Musical Intuition with Al Carty

Bassist/Music Director for Alicia Keys, Rob Thomas, Queen Latifah, J. Cole, Ed Sheeran and more.

What are your steps for learning new material for a gig?

How has your process (of learning songs for a gig) changed from when you were in school?

The only thing that’s really changed is that I’ve been doing this for a while now so I start to recognize song forms very quickly. A lot of pop music now has the same song form or one of a few similar forms. The biggest difference today from years ago is that more songs have minor roots, especially in R&B and pop. There’s almost always now what I call an 8-bar minor blues progression in the verses, the standard harmonic form. If I do a gig without a rehearsal, it’s about recognizing the form type. If someone plays me 8 bars of a groove I kinda figure out where it’s going, lay out the first time and catch it the second time.

You’ve spoken about musical intuition as something you rely on when performing with new artists… what does that mean to you? How do you develop it, access it?

Musical intuition is your ability to adapt to a musical environment quickly, an intuition about a situation you’re used to working in. You can’t fully predict a musical situation but you can be able to make quick adjustments on the fly. Especially when performing songs last minute. A drummer called me in recently for a gig with a local singer/songwriter and said, “I’m working with this kid can you do this gig? No rehearsal but don’t worry, just show up.”

This (musical intuition) is not just something you wake up with. It’s something that can be developed. If you work in a lot of different types of musical situations, your experience helps you develop this. It takes a lot of studying music and a whole lot of listening. When you listen and analyze you develop an understanding of how the music can work or flow.

It really comes down to being open-minded and listening a lot. All musicians have certain styles that they’re more comfortable with, even those of us that are pretty versatile. There are still styles we’re more comfortable in because we spend more time in them. But being open and always listening, always trying to learn more and be aware to how music is developing, will help you develop musical intuition.

As a music director, what are your responsibilities for preparing the band?

How helpful will Capo be on your iPhone and iPad?

Sometimes when you need to learn something you are already on the move. You’ll pretty much always have your iPhone and iPad with you. A lot of times when we’re doing all day rehearsals we’ll have our laptops, but sometimes you’re out running around and find out last minute you’re doing a song another way. At least you’ll have it on your iPhone, so you can work on learning it immediately.