Jim Mathis

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jim's Tips - Over playing

Much popular music is overproduced with too many instruments and too much noise going on. Yet when I’m on stage playing, I tend to do the very thing I find so annoying with other groups – namely playing too much.

Taste is the missing ingredient. Playing just the right note at the right time is much better than playing a blaze of notes that don’t fit and only drawing attention to the player and annoying the audience. I’m as bad about this as anyone, but I see the problem and am trying to do better.

I think the reason that many bands play too loud is because each person is trying to be heard over the clutter. As everybody keeps turning up, eventually the audience is heading for the door with their ears ringing, and everybody in the band is blissfully happy that their bit came through. I know - I’ve been there.

This may come from age or maturity, but figuring out that you don’t have to play everything you know, is right up there with learning that you don’t have to tell all you know when speaking. We say what is important to advance the conversation. In music we should only play what is necessary to advance the musical conversation – and not step on somebody else, like the singer for example.

The most common complaint I hear about bands is that you can’t understand the words or that the vocals aren’t loud enough. The real problem is that a lead instrument is covering up the vocals.

I’ve read several articles in music magazines and blogs about this lately, so it must be a topic that is hitting home. It all comes down to listening to what the band is playing and not just trying to get your licks in whether they fit or not.

If we consider that a piece of music is like a photograph or painting, there needs to be some white space, or neutral space, so the important parts can breathe. In a photograph we need to be able to quickly see the subject. If the whole page is covered with information we tend to dismiss the whole thing. It is the same with music.

Chew on the meat and spit out the bones and happy gigging.