Where am I?
A profound question; a question that is sometimes asked by musicians when playing a song unfamiliar to them. We’ve all been there… you’re playing a song with another musician who “knows” the tune. You have full confidence in yourself when you practice along with the recording, but now that crutch has been taken away… what to do? Let’s break this situation down!
I’m assuming that we’re all hip to phrases like:
Chord changes (or “changes” for short)
These headings above comprise the framework of most of the songs that we’re accustomed to listening to. When you learn a song, you are piecing together the material that is within each section of a tune. Some might say that combining sections and seguing seamlessly between portions of a tune is more difficult than learning the indi
vidual parts themselves, but don’t be scurred, music is all about transitioning from one idea to another and the more you do it, the more comfy it
If you take away one thing from this post, take this: The material is just as important as the “road map” (or order of the material), and visa versa. I should also note that in
ternalizing time and understanding the length of a section is incredibly important: “How many times does this pattern repeat?”
Let’s digest the timeless classic, “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” as made famous by Poison. Cheat sheet is listed below:
Intro – 4 bars/measures – Intro section also features the chords (or “changes”) of the verse… the only difference is no vocals versus vocals. Guitar only
Verse – 8 bars/measures – verses feature non-repeated lyrics. Guitar plus vocals
Chorus – 8 bars/measures – choruses are often repeated throughout the tune, with little variety in the lyrics. Also notice how the guitar’s chord changes have differed from the pattern established in the verse! If you were wondering what section of the tune that you’re in, be sensitive to the music going on around you and do your best to recognize the patterns of instruments other than your own. Guitar plus vocals for 7 bars… in the 8 the bar, we have the bass guitar and drums enter on beat 1, and the drums play a soloistic fill around
the drums. Fills are primarily used to signify the transition to a new section of the tune.
Intro vamp – 4 bars/measures – this section features the entire band minus vocals… and notice that the chord changes sound awfully similar to the Intro of the song
. Dig you using those ears of yours!
Verse (2) – 8 bars/measures – Same chord changes as the first verse, new lyrics. This is what we instrumentalists call “Copy/Paste”. It’s a beautiful thing, people.
Chorus (2) – 8 bars/measures – Chorus changes return and so do the same vocals in this section. Money.
Bridge – 4 bars/measures – Brand spanking new chordal progression. It’s rare when bridges of songs get repeated, so don’t plan on coming back to this section once you’ve played it once. Check out those new lyrics too.
Solo – 8 bars/measures – Dig this. There is a guitar solo happening. You might think that the guitar player is playing whatever he so desires, but it’s simply not true. Try listening to the rhythm guitar and bass through this section; where have you heard those chords before? The first 4 bars sound like the intro, yah? The second 4 bars are quoting the bridge changes! Nothing builds a song better than repeating material that’s already been played.
Intro vamp (2) – 4 bars/measures – Chord changes haven’t changed from the first time we’ve played the intro, which is nice, but notice the different feel that you hear with the sparse percussion accompanying the acoustic guitar? We’re really getting the most amount of mileage from these sections.
Verse (3) – 4 bars/measures + 4 bars/measures – The reason I’ve broken this section up into 4 + 4 instead of 8 bars is due to the drum part. We are still listening to the verse chord changes underneath, but the entrance of the drums is on bar 5 of 8. Don’t let that trip you up guitar players; stay the course on those verse changes and have your eye on the prize.
Chorus (3) – 8 bars/measures – Victory lap. Copy/paste the chord changes from the previous choruses. By this point, you should be able to “hear” the melody of the lyrics when you play the changes or drum part by yourself. Do your best to tether
yourself to other instruments/vocals of a song so that it reinforces what you’re playing. Some of the most mature musicians actually listen to what others are playing more than what they are playing themselves. Support others musically by freeing yourself from only focusing on your own part.
And for a bit of recapitulation:
The “roadmap” or the sequence a tune is written is JUST AS IMPORTANT as the material itself. You never want to be in a position where you are “following” the rest the band or a recording; you have the ability to hear the music in real time, the way it was performed… and the only way to do that is to bone-up on your internalization of the roadmap and transitions! That’s music, baby!
Try the roadmap idea with some tunes you already know; see how well you really know them. I mean, really know them. Keep digging in and we’ll catch you next time for more!