Preparing Tons Of Music

In order to make a living playing the organ, I have to work as a freelance musician as a side man. I get tons of music thrown at me. For instance, I just got an email with ten songs I need to know by tomorrow afternoon! I would be lucky to learn three of them in a week under normal circumstances.

I’m hit with a dilemma: I need to be able to play maybe 100 different songs every week, but I can maybe juggle 20 songs that I can play respectably well- and even that would require months of practicing.

So what do you do when you have a lot of songs, and very little time? Sadly, you are forced to half-ass the music you play. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t do an overall good job on the gig.

1. Rely on your ears. There is a lot of value in turning off your ‘guidance computer’ and letting your ears be the guide, especially for experienced players. A song which may be written out on paper in an intimidating way may actually be easy if you just follow your ears.

2. Rely on your personality. Rather than being timid and reclusive, play out strong and let your sense of humor and love for the music shine through. A few wrong notes won’t matter if you are kicking butt on your instrument in your own unique way. If you do end up playing a few clams, forgive yourself immediately and try not to show disappointment: forge ahead.

3. Recognize phrases or techniques you have spent time on in the past. As you work on music more and more, you will see chord progressions and melodic lines which you already know.

4. Maximize the practice time you have. If you only have a couple of hours to practice, scan down the list of songs and find the hardest ones. Do you need to know the melody, or will somebody else be playing it? Can you quickly learn how to play the chords, so that maybe you don’t feel comfortable taking a solo on the song, but you can make somebody comfortable by accompanying them? Can a complicated looking chord change be negotiated by using a simple scale?

It’s frustrating not to be able to totally nail all of the songs that I play, but I feel fortunate to have so many people ask me to play with them! Good luck.

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