I am so going to have to go back and reorganize these.
Story 1: My friend Philo and I stop at a guitar shop. We pull axes off the wall and start playing, when a guy in the next amp row starts playing "Spirit of Radio". It might not have actually been "Spirit of Radio", but it was Rush, it was Alex Lifeson, and it was well-rehearsed and perfect. Philo and I were impressed. We asked him if he wanted to jam a little, and started a blues shuffle in A. The guy couldn't hang. He just couldn't follow the changes.
Story 2: I was part of a pickup jam thing for a while. The bassist was another friend. Smart guy, but when playing bass, he had a distinct problem. All too often, we found that he could only count to three. So he'd consistantly make the change before everyone else.
For both of these, it's a matter of structure. The first one is a case of too much structure. He did one song and he did it very well, but he didn't have a second song. The second one was a case of not enough structure. He was trying to count out and keep track of changes in his head, not listening to the rest of the band as they went through the same changes.
This is distinct from timing. Listen to Ministry: The verse riff and the vocals follow incompatible lengths while keeping the same time. There, it's a hook. If you mean it, it's a feature. If you don't, it just means you suck, and this is all about how to not suck.
The solution with both of these includes the first suggestion. You have to play with others. Track one of Permanent Waves will always be track one, and the sweater girl on the cover will always look happy that her skirt is blown around by the wind and her panties are showing. But a real drummer will vary. A real guitarist will vary. A real bassist might count to three instead of four.
So, you have to listen. And the band will have many people who want to play different things. The 12-bar blues is a common and good structure, one you should be able to handle, with just style and intensity distinguishing a rockin' shuffle beat and a jazzier, slower bit. But there are others. Fiddle tunes often have two parts, one which mostly jumps from the root to the fourth and one which mostly jumps from the root to the fifth. In popular song, "Sleepwalk" by Santo and Johnny and the chorus to Asia's "Heat of the Moment" share V-vi-IV-I. In C, that would be G, Am, F, C. "Heat of the Moment" is in C#, in case you're curious, and Howe uses lots of cool inversions. (Things you pick up from Guitar Hero....)
And then there's Pachelbel's Canon in D.
The structure that gets me one that comes up on Wednesdays. You have, really a two-verse chorus, with each verse being four lines. And, at the end of the chorus, you might leap back to the beginning of the first chorus verse. Or you might leap back to the beginning of the second chorus verse. Or you might jump back to the beginning of the third line of the second chorus verse. And when I've sung it from the congregation, it makes sense to do it. When I'm in the band, it ties my head up.
It's good to know many structures. It's good to know how to pick up and remember other people's structures. Personally, I find it hard to pick up song structure without having it written out. And it's good to listen to the other people, going through the structure with them. By doing so, we can learn to not suck.