On a gig a couple of months ago, I made one of those “drummer mistakes” where the drummer goes one direction in the song and the lead singer goes another. Looking back, it’s pretty hilarious. There are really only two ways you can handle this type of situation, so I’ll share with you my example…
I was playing with three other guys I’ve played with pretty regularly over the last 7 years. We’ve played all sorts of cover gigs together since college, and we’ve learned to play very well together. Most of the time we’re good about catching each other’s signals and knowing where the other is going musically…But I happened to miss one of these signals on this particular night.
We were playing something sort of funky, and we were jamming on it while the electric guitar player soloed. I remembered a few times in the past that we had launched into a double time feel on a jam section like this, so I prepared mentally for our guitar player to cue that. We finished the solo section, and things were building up toward something exciting. The guitarist looked at me with excitement on his face and motioned to keep things going. It was that “let’s take it up a notch,” “turn it up to 11,” “louder-faster-bigger” kind of look. So what did I do? I went into double time.
We were now entering a full-on rock ’n roll fast jam, and it felt great. But before we made it one bar into that new feel, I looked at the guitar player’s face. His look was one of shock, confusion, and awkward “guess-I’m-following-you-now” hopelessness. I immediately realized he had wanted the total opposite of what I did. We completely misunderstood each other. So right now in this moment I had two options. I could awkwardly quiet down the jam and end it….or I could just let it keep going. I had no choice but to let it keep going! There’s no faking your way out of a mistaken double-time rock ’n roll jam. You just have to go with it.
So we played another pass of the solo section, and it was great! The guys covered for me, and the audience never knew anything was amiss. Afterward we all had a good laugh. The whole thing was hilarious, because they all knew that I instantly knew my mistake. But I had committed to the double time, and there was no turning back. Thankfully the guys in this band are flexible and were ready to go with me wherever I took us, so everything worked out in the end.
I would need more than two hands to count the number of times mistakes like this have happened with this band over the last 7 years, but we’ve always covered for each other. We listen well, and we’re always willing to adjust. That’s the kind of attitude that creates a much more forgiving environment when it comes to simple “missed-cue” mistakes like this one.
I share this story to say… Mistakes are going to happen on gigs, and you’re going to play the completely wrong thing at some point or another. That’s unavoidable, and somewhat uncontrollable because we’re human. But what you CAN control is how you handle those mistakes. You have to judge the situation, know the band with whom you’re playing, and know the environment first off. But in a cover scenario at a restaurant, bar, or club, you’ve just got to own your mistake and keep chugging along like nothing happened. And I’d argue that that’s the way to go in most scenarios. It’s better to play something wrong and the audience never notice…than to awkwardly correct something so that everyone knows that the band screwed up.
The best bands are very flexible and forgiving toward each other, and each member seeks to support the other. The collective goal should be to sound great no matter what, and if that means covering up your bandmate’s mistake, so be it! This especially needs to be true with supporting vocalists. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had to make adjustments to cover for a vocalist’s mistake. If I’m doing my job well as the drummer, nobody should notice that the vocalist messed up. But those are stories for another email.
The point today is this: If you’re going to be wrong, be CONFIDENTLY wrong. Play the wrong part proudly - like you mean it - and nobody will ever know. (Except for your bandmates who will laugh at you and give you a hard time, but that’s what guys in bands do.)
That’s all for today! I hope you guys have a great week.