River of Tears

It is often thought that the mark of a great musician is their ability to play fast notes and although that is very difficult, it is often slow songs that are more challenging for musicians to perform.


Eric Clapton, regarded by many as one of the finest guitar players of his generation, is a master of restrained performance and, alongside an all-star lineup of band mates, can maintain tension, beauty, artistry, and excitement through a song with a barely moving beat.


For a great example of world-class musicians performing slow music at the highest levels, watch this video of River of Tears. Notice that the end feels more powerful than the beginning but if you were tapping your foot to the tune, you'd realize that the song has a very slow pulse that never speeds up.


Steve Gadd, Clapton's drummer, builds the excitement with more focus on subdivision of the beat. In the beginning he keeps it very simple and subdivides the 6/8 groove with flourishes over a dotted eighth pulse. By the end, however, he is subdividing the beat in numerous ways, incorporating more drums into his playing, and raising the volume of his hits. But it never speeds up.


Then there is Billy Preson on organ. It is his role in this band to serve as a full orchestra behind the rest of the band. His work is subtle and simple in the beginning with many long tones and ornamental fills but by the end he is utilizing beautiful sweeps up the keyboard which resolve into full chords that encourage the other players to step up to his level. Again, his work is getting more complicated, louder, and more exciting but it never drives the beat faster.


The only way songs like this work is if the band members are all listening together and all understand their roles within the ensemble. Notice during Preson's solo how a repeated figure he plays is doubled by the bass or how each instrument weaves in and out of Clapton's solo. This is how masters perform.


While playing fast is exciting and fills the audience with adrenaline, playing a slow, controlled, song like this for nine minutes without creeping up in tempo or boring your audience is what separates the pretty-goods from the greats.


The instructors at Langlois Music are waiting to teach you all the tricks, techniques, and exercises you need to know to be able to play at this level. Give us a call today and begin your transition from pretty good to great.


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