Based on my own experience and the mistakes I have personally made!
If you’re playing to support a singer, your aim is to make the singer look good. If they forget an entire line of a song, your job is to cover for them, recover as if nothing happened, and keep the music going.
They will be so grateful.
If doing session work, listen to the song(s) before you get there.
Know your parts.
Hit the ground running.
Don’t expect everyone to stop and go over bits because you are unfamiliar with them. So embarrassing.
Time is precious in a recording studio, because you pay by the hour.
And it’s often very expensive.
Don’t waste it.
The best session player will
Simple, clean, efficient, professional.
Decide if you should actually play at all.
Are you really needed in this song?
Will you add anything?
Sometimes, silence is the best contribution.
Never fill the audio spectrum with noise. Start from silence, and build upwards from there, if necessary.
Never just play to justify your existence. That’s overinflated Ego and low self esteem.
Suss out the other musicians.
Who is the leader?
Who will set the pace?
Who has the biggest ego?
Who makes the loudest noise, but is actually compliant when the music really starts?
Getting along with People is a skill that takes a lifetime to learn, and will stand you in good stead for any walk of Life.
Listen to your fellow musicians.
Are you working together?
Are you in time together?
Or are you fighting each other.
Some musicians lay back on the beat. They play slightly behind. This may give the music a laid-back, relaxed feel, or it may slow down the song too much.
Other musicians play ‘on’ the beat.
Still others play just in front, giving the music a driving, forward-moving feel. Or it may speed the song up, and make soloists anxious.
Speaking of speeding up, beware the Adrenalin Rush.
We are so excited to be playing live, especially if we have a special part to play, that we play too fast. The song starts too fast, and then we panic later when we can’t play our solo piece at that speed.
Keep it slow and steady from the beginning.
Are there any special Arrangements in the song, any sections of ‘Fusion’, where two or more instruments play the identical notes for a few bars.
This would require heightened awareness and sensitivity towards your fellow musicians.
Keep watching each other.
Jazz musicians are especially good at this, always watching and handing over from one to another.
Finally, making mistakes is completely normal and natural – we all do it.
The most important thing, above all else, is to carry on regardless.
My old sports coach always told me to “Land Well”. Even if you make a wrong shot, never just sprawl on the ground in embarrassment. Land good, make it look deliberate, like you meant it.
Well, the same applies to music – people on stage often play a wrong note or fill, but carry on as if nothing happened.
Leave a gap if necessary, come in on the next bar.
The audience will never notice; or if they do, they’ll just assume you’ve left a tasteful gap or space in the music.
Always recover. Always look good. Never, ever, stop the song in embarrassment, and start from the beginning – that’s disastrous for your stage presence.
Remember, the show must go on!
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