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Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

As I was creating my last blog about performance etiquette, I joked about the fact that I could write a whole blog on sound check etiquette…Well, here we are!

Be on Time
Just because you are “Awesome” doesn’t give you a pass to be late. Be considerate of the sound guy, and the other bands that are playing.

Respect the Sound Guy
This is the sound guy’s realm, and like it or not, you sound is in his hands for the evening. So, you definitely want to be on his good side. There is a right and wrong way to communicate what you desire sound-wise. If you are really anal about it, you may want to consider hiring a sound guy to tour with you, if you can afford it.

Communicate Your Stage Needs
It’s best if you can communicate your stage setup, and instrumentation beforehand. This gives the sound guy an idea of what to expect, and a head start on setting up the stage for you that night. This makes the whole process smoother. Also, don’t start setting everything up before talking to the sound guy.

Don’t Noodle
Nobody cares how much you can rip it up during sound checks. Everyone hates a noodler. It’s okay to check your tone, volume, and various settings, but that shouldn’t include a 5 minute epic solo. While others are sound checking, you should remain dead silent. It’s respectful, and it makes the process move a lot faster.

Sound Check Properly
Learn how to properly sound check your instrument when it’s your turn. For example, drummers should hit each piece of the set in a slow steady pace and the velocity they would while playing, and then test the whole kit for the sound guy. Often people use hand signals to let the sound guy know how much want in their monitor, as it’s hard to communicate to the sound guy while checking. Learn these various nuances.

It’s Not Rehearsal
Sound checking is for…that’s right…sound checking. It’s not an extra rehearsal for the new song you are working on. It’s one thing to run through a new song as a sound check to have one last practice through it, but completely different when you run through it several times. Generally, one or two songs is plenty for a sound check. Don’t stand up there and have a 30 min rehearsal. You should’ve rehearsed earlier that week. You are just wasting the sound engineer’s time.

Wait to Unplug
Sound guys hate when people yank cables out while the sound is live, creating a large popping sound through the speakers. It not only sounds annoying, it is bad for the speakers.

I’m sure there are many other things to consider when sound checking, but these 7 will definitely get you in a good direction. Make sure you check out the blog on Performance Etiquette

So, you are thinking about adding a loop pedal to your live act. I mean let’s face it…that is the norm now a days. Here are some tips(purely my opinion) on how to pull it off well:

Dos

Rehearse
Practice using your loop pedal at home a lot before taking it out live. You need to get familiar with all of its function, and be comfortable with it. You don’t want to look like you don’t know what you are doing. Nor, do you want to make constant mistakes. Trust me, it’s very easy to do live. It’s just simply not fun to play if you are not relaxed.

Be Sneaky
I love recording a progression while singing a verse or chorus, then adding small little parts as I go. Then, when I pull back and start soloing, it takes people by surprise. Some people don’t realize I’m using a loop at first. It keeps the feel of the performance a little more authentic.

Create Grooves
One of my favorite uses of the loop pedal is to create grooves to jam with. It’s easy to emulate a bass drum by attacking the saddle of the acoustic guitar with the heel of your palm, and a snare sound by attacking the higher part of the strings while muting them with your left hand. You can also “smack” you hand down on the fret board to get a snare-like sound.

Use Layers
I like to layer small parts as I go along to help with the dynamics of the song. For Example, I may record a groove, add a bass like, add the chords, and then add a high picking part as the song goes to help bring the song up and down. This is a great exercise in learning how to write and add parts like The Head Hunters.

Be Creative
Once you’ve mastered the loop pedal, try things on the fly. The pedal should be an extension of your playing. Try to maintain that “live” feel…which leads me into my first don’t.

Don’ts

Don’t Pre-Record
This is simply lame…you might as well play with backing tracks. Again, make sure that it is part of your LIVE show, happening spontaneously. Sure, you will have rehearsed parts, but it will come off more skilled and less cheesy.

Don’t Fire the Band
This isn’t really a tip on using the pedal, as much as overall musicianship in regard to the pedal. Make sure you continue to play with other people. Playing with different talented musicians will make you better than anything. They will have a different perspective on music and playing as well. And let’s face it…no matter how awesome you are with a loop, you can’t replace a good band.

Don’t Overdo It
There is nothing worse than watching a guy take like 5 minutes to set a loop. We live in a culture with a short attention span as it is. Also, you don’t have to cover every single part. I have seen dudes that I love, launch into piano, guitar, percussion, background vocals, harmonica, and more…all in the same song! When someone sees you playing solo, they are expecting a solo act, not Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. Be more subtle and make it more seamless…that’s just my opinion, but I’m sticking to it.

Hopefully, these tips will help you to incorporate the loop pedal into your live show, and keep it from becoming a gimmick. Happy looping!

A student recently asked me how to get over stage fright. This is something that all musicians wrestle with at some point in their careers. I’ve played in front of people many times, and there are still occasions where I get a bit nervous. Usually, it’s settings like weddings and such that rattle me a bit. Of course, I’m sure if I were thrown onto a talent show with millions watching, I would get some nerves. So, how does one get over this stage fright effect that happens to us all? Here are a few practical pieces of advice that I have gathered through the years:

The Stage
If you want to get over stage fright, play on the stage more. I know that doesn’t seem very enlightening, but that is the quickest solution. There is truly something to be said about facing your fears. You will never get over it until you do. So, put yourself into situations where you will have to play in front of people. The showcases we have at Freeway Music are a great first step to helping students become more confident. The crowd is very forgiving and supportive. Also, playing with a group of students can help students feel more comfortable. Students don’t feel isolated in front of a crowd, and they have some other students to help “cover up” their mistakes. This leads me into the second point.

The Mistake
I would say that nearly 100% of all students do not perform their piece or song as well in front of the crowd as they do the 100 times they practiced it prior. You simply cannot replicate that situation. I still make mistakes at my gigs all the time. It’s just that they are less noticeable because I’ve become a “Professional Mistake Cover-Upper.” The trick is to not let mistakes get into your head and snowball your performance. A mistake can easily dismantle an entire performance. It’s a vicious cycle. Instead of thinking of a mistake in a negative light, think of it in a positive light. My guitar teacher, Robert Newton, put it best when he said, “If you get a lemon, squeeze it and make lemonade. Every Mistake is an opportunity for genius.” Miles Davis said. “Have no fear…there are no wrong notes.” You have to learn to roll with mistakes as they happen, not allow them to get in your head, and nail the rest of your performance. How many times have you seen an Olympic athlete fall in a routine, get up, nail the rest of the performance, and win a medal? It happens all the time.

The Preparation
Though you can’t simulate a real life situation of being on stage, being prepared is of the utmost importance. It’s similar to a flight simulator, a fire drill, or military training. Those people are training for when the day actually comes, so they can be ready. The better you train and prepare, the easier the actual day will be. Make sure that you have your piece down cold. Play your song(s) in front of family, friends, acquaintances, and anyone who will listen. Record yourself with a camera, but don’t allow yourself to stop. Then, watch it to see how you do. Practice singing in front of a microphone, standing up, using pedals, or any other dynamic that will be involved. Rehearse in the place you are actually going to play. Get used to how you will sound that day. There are so many ways to prepare yourself for the actual day you have to get on stage. Imagine getting on stage for the first time not having prepared all of these things. Not only would you be naturally scared, but you wouldn’t be fully prepared, or able to react properly. Then, you would probably make more mistakes and the atmosphere would make it easier for those mistakes to get in your head. You’d be amazed at how being prepared and able to react will auto-pilot you through a performance at times.

It’s time to put yourself in a situation where you have to be on stage. This will force you to get prepared. You will more than likely make mistakes, but don’t let them get into your head. The more you perform, the easier it becomes. Then, one day you also may become a “Professional Mistake Cover-Upper” like me…haha! Everyone can beat stage fright! Good Luck!

Recording is more autobiographical than acting. It’s me – either how I’m feeling then, or once felt at some point in my life.
Janet Jackson

Taking music lessons is a great step towards becoming a better musician; however, in order to really progress as a musician, you need to put yourself in real life situations that cause you to stretch beyond your own capacity. There is no better learning situation than going into the studio. Today, I’m going to talk about a few benefits of making a recording.

Keeping Record
The word “record” is key here. After years of hard work, you owe it to yourself to keep a record of where you are. My friend Tom Conlon once said, “A song is a snapshot in time.” …and so is a recording. It’s unbelievable what you can learn from listening to yourself. I love going back and listening to older recordings of myself. It’s the equivalent to a height chart for your musical growth. Sometimes you will see the improvement that you have made over the years; sometimes you will find yourself remembering ideas you’ve forgotten, or maybe even remind yourself of that child-like joy we all have when we first approach an instrument.

Applying Your Skills
The studio is a place where you can gather all of your “friends” to come play. The word “friends” here is everything you’ve learned about your instrument thus far. The studio is a place where one must be creative, but also a place where it has to be accomplished in a timely manner. This pressure is healthy for musicians as it causes you to think on your feet. Even if you have already prepared your parts to come into the studio, merely setting a studio date will give you a deadline and a goal. This will force you to get yourself in gear.

Learning Your Weaknesses
I spent almost a month in a Nashville recording in a studio. I was laying down a guitar track, and the engineer said, “You are rushing the beat.” I said, “No way!” He asked me to come in and showed me where I was playing right in front of the beat lines in Protools, almost every time. It was very humbling. I learned more about playing behind the beat in one session in the studio than the rest of my learning put together! There are so many things you can learn from being in the studio: groove, tone, creativity, recording, gear, etc.

If you are a writer, take your tunes to the studio. If you are a musician, hook up with some guys and get into the studio. It is imperative to your growth as a musician. It’s almost like a camp that will hone your skills, point out what you need to work on, and you’ll leave with a stamp in time of where you are as a musician. Don’t procrastinate; go record!

In How to Solo Part 1 we covered the basics. Then, we learned three approaches to soloing in How to Solo Part 2. Finally, I explained the principle of telling a story in How to Solo Part 3. The first part of telling a story is the “rising action.” As promised, in this part we will talk about ways to accomplish that principle. Here are 5 ways to build up your solo:

Pitch

The highest note you play in a chord is called the “lead tone.” It stands out to the ear more than any other note. The same applies when taking a lead. When you start in a lower register and move up, your solo will seem to grow. I encourage my guitar students to put on some backing music or jam with friends, and practice starting on lower notes and climbing to higher ones.

Volume

Obviously, the louder you are, the more attention you will draw. Practice increasing the range of volume you have on your instrument. Start with the softest possible sounds you can make, then get even softer. Build your way up to the loudest possible sounds you can make…and then get louder. There are so many ways to accomplish this task. Since I am a teacher, I’ll explain it like I do to my guitar students. Playing with your fingers (as opposed to the pick) is softer, for instance. Having your volume knob down and then cranking it up is a useful tool many guitarists don’t take advantage of. The pickup you use, adding distortion, and adding effects…they all can create more volume for you.

Voices

This is a piggy back to volume and applies mainly to those who can play more than one note. Two or more people singing at the same time is more powerful and dynamic than one. Although, I once saw a sax player record his lines and then harmonize it live. Try taking a solo with single notes and then add voices to it to make it grow. One of my biggest complaints to my students is that they often view the guitar as one block as opposed to 6 different singers that can be combined in any way. This different view of the guitar can be a very useful tool when trying to raise the dynamic of a solo.

Repetition

There is power in simple repetition. Repetition is simply a powerful thing. See what I did there? Haha! When somebody says something and they say it again and again, it tends to become more noticeable. Simply play a phrase and repeat it as many times as you feel. You’ll be amazed at how it will affect you and the audience. Anytime I’ve ever taken a guitar solo and repeated a phrase, the audience starts getting into it. The phrase is often easy, and I feel like I am cheating in a way…like I know something they don’t…haha!

Space

This is my favorite and one of the most important aspects of successfully growing a solo. Space is an often overlooked principle of music. The power of silence and patience is a virtue that all musicians need. As referenced in the last part, you cannot come out running. Practice playing a note or notes, and then wait as long as you possibly can to play the next note…and then wait a second longer. You’ll find yourself creating lines you normally wouldn’t make. You’ll also find yourself in control. You will drive the solo as opposed to the solo driving you. Then, as you organically begin placing more notes, the solo will climb in a very natural way.

What are you waiting for? Put on some backing music, or jam with your friends ASAP! Practice the principles of pitch, volume, voices, repetition, and space separately. Then, fuse them together to for a more complex formula to make your solo grow dynamically. Your playing will certainly benefit and you will get the crowd’s attention. Best of luck and happy soloing!

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”.

Scales

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.

Melodies

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.

Chords

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!

Check Out:
How to Solo Part 3

by: Matt Knox

How To Develop A Positive Practice Cycle

Five words that a music teacher never wants to hear: I didn’t practice this week.

The excuses:

Concession – “I swear I will practice twice as hard this week!”

Transference – “It’s my mom’s fault. She makes me go to bed too early!”

Overload – “I didn’t have time to practice. I had to do x, y, and z last week!”

The truth is that letting yourself off the hook when it comes to practicing can lead to serious problems. Not practicing one week leads to not practicing the next, and so on and so forth, until an entire month passes without any progress – or worse – perhaps even regression. Sometimes, the problem becomes so severe that you may give up entirely, believing that your schedule or a perceived lack of talent is too great to overcome.

Why do we do it?

While it is true that some weeks become too hectic to find time to sit down with your instrument, this circumstance is a rarity; the real problem is not time or skill, but attitude. Many students are hesitant to pick up an instrument because the small chunk of free time that presents itself (15 minutes here, 10 minutes there) seems inadequate to make any real progress. Discouraged, the student decides to hold off on practicing when the seemingly daunting task will be more manageable. What we fail to realize is that very few people will be handed a solid hour on a silver platter to sit down with his/her instrument. It just doesn’t happen.

What does happen, though, are those brief moments of freedom we experience throughout the day – the 15 minutes in the morning we spend waiting to leave for school or work, the 20 minutes we waste on the computer after school/work to give our minds a break, the 15 minutes before bed when we try to clear our thoughts for sleep. These are the moments we need to seize and use, the ones we can’t let slip away. They are short, but they add up. Though they may seem too brief to be productive, they aren’t – any time spent with the instrument in your hands will benefit you as a musician, and short burst of concentrated practice are arguably more effective than an hour spent half-practicing/half-noodling in one sitting. Keeping your mind engaged in your homework for the week will keep you focused and sharp, and will also build your confidence in what you are doing – this time, causing a positive cycle of practice that will draw you in instead of push you away.

Stay sharp, stay focused, and take advantage of those small moments. They may be the only thing standing in the way of your becoming the musician you want to be.

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!

Related Blogs:

Which Instrument Should I Play

Buying Your First Electric Guitar

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