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Know When To Hold ‘Em

“Just because you know a lot of chords and can play really fast doesn’t make you an expert.” – Aunt Bee

Aunt Bee…a wise woman indeed.  She says this to Andy after he hears a guy play guitar better than he can, and it leaves Andy feeling inferior.  (Plus I think Helen is the target of the new guy’s affections, if I remember it right!)

Any fan of The Andy Griffith Show knows the nuggets of wisdom to be mined from its episodes; but who would have thought Aunt Bee could have nailed it on the head like that?  Every player should memorize the quote.

And you could substitute the word “expert” with “great performer” or “an artist everyone wants to see live!”  When it comes to great musical moments, it’s not all about technicality, speed and being in 5th gear all night.

Let me break it down for you.  I was in a band that hired a guitar player fresh out of guitar school in L.A.  He could riff like nobody’s business, scale after scale played at lightning speed.  No one would deny he was a good player.  But it was hard to get a nice simple melody line out of him. He was too concerned with riffing and impressing the crowd with his skill and speed.  But he was young.  His lack of discipline and maturity caused him to sacrifice some great melodic, musical moments.

There’s a guitar player in Nashville who is by far the most gifted I’ve ever seen and I consistently take friends from out of town to hear him play.  Every lead is flawless, fast and jaw-dropping.  He is truly amazing.  But, as good as he is, after 5 or 6 songs I find myself wanting him to play less.  It’s just too much to take in.  He needs to learn to leave some space.  Hang on some notes.  Slow it down.  Give my ears a break so I’m ready to hear more – make me WANT more!  Lead after lead of 16th note solos is just too much – so much that the solos all begin to sound the same and you start to tune him out.  This guy is also young and I hope he learns this soon.

My message to these guys?  You can’t sacrifice feel for flash.  An audience wants to feel something.  If you give them ONLY flash all night, you’ll lose them.

I know players who think playing something simple is beneath them.  They just can’t play a 3-chord song.  They have to throw some 7th inverted minor chord turnaround in there, whether it fits the song or not.  They want the audience (whom they must think understand music like they do) to know they can play something tricky or difficult.

Get this straight, people – only with rare exceptions is your audience made up of musicians!  It’s mostly average people, coming to your show to experience something – to feel something.

I’m not saying play everything the simple way…go ahead and riff if you can, and work out a cool arrangement.  Just don’t wear me out by slapping me in the face with a barrage of notes all night or misplaced (elitist?) chord progressions that don’t enhance the song.  I need less, then more, then melodic, then sweet, then cranked up…get the idea?

Keep it interesting for the audience, because they are your bread and butter.  If you’re just playing for your own enjoyment then disregard what I’ve said.  But if you want an audience, exercise some restraint and self-discipline.

Know when to hold back and when to blow it out!

Amy Wolter

As a trained Live Music Producer for Tom Jackson Productions, Amy Wolter brings her years onstage as a lead singer & keyboardist - along with her experience as a producer, arranger, and songwriter - to singers and bands who won’t settle for ‘good enough’. She’s worked with artists at all levels, and genres ranging from Rock to Celtic, empowering them to have confidence and authority onstage, and put on memorable live shows, a few of whom have been on two of the largest US tours in recent history. Some of her clients include Grammy award winners The Band Perry & Lacrae, CMA and ACM –winning country acts, Gloriana & Thompson Square, 2016 The Voice contestant Mary Sarah, CCMA (Canada) winners High Valley, Jess Moskaluke & Chad Brownlee, and Winter Jam Tour veterans Sidewalk Prophets & Love and The Outcome.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. The same thing applies to vocalists. If on every song you try to impress me with your range, technical skills and ability to make a 2 syllable word into a 14 note run, and not bring out the emotion of the lyric, you’ll soon lose me as a listener.
    I want to be moved by the song more than impressed by your vocal talent.

    That’s not saying vocal talent isn’t wonderful, but you have to know when to show it off and when to let the song show off.

  2. I see this on Youtube all the time. While I appreciate the fact people pickup on music and excel at theory, it doesn’t make up for “substance”. an example of this is Dragonforce. these guys play at lightning speed. While impressive, I have never had a desire to listen nor purchase music from them. When it comes to a performance, I have seen other similar acts where pretty much the show is all about technique rather than flash. to me, I want to go see flash. it’s a show. Let’s put it another way…the best show I saw in 2008 was NIN, in 2011 it was Katy Perry. I don’t care what genre it is, I want to be made to feel my money was worth what I spent. watching people stand there and noodle on their instrument it is interesting, but kinda boring.

  3. Well said, Amy. This is why as a singer/song writer I am always looking for a Charlie Watts versus a Neil Peart. Not that there isn’t a place for those types – but all should be subordinate to the song.

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