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Old January 30th, 2013, 09:50 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Do you use your 'inner voice' in this way?

Please indulge me for a moment and as best you can answer this question if you will. It will probably require a bit of paying attention to some inner processes we don't normally take notice of.

The setup:

Iíve been wood shedding a bit more than usual lately and Iíve created some chord changes for arpeggio and scale practice in Band In A Box. This means that Iím getting a visual cue from BIAB as to the upcoming chord. I began thinking that this is not a particularly Ďrealisticí way that things work on the bandstand for most of us. Most of us who play blues, country and rock donít use charts to provide a visual cue of the changes. So I got to wondering how I cue myself regarding upcoming changes when I'm gigging or jamming and I realize itís in large part auditory. Using my inner voice I tell myself the next change thatís coming. Thereís a visual aspect as well of course but I think that the auditory cue is the primary way I keep track of a song. My inner voice isnít loud. Itís quite subtle but Iím certain that itís the key part of the process.

I think itís very likely that a song that you know extremely well may not require that sort of 'inner voice' cueing but what about a song that gets called at a jam for example that you donít know or that you do know but itís called in a different key than you normally play it in. How do you inform yourself of the chord changes? Do you do it mainly with your inner voice or strictly using visual cues?


The question:

So I invite you to take a moment to really check in with yourself to determine if you use your inner voice (along with visualization) or are you doing it in another way?

NOTE: Most people will be tempted to use the word 'thinking' as a sort of catch-all term but it's very unspecific and vague. For the most part people don't notice whether they're thinking visually (pictures, movies) or auditorily (sounds,words). It's all just lumped together as 'thinking'. For my purposes we need to be much more specific. What I would like to know specifically is when you are thinking about the chord changes as you are playing are you thinking in words (inner voice) or pictures (visualization) or some combination of the two. Please be as specific as you can. Thanks.


The purpose:

The reason I'm asking you guys this is I'm considering designing a practice methodology based on how musicians actually process music in real time on the bandstand when there aren't external visual cues like charts.

Thanks for indulging me.

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Old January 30th, 2013, 10:46 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Excellent ideas, as usual. Whenever you start a thread about anything like this, I'm on it right away. I have used different ways of informing myself of the chord changes. It has changed over the years, but I don't know why. Am I getting better with experience? Or am I focusing on a certain aspect of music in my daily life?

One thing maybe you could clarify for me, is if these chords are the basic ones to a song, such as you might find in the Real Book, or are they based on my personal sense of harmony and voice-leading?

I have had a very strong understanding of chord construction and function since junior high. I am better and faster at it, but I could rattle off the spelling of any chord almost instantly by 9th grade. I also had a very good education that focused playing Freddie Green style chords, which I honed in stage/jazz band in high school and college. Lastly, my fingerboard knowledge has always been very fast, now lightning fast, not to brag. My analogy for fingerboard knowledge is that I know who my sisters are when I am in a room with them. But I may not mentally verbalize their names. That's how the fingerboard is to me.

So, I have been pretty good at the things I described above. However, I had a very glaring and deadly serious weakness, which was my ear. I was profoundly bad at dictation and sight-singing. But I was saved, and it was practically a religious experience. In my PhD studies, we were required to pass 6 practicum exams in piano sight-reading, quasi-sight reading an orchestral score (we had 24 hours), figured bass realization, sight-reading (with ten minute's preparation) of a contrapuntal passage in 4 clefs, sight-singing of an opera excerpt (with modulations), Bach chorale dictation. I was part of a substantial number of people who really struggled trying to pass these. It was awful, and people would cry, swear (me), and slam doors. The school had hired a guy to coach us on the different exams, which didn't really help much. Then they hired a classmate of mine who changed my life. For sight-singing, he wanted me to use the solfege system (do re mi). I had been using numbers for scale degrees, but he insisted on the solfege syllables. It was practically like a flash of awareness of how pitches worked together. Instead of just learning the notes of this or that, I could now now hear them. It only took me a few days before I could sight sign a ton of stuff in solfege. Modulations were a little trickier, but the system works for that, too. As a result, I do an awful lot by ear, now. Sure, I know the notes like I know my sisters, but more importantly, I hear them.

My typical meandering answer. But I think it pretty well represents my evolving way of pre-hearing chord changes, and any other kinds of pitch structures.
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Old January 30th, 2013, 11:09 PM   #3 (permalink)
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My inner voice works like this:


For me, it's a lot about the lyrics, or the melody/head, if there aren't any. I think the next most important cue for me is visualizing my hands on the fretboard. Number #3, for jazz, is tracking the ii-V-I's
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Old January 30th, 2013, 11:41 PM   #4 (permalink)
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How do you inform yourself of the chord changes?
Think numbers and transpose I guess.
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Old January 30th, 2013, 11:56 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Think numbers and transpose I guess.
Can you pull apart the word "think" a bit more? Are you thinking those numbers in pictures or words or both? It might help to pick up the guitar and tune in to what exactly is going on.
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Old January 31st, 2013, 12:06 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I need to hear things well, and I generally don't think of chords, per se, I listen for degree, so, no matter what key I am playing in if I can guess the correct degree of the next chord, I can go to the shape based on where I am on the neck. I got away from trying to think chords, beyond the starting key and base everything on knowing the relative positions of the degrees from the root shape, from whatever chord shape I am using.
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Old January 31st, 2013, 01:25 AM   #7 (permalink)
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For me, it's a lot about the lyrics, or the melody/head, if there aren't any. I think the next most important cue for me is visualizing my hands on the fretboard. Number #3, for jazz, is tracking the ii-V-I's
1. How specifically does focusing on the lyric or melody make you know what chord is next? Specifically I'm asking "how do you know (inner voice and/or visuals) what is the next chord that's coming while you're playing?" "How do you inform yourself (inner voice/visuals) of what that upcoming chord change is?"

2. If you are visualizing your hand on the fretboard:
a) how do you know where it should go? ie) In order to know where to place your hand you first have to know that Cmaj7 (for eg.) is the next chord in the progression? How do you know that?
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Old January 31st, 2013, 01:36 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I need to hear things well, and I generally don't think of chords, per se, I listen for degree, so, no matter what key I am playing in if I can guess the correct degree of the next chord, I can go to the shape based on where I am on the neck. I got away from trying to think chords, beyond the starting key and base everything on knowing the relative positions of the degrees from the root shape, from whatever chord shape I am using.
When you say you "guess the correct degree" that tells me you're most likely 'thinking' in words, correct? A guess comes after a question and this is not typically a visual process. You tell yourself with your inner voice what the scale degree is, right?

What happens when you don't have to guess but you know the song and you know what chord is coming next? How do you do that? (words?/visual?)
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Old January 31st, 2013, 01:47 AM   #9 (permalink)
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One thing maybe you could clarify for me, is if these chords are the basic ones to a song, such as you might find in the Real Book, or are they based on my personal sense of harmony and voice-leading?

I think either one would apply to my question. Inserting your own personal taste in harmony is predicated on knowing the basic harmony so I think either/or would answer my question.

The question is very simple actually but I know the variety of answers will be quite complex. I knew that going into this.

So how do you "know" (words?/visuals?) what the upcoming chord change is while you are playing a song? eg) You're comping on a G7 for a full bar and you know there's a B7 coming up next....in what form does that 'knowing' come to you in? (inner voice?/ inner visuals?) or something else maybe?
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Old January 31st, 2013, 01:58 AM   #10 (permalink)
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This is serious stuff...what Larry had to say about the efficacy of solfege in the way the ear converts language and sound into 'experience' is central to this - and something I grapple with in my teaching.

Boney has (again) stripped back something that most people choose not to think about too much - after all, listening has a bunch of personal 'style' attached to it in much the same way that playing does - so it would seem that however you do it - if however you relay the right 'data' from your ears to your head to your hands is your thing - why question it?

Well one reason is - that you might want to get better at it. Boney has discovered - as have many of us, that the process of getting more 'musical' is really about 'oiling and nourishing' the musical gesture so that the stuff we learn -becomes the stuff we just - do.

Whats going on? In the 11th century Guido de Arezzo knew how to get his students to memorise and recite the songs they had to learn. What he knew about listening then - as opposed to the way listening is treated now - is that every sound has to be attended to - every sound is important and listening isnt just something you turn on and off - its a full time gig.
Solfege takes advantage of utterances and gestures - utterances that give something to the ear to cling to - in much the same way that language does. But I'll be specific and say that this is 'language' as heard and felt - the early teachers of solfege seemed to understand that these utterances needed to be aurally bonded to a musical pitch - and not confused with any other abstract or auxiliary meaning. This coincides directly with the Indian 'Sargam' which does essentially the same thing - the sound and the pitch are bonded in the profound way -they become essential, their 'rightness' becomes paramount and their character is something we recognise both by their individual sound -but also by their place in the music itself - just like Larry's 'sister' analogy.

In the complex world of harmony - its the sound of experience that pokes its head up and says 'hi' first. Not the abstract info, chord name, root note, fuction or anything else - that stuff can come into play later, but its way too slow for musical gesture. I guess what Im saying here is that - experience has alot more going for it than just sound or a name. The idea of solfege was that by combining a sound with a gesture and a pitch you get more than just the apparent sum of its few parts - you get the complete idea of gesture,word and tone that belong together through experience - and valuing that sound enough to instil it to your minds ear.

My point before about valuing the urgency of sound comes from a worrying trend in education and the world at large to treat listening as if its just a means to an end - like networking or keeping fit. I'm waiting for the "listening" trademark to appear in some self help guide or other - Im cynical because I think more than ever before we have more cause then ever to 'turn off' to the barrage of noise in the industrial landscape - but that by doing so we also face the possibility of losing intimate experience with sound - and create what the philosophers call 'experiential errors' on the way.
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Old January 31st, 2013, 02:13 AM   #11 (permalink)
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When you say you "guess the correct degree" that tells me you're most likely 'thinking' in words, correct? A guess comes after a question and this is not typically a visual process. You tell yourself with your inner voice what the scale degree is, right?

What happens when you don't have to guess but you know the song and you know what chord is coming next? How do you do that? (words?/visual?)
No, I don't think it out in words, it is visual. Spacial relationships form in my mind, not words. When I say guess the next degree, most of the time the next change will follow only a couple of options based on what has preceded it, so I choose the one that sounds like what I would probably choose at that point, or else I lay back and wait for the change to come in and follow behind the beat.

When I know what is coming, again, it is a visual based on the chord shape I am using for the root, and the relative shape that follows for that degree. I often do have a mental dialog going on, but it is not what I am playing for chords, it is usually related to the lyrics of the song.
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Old January 31st, 2013, 02:14 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by boneyguy View Post
1. How specifically does focusing on the lyric or melody make you know what chord is next? Specifically I'm asking "how do you know (inner voice and/or visuals) what is the next chord that's coming while you're playing?" "How do you inform yourself (inner voice/visuals) of what that upcoming chord change is?"

2. If you are visualizing your hand on the fretboard:
a) how do you know where it should go? ie) In order to know where to place your hand you first have to know that Cmaj7 (for eg.) is the next chord in the progression? How do you know that?
1. The lyric is an anchor for cues, just like I tell myself as I'm leaving school to go home: "when I see the grocery store sign, remember to buy milk". The lyrics cues me WHEN to change, because I've associated the sounds of the song with the words, but I guess I don't connect those cues specifically to particular chord spellings. So maybe that part is outside the scope of the current discussion. This might be part of my cue system for certain sequences, though: for example, switching to the B of an AABA form.

2. For me, I think it's largely muscle memory. Songs are physical routines, with the movements chained, such that the playing of one chord triggers the next one. I personally am NOT remembering chord spellings when I play a song without a lead sheet. I know the fretboard well enough that I can comp to a typical jazz standard by looking at a fake book, but with a song that I've memorized, it's more kinesthetic and fretboard geometry: if I'm on a 6th-string root minor chord here, I slide up 3 frets for a 5th-string root Major chord next, then a 6th-string root Major chord at the same fret, then 5th-string root Major up two frets, and I'm playing The Passenger. I needed the chord names to learn it, but after that, I just play it. I'm not telling myself, "go up 3 frets", either; I think it's visual patterns and ingrained physical routine. I think my "inner voice" is probably not fast enough to call out the changes for myself.

It's interestingly difficult to think about how you think. But I'm pretty sure that telling myself chord names is one of the methods I use the least. This might explain why I've actually memorized so few songs....
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Old January 31st, 2013, 02:27 AM   #13 (permalink)
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"The Passenger."... +1....

that's me .. sometimes I feel like a passenger when playing tunes I know.....

there's no "one dimension" to my thoughts about chords changes in my brain..... it's multi dimensional...and beyond description...;)

it just happens.... that's good enough reason for me....:)...
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Old January 31st, 2013, 02:32 AM   #14 (permalink)
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ok...a look into my brain..this wont take long and it might get weird..some tunes i just know..some things i had worked out years ago or heard, i may not know right now..but its in the vault... mostly cause im not a deep theory guy i feel my way around on the neck (half of what i play i couldnt tell you what im doing and i dont care as long as it sounds good)...sometimes i get a little nervous knowing i dont know a tune, key change etc. but this is when i dont have a guitar in my hands...when i get one its like plugging my brain into the guitar ...now i cant fly like Scotty Anderson but ill come up with something...so im cueing off the neck? i dont know.. youre a smart guy Dr.Boneyguy you tell me....
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Old January 31st, 2013, 02:55 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Thanks for all the truly great responses from everyone. I really appreciate it. I've got a ton of stuff to dig through now and I'll be asking a lot more questions to refine and get more specific so bear with me please because when I do that I'm not trying to disagree with or disregard what you guys are telling me it's just that inside all of the amazing complexity and intelligence of these responses you've given me I'm looking for signs of a pretty simple sensory process related to my question. It's not that I'm getting 'wrong' answers of course it's just that the particular details I'm focusing on are embedded in the rich details you guys are providing me with. Cool!! Thanks.
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Old January 31st, 2013, 06:26 AM   #16 (permalink)
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I'm unsure if either or words or visuals quite gets it right, in my experience. I think one internalizes musical ideas to a point where one's ear simply anticipates stuff, and if you're a theory guy you also happen to have a name for some of it, but you don't necessarily think in names ahead of time. Theory describes, not prescribes. The only visual element may be looking at the fretboard itself to find a fingering for the next upcoming chord. But for the most part, if one isn't in a situation involving much uncertainty, one simply does stuff by a combination of muscle memory and what they can anticipate by hearing in their head. The trainwrecks and moments of being "lost" happen when muscle memory completely takes over without the ear being connected to it, and detached from the musical context.

The most fluent improvizers play what they hear, and mostly within the boundaries of their technique - it's not a thought puzzle, although it can involve foresight and wit. But it must be kept in mind that all improvization is derivative to some degree - it's a matter of reinterpretation of musical ideas one has already internalized and applying creative license to them, not spontaneous creation. Our minds are saturated with conventions - not even of our choosing. The fact is, at least in most tonal music, most chord progressions are re-interpretations, if not complete re-iterations, of conventions that have been used for as long as three centuries. And most improvizations are acts of creative license that mostly stay within the boundaries of those conventions.

When there's uncertainy and guess-work involved, that's when theory has been especially helpful to me, because I am aware of intervalic and harmonic relationships, which makes me aware of a good deal of the musical possibilities. Ultimately, it's when the theory becomes *part of one's ear* that it's fully integrated. By intuitively applying my ear, which has already internalized theory as a logical explaination for relationships that exist in most western music, when in good form I can passably make my way through a decent chunk of music (especially popular music) without ever having played it before, and possibly without ever having heard the song. That comes with the territory of seeing commonalities and patterns, but it strikes me as much more conceptual than a simply visual matter. I don't associate the music with visual patterns in my head. Rather, I react to auditory stimuli with intuition.

Intuition is a very interesting, seemingly mysterious thing.

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Old January 31st, 2013, 06:59 AM   #17 (permalink)
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boneyguy, thanks for starting this thread. This comes under the heading of "metacognition", thinking about thinking, and it's a very powerful way to learn. I see a personal breakthrough coming. Larry F, revealing the idea of "solfege", just helped me with that.

I hadn't thought about it until now, but I see I am in a transitioning phase, as I begin to learn about harmony, and as I become more familiar with the full reach of the fingerboard, I become more connected to the sound, and less dependent upon printed pages.

The chord changes have always very visual for me, connected to the lyrics (we English teachers see the letters of the words we speak as we say them) as chord names, or sometimes chord diagrams or both, as they were printed in the books where I learned my first songs. There has always been the sound element, too, of the melody, but I've never thought about it enough.

I am too new, and I should stop talking and go back to listening to you who know what you're talking about.

Carry on, nurse.
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Old January 31st, 2013, 11:45 AM   #18 (permalink)
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I think you will find that different people do learn and process things in different ways, some are very visual, while others follow an internal dialog. I think you have the right idea to ask the questions you are, and perhaps your best approach is to develop a blended lesson plan that combines elements.

I have a friend who I play music with about once a week and he has learned that when he is introducing a new song that I don't want him to give me chords, I prefer that he just give me the starting key and play it. I have told him before and I know he doesn't understand it when I say "the chords is the devil." What I mean by that is if I try to think through a progression by telling myself through internal dialog the chords, it hangs me up. I play much smoother by listening to the movement and playing to it, not to a chord progression. If I have to think chord changes instead of playing I lose that movement through the piece. Unless we are simply strumming some cowboy chords, if someone was to stop me at a random point in the music and ask what chord is that, I might have to stop and deconstruct it because I wasn't thinking what chord it was, I was simply playing.

I came from a band and orchestra background playing saxophone which is a monophonic instrument (one note at a time, no chords) so I learned to follow the movements through the piece of first/second part harmonizations, the counter-melodies, the bass movement, etc. When I started playing guitar (a polyphonic instrument) I did learn some basic chords, but practically from day one I was using double stops up and down the neck trying to emulate the horn parts, and bass movement through a piece, so I wasn't thinking chords, I was thinking how do I assemble the melody, harmony, bass lines, etc. into my playing. It may seem unorthodox, but I had no one telling me I was doing it wrong, so that is the way I chose to teach myself guitar. Frankly, I think it is a weakness of most guitar players I know that they don't think like this, but what do I know except it works for me?
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Old January 31st, 2013, 12:19 PM   #19 (permalink)
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I just did a little personal experiment. For a long time, there was a chord sequence that always bugged the crap out of me. Two days ago, I was watching the 1970 film, Sometimes a Great Notion, with Paul Newman and Henry Fonda. The title music was a song written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Normally thought of as suave, urban song writers, by me anyway, this particular song had a downhome, country kind of feel, but very much of the fake kind that Hollywood was to torn out over the next decade. It was full of standard country cliches and moves, most notably of the V/V chord, also called the secondary dominant, or five of five. This chord was around since Bach, and can be heard all over the place in classical music. But my exposure to it came primarily from playing in a country bar for 9 months, 4-5 times a week, 5 hours a night. It wasn't my favorite kind of music, but I had always taken a lot of pride in being able to faithfully fit into a style and sound like a guitarist who lived and breathed in that style. I can still remember that sense of dread, knowing that the hated V/V was coming up in a chord progression.

I eventually moved into composition and academics, so my exposure to that chord was a little different. But even then, I associated it with playing some songs that had that chord in it. Anyway, after hearing that song in the movie, and reading this thread this morning, I started to let my mind drift, as I wandered around the house getting ready to go upstairs and compose. I started focusing on that dreaded chord again, then realized, that it was an old friend/enemy that had many associations for me. It was only when I started to write this post that the words and symbols "V/V" "five of five" "secondary dominant" came to me. Now, when I thought of this chord, was I mentally hearing it? Was I mentally reliving the feeling I have gotten from it. Was I thinking of its role in relation to other chords? The answer is, truly, all of these things, except for the symbols or words. I didn't envision those. Rather, I envisioned the sound, the feeling, my personal history, being onstage at that bar, hearing Bach, etc.

So, part of my answer to Boney's question is that I don't necessarily think of the words that represent a chord. Instead, I think about the sound, the function, and how it relates to other chords and to the song in general.

Someone mentioned that theory assigns names to things. That it does, that it does, an awful lot. But much, much more importantly, it relates a thing, such as a chord, in a particular piece of music, to other pieces of music, as well as to future pieces of music. Future might not be the best word; how about unwritten pieces of music? If you take a theory class and all you come away with is a list of names for different kinds of things that happen in music, you would be a very poor student, who got very little from the course. What theory teachers want you to come away with is an awareness of how different kinds of much are structured, and how those structures can be found in many, many different pieces of music. The words used for those entities have very little value apart from how those entities sound and work with other entities in music.

I see now, from Boney's other posts in this thread, that he is specifically interested in the words that we use to think of things in music. Also, he has seemed to set up a dichotomy between the words and the fretboard mental picture. What I have tried to present in this post is another way of thinking about entities in music that are neither expressed as words (by me, that is) not fingerboard shapes.
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Old January 31st, 2013, 12:49 PM   #20 (permalink)
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I think in chunks of a song (it is the only way that I have been able to learn and remember a bunch of parts and songs.)

by chunks, I think of how the verse goes and maybe even before that I ask myself "do I have the kick? is there a hook or a specific lick that I need to play? Where does it fit?"

One really bad habit that I fall back into from time to time is 'breathing the song' which is to say, I'll start breathing in time and as I head into a specific part, my breathing will double time as I get close... which might be fine except the band may adjust or change...

All of this is kind of the difference for me between playing music and typing it.

As a song progresses, in my mind, I'm thinking through how the verse works, the chorus, is there a bridge and then I compare that to what the bass and drums are doing and try to find 'the wide spot in the road' for me to do my thing, whether that is chords, a fill etc... I start with what the recording had to offer, but that changes based on who is playing on the bandstand...

the really crucial thing for me to listen for is how the singer is doing based on what the bass and drums are doing... is he rushing or pushing, or is he sitting back and really singing the song (reciting vs. singing)

In sports, as a player, you are always trying to 'slow the game down' which has nothing to do with tempo, but it has to do with a kind of 'stop time' principal where when you are in synch, things seem to slow down and you have time to see and do everything that you need to without feeling rushed.

If I have done my 'prethinking' before the song begins, I preprogram what I know are my parts in a song... from there it is all feel and anticipation based on preprogramming... to move from musical typing to really playing requires the whole unit to find that 'swing' or mutual comfort that provides that moment when the music really takes off.
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You GUESS? NEVER guess. I mean, you gotta KNOW what you're doing! Otherwise, you leave yourself wide open to suggestion. And that, to my mind is the problem with this whole dang world.
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