soloists and length of solos goes. The wonderful thing about playing blues is that the form remains the same throughout the song (in most cases).

So... start the song... sing... nod to a soloist (at the turnaround) and they solo until they've said what they have to say... they nod back... you sing... you blow harp... when you're done, nod to the next soloist... they play until they're done and nod back... you solo a little bit more and signal an ending (by looking at the band in the middle of bar 9) and the song ends. See the theme? The underlying progression (the 12 Bar Blues) continues on repeating and what's on top can take any form that the moment dictates... there's nothing to remember except lyrics and any head or key licks that live in that song.

So, to sum up... the tradition of the blues is to work out only the essentials (what's the groove, the head, lyrics, etc.) and allow it to flow in the moment.