Great musicians aren’t necessarily just the ones who are the most dextrous, or those who exhibit complete mastery over their chosen instrument.
From my perspective, the best musicians are also those who can absolutely “shred” on their own and collaborate seamlessly in an ensemble.
I was reminded of my deficiencies in this regard a couple of years ago, when a colleague of mine invited me to sit in on a couple of songs at a bar in Little Rock. My colleague has been playing in and around Little Rock professionally for thirty-odd years, and it was beyond kind and generous to let this noob share the stage.
One of the songs we played was Amie, by Pure Prairie League.
Now, I have been playing this song, solo and with others, for a score of years, at least. I knew the vocals, the leads, the breaks, the bridge, the turn around – I had the song. Cold.
But, knowing how the song should be played along with on the record, and with a live band, are two entirely different things.
As I came to re-learn all over again, when we came to the instrumental break between verses two and three.
The iconic, syncopated A-G-D chord progression between every verse of Amie is duplicated every time it’s played, with one exception: after the break, when it is played only one time through.
And that is how I have always played it.
But, the band I was playing that night had played Amie for years together, and had always doubled the progression, throughout. So, when it came to the break, I jumped back into the chorus early (from the band’s perspective) – but right on time (from my perspective).
In reality, it was I that was wrong; I should have picked up that they were going to duplicate the A-G-D progression. I wasn’t listening well, or closely, enough – instead, I was focusing only on my upcoming vocal.
Fortunately, these guys were the seasoned pros I knew them to be, and it didn’t become a huge trainwreck. The song, and the rest of the set, went off fine.
All this preamble is to say – that you can technically and factually be in the right, and still be completely wrong.
Being a great collaborator isn’t about being right; it’s about getting the very best results from those with whom you collaborate, and reacting to the changing facts on the ground, as they are, and not as they should be.
If you want to be the Leader of the Band, you first have to learn to Play Well with Others.