Rants and Doodles

So, I had a night off and decided to go see some music at a local club here in Portland, Oregon. It was early in the night when I was faced with one of my biggest musical pet peeves: noodling on stage before your set.

In short: please, don’t do it!

This was a friend’s pop band and although they turned out to be a great band as a whole, it is not made up of particularly great players or soloists. Together, they performed well and chose great tunes.

It was the pre-show noodling did two things for me on a sub or semi-conscious level.

1. It marked them as somewhat un-professional.

It is one thing if you have to load-in and sound-check while the audience is there. You can’t help playing a bit in front of the crowd before it’s show time.

It is another to have gotten your sound and stand there on stage and either noodle or practice endlessly. The drummer was a particularly heavy offender and I kept thinking to myself, “Does he really think that everyone in the room wants to hear him bang around aimlessly?”

In my mind, this is the way it should go:

  1. Load-in
  2. Sound check and get levels
  3. Get off the stage ASAP and don’t play another note until it’s time
  4. Play your show!

If you aren’t ready by now, you’re not going to be an hour later, either.

If you need to warm up, do it in the green room or in the van.

2. It marked the band as “B level”

Because no individual was that great of a player, it negatively impacted my perception of the band before they ever hit a note together. I began to think that it was going to be a bit painful, musically speaking. None of the players had anything interesting to play while they noodled before the show. Not a good thing (and I double checked with the folks I knew there to see if I was being unreasonable in my thoughts. Everyone agreed that it was driving them nuts).

Happily, once the band took the stage together for the real thing, they rocked. They played great together and I never would have known that they weren’t all wonderful players alone if they hadn’t goofed around so much beforehand.

But, I first had to overcome the bad taste left in my mouth from the pre-show antics, as the set progressed. I eventually left really stoked on them and gave nothing but accolades for their performance.

I did, however, make a mental note to write this article because I want to try and save some of you from making the same mistake. A mistake that I have admittedly made myself, I’m sure.

Keep this in mind, even if you are an amazing player: the audience truly doesn’t want to hear you shred, show-off or practice before your set. (I promise!) Save that lick you want everyone to hear for the show.

There may be one bass player in the audience who is digging it, but you’re driving most of the people a little batty. Plus, you’re making the band as a whole look bad in one way or another.

Keep it pro and save it for the show!

Apologies for the rant. I only say it because I care.

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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  1. Well said. As a band member, here’s a pet peeve that’s an addendum to this: Don’t noodle when other band members are talking about the song, parts, or other, music related, subjects.

    I can’t tell you how many times I stop to discuss the approach of a certain section with the guitar player and the drummer just starts banging away. Or, I try talk to the drummer and the guitar player starts wailing on his guitar (with his amp always, as we all know, cranked to 11… but that’s a peeve that’s unrelated to this.).

    • Tod Ellsworth

      Totally agree. Here’s another pet peeve of mine. It’s totally distracting when others are noodling while the soundman is trying to get levels. You want your band too sound good, right? Then please save the oodles of noodles for the house. Peace.

  2. I auditioned for my present band some years back and they told me the thing that most impressed them was my lack of noodling between each song. The guy I was replacing drove them all nuts, because he noodled before the tune’s start, riffed through the song itself, and noodled at the end of the song. He was probably a ‘better’ player than me, but I got the part and am still with ’em after 7 years…