Ready, Set… What To Play?

Q: When I’m in jam situations and someone asks me to “kick it off” or start something, I just freeze and draw a blank. How do you know what to play?

A: This is something we’ve all dealt with at some point. The problem is all in our minds. Our analytical and critical minds see the myriad of possibilities and automatically starts to judge what we want to play, causing us to be afraid to do anything at all out of a fear of not doing something “cool enough”.

There are a number of things I could suggest but, ultimately, it will become about trusting your sub-conscious mind and your ears to take over.

1. Practice playing by yourself at home. Many of us with good practice habits don’t allow ourselves to noodle enough. I often get as much out of a practice session by just allowing myself to play via stream-of-consciousness as I do running exercises. Set a groove via drum machine or simply set a metronome going and practice grooving! The better you are at starting a groove and evolving it into something musical in the comfort of your own home, the better you’ll be at doing it in real life situations.

2. Keep it simple! Played correctly and with feeling, a quarter note can be as funky as anything else you could do. I used to have a tendency to “fish” for the right notes or a cooler groove, thereby causing myself to overplay and never settle into anything. Start simply by rocking a quarter or eighth note groove on one note! Settle into it and, as the band starts to play around you, they’ll begin to take place in the conversation. This is lead to you having more to say and your groove will evolve into a full fledged musical statement.

They real key is keeping your ears open and listening to the musical dialogue. Don’t try and be flashy… just play bass. Listen to the overall sound and react to it. Don’t feel like you need to lead the charge and change your groove every 16 bars. Just relax, listen and play music.

If you are hyper-analyzing what you’re doing and questioning it’s worth, you will never hear the good in what you do. Everything will sound wrong to you and it’ll never feel right.

Try not to care about being hip or flashy… only musical and keep that pocket!!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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