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Practical Handbook for the Working Musician, Part 1: When In Rome... Don't Roam
January 16, 2022

by Mike Mindel. This article was originally published on HVmusic around the year 2000.

Once again I'm reminded of a simple, basic concept that seems to elude many an otherwise fine player. Playing appropiately. That is, approaching a particular gig or rehersal with the appropiate set of tools. Although all musicial situations have some of the same fundementals, such as showing up on time and being prepared, different musicial settings demand different approaches in both the actual music as well as your personal presentation. Choosing the appropiate notes, chord voicings, volume, sounds, how busy you are (your fills), your clothes, your demeanor with the other musicians, your stage presence, and your gear are some of the many considerations that must be addressed in order for you to be most effective in a particular musicial setting. And to get called back to do it again! For some, it is a matter of lack of musical maturity, and for others it is boredom overriding their better musical sensibilities. (Which I suppose is also a lack of musicial maturity in itself.) Unlike good chops, which for most of us is a matter of putting in the time to get them, musical maturity can be gotten through time and experience, or through paying attention and heeding the ways of those who are doing it right and regularly getting work. Like good chops, musical maturity will perpetually elude some people. That means more work for you and me!

Over the past week, I had the pleasure of doing gigs with three different bands I've never played with before. All very diverse from each other and all requiring a unique set of tools to pull off the gig effectively and appropiately, and to get called back to do it again. They all sent me a tapes and/or charts to learn the material they were going to do on the gig. No rehersals. One gig was with a NYC wedding band, another was a local country band, and the last was a gig with the original Drifters. Three bands. Three unique situations. Three different approaches. Three piles of charts!

The last thing The Drifters wanted to hear was me playing some cool new jazz voicing I learned during my solo on "On Broadway". If I'm ever lucky enough to play that tune with George Benson someday, I'll save the jazzy stuff for him. These guys wanted to hear strings playing very close to melody of the tune. So that was the appropiate thing to do in this particular situation, and that's exactly what I did. Period. So the message here is: As much as you may want to break out and go nuts, when in Rome...don't roam. Never lose your awareness of what is best for the situation by playing what may tickle your fancy at the moment. Be musicially mature. Stay with the program.

But what do you know. That kooky koncept known as playing appropiately seemed to elude someone, at some point, in every gig, if for only a phrase or two. A drummer breaking into a cool sounding, but totally inappropiate double bass drum thing, a bass player playing a monsterous run up the neck that had nothing to do with the ballad we were playing. A guitar player looking to fill every open space and even some not so open spaces. Sound familiar? These were all good players who, for one reason or another, put their better musicial sensibilities aside for a time. Some for whole gig, others for just a moment or two. Now obviously, there ARE situations when it is appropiate to just go for it and do what ever hits you at the moment. But those aren't the situations we're talking about.

Please keep in mind that beyond the basics of doing your homework and showing up on time, these seemingly nit-picky examples are the very thing that seperates those of us who get called often and called back for work from those of us who don't. What eludes many fellow players is that being an active working musician has little to do with how fast your chops are or how much gear you have. It has everything to do with simply playing and presenting yourself appropiately in any given musicial situation. How easy is that?! You'd be suprised!

Do you want to work and make money as a musician? Do you want to be the person they call when they need someone? Well, if you want to make money making music, do the right thing and do it consistently and you WILL be called and called back! I have to go now. I think my phone is ringing!

Musician's Joke of the Month:

What's the difference between Micky Mantle and Jerry Garcia?
Micky Mantle had more homeruns, but Jerry Garcia took more hits.

What's the difference between a cello and a viola?
A cello burns longer!


Mike Mindel has been a professional musician for over 40 years and is currently a member of The Bills Toupee Band.

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