Sunday, May 23, 2010

Youth Bands Practice for Silver Dollar City

Since I'm in the mode of blogging about practice, I thought this would be a good time to talk about all the practicing that our two youth groups have been doing in preparation for the Youth in Bluegrass Competition held at Silver Dollar City. The contest is this coming weekend on Saturday and Sunday, May 29th & 30th.

Band practice is a little bit different from individual practice. With a band setting, you actually get twice as much practice. What you do in the practice sessions is also slightly different. Focus in a group setting is bringing the group together as a whole, blending vocals and harmonies, working the microphones, practices intros and endings so that everyone comes in together and ends together, deciding order of songs, and much more!

I want to talk a little bit about some of these aspects, and also about each of these youth groups. They both have put in an unbelieveable amount of time and effort at home and also at The Bluegrass Shack.

Charlie and the Girls, since they are a family band, have the benefit of being able to practice together as a group right at home and anytime they are able to get everyone together.  One advantage to this is that they don't necessarily have to have long practice sessions, and they don't have to go over everything all in one practice session.  They can work on one song for a while, take a break, and then later on in the day do it again or work on another song.  The disadvantage?  They have to agree on everything and put away attitudes.  A lot harder to do than you might think.

The Pickin' Chicks, since they come from three different families and three different Illinois towns, have to agree on one day a week they can all get together for a two-hour practice.  We do this every week at The Bluegrass Shack.  The girls are tired many times because they have already attended school and after-school activities.  One of the great advantages of this group is that I am the group leader and can help make decisions for the group.  One of the great disadvantages is that I am not only trying to please all the girls, but also all their families!  That's a lot of people to keep content!

Now, what is different about group practice versus individual practice?  Well, group practice takes both kinds of practice:  individual and group.  You have to learn your parts first, then learn to play them with the group.  There are decisions about who will start a song, what order the breaks will be in, who will sing lead, who will sing which harmony part, diction (how words will be pronounced), phrasing (where will we all take a breath? or not take a breath!), and more!  Sometimes variations in songs require the group to agree upon what chord progression to use.  Then the fun part is deciding if you want to do something a little bit different with the song or keep it mostly original to either its writer or most famous performer.

When you practice with a group, looking at each other is very important.  This is how you cue each other to either play a break, start singing, stop singing, end the song NOW even though it's not really the end, move closer or farther from the mic, and all kinds of other important aspects of playing together.  Looking at each other gives strength to your performance.  Cohesion.  Support.  Fun!

Both of these youth groups have practiced all of these techniques that I have written about.  They practiced endings and kick-offs over and over.  They practiced cutting off the ends of vocals together.  They practiced good facial expressions and looking at something other than their fingerboards.  They practiced emceeing.  They had to agree upon how to make their 6-minute sets time out right.  That meant shortening songs, speeding songs up, cutting out or cutting short introductions, and what songs would be played what days.  They were tired.  Tired of practicing.  Tired of each other at times.  Hungry. Thirsty. 

But they all did it willingly!  They did this in the name of being the best each one of them can be as individuals and as groups.  No matter what happens at the contest, and I think they will all play great, no one can take away the experience of progress that these groups made over the past several months.  They are all better players and better people for the time and sacrifices they have made.

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