Friday, October 13, 2017

A rant: limits of playalong tracks

You playing along with a backing track.
So, I watch the YouTube videos of drummers playing along with their playalong tracks, and sounding pretty OK, and I think you know, I probably wouldn't sound any better than that doing that, but there's this nagging feeling that there has to be more to this job of drumming than following along and making all the right notes, maybe playing a cool fill for the fill part, doing cool comping junk, and generally signifying an OK jazz performance.

The notes are there, but something's wrong— the energy is all wrong. The drummers are all as relaxed as a Hindu cows, knowing that whatever they play will be accepted by the band with perfect equanimity— they will give the exact same blandoid competent performance no matter what the drummer does.

That's because the fundamental dynamic of where a performance comes from has been violated.

Usually the energy goes both ways; you play the context, but you also influence the context. In your videos the band isn't reacting to you. No one is playing extra well because they like you. No one is walking off because they hate what you're doing and they can't play with you. The bass player isn't moving his attacks around trying to get a handle on how to play with you. No one is playing too loud, or too busy, or trying to rush and/or drag. No one didn't get what you were trying to do, and blew a figure or entrance after a break. No one is disagreeing with you about what tempo was counted off. No one reacted badly when you played that one thing. Nobody doesn't quite get the idiom of the tune, and is playing the wrong stuff which makes what you're doing sound wrong. No one knows how to help you sound good so you start playing extra well. Your feathering the bass drum isn't pissing off the bass player. There isn't a famous player on the session who is actually weird to play with, and you have to figure out how to deal with that. You will never be fired. There is no possibility of you influencing the band in any way, so you forget that's even a thing.

Those are the actual dynamics in which you have to sound good and try to make other people like playing with you.

You in an actual performance.
You think these are all small complaints, and all a matter of “seasoning”, and the main thing is still getting all the right notes in there, having ideas and being able to play them during an actual pass at playing an arrangement. Surely that's the first thing a student has to be able to do, and for that, these playalong tracks are very valuable!

I don't know. Maybe. I imagine one could become a fairly complete mediocre musician by getting good at playing with them. Probably the baseline of student competency has gotten higher as they've become more popular, and means of playing with them have improved. And who cares. Seriously. Managing performance dynamics— meaning energy— is really the whole thing. What you actually have to do, after you've spent a couple of years getting the very basics together, is to play with people and figure out how to make a performance work. I think spending a lot of time polishing these drum covers is missing the boat. 


Ted Warren said...

I couldn't agree more!

Anonymous said...

It's real safe. Absolutely no risk in the areas you described. Not to mention boring.
Similar in some ways to being a "Tribute" band. Play someone else's shit and you'll be legit. Ouch

Michael Clark said...

Could this be the least 'Jazz' backing track available on the tinterwebs?

It's bizarre!