LAST MONTH, I SAID A LOT OF players can look at the dots and play them, but that only a handful of musicians can sight-read anything and bring emotion to the music. Tommy Tedesco had that ability, and so do Dean Parks, Carl Verheyen, George Doering, and a few others. So how do you put emotion into what you’re reading? First, you can’t be afraid of what you’re reading. It has to be like reading a book. When you read, you immediately understand the language, and you’re instantly interpreting what the writer has to say. You have to bring that instant comprehension and interpretation to reading music, as well.
If you want to get hired for a film-scoring session, there’s also the pressure of reading and interpreting the music in real time along with an orchestra and a conductor, and there’s a totally different time thing going on. It’s not like listening to a click track. A lot of stuff is rubato— which means there is no time—so you not only have to watch the conductor, you also have to know how to play with an orchestra. You may have to anticipate the downbeat, or lay back on it. It’s a real art.
Those kinds of reading sessions are a whole other ballgame than your typical rock, pop, or funk session, where you often look at a chord sheet and compose your part on the spot. That’s a different kind of art, and it’s something you work at your whole life. You can’t prep for instantly playing a solo or a riff or a rhythm part live—that’s the point of improvisation. You’ve been preparing for those moments by practicing and studying, and through practical experience. You also have to listen.
On that note, it’s a shame when you see kids who play really great when they’re sitting on the edge of their beds, but if you put them with a real drummer and a live band, and they fall apart. Their time goes right out the window, and if you can’t play in the pocket, I don’t give a sh*t how flashy you are. Here’s the lesson for the month: If it doesn’t groove, it sucks.
I think some players jump over the nuts and bolts, and immediately start shredding. They never learn to play rhythm guitar—and not just play rhythm guitar, but own it. Check out any Motown record. There’s a guitarist whose only job was to play two and four with the drummer, and he made those records sing. There’s something to be said about “stupid” playing. Can you play dumb and really swing? Here’s a great exercise that works for any style of music: Program a groove into a drum machine, and have a friend write out some chord changes. Now, you have five minutes to compose a part on the spot. What are you going to play? Can you play in time? Do your parts bring the song to life? I believe that song interpretation is what a player should focus on, because there are a million shredders out there. The big question is, “Do you want to work, or do you want to show everyone how fast you are?”