2 Sunday dinners

Sometimes in life you get invited to two Sunday dinners. On a really lucky day one will be at lunchtime and one in the evening and it’s possible to do both.

You might think it’s too much. That you couldn’t eat two big meals in the one day. That you have jobs to do at home, things to get ready for next week.

You might also think that eating dinners in good company is what Sundays are for. That there will be lots of Sundays when you’re not invited to any.

For me, it’s like being asked to play two really exciting gigs in one day. If it’s possible to make it to both…do it!

Empathy and execution

“Walk a mile in my shoes and then you’ll understand me”, it is said.


This quote has lasted the test of time because it brilliantly sums up the concept of empathy.

Many successful musicians are where they are because they can figure out what an audience wants and then can deliver it. Empathy and execution.

What’s often forgotten though is musical empathy for the others in the band – i.e. what can I play (or not play) now that the others in the band would like to hear? How can I make the band sound better?


“I know that tune” – Part 2

While writing yesterday’s blog, I was aware that when it came to saying you knew a tune, knowing the chords and being able to accompany a soloist wasn’t the full story. This was simply what I needed to know at that particular point in time. This was emphasised to me when readers of the blog made the same point to me, both on and offline.

So here are some questions which may help get you to the heart of the rest of it.

Can a singer at a late night sing-song can say he knows a song if he doesn’t know the words and melody from start to finish?

Can a bass player playing Motown covers in a band say she knows the tune if she doesn’t know James Jamerson’s bass lines inside out?

Can a drummer say he knows the song if knows the drum pattern and stops inside out but can’t sing the melody?

Does a jazz saxophonist really know a standard if she can’t play the melody and chord scales in 12 keys?

And what about the pianist who says to a singer that he knows a song when he knows the chords and hence can accompany but can’t play the melody?

And if you are a brilliant reader of music, does being able to play the music in front of you flawlessly from start to finish mean that you know that tune?

I would love to hear your answers to some of these questions.

My take for what it’s worth – being able to legitimately say that you know a song depends on context, and what your job is at a particular moment in time. No matter how well you know a song, there will always be ways you can get to know it better (for example listen to other versions, learn the words, play it at different tempos, in different time signatures, transcribe the guitar solo onto your instrument, know what chords you can legitimately substitute with others) – thanks to Richard Nelson and Ken McDonald for these!


However if you can play a tune or sing a song to the standard required of you at a particular moment, in my book you can justifiably say you know it. Otherwise you can’t.


“I know that tune”

On one of my first ever jazz trio gigs, one of Ireland’s top saxophonists joined us for a tune or two. In a situation like that, the guest usually calls the tune, asks the band if they know it, and if so, off you go.

This man asked us did we know All The Things You Are (not a simple standard, but often one of the first that a jazz student will learn). It was a while since I had played it, but I hoped I would still remember the chords. Also, I didn’t want to look like an amateur in front of this amazing musician, and so I said ‘yes – I know that one’.


Thanks to our bassist and drummer (who actually did know it), we avoided a train-wreck of a performance, but the chords just wouldn’t come to me and so the little bit I managed to play on the tune sounded pretty poor. The crowd mightn’t have noticed, but I did, and of course the saxophonist did too.

He told me afterwards that it’s OK not to know something. The reason for him getting up with us was for us all to play together and enjoy it, and as he pointed out – I didn’t even get to do that on this tune. I learned that day that it’s better to be honest and enjoy playing a tune you know than to be hopeful and not play at all.

It’s linked to Tuesday’s blog about not making a promise that you can’t keep.

If you’re going to say that you know a tune, it’s really better if you do know it. You’re more likely to enjoy playing it, and it’s good to build a reputation as a woman/man of your word. If you don’t know it, just say so, and go home that night and learn it.

What makes a good composer?

Taste in music is subjective.

Sometimes you can appreciate the skill that went into writing or playing a piece without it affecting you emotionally. Sometimes you know a piece is quite simple technically but there’s something about it, be it the soul, the lyrics, or the beat that draws you to it. And then sometimes that you come across a composer who writes music that is pleasing on every level.

Michael Rooney is one. From the moment I heard his music I just knew I would love to get my teeth into it. The interactions between his melodies and chords, the detail, and the sheer tunefulness of his music makes him popular among musicians and audiences alike.

And so I’m thrilled that this Saturday, along with Niamh Crowley, I get to play some of his music with him…we even get to reimagine and play around with some of it.

Here is a clip from today’s rehearsal – it’s called He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

PS Congratulations to Marcus Hufsky who won the prize from yesterday’s giveaway. Please get in touch Marcus and let me know which prize you would like. Also a warm welcome to everyone who subscribed yesterday – I hope you enjoy the blogs!


We would never heard of this nasty creature with the unusual name if it wasn’t for a man trying to make himself look good by telling the king that his daughter could do things that she couldn’t.

The lady in question managed to save her baby from the clutches of the evil elf, but only barely, and only because of an act of outrageous fortune, the likes of which only tends to happen in fairytales.

It feels good to promise somebody something, but like the story above, an unkept promise can and will lead to all sorts of trouble.

Better to forego the ego boost of making a promise, than suffer the long-term reputational consequences of not keeping it.


PS today marks 100 days of daily blogging – a promise I made to myself that I am very happy to have kept. I am glad I made the decision to start, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.

It does hearten me to hear that people do read it, and to thank you all for doing so, I will draw at random a name from my list of subscribers.

That person will receive their choice of prize – two tickets to the gig I’m playing this Saturday in the Hawk’s Well with Niamh Crowley and Michael Rooney, or any two of my albums sent to you wherever you are in the world.

I will draw the name tomorrow morning, so you can still subscribe today and be in with a chance of winning.


“It’s the best rehearsal you’ll ever do”.

There are many ways to record.

One option is to put the whole band in a room and record a few takes. Listen back, and give some feedback to each other. Decide on any changes that have to be made and then go back in and record a few more takes. Either the band or the producer picks the best one and there’s your track. This method is commonly used in jazz and folk music.


Another option is to build the track up one layer at a time. To do this you need to record to a click-track – i.e. a metronome which ensures the band will be in time with each other, even when they aren’t playing together in real time. This is a more precise way of doing things but sometimes lacks the spontaneity or feeling of the other method. This method is commonly used when making pop records.

There are other methods which combine various parts of the two described above, but no matter which way you record, as a musician you usually come out knowing the track a lot better than when you went in.

What if instead, rehearsal was the best rehearsal you’ll ever do?