I met up with a friend of mine, who is a great musician, for lunch. I was telling him about being stuck on what to write. We talked through some ideas, but nothing really grabbed me. We continued talking and catching up, and then we latched on to a topic that most people would consider a small thing, but ultimately can lead to huge disasters, or subtle victories.
Here’s a scenario that happens quite often in shows:
There are 4 people on a rectangular stage measuring roughly 8′ x 16′. The guitar player is on stage right, towards the back. The two singers are up front. The percussion player is stage left, even with the guitar player. There are 2 wedges (monitors) for all 4 people. The percussion player has a metronome, that he has plugged normal headphones into (read that: NOT in-ear monitors). The percussion player has the tempos saved, and is using primarily a djembe and a shaker. The percussionist starts the metronome and counts in a song. The guitar player immediately begins to slow down. It’s not a major difference at first, but as the singers begin to sing the first verse, the tempo drags a little more. As the song gets to the chorus, it’s dragging a lot. Stop.
What do you, as the drummer with the metronome, do? Do you stay with the metronome, which you’ve kinda lost already? Do you turn off the metronome and keep pushing the tempo? Do you stop playing and get frustrated?
I think we all agree that in a show, you cannot stop playing, so, option 3 is immediately off the table. Now you’re left with 2 options: force the guitar player and singers back to tempo, or, turn off the metronome and follow the guitar player (but stay on the front end of the beat so it hopefully doesn’t slow WAY down). What do you do?
The answer is: it depends.
Whether you’re a guitar player with great tempo, or a drummer with great tempo, or a piano player with great tempo, you’re gonna play with people who aren’t strong in the time area, or situations will make keeping time difficult. You must evaluate and make a decision…is your goal to be correct or right?
“Correct” in the situation presented above is the drummer stays with the metronome and plays the song. “Right” would be for the drummer to turn off the metronome and follow the guitar player.
Next time you’re in a similar situation, ask yourself this question: “Is it more important for me to be correct or right?” Often times, the answer is to be right, not correct. Your job as a musician is to play the song and make it sound the best it can. If you’re in a band setting, everyone must work together. Listen to each other’s parts.
I’ll close with this: being correct can make YOU sound wrong. If no one else is staying with you, YOU need to adjust. Listeners will say, “that guitar player was off,” or, “something didn’t sound right.” But, if everyone works together, the listener will have a far more enjoyable experience.