I was playing a set with a band a few weeks ago. The gig was going great- we were all getting along, and their was some top flight talent onstage. I was nervous, and overcompensating a bit by playing some of my more showy chops- this was one of my first breaks as a Nashville musician, and I wanted to make sure I put my best foot forward.
About half way through the practice the bassist very kindly mentioned that I might ease back a bit on a couple of runs. I asked him a bit more for advice on the gig, and he confirmed what I had feared: I was overplaying. I made a few adjustments, and the set ended up going great.
It’s easy to get drawn into overplaying, and your musicality will suffer every time you do. Here’s some quick adjustments you can make if you find yourself falling into the overplaying trap:
1. Vocals are king. The first thing the average listener focuses on in a mix is the singer, and if you’re running over the top of him with fancy licks, you’re going to be distracting. Listen for the vocalist, and work your busier licks into the spots where they’re not singing.
2. Solo half as much as you think you should. This is a good rule to apply to everything you do onstage- playing half as many fast sections will not only sound better, but make your runs stand out more to the audience.
3. Use your ears. Listen for what the other musicians are doing musically, and compliment them. If everyone’s playing a hook, play it with them. If everyone’s laying back, well, when in Rome . . . Make sure you’re focused on the other musicians onstage, instead of yourself and your bandmates will appreciate it.
4. Open up your chords. If you play a polyphonic instrument, remove as many extensions and triad chords as possible. This by itself will make it sound like you’re cluttering up the mix much less than before.
5. Know the style. Some styles require a busier approach, and understanding the nuances will help you keep locked in on appropriate playing.