Performance: The Ultimate Form of Expression Part III

  • 11/13/2016
  • JamPlay, LLC
The Duet:Preparation
Coming together with other musicians in the spirit of enjoyment and performance can be both the most challenging yet most rewarding endeavor that you have ever taken upon yourself. Assembling a flawless gem of a jam and inciting the crowd to a fever pitch as you pour your heart and soul into your performance can be the ultimate musical reward. And as you have been developing your abilities as a soloist over the past years and working diligently on modifying and improving your own skills, you have also been, in a sense, readying yourself to play with others. But what does it take to find another musician that compliments your style, your skills, your tastes as a performer? How do you begin to synthesize the life work of two individuals into one cohesive unit and form an act that will 'Wow' the ever-expectant masses? And perhaps most importantly, how do you jam? The answers to these as well as other pressing questions will all be addressed in the pages to come.

Seek and You Shall Find
There are a number of ways to find others who are seeking to accomplish the same musical goals as your self and thankfully in this modern day of shiny computers and lilliputian mobile devices, we have even more ways than ever before. Websites like Craigslist and Talenttrove can be invaluable tools in the location of musicians while MySpace music and even Facebook offer a means to networking and potentially locating fellow musicians who seek the same treasures that you do. If you choose to employ simpler devices in your quest for fellow jam-mates, most colleges employ the use of bulletin boards that will not only facilitate the sale of your old Schwinn 10-speed but may also help you to locate your musical twin or better, the text book for Biology half price! Here are some other ways that may assist you in locating musicians:
1) Serendipity: meeting "accidentally" is sometimes the best way to meet someone else although some have trouble with this manner of connecting with other musicians for one reason or another. Your current roles in life (your place of employment, school, living situation etc.)can often dictate whether you will meet someone in this fashion although there are things you can do to improve the odds that this will happen:
A. Network-there are a number of ways of doing this and some include the aforementioned internet solutions. But what I'm talking about here are more humanistic, personalized types of networking. These can range from attempting to strike up conversations with school-mates, to chatting with others at the local open-mic, to simply putting a one-line ad in the local paper: "Solo musician seeks other to form dynamic and rocking duet; influences include Black Sabbath, Dream Theater and Brittney Spears".

B. Make the first move-if you're a person who is disinclined to make the first contact with your fellow human beings, change this facet of your behavior. I'm not suggesting that you rearrange your personality and make a comprehensive change in yourself but rather, come out of your shell on occasion so that you might just create new opportunities.

C. Create opportunities-volunteer to play for a charity event or party or better yet, have a party and play at it. Play guitar in the park or on your front step on a sunny day. Make eye-contact with humans! This is perhaps the most important part when it comes to creating opportunities as the musician with his or her head down will not likely see others attempting to say "hey, you're good let's jam later!" Keep in mind that the more visible you are to other players the more likely that they'll see you, and from this will spring opportunities.
2) Planning: because some musicians are less prone to approaching strangers for whatever reasons they might have, meeting people through mutual friends or family can also be a great way to meet other professionals. Again, keep in mind that how visible you are to others may dictate the relative success of this method as well since if you don't play in front of other human beings, no one will know that you play at all.
Okay, so you've found a cool person to hang out with and possibly form a meaningful musical relationship, so now what? What are the steps to actually forming an act that may be presentable, marketable....good? Although each person and duet will inevitably need to find their own way and make their own decisions when forming a viable act, here are some of the steps that seem to be integral to the process:
1) Play - Probably the most important step in finding someone to form a duet is musical chemistry and whether this is present will likely be apparent from the first time you play together. Play a couple of songs that you both know or simply make up something and just simply have fun with it! It's not important, at first, that the lyrics are correct or that you both end the tune in the same way. It is important that both of you enjoy music and share a passion for playing.

2) Develop-as you continue to play together, your roles within the duet will unfold. Perhaps one of you is a stronger singer and the other a stronger lead player. Or perhaps you are both strong singers and may be able to assimilate harmonies into your act. Each group, based on the relative skills of its members forms in its own unique and individual way and this path will inevitably manifest itself into the duet that you are to become.

3) Songs- songs that you find yourselves playing frequently will begin to evolve and will likely end up in your set-list. Your set-list will subsequently become descriptive of what kind of group that you are so...
A. If you're playing predominantly folk music then you will likely be described as a "folk" group.

B. If you're playing predominantly classic rock music then you will likely be described as a classic rock act. Etc Etc... I realize that this might fall under the category of "yeah, no duh!" but many are surprised to find that they are being described by clubs as "an oldies" act when the songs that they're playing are only twenty years old. It's important to keep in mind that the music that you play will likely dictate how you are perceived as an act. In addition to developing songs together, you will also be simultaneously evolving together as a duet and this evolution will manifest itself as an act. Hence, it's really not important what kind of music you play together (this will change and grow as both of you grow) but rather that you continue to develop and evolve as an organism, the duet.
4) Polishing-once you've established a group of songs that both of you enjoy playing and collectively feel are an accurate representation of your skills as a group, you will gradually continue to polish each of the songs to perfection. I use the word "continue" because you have been working on perfecting those tunes every since the first time you played them together. You are simply polishing them to a fine luster, like a glimmering jewel, as you play them over time. Some groups do this more quickly than others and this is often dependent upon time constraints and motivation of the members. Those who are highly motivated and willing to spend the time necessary to practice and develop the act are more likely to cultivate a quality act that is marketable. Those who are unable or unwilling to put in the necessary hours may be less successful although this is not a hard and fast rule. Since skill levels amongst musicians are infinitely variable as well as the amount of time each individual takes to learn Learning curve, the amount of time for an act to reach maturity is equally variable. This leads me to the next point...

5) Enjoyability-to me the golden rule for a musical act be it solo, duet or otherwise is that it must be enjoyable for all involved, and if it is then progress is an inevitable and foregone conclusion. If each of the members involved is passionate about playing music, then each will bear his or her own inner drive to play, develop and polish the music that they will inevitably and passionately perform on stage.
So now you've got your "act" together, so to speak, right? You've developed a sizable set list which will allow you play certain stages in and around your town or province. But what is it that separates one duet from another? What makes one group simply mediocre and another remarkable? One important aspect is improvisation.

Musical Improvisation or improv is simply the act of creating as you go, or combining "performance with communication of emotions and instrumental technique as well as spontaneous response to other musicians." ( Improv can be an important element even when it comes to preparing an act for the stage. Learning to be spontaneous when in the process of jamming can make a musical act more intense, passionate, and enjoyable to watch. Many duets that are predictable and don't have any fire in their performance can lull themselves, and their audience to sleep. That's not to say that being "tight" and well organized (we'll discuss that soon) has any less importance on the stage but learning to be improvisational can help to add an element of surprise to any duet. Improvisation is also a reflection of how the musicians are able to communicate with one another, and use emotion from the other to create new subtleties and possibilities in their music. Here's an example:

Two musicians are practicing together and forming the basis of a guitar/vocal duet. Musician one, let's call him 'Bob', plays rhythm and sings while his friend 'Joey' plays lead guitar. In the process of practicing and jamming Joey goes off the beaten path and begins to play more of a staccato (short and abrupt) type of lead pattern, emphasizing certain notes and changing the manner that he has been playing the lead over this particular break in the past. Bob picks up on this and begins to play his rhythm staccato as well eventually making it more in the style of ska or Reggae music. Joey hears this and further changes his leads to be in the same vain as Bob's rhythm and so on, and so on and so on. A song that was originally fairly commonplace and predictable has now taken on a new flavor, perhaps towards a more creative form of expression. Each musician feeds off of the others improvisations and changes the act inexorably. Let's take a look at another example of how improvisation in the practice space can help to separate one act from the next.

Let's use two new players, Mary who sings and plays rhythm guitar and her significant other Fredrico, who plays lead and sings as well. In the process of having their semi-weekly jam session and readying for an upcoming gig Mary tries a new melody line over Fredrico's lead break, singing "scat" (wordless melody often used over the top of other instruments). Mary had never tried this before and finds that both she and Fredrico like this new addition to the song and decide to keep it. Without their willingness and flexibility to try new facets, melodies, and techniques in their act they never would have discovered something new and different that could quite possibly separate them from the rest of the pack.

Tightening it Up
Tightening up your act is something that will take time and often includes the following:
1) Learning and acquiring introductions to each song. It's important that each song does not begin the same way as its neighbor and while some work better with simple intro's, others do not. Take some time and add introductions that you feel work best with each tune, treat each song as an individual entity.

2) Learning and acquiring endings to each song. This is just as important (if not more so) as the introduction and is often the final impression that you have to make upon your audience. Using practice time to make sure that you have sets endings to songs adds an extra element of professionalism and will help to tighten up common loose ends.

3) As important as improvisation is to music, it's equally important that each of you knows when certain sections begin and end. That way, an exceptional lead break doesn't end up overlapping onto the next vocal part. Having specific signals and/or measure counts are good ways to avoid this.

4) Changes - Transitioning between intros and verses, verses to choruses and back again can create problems and potential "loose" spots in the song. Of course, the more you practice the tighter these points should get, but it can be beneficial to pay close attention to points of transition as these areas can be trouble. Also, in this same vein is the issue of rhythm. If one member of the duet is playing a standard rhythm (let's say 4/4 time just for the heck of it) and the other member is perhaps using anticipating rhythms or rather jumping to the changes more quickly than the other, the rhythm won't be as tight as it could be. Listen carefully to whether both of you are changing chords and/or sections simultaneously.

5) Chords - Keep in mind that when two musicians play the exact same chords in the same positions, it can sound humdrum and frankly, there are a world of possibilities out there to spice up the sound.
See you next time!