View Full Version : Avoiding Train Crashes

Feb-13-2004, 8:55pm
I think everyone has had a similar experience:

You're pickin the melody to a tune, and something you do is so terribly awful, that you totally forget the tune you're playing, and the rhythm players are so disgusted and appalled that they lose all sense of time, and the whole shebang starts heading for a train crash (or, for those who imbibe, a "crane trash").

So, have you developed methods to get the train back on the track.

Somewhere along the line, I read a Doc Watson interview where he says he goes to the chord of the tune's key, and it helps him pick the melody back up. This is the method I've adopted, to pretty good effect in most cases.

I wonder if anyone here has any golden nuggets of wisdom to share on this issue.

John Flynn
Feb-13-2004, 10:40pm
OK, I have a whacky pet theory on this, so please bear with me. My intent is merely to provide a way of thinking about this that helps me and may help someone else. If it doesn't work for you, no harm done, its just some rambling.

My theory that are two ways to play a tune. You can play it "from the outside in" as a series of notes that are laid out as patterns on the fretboard that result in the pattern of sound you expect to hear in your head. Or you can play it from "the inside out," as sound pattern that is running in your head that shows up as a pattern of notes on a fretboard. Both may look the same to an observer and both can be a valid way to play, but each one feels very different to the musician. I think when you are playing from sheet music or rote memory, it tends to be "outside in." If you are truly playing by ear, it tends to be more "inside out" but there may be exceptions.

One of the big differences is in these phenomenona of getting lost, "choking." or hesitating. When I am playing outside in, sometimes I get lost and and can't get back on track until the next go-around. If I am playing "inside out," that is, from a melody running in my head, I don't get lost. I may miss a note, but it sounds like a variation and I just keep going.

This is one of my few proud moments in musical performance, and I have had plenty of bad ones: My string band was playing a street party and our lead fiddler called a tune and the other fiddler mis-heard and thought it was another tune. I was supposed to start off playing chords. The tune started and the first three notes clashed horribly becuase the fiddlers were playing different tunes! So each fiddler thought they were the one messing up and so they both "choked" and began to stop and the whole band started to get lost. Normally I would have gotten lost too, but I remember clearly that before we started that one tune, I had the melody playing in my head before we started. When the train started to crash, I just jumped into melody, right in time, without even thinking about it. Everyone heard that and jumped in behind me and we were back on track by the end of the second phrase. I may never be able to do that again!

I do know that my goal is always to play from the inside out as much as possible. When I do, my train is always on track. One way to cultivate it is often talked about: Learn to sing your tunes, even the instrumentals. Do you know that is how Eastern Indian musicians learn thier ragas? The teacher sings the notes to the student until the student can sing them back. Only then do they start to play the tune on thier instruments.

Feb-13-2004, 10:54pm
I like your outside/in, inside/out thing...

the problems I'm thinking of hardly ever arise when I am playing outside/in, as I am running through the motions, which I've become good at overtime....like I'm not taking chances on the tune because it hasn't become part of me yet.

the problem I'm talking about usually arises after I have internalized and familiarized myself with a certaom tune...like I get too comfortable in all the permutations I can play, so I try and do something funky and different to spice it up, but whatever I tried was just bad, putrid, horrible...when this happens, for me it is usually with time rather than notes. I don't know, maybe I listened to too much Clarence White, but I'll sometimes try and get that note in there 1.5 beats ahead of shedule, or .233 beats after shedule, or try and do some freaky crosspicking pattern that I hope will resolve in a couple measures, but just doesn't...and this kind of stuff can really throw even a solid rythm player off (especially if that rythm player is thinking the same way and is trying to screw around with time).

Here I am rambling too...

What the whole Doc Watson thing was, as I understood it, is just to forget the lead playing,and start strumming the chords, hoping the melody will come back to your head and you can hop back on the train.

A rock guy at work and I were talking about this today, and he says what he does is just pick a blues note, and hit it hard over and over again until his break is done http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif can't say I like his idea that good http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

John Flynn
Feb-13-2004, 11:04pm
All good and valid points and challenges. We are talking about the brain here and it can do mysterious things. I see your point that getting back to a chord could be a good way out. I guess what I was trying to say is that jumping immediatedly on the melody is another way out. For that matter, on a 1-4-5 tune, I have a couple of "emergency" pentatonic tricks that have saved my tail more than once when I got lost.

Feb-13-2004, 11:45pm
I don't play well enough to have this experience (or maybe my playing is just one long train wreck http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif ) but my instructor was telling me about a little riff in a song that he was stressing I REALLY NEED to get down. #He said that in the past when he looses his place he's hit that riff or one of several others and it fills in the space until he can get back on track.

He didn't tell me how he knows which riff he should play.:p

Feb-14-2004, 1:00am
Out here on the Left Coast we call 'em train wrecks and I agree MandoJohnny, with a twist I guess. There are too many "cut and paste"( a term my son came up with) players out there. I think of them as being outside in. I define that as they have licks they string together, usually trying to sound hot and not have to really know the tune,just the chord change. That to me is the quickest way to cause a wreck because everybody is on edge about where they are. I've always used what I learned in my old jazz improv class, do it straight the first time through then stretch it the next time. I've also stressed to the guitar/bass, don't follow anybody, like trying to help them recover, just play the changes. That always causes a wreck. They should know the chord changes and not really listen to the breaks. Playing rhythm is an important job and not easy, just as hard and important as the soloist. I noticed early on if I didn't have to worry about the backup it always flowed better. Also for me the cause usually of "hickups" was rushing. I went to the metronome and got rid of that. I also believe playing to cd's and Band in a Box are good but don't get rid of rushing. Stripping out everything except the rhythm is the only way. The ultimate, for me, is to be able to "swing" a metronome.