Ask yourself these 25 questions, and your parts are bound to improve.
I’ve been playing mostly solo shows for years. Over time I’ve learned how to fill out the sound, to add percussive strums, bass movement, and fills to make up for the lack of instrumentation.
Whenever I play with a band, though, I have to remind myself to lay back, to add only what’s needed, and to stay out of the way of my band mates.
I prepared this Part Writing Checklist to keep me on the straight and narrow, and you may find it helpful too.
1. Imagine you are sending a sub to play your gig. Have you prepared charts for your sub?
2. What parts are written out and which parts are improvised?
3. Have you transcribed the written parts? (It needn’t be proper notation.)
4. Have you practiced the parts with a metronome and with a recording?
5. Is it clear enough to you that you can imagine every single thing you’ll play, in order?
6. Have you rehearsed it in your mind?
7. For a tune with multiple passes through a form, does the part you play evolve?
8. If so, does it do that in a logical way?
9. Does it build as it goes?
10. Does your improvised part have a clean segue back into the written part?
11. Are you getting so into the improv that you’re missing your reentrance?
12. When do you need to rejoin the rhythm section?
13. Do you have a clear idea of where to start and stop fills?
14. Are you filling when another instrument––especially voice––should be at the forefront?
15. To what degree does the success of playing this song depend on chance?
16. What percentage of the song should be played exactly the same each time, and what gets improvised?
17. Are the fills and solos clearly demarcated? eg: “w/piano fills 3rd time” “fiddle solo over A section, guitar solo over B section” “mandolin and piano trade fours,” etc.
18. Are you doubling a part that’s being played elsewhere?
19. Should you maybe write a different part?
20. Or play in a different octave?
21. Or use a capo to get different voicings?
22. Is your tone based on what sounds good by itself, or what sounds good in the song?
23. If you were happy with the arrangement in rehearsal, did you make a recording so everyone remembers what they did? (Your phone is fine for this. Your memory? Not so much.)
24. Do you need to enter at the beginning, or would the song be better served by waiting?
25. Should you drop out at some point to make a dynamic contrast?