The great studio cliques of the ’60s and ’70s are the model for our Rock Lesson Programs.
Modern-day studio musicians started with the great studio cliques of the late 1960s and early 1970s, like the “Wrecking Crew,” Motown’s “Funk Brothers” and the “Muscle Shoals Swampers.” They created a repertoire that set new precedents in the recording industry. And those precedents are the foundation of today’s music.
Studio musicians have to be technically adept, with a solid understanding of styles, including chord structures and bass lines. For some sessions, you’re expected to be able to read chord charts and/or staff. You’re also expected to have superior ear-playing and improvising skills. You should be able to create a chord chart from a demo recording.
You have to understand how drums, bass, guitar and keyboards combine to create grooves in a variety of popular styles. And you have to be able to create on the spot. You’ve got to see the range of creative possibilities in every situation. There isn’t much time for decision-making or writing out parts. You need to think it up, or even improvise it on the spot, and record it.
Classically trained musicians are often not well suited to studio work, unless they’re given written parts to play. Traditional music school, by itself, often doesn’t prepare you to create rock, country or blues arrangements.
Many classical players are out of their element on studio dates. Compared to the environment they’re used to, the creative process in the studio is random and haphazard. A group of musicians, who may have never met, go to a session with nothing written down, and they improvise on demand to create an original arrangement in less than 2 hours. To the classically trained, it doesn’t make sense.
The Role of Memory Session players have a different way of looking at music. One difference between classical and session players is the basic role of memory. Not that studio players rely on memory more than classical players, but studio players use it differently. Rock music is much easier to memorize than classical music. It’s almost impossible to memorize classical music, along with all of the details necessary to perform it.
In the classical world, memorizing music is a novelty. Classical musicians are usually stopped cold if you take away their sheet music. It’s part of their working style. A program for a 2012 performance of Duke Ellington numbers by a lab band at Ithaca College says, “For tonight’s performance, all the arrangements were learned by ear and completely memorized during this term.” There were no music stands on stage. “For this concert, we simply don’t need any. This is known as playing ‘head charts,’ because these are pieces that are kept completely in the player’s heads.” They state, “This process affords us several advantages.”
The average studio player is grounded in a range of styles, has memorized hundreds of arrangements by ear, and can create by drawing on elements of those arrangements. Memorizing and playing songs is part of your basic education. And any top-notch hired gun will tell you your job depends on memorizing music quickly. With experience, memorizing music gets easier.
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