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Uncle Bob's Guitar Lessons
Lesson 9 - Playing Backup
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Damage Control

Let's face it; nothing ever goes completely as planned. Sooner or later the wheels may fall of the wagon, at which time you need to have an idea of what you're going to do. Stopping and looking confused is usually not a good approach. With that in mind, here are some ideas...

  • Can the song be recovered quickly? If it was a small tempo glitch, you may be able to adjust and bring everything back in line. If you're playing an A-A-B-B progression and one of you skips a phrase, can you get back to the correct place in the song? If you catch it fast enough, most people may not notice.
  • Can you insert a pause for effect? Believe it or not, there are ways to stop playing and collect your thoughts and make it look rehearsed. For example, if you're beginning the first measure of a fast musical phrase, nail the 1st chord hard and drop out. Then nail the 1st chord of the second measure and drop out. After that, pick up the song on the third measure and keep going. (When you get the chance, glance around to see if anyone noticed and try not to look nervous as you do so.)
  • Can you repeat the mistake? Okay, this may seem counter-productive, but it can actually work. If you make a mistake, but it was in tempo and in key, you may be able to simply repeat the mistake and make it seem like you just played an A-A-B-B-C-C progression for what was really an A-A-B-B song. Once again, it depends on the song and what you're comfortable with doing.
  • Can you play a lead break? Well, as we already established, you're generally playing backup to make the other person look good, but sometimes you get to play a little. And in the case of sweeping a faux pas under the rug, you might be able to say, "Today my solo starts here." (I've seen several professional musicians use this technique.)

When all else fails, laugh at yourself. Let the song crash and burn. Give the audience a chance to chuckle at your expense. Remember: music is supposed to be fun, even the mistakes.


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