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Discussion Starter #1
Hello, again, my friends.

I don't think I have asked this question, but forgive me if I have.

I have been performing at wedding receptions for about ten years, using pre-recorded accompaniment on an mp3 player or cell phone. I cannot play hardly anything by ear, and rely extensively on sheet music, chord symbols, and so on, as I am more of an intermediate-level player than a pro.

Consequently, at the conclusion of one song, I go and get the sheet music for the next one on the list, and recently have started using an automatic playlist on the mp3 player which pulls up the next song automatically. Still, until I get the sheet music ready, and sometimes spread out four pages on the stand, I cannot play the next song just yet.

In fact, my scores are in 8.5x11 notebook binders by genre, and some are 9x12 in separate booklets, but once I find the binder or book that I need, it is a question of finding the song inside, placing it on the stand, and adjusting my mixing console for playback. ONCE in a while I even have to remove the song from a binder, and spread out four or five sheets on the stand.

Oftentimes the host himself or some other guest that I have not seen in months, will come up and want to chat with me, in which I always tell him politely that I do not have time to chat at the moment, as I have to keep the room filled with music.

All these things add to the delay between songs, so I am always searching for ways to reduce this silent time.

My question is this: in a professional environment at a wedding reception, how much silent time is permissible, on average between ever couple of songs? How much is too much? Surely you aren't as good as a CD, with only five seconds of dead time between songs, are you?

One guy suggested plugging in an extra mp3 player of background music, into the console, runnning continually, so that I could simply slide the volume up on that background music, between songs, and lower it again, 30 seconds later, when my next song is ready. I'm not sure that would make for a smooth transition, since the background music would likely be in the middle of a song anyway, and I would be interrupting it as I turned it back down.

1. If you DO recommend such background music, what kind would be ideal? If I am typically playing smooth jazz, pop and soft rock songs on my saxophone as my main repertoire, should I have very similar music in this background music? Should I, instead, pick something much more unobtrusive and subtle, such as soft easy-listening elevator music?

2. Or do you recommend absolute silence, and to just concentrate on getting on with my next song to perform on the sax?

If so, my main question is how much dead silent time is permissible, on average, between my performance songs, before my host and guests start to feel that something is less than desirable? 60 seconds? 30? 10 seconds?

3. Other suggestions for keeping the flow smooth and fast?
 

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Two suggestions

1) Make up a set list in advance. That way you can pull the sheets in order, before the set starts.

2) Memorize the music.

In small wedding bands with one or two horns and a singer, we usually just stand and play, we know the music. The leader usually has a set list, there might be a particular song or songs the clients want at a particular point, but otherwise there is usually a "dinner" set and one or more "dance" sets. Nowadays the dance sets are often done by a DJ, so just the foo-foo music is needed.

In larger groups (4 or more horns), there are often written arrangements, so suggestion 1 is used. If the leader is any good, he or she will have the music folders all arranged ahead of time so I just show up and read the charts down. Otherwise, we all put the charts in order before the downbeat.

Regarding silence, 10-20 seconds between songs is good, usually with an announcement of the tune by the leader. No more than 20 seconds though... In a one-man situation, I'd just have 5-10 seconds between tracks, but again I'd have the set list made up before hand. In a larger band, often the rhythm section will vamp during the announcements/patter.

Since this is a one-man-with-backing-tracks situation, I'd work hard at getting small sets of 2 or 3 songs that flow into one another with no break, and avoid silence as much as possible. Either get a tablet that can show the music in coordination with the backing track, or get two tablets, so you aren't shuffling paper during the performance. And I'd memorize as much as possible. Good leaders will try to set this stuff up in advance of the gig, and since you are both the leader and performer, you will have to do this too.

Requests are tricky in this kind of situation, it just comes down to having a good track library and a good way to access it. And don't refuse to talk to people who come up to you, smile and be pleasant, and if more than 20 seconds goes by, smile and say something like "Sorry man, gotta keep the customers happy - catch me at the break!"
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I appreciate that advice, Steve.

As for announcing the songs, I don't think that fits into my role as a "background" performer with no danceable music or anything that directly might involve the audience. but it is nice to hear about other points of view and other settings.

In fact, I never even heard applause up until this year, as I recall. I generally tell the host not to introduce me for my sake, and not to think of me as someone performing "special numbers" for the audience to pay attention to, but just to let me fill in the background with music.

As for memorizing, I meant to mention that I have a serious mental issue that does not allow me to memorize any song easily, even after playing it 50 times. I would rather play the melody without any wrong notes, than try yet again by heart and hit a few. Then comes the improvisation, having to memorize the main chords involved, in addition to the melody. Folks don't seem to believe me on this issue, so I don't know what else to say other than remind them that I'm not a teenager anymore, and while I still have good vision and hearing, and an excellent sense of smell, my memory has suffered over the years.

I also try to keep a very large repertoire, to keep from getting bored myself, which also makes it harder to memorize many songs. Then, as with tomorrow's engagement, I have to include many new songs of a certain genre for certain types of customer, especially since I intend to continue working for that type of customer in the future (and he, himself, told me that, if all went well tomorrow, he would hire me for his parent's anniversiary party in January).

In fact, I have laid aside entirely my collection of Aebersold "standards," containing over 100 older songs, simply because my audiences tend to be younger, these days, and do not know the songs nor appreciate the style as much as others. (Lots of young Hispanic audiences, for example. On the other hand I learn lots of Latin songs for them, old and new)

But as for the other points, I agree, and will try to do what you say. In fact, just yesterday I noticed that about five songs in a row that I was learning, were all coincidentally in the same key, of a similar style, and could make for a nice "flow" as you suggest. Very nice advice.

Of course, my main challenge, is to photocopy and reduce all my music to 8.5 x 11, so that I can eventually go through and pull out all the scores for a particular set list, make one binder for the whole performance, and then simply flip the pages. The next day I could put them back into the appropriate binders by genre, until the next performance.
 

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What about using the app Forescore on an IPad and also have the songs on an mp3 player. As quick as you find the Mp3 is as quick as you would find the pdf, and with a bluetooth page turner, all you need is your ipad on your music stand.
 

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I think you're overthinking it a bit. The situation you describe, you are background music. It's not the same as the dance portion of the evening where you have a very short window between songs before it gets awkward for people to just keep standing on the dance floor waiting for the next one to start. Probably nobody is going to notice if you have 10 seconds vs. 30 between tunes. That being said, it shouldn't take that long to get up a new tune. Just get better organized. Have them alphabatized, or numbered, or just organized in a predetermined order. Of course, if someone makes a special request, and you are able to oblige, you are clear to take any reasonable amount of time to do so IMO. I also wouldn't worry too much about talking to anyone who initiates a conversation with you, especially if it is the bride/groom. Let em' talk away. As long as you're not taking gratuitous beer breaks you're probably fine. Definitely don't play canned music between your music. That would just be weird. If you are that worried about silence, do you have any control over the backing tracks? Maybe you can put in longer intros/outros. Keep in mind, you need a chops break too...you can't literally play an hour straight.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Oh, I love that idea about working in longer outros, so that I can stop playing before the last chorus, and be looking for the next score. Nice. thanks.

In fact, I was thinking of adding ten seconds of silence to the start of every song anyway (off the subject), as I have been having abrupt beginnings from my mp3 player, even with one or two seconds of silent intro.
 

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I’m thinking about what tune to play next while we’re playing. I usually think about what tunes I want to play that night and usually the guys I play with know of have heard them. It’s my organ trio and I’m really just dealing with one guy knowing the tune. The drummer already knows most of them. Our repertoire is pretty varied and we all know a lot of jazz tunes besides the usual “Great American Songbook”.
The cover band I plays with has a set list, the music memorized and we just segue immediately between tunes. we’ve made medleys with certain tunes with the same tempo
 

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I think its a good question in general. You dont have to rush but an audience will experience a lack of continuity at a certain point and the flow of energy that you create with your work will cease at a certain point. I think the above mentioned limit of 20 seconds is good. That does not mean in between a few tunes you cant address the audience to fill space....but long pauses are as awkward as they are in conversation.
 

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Two suggestions

1) Make up a set list in advance. That way you can pull the sheets in order, before the set starts.

2) Memorize the music.

In small wedding bands with one or two horns and a singer, we usually just stand and play, we know the music. The leader usually has a set list, there might be a particular song or songs the clients want at a particular point, but otherwise there is usually a "dinner" set and one or more "dance" sets. Nowadays the dance sets are often done by a DJ, so just the foo-foo music is needed.

In larger groups (4 or more horns), there are often written arrangements, so suggestion 1 is used. If the leader is any good, he or she will have the music folders all arranged ahead of time so I just show up and read the charts down. Otherwise, we all put the charts in order before the downbeat.

Regarding silence, 10-20 seconds between songs is good, usually with an announcement of the tune by the leader. No more than 20 seconds though... In a one-man situation, I'd just have 5-10 seconds between tracks, but again I'd have the set list made up before hand. In a larger band, often the rhythm section will vamp during the announcements/patter.

Since this is a one-man-with-backing-tracks situation, I'd work hard at getting small sets of 2 or 3 songs that flow into one another with no break, and avoid silence as much as possible. Either get a tablet that can show the music in coordination with the backing track, or get two tablets, so you aren't shuffling paper during the performance. And I'd memorize as much as possible. Good leaders will try to set this stuff up in advance of the gig, and since you are both the leader and performer, you will have to do this too.

Requests are tricky in this kind of situation, it just comes down to having a good track library and a good way to access it. And don't refuse to talk to people who come up to you, smile and be pleasant, and if more than 20 seconds goes by, smile and say something like "Sorry man, gotta keep the customers happy - catch me at the break!"
 

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I play in several bands, and most on average don't let more than 10-15 seconds go on between songs. One instance is an R&B band i play with. With that group, we're pretty keen on minimal downtime between songs. In a listening scenario with that genre, the audience gets restless if we go over 10 seconds. The singers like to talk a lot, so if the horns aren't ready quickly, the rhythm section vamps the intro and lets the singers talk. The horn players do well at getting everything ready to play, and we've memorized about half of the book anyway -- we kind of don't want the singers to talk so much. If it's a Jazz gig (there or elsewhere) I'll go a lot longer between songs, it takes more effort to listen and appreciate, so to me it's good to sort of let the song set in for a little bit, maybe as long as a minute.
 

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...
As for memorizing, I meant to mention that I have a serious mental issue that does not allow me to memorize any song easily, even after playing it 50 times.
Maybe, but I think it's more likely not the case. I'll try to elaborate below. Bear with me for a bit.

I would rather play the melody without any wrong notes, than try yet again by heart and hit a few.
...
If you did hit a wrong note, you'd hear it, right? Or, if I were to play a song for you, you wouldn't need to follow my playing with sheet music and a tuner to know whether I was playing it properly, right? So, the knowledge you already have of the song is also the knowledge you have of what the right notes are. Even if you've never heard the song before, my bet is that you could detect a note that was off key.

So the crucial thing is getting to a point where you don't think in terms of "this note follows that note (and I press this key to get that note)". A good chess player doesn't think "if he moves here, I'll move there" - he thinks in terms of patterns and an overall strategy. Same with music: you'll never get very far trying to memorize pages of notes for hundreds of songs. Musicians don't do that.

I knew an outstanding musician who played piano professionally for over 20 years who couldn't read sheet music because he is dyslexic. Yet he knew and could play hundreds of songs perfectly. He knew what a particular song sounded like and the notes in his head just automatically guided his fingers - he didn't have to think about which fingers pressed which keys. I could've probably played him some nonsense sequence of notes on my sax and he'd be able to duplicate it.

The way to get to that point is, I think, in two steps which you can develop simultaneously:

1. Listen to the song and learn to play it back in your head. Didn't we all do this as teenagers listening to our favorite songs on the radio? Hear the notes and play them back in your head.

2. Listen and learn the sound that comes from the keys as you play the sax - do not associate that sound with a written note on the staff or even the note name itself. What you want is an automatic reflex of hearing a sound and being able to reproduce it on the sax. There are numerous ear training exercises online for this, but all you really need is to listen to some song you like and try to reproduce it - start with just trying to get the first note correct. The goal is to hear notes, sounds, and be able to reproduce them automatically by reflex. In so doing, you're not thinking of written notes, note names, or even scales. It's like high speed touch typing: my eyes see words and my fingers automatically reproduce them - I don't even think about it (usually I'm thinking about where to go for lunch).

This will take years, but it will enable you take any song you have in your head and play it on the sax and you won't need volumes of sheet music. Sheet music is there just to get you started. Good luck!
 

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Arundo's advice is on point. I would say this as well. Instead of trying (and failing) to learn a bunch of tunes, learn one a week, or maybe even every 2 weeks. At the end of a year, you would have at least 25 songs committed to memory - that's enough for a couple sets of background music! My experience memorizing tunes was that it was difficult for me, and it was very slow for me at first (when I was a teenager and in my early 20s). But practice makes perfect, and now I feel I could memorize a whole new set in a couple of days.

In fact this happened to me in my early thirties - I was in a Latin band, and it's common for the horn players to read the music. We got an extended gig at a club in Hawaii, and the club owner didn't want the music on the stage, so the three of us horns spent a couple afternoons memorizing the charts. Salsa music is very complex, at least the horn parts are, and I was fairly new to the band, so it was a struggle, but we got there in a few days. I couldn't have done that in my teens or early 20s, experience playing helps a lot.

I suspect if you work at memorizing a tune a week, after a few months it will come much easier. I also suggest, if you play piano, learning tunes at a keyboard - chord changes and playing the tune in a different key than on the sax (the same key really, but Bb on piano and C on tenor give you a different thought process) will make you internalize the tune structure much better. Even simple block chords will do, you don't have to play a "good" piano part. As your ear gets better and your musicianship go to the next level, you will find this much easier.

Good luck and keep us posted!
 

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The opening post is not quite explicit that this is regard to background music, so the replies are a bit contradictory.

I'd also say that the word "permissable" is a bit misleading as there isn't a rulebook anywhere, but generally what seems to be a greasonable apporoach to me:
  • Pop, rock and dance music etc: I'd say minimal silence - you either want to be sequeing or announcing/banter/linking to the next tune
  • With classical concerts it is accepted that there will be silence while performers get themselves ready for the next piece. It could mean switching instruments, preformers coming or leaving the stage. Allowong the audience to stop coughing, adjusting your coat tails - checking your flies aren't undone etc.
  • With background music, assuming by definition nobody is really listening to you as an audience, some silence is fine but I agree with suggetsions above some recorded background music could be good if the pause starts to get noticeable. Even when there is background music it's sudden absence may be noted - especially if someone says something loudly embarrasing or farts at exactly at the point at which the music stops. (My 1 week old son did exactly that once)
 

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I make my playlist beforehand on my iPod Touch. I use 3 ring binders and plastic paper sleeves to organize my music. I arrange my music to coincide with my playlist so all I have to do is turn a page. On the few songs that require 3 pages I tape the third page to the second page and fold it back over the second page while it’s stored in the binder. I have three extra 3 inch binders that I keep my 300+ songs stored in alphabetic order. After I create my playlist for a gig, I simply move the music from the storage binders into my gig binder in the same order as my playlist. I have created 15 second silent tracks that I place between each song in my playlist. I have found that gives me time to turn the music to my next song or to pause the playlist if needed. I use music stand slip on extensions to increase the width of the music stand for those 3 page songs. I use a battery powered clip on stand light as needed. I use a Roland Street Cube EX on a stand. I use a clip on holder for my iPod and clip it on the top left corner of the extension on the music stand. I use a bluetooth adapter to send my music to the Roland. This setup keeps me from having wires strung everywhere. Plus with the Roland, I can run off it’s battery pack if needed. My setup allows me to play anywhere even without electricity to plug into. This ability has gotten me several gigs in remote locations such as in a field near a lake. I have even had to provide a mic for the preacher or MC more than once. I always keep a mic and a 25 ft mic cord in my bag just in case. I will post some pictures later to better illustrate my setup. On my steady wine bar gig I had for several years, I would play from 7-10 pm with 2 15 minute breaks. Unlike some others recommendation, I do also have another playlist of “break music” I use during my play breaks. It’s never sax music but usually in the same overall mood as the music I am playing. BTW, my playlist for that wine bar gig was around 50 songs, so no, I am not memorizing all those. My system works for me, YMMV. Now that I am retired from my day job and moved to another state, my gigs are fewer and shorter. I try to learn a new song every week to keep my captive retirement community audience entertained. I play every two weeks or so for various activities at our clubhouse for about 1 1/2 hours as that is about the max for audience retention for a bunch of us old farts. I love retirement, should have done it years ago!

I am working on a way to move my setup to a “computerized” solution but it is still a project. No, I am not using iPads. Too small and too expensive, even though I am posting this from my iPad. :)
 

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I have to second the recommendation of using an iPad with ForeScore software. I use a 12" iPad, so you're looking at a page the same size as a regular sheet of music. ForeScore allows you to attach your audio backing track to the PDF music file, so once you have the song in front of you, the backing track is there as well. You can flip pages with the swipe of a finger or a bluetooth pedal. ForeScore allows you to create setlists ahead of time, so you can move quickly from song to song if you wish (at your own speed, you trigger the change), but it's also easy to break out of the sequence if you want to do a request or change the mood for some reason, then return whenever you want.

The iPad is a bit of an investment up front, but you can buy refurbished ones on the Apple website at a reduced price. I've had mine for three years now without any problems. ForeScore has made my music management a lot easier as well. I've got three Real Books, several big band books and all my study materials and transcriptions on the iPad and they automatically back up to the cloud. It beats lugging around all that paper.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Frank,

sorry not to answer sooner.

Thank you for the very nice suggestion.

In the meantime, last gig, one month ago, I was faster than ever, partly because I had all my songs in the same notebook this time, and partly because I was using a playlist that automatically cued up the songs on my mp3 player. This might be good enough for now, as I was down to about 20 seconds of silence between songs, compared to 60+ before. I am not looking forward to scanning 500 scores into my ipad, but that will be the best solution, in the long run.
 

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I'd just run off a paper copy of each lead sheet, three hole punch it, and put it in a binder. How long does it take to turn one page in a three ring binder? 3-5 seconds? Two pagers or three pagers you make accordion folds.

I see above that you have paper copies but they're in a bunch of different books. Don't do that, make a copy of everything and put it in set order the night before. (or, just store all the parts loose in manila folders and make up your gig binder the night before). Paper = non volatile memory. When the computer stuff works, it's great, but when it fails you're SOL.

If you don't want to use a binder then just use a regular old music folder, put all the charts on the right side, as you finish with each one fold it up and stick it in the left, pull the next one, spread it out. This takes maybe 8-10 seconds. Still unnoticeable. You do know to tape all the pages together, don't you? No loose pages on the bandstand, ever!

(40+ years in big bands, here, handling of charts and avoiding dead air are both critical.)

I would NOT play little snippets of pre-recorded music to cover dead air. That's going to sound weird.

If you play pre-recorded music during breaks, it should be a slightly different genre than what you're playing, and preferably a slightly less popular genre. If you're playing "smooth jazz" for goodness' sake don't provide the audience with a contrast between your imperfect efforts and albums where hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of studio equipment and weeks of repeated takes are used to generate a flawless product. Maybe, instead, use ballads recorded by big bands like Miller, Dorsey, etc. Your own imagination will suggest other possibilities. And never, never, never, play for break music a selection you are going to/have just played in person.
 

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Take the members' suggestions and use an I-pad, or photo your pages and view the images on a notebook or laptop computer that opens flat. Using paper sheets is so twentieth century. And you must do some outdoor weddings, no? I foresee a white tornado one day.
 

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Without going the iPad/tablet route, you really need to make copies or pull out all the charts in your set list in order and have them ready to go. Like turf3, I've also been in big bands on and off for 40+ years, and that's how it's always been done. Fumbling through several books on the gig to find each chart would be unacceptable. Having been doing this for 10 years, you've probably gotten as good as you're going to get at doing it the hard way, but the dead time is still way to long. So, do yourself a favor and do it the easy way, pulling out or copying all the tunes on your set, or go electronic.

Do you really have to scan in all your charts? They didn't come from some existing pdfs to begin with, or did you write all of them yourself? If they're handwritten, you'll have to scan them of course. But if you wrote them on a computer, (you say you use Muse) then you should be able to print to pdf rather than scan.
 
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