Recently, one of our Freeway Music rock band classes was opening up for a band from Nashville called Dedsa. They were great guys that watched and supported every student. They complimented what we were doing with our students. One thing really stood out though. The manager said, “I really love that you are teaching you students stage etiquette!” It never really occurred to me to focus on that. I just shared it with our music students as practical advice. So, here are a few things that could improve your performance etiquette.
1. Give Props
Always give props to the bands that have played before you and the ones that will play after you, even if the bands don’t return the favor. It’s important to have the reputation of being supportive. Sometimes people didn’t catch the name of the last band. It also encourages your friends who came to see your band to stick around and check out the next band. Almost always, the other band will return the favor and give you props to their fans. Also, give props to the venue and its workers.
Whether headlining or opening, get out there and listen to the other bands, even if just for one song. Don’t be the “diva” band that is too good to get out and listen to the opener. At the same time, don’t be the band who plays and rolls. A music community needs to support each other. The bar for the level of support should start at the top with the musicians who are actually playing. Don’t set it low; lead by example!
3. Never Assume
Don’t assume anything, but be clear and communicate in advance. This applies to sharing gear, set time, sound check, the money breakdown, etc. Always iron out all details before the gig happens.
4. Sound Check
I could probably write a whole blog on soundcheck alone. Follow these three P’s: be punctual, prepared, and polite. Come to the venue on time or early. Have all the gear you need there and ready to move on stage. Cooperate with the sound guy and let him run the show. Whatever you do, don’t noodle incessantly or try to showcase your skills to the bar. Testing your gear for tone and volume is one thing, but everyone hates a “noodler.”
5. Moving Gear
If you aren’t a rockstar touring with roadies, don’t act like it. When you are finished, get your gear off stage as quickly as possible, as to help the other band get on. I like to offer to help bands move their gear on and off, whether I am opening or headlining; however, never assume that someone wants help. Some people are weird about other people touching or moving their stuff. It also can come off as though you are pressuring or rushing a band to get on or off stage. So, always ask!
6. Don’t Abuse Perks
If a place gives you one guest member per band, don’t try to stretch it or sneak people in. It’s their policy and they have a business to run. Again, don’t act like a rockstar when you aren’t. This applies to anything such as beverages or food. Don’t try to use your tab for friends or abuse how many beverages your or your band are drinking, as to leave none for the other band or band members.
7. Market Your Show
Blast the event on social media. Email your contacts and let them know about the event. Text everyone that you think might want to come. Put out posters. In general, just get the word out. It WILL make a HUGE difference. The club/venue owners will notice.
8. Be Cool
This sounds simple, but it’s so easy to screw this one up. Simply, be cool to other bands, the venue employees, fans, etc. Develop relationships with them. You will be surprised how this helps the future of your career.
9. Be Positive on Stage
It’s a blessing to be able to play and a blessing to share that with others. If that’s not your attitude, you are in the wrong business…move on! Whether or not you enjoy a gig is entirely up to you! Your energy will bleed over into your bandmates and the crowd. I’m always more impressed with guys that play for two people who give it their all, than a guy who plays for thousands and is half-hearted.
10. Do NOT Overreact to Mistakes
Mistakes WILL happen…so how will you react? The best players are “professional mistake cover-uppers.” Learn to take your mistake and make it seem intentional. Use the moments as opportunities for genius. It’s like drawing a three when you wanted to draw a 9. Turn it into a 9! When it happens, let it roll and think forward. NEVER reflect on it and think backwards. Typically, people will react more to your reaction of a mistake, than the actual mistake itself.
I hope these principles sink into you and that you will apply them to your next performance. You have a large responsibility to set the standard and make performances a better experience for everyone.
Check out my blog on Sound Check Etiquette
A lot of music students come in with the question of “How do I write a song?”. So, I analyzed my own songwriting, and came up with three basic approaches to sparking the songwriting process. All three are important, and tend to lead into each other.
Carry a notepad or take notes on your smart phone. Begin writing down interesting words, or things that you see. Be more tuned into the world around you, and keep lyric writing in the front of your brain. Once you have some words, you can either write a melody around them, or play chords and force the words to fit within a chord progression into a melody. The benefit of writing lyrics first is that you can say exactly what you want to say, and make the lyrics as rich as you want up front. Also, sometimes creating the words up front causes a songwriter to use phrasing that they normally wouldn’t use. These phrases can be very original and creative.
The garble approach is one of my favorites. I tend to do it alone because it can be awkward for other people to hear you “garbling”. The basic idea is to come up with a chord progression first, or a riff. Then, you begin singing nonsense over the chord changes or “garbling”. Soon, you’ll begin to form actual words and phrases. I love this approach because it is a very organic approach. There is very little thought in this approach and a lot of natural reaction. The benefit of this approach is that you will sing melodies, consonants, and phrases that naturally flow within the progression or riff that you are playing. Also, the words that come out will be a stream of conscious. You will say things that are in your mind already. This is great if you are at a lost for what to write about.
We all are guilty of humming in our cars. Typically, it’s other tunes we have heard, but sometimes a melody will just pop in your head. I tell my guitar students to carry some kind of recording device. Today, it’s easy to record yourself on a smart phone or an IPod. For this approach, you simply hum a melody and then lock it into chords and words. My guitar teacher, Robert Newton, told me one time, “Melody rules!”. He was speaking of the importance of melody. It is very true. Just go listen to the top hits. Typically, the words are pretty shallow, and the melody is very strong. So a strong melody can create a big hit! Also, if you have a melody first, you aren’t locked into a specific chord progression. One of my favorite things to do is to change chords under the same melody. It makes it sound like you are playing a different melody each time.
So are you a poet, garbler, or a hummer. I consider myself to be all three at different times. Here are three things you can do to spark your creativity and songwriting:
1. Carry a notepad, or use your smart phone, and write down lyrics.
2. Create a new riff or progression on you instrument and try to sing along.
3. Start humming and record your melody ideas on a voice recorder.
If you are a songwriter in Columbia, SC, here are some things to check out:
Wednesday- Lucky’s Burger Shack Irmo, 8 pm
Conundrum is a local music hall that features a lot of local & regional songwriters as well.
Good luck writing!
How to Solo (Part 2)
In our first part of learning “How to Solo”, we learned about the basic fundamentals of groove, creativity, vocabulary, and playing with feeling. Now, we are going to dive into three basic approaches to soloing. This is a lesson I learned from my good friend Jim Mings. I’ll never forget when he told me, “There are three basic ways to solo: scales, melodies, and chords”.
I know scales can be the bane of existence for a music student’s life during their lesson, but you can’t escape the importance of scales. Truthfully, soloing with scales is the easiest place to start. A majority of tunes stay within one key. Therefore, you can stay in a pattern, and every note sounds in place. Then, you can easily apply the “Lego” principle I referred to in Part 1(Hyperlink). It’s really easy to pick a couple of notes within a scale, and begin the all too important phrasing process. Most music students begin with the basic pentatonic scales and diatonic scales. These are a great place to start, but there are so many other scales like: Harmonic Minor, Super Locrian, Half-Step Diminished, and many more! Some are stronger spices thatcan’t be used as frequently, but you should know them nonetheless.
Louis Armstrong made a living off of soloing around melodies. This approach is as simple as soloing around a melody. There are a couple ways to incorporate melodies. One way is to learn the melody of the tune you are playing and solo around it. You can change the timing of the melody, or add/remove notes to make it your own. Another approach would be to quote another melody from a different song. You simply take a melodic sequence and play it over a different tune in a place where it will fit with the chord progression. I once quoted the main melody from Super Mario Brothers over “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins. I also love quoting the Pink Panther Theme over minor tunes. This approach always evokes a good response from a crowd, as you are bringing the familiarity of a melody into your solo. If you are a music student and you aren’t picking melodies out, start now! You should have a large pool of melodies to choose from. It’s amazing how creative you can be with just quoting melodies from other tunes.
This is the approach that a lot of players shy away from. Chasing chords can sound amazing, but be very challenging in some cases. The idea of playing a solo chasing chords is just like it sounds; you have to play the notes of the chord that is being played. So, you basically shift gears from chord to chord. The issue with chord chasing is that you must have an understanding of chords, and a good awareness of your instrument to locate the notes of a given chord. This is where a lot of people get hung up. If you haven’t put the energy in to learning how to chase chords, then you are missing out on a major part of improvisation. I love teaching my guitar students jazz tunes when they are learning to chase chords. Jazz involves improvisation, and the progressions are vast and challenging. If you are take music lessons, make sure you get your instructor to help you start chasing chords ASAP!
Just like in football, there are three basic phases on the game: offense, defense, and special teams. All three are vital. The same applies to approaching soloing. All three approaches are vital. One is not exclusive of the other, and they all should work together for the common goal of making your solo sound as hip as possible. Happy soloing!
How to Solo Part 3
How to Solo (Part 1)
Perhaps one of the hardest things to teach in music lessons is how to solo. Students are down right frightened of soloing and improvising at times. One of the reasons it is so hard to teach is that there are so many factors. So I have decided to split this blog into a series. Let’s begin with the basics.
I constantly quote this statement from The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten to my guitar students, “People FEEL music before they hear it.” Before trying to move around and play a bunch of notes, find and establish the groove of the song. I’d rather hear someone play “wrong notes” in a groove than “good notes” out of the groove. Start with even one note and lock in a groove. Then, add a note, and another…etc. People will immediately feel your solo.
Notes are just a bag of Legos. I think it’s important for music students to maintain this child-like mentality. I remember the first time I approached my mom’s piano. I wasn’t concerned with being a musician, or how good or bad I was. I just loved the sounds that came out of the instrument. I didn’t understand theory, but I gathered that if I kept experimenting with the notes, I could eventually create familiar melodies or even original melodies that sounded good to me. The piano was a giant bag of Legos to me. I could construct them anyway I wanted to. Somewhere along the way, I became aware of the fact that I was a “musician” and a “guitar player.” I then began to add undue pressure on myself as a player. Also, as I learned more, I began overthinking. Truthfully though, all I was doing was buying new Lego sets to add more pieces to build from. Once I realized that and went back to my child-like mentality, I began enjoying the process much more.
Music is a language. The sooner one grasps that concept the better. Just like language, one can take notes and make words, sentences, phrases, tell stories, and even express concepts. Practice making small phrases and repeat them. Then, create longer ones and try to repeat them. You can also express yourself with tone, loudness, and emotion like language. You should listen to the language, speak it as often as possible, and live in it. Just like if you were trying to learn Spanish, you would do so much faster in a Spanish speaking country forcing you to hear it, speak it, etc. Listen to other solos, learn them, transcribe them, and play them. It will help you learn the vocabulary necessary to be successful at soloing.
There is nothing worse than a bad actor, and there is also nothing worse than watching someone play without any soul. I can play a series of notes with zero soul and then play those same notes with soul and they would sound completely different. Just like you can peg a bad actor, the crowd will peg someone playing without soul. At times, soloing is like standing on a table in the middle of a restaurant and saying, “Look at me!” You’ll have to learn to open up, be exposed, and put your heart out there a bit to really inject soul into your playing. Sometimes it may help to close your eyes and just let go. However you need to get there, I just encourage you to get there! It will change your playing forever.
So, there’s part one. Capture the groove, maintain that child-like wonder, learn the language, and play with your soul. Next time we will talk about three basic ways to approach soloing. Until then, happy soloing!
How to Solo Part 2
Coming To Your Lesson Prepared.
You wouldn’t show up to football practice without a helmet, right? And I assume you wouldn’t head to the mall without your wallet…
Not a chance.
In the same way, it is extremely important to come to your music lessons prepared. “But whyyy,” you ask, dreading the scolding that typically comes from teachers or bosses. Fear not! Below are some reasons/helpful suggestions that will make your lesson experience even MORE fun.
The importance of being prepared:
The biggest reason one should come to their music lessons prepared is to not waste time! Let’s face it, your piano, voice, guitar, drum, saxaphone, etc, etc, lessons aren’t free. The last thing you want to do is spend half of the time you pay for, repeating what you did last week, simply b/c you didn’t come prepared.
The lesson itself will go much more smoothly if everything is in place. Consider it a cool puzzle, and your preparedness is the missing piece that you can’t find in the box, under the couch, etc. You also know how frustrating it is when you can’t find that piece, and we all love the feeling of completing a good puzzle. (Don’t lie, you know you do too).
Your attitude will be so much better when you are prepared/seeing your progress, and even better you won’t have the sinking feeling that comes when you’re about to tell your teacher you didn’t practice 😮
What does it mean to be prepared:
Have any materials that you use for your lesson with you…like notebooks, sheet music, blank paper, mp3 players, & let’s not forget your instrument. Yes, multiple students of mine have forgotten their guitar for their guitar lesson. I mean, that is basically the same as swinging at a baseball without a bat (ouch), or catering a party and forgetting THE FOOD (we all know the hangry feeling —> hungry + angry).
You don’t want to spend your lesson printing off sheets, digging up songs that should be ready to go, etc.
I realize this word carries a lot of meaning & that everyone dreads their ‘homework’. Let’s be real, though…practicing awesome songs by awesome artists (including yourself) has to be the best homework assignment ever. You’re welcome 🙂
Basically, this means, have your lesson from the previous week mastered before you walk in the door. Your lesson is either 30 minutes or an hour long, I imagine; having roughly 84 waking hours each week, you can squeeze in enough time to have that material down by your next lesson. (see our previous blogs on practicing & scheduling practice time by Matt & Tony)
It’s frustrating & a waste of time to spend your lesson relearning what you did the previous week. If you come to your instructor saying “Check THIS out,” you can build on what you’re learning and progress faster than you can imagine, which is much more fun. Again, we all like fun, right?
I’ve had a lot of students carry in things that detract from their learning experience. Granted, sometimes these things are unavoidable; however, most of the time it’s as simple as making the choice to let music be an escape from whatever annoyances or issues life can bring. Again, this will make your lesson more productive & more exciting for you & your instructor.
So, to put a nice bow on things, remember, to save time, money, and have FUN:
Bring your materials.
Have your (awesome) homework done.
Smile! …because your hobby is the coolest, & it also happens to be a great stress reliever, improves brain function, increases test scores, etc, etc.
Check, check, check, and check.
Solid vs. Laminate Acoustic Guitar
There are three basic levels of acoustic guitars:
1. All Laminate: Most beginner guitars are laminate. This simply means that the body of the guitar itself is made up of all laminate wood and no solid wood. The price point is usually around $100-$300. Some reputable brands are: Ibanez, Fender, Gibson, etc. My favorite all laminate acoustic “bang for buck” guitar is Art and Luthrie.
2. Solid Top: If you get any solid wood at all, get it on the top. The top of the acoustic guitar is the most important for the sound. Solid tops sound better, and they will continue to sound better with age. The general price point for a solid top guitar is $300-500. One of my favorite solid tops is Seagull guitars. They are actually part of Godin, the same parent company as Art and Luthrie.
3. All Solid: This of course is the best option. Basically, the top, back, and sides are all made with solid wood. This creates the best possible resonation and sound. Most solid wood acoustic guitars start in the $1,000 neighborhood. There are many popular brands in this bracket such as: Martin, Taylor, and Guild. I tell most of my guitar students to go for Larrivee acoustic guitars. I’ve played a lot of guitars, but these are definitely my favorite. Their price points are much lower than their competitors.
Important Features or NOT
Pickup: If you are buying your first guitar, a pickup is not necessarily essential. I recommend that you spend more money on the guitar. You can always add a pickup later. For example, don’t waste $350 on a laminate acoustic guitar with a pickup, when you can buy a solid top guitar that sounds better, and add a pickup later.
Satin vs. Gloss: This is really more of a personal preference. I like Satin finishes, because they allow the wood to breathe a little more. The sound difference may not even be noticeable to most people. Some people prefer a shiny look. So, if that is you, go for a gloss finish.
Cutaway or No Cutaway: I teach guitar lessons and I don’t use a cutaway. I find that I can get around just fine on a regular dreadnought guitar. My thoughts are, “why would you cut away from the sound?”. Some people want to get really high up the neck for lead. I say this feature is unnecessary for your first acoustic…maybe any acoustic.
Color or no Color: NO COLOR! haha…no, but seriously. Unless you are dying to have a blue, pink or (insert color) guitar, I would strongly advise going for natural finishes. Color can actually take away from the sound quality.
Where to Buy Your Acoustic Guitar
A lot of department stores are now carrying guitars. I personally recommend going to a local music store. Stores like Sims Music will have a bigger selection, and steer you clear of any lower end models that will give you headaches. Trust me, there are some humdingers out there! I think buying local is best for guitars, because you can actually put it in your hands and play it. Not to mention, you can easily take it back for any issues or service. If you must go online, you can try places like Musician’s Friend. Some people look for bargains on trade sites like Ebay or Craig’s List. One can find great deals, but you must be more careful when buying used.
So, now you armed with more info on buying an acoustic guitar. Pick which level you want, the features you need/want, and buy it from a reputable place. Happy Playing!