Play To Your Strengths With Your Song Selection

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   Every band has it’s own unique talent level that comes from each individual band member’s personal skill level. I’ve played with guitarists that are just amazing with Jazz music but couldn’t play even the simplest of Rock-N-Roll music. I’ve played with bass players that could hold down a perfectly steady beat, until they had to play a funk bass line and then they struggled like crazy. I’ve had the same thing happen with bands as whole that I’ve been in. I’ve been in bands that could play classic Rock-N-Roll flawlessly but couldn’t even start to play any heavy metal. I’ve seen bands that play Country like nobody’s business but can’t rock at all.

   So it stands to reason that a band should stick to its strengths when choosing a songlist. That sounds simple but here’s some problems I’ve seen trying to do this simple thing. The first problem I’ve seen is a band member that loves funk and passionately wants to play funk, even though they can’t play funk to save their life. I was in a band where the 2nd guitarist brought in funk song after funk song to learn. We’d try one andspend hours practicing it only to end up doing a lousy job on the song. When we played it live the audience didn’t really enjoy it. What was truly interesting is that this guitar player thought we were playing it great and I finally convinced him that we sucked at that style after we tried recording a demo of some of those funk songs. When he heard the playback he realized how bad we were at funk. So you may end up with a musician that’s just got it stuck in their head that they want to play music of a style that you’re no good at as a band. The best way I’ve found to cure that is recording and honestly evaluating your performance.

   Another problem is being with a group that’s committed to playing a style that isn’t going to go over well with general audiences. A friend of mine assembled a group of musician’s that were technically amazing. They played a lot of complex heavy metal and a lot of progressive music and they did it very well. They booked a gig at a local club and they were fired after about 2 sets. The band broke up soon after that because they couldn’t find gigs. I think they would have been fine if there would have been an audience in the area that enjoyed the kind of music they played. They would have had to create that scene themselves since there wasn’t one happening like that locally. So you really need to get out and see what’s being played in the clubs that are filled with people in your area. If you don’t have your own audience and you need to play places that people go to every weekend then you need to find out what kind of music is going over in those clubs.

   If you stick to playing music that your band actually plays well, then you’re going to be a lot better off in the long run. There’s nothing wrong with playing songs that seem simple if you really rock them and the crowd loves it. Remember, a song that seems simple to you is probably a song that plays to your strengths. Don’t be afraid to use them!

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Author: Live Musician Central

My name is Matt Rushton. I have been playing in bands for 27 years. I've been playing professionally for 21 years. I have opened for Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies, Joan Jett, Little River Band, and Quiet Riot.

5 thoughts on “Play To Your Strengths With Your Song Selection”

  1. “Chopsticks”… yeah, I rock the living DAYLIGHTS outta Chopsticks!….

  2. I’ve heard you play it, you do rock it!

  3. There’s a big difference between a bass player who can sing and a singer who can play bass. Of course if he gets the drinks, maybe he’s worth keeping in the band.

  4. Good point about playing to strengths with song selection. Particularly true for 1st and last songs of any set I would say. Also, a useful thing to remember whem making demos – only include tracks or song sections which showcase band strengths.

    Thanks for the piece.


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