I read an article earlier this week entitled Why You Shouldn’t Be a Real Book Player. Musicians with an interest in jazz will almost certainly recognise the mention of the famous “real book” series which provide lead sheets for hundreds of jazz tunes (and will probably find the article worth a read). In essence, it argues that, while such fake books have their place, they can hold you back from developing as a musician. I can see the point but balance that with the fact that it sets the bar very high; if using some written reminders wasn’t acceptable I think I would be a far less experienced musician rather than a better one.
One of the challenges is learning to follow the page but also stay alert to all the visual cues from the other members of the band. Before you even hit the stage though, it is also essential that you are all working from the same score or, in that well-worn idiom, singing from the same hymn sheet.
This particularly comes to mind today because it is ukulele club again and we are working on some Irish tunes for a St Patrick’s Day celebration in March. The trouble is that, for the ones we haven’t yet got copies of the sheets for, searching the Internet doesn’t help. It isn’t that you can’t find (hundreds of) variants of tunes like Whiskey in the Jar but there are so many variations. Words or even whole verses can change and, just because someone has suggested a chord, doesn’t mean it is right (in printed books as well – it isn’t just random material from the web that needs to be treated with a degree of scepticism).
Sometimes, if you want it “right” the only thing to do is come up with your own edition; I’ll be checking the first draft of my Star of the County Down today and, doubtless, making a few revisions before distributing a further customised version next week.