After doing many clinics this year, playing on a ton of records and recently participating in the 10th Annual Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas the thing most on my mind these days is developing our own identities as players. Let's face it, all of us are fans of someone else's music but taking that inspiration into our system, filtering it through our minds, hearts and fingers and having it come out of our instrument with its own voice is not as easy as some might assume.
How do we develop this? Well, to start, "begin with the end in mind." In other words, I look at my mission; am I learning a song to perform it, record it or teach it to someone else so they can play it? Or, is it an original tune that I may be able to take some liberties and put my creative spin on it, thus making it my own? Both ways have their merit but while an original song can have your signature all over it playing a cover song has to be deterimed if it should be as close to the original or an opportunity to make it your own, too.
Most good working cover bands will probably want to stay true to form to help keep the audience from throwing stuff at them onstage! From there, it's time to listen to the other instruments and musicians playing on the song. Its very easy to become self obsessed with our parts and pay attention only to what we are playing, thereby missing all the dynamics that really make a song a song, and music a pleasure to listen to in the end. In fact, its OK to sometimes not even play at all! That's right, instead of just jumping in and playing "everything all the time" try to listen first, possibly even sitting the first time out with your ears wide open. Then, slowly start to add your parts to the song. You'd be surprised at the smiling faces gleaming at you from your band mates when you take this approach rather than busting into every song like a bull in a china shop and stampeding all over their creations and moments of glory!
Finally, serve the song. That's right, ultimately the happiest musicians are those who get the house a rockin' because everyone in the audience is groovin' to the tunes. That takes discipline, especially if you have some amazing chops in your bag and are aching for any chance to let everyone know it! OK, so that's it for now. In short; try to play a little less, listen a little more and make your audience number one!