Practice

July 27, 2013

Last night I played a gig with a great Adelaide singer, Tania Savelli, in a new duo we’ve started. (Soul Inc) We play covers of classic blues, jazz, and soul music.

We both run our own teaching businesses, and play weddings & event gigs too. We’re well suited musically, and have similar favourite genres.

Our duo is sounding good, however, I was reminded of a key important point about preparing for a gig. I must know the songs in the gig rep – thoroughly!  We both were comfortable with our song list (as far as the forms, chords, lyrics etc) but I personally found a big hole in my playing. I had my charts, so I thought I could ‘wing’ the songs I hadn’t played as much.

I ‘think’ that I’m good for any gig that may come up, and ready to tackle any song that I’ve heard a million times, even if I haven’t actually played it live much.

I played in a great duo ‘Black and Blue’ with blues/rock  vocalist Brett Littlefair for many years. We were tight, but that came from years of gigs together, and knowing each others’ style inside and out. I even knew which chord voicings Brett would use in songs, so I could try and add different tones. We rarely did songs at gigs without rehearsing them.  I think that is what led me to write my blog this week.

Sometimes I watch other musicians play songs on the fly, and they can do a reasonable job with it; making it groove, swing, rock or whatever. I used to think that I also possess this skill, but you know what? Maybe I don’t. It’s not a self-effacing thing either, it’s just being honest with myself. It’s okay to just ‘get through’ a song every now and then, but in the long term it can lead to frustration.

Example – we played ‘Superstition’. I have watched both Adam Rafferty & Pete Huttlinger play their incredible solo guitar versions of that song, so I thought I’d just ‘borrow’ some of their ideas, riffs etc. It didn’t work. The main problem was that they play it solo, and I was accompanying a singer. The verse riffs that I played were too ‘heavy’ underneath the vocal line, and it just didn’t suit. The other problem was that we did the song in F, and I remembered about 2 bars in that Adam & Pete play it in E!! Oops.

There are some players around who, like I said, can pull it off, and just make it work in any key, but last night was a wake up call for me. I play through many different types of exercises during my practice time, convincing myself that I need to keep my chops up so I can be ready for any gig, on electric or acoustic guitar. I do sight-reading, scales, arpeggios…..but, in all honesty, I don’t spend enough time on my actual gig rep for that week.

It’s so important to have a structured practice plan, and to be honest about your musical abilities. “Play to your strengths” (Tommy Tedesco’s wise words), and know when to make necessary changes.

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Find your own voice

July 18, 2013

Find your own voice.

Find your own voice

July 17, 2013

I often find that I compare myself to other solo guitarists.

It’s a bad habit to get into.

I have listened to so many fine players over the years, such as Tommy Emmanuel, Earl Klugh, Richard Smith, Adam Rafferty and Pete Huttlinger. These guys are heavyweights in the solo guitar world, and are highly regarded by many.
Trouble is, I ‘think’ I should play as good as these guys if I’m a ‘solo’ guitarist . I should be able to do it all, right? There’s that word – ‘should’.

When I practice, and make mistakes, I often berate myself and think thoughts such as ‘so-and-so wouldn’t do that’ … but in fact, they HAVE. And many, many times over. I started to slowly realise something : was I aiming too high, with the time available to me to practice these solo guitar classics? Maybe I was choosing the wrong material? Yes, I was. You see, in black and white terms, I just don’t have the time necessary to play some of the arrangements I was tackling in my woodshed!

I saw a segment on ABC few years back about Tommy Emmanuel, who said that he was asked to play with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, all dressed up in a tuxedo, and play some classical guitar favourites. He said no to the gig, as he believed he wouldn’t be doing any justice to the music, or offering anything new. Although he ‘could’ play the material if required, it just wasn’t him. I took a lot from that article, as it makes a strong point about finding your own style, and developing it.  Another point he made was that he said that he’d love to play some of Ian Moss’s guitar solos, but he can’t, because he’s not Ian Moss! The penny started to drop for me.

My Solo Guitar Style

When I began to get more solo wedding & event gigs more regularly, I rediscovered my passion for playing solo instrumental guitar. I felt like I’d finally found my own style, after being in countless bands in Adelaide for so many years.I was never 100% musically satisfied playing in bands, and towards the end I was quite bored with the ‘3 chord tunes’ I played over and over. These days I actually enjoy playing & practicing more melodic music. Playing songs that I like, and getting paid for it, is something that I’m grateful for. Sure, it’s background music I guess, but I’m finding that there’s gigs out there for me. I just don’t worry these days if I’m playing ‘Satin Doll’ and ‘Just The Way You Are’ instead of ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.  Another point is to remember that if I’m playing at wedding/cafes etc, I choose music that is ‘middle ground’, and the audience will know the melodies. I have recently taken most of the ‘guitar-y’ classics out of my sets, as the average patron just doesn’t know the songs, and hence I save myself a lot of wasted practice time and frustration. I still have in my sets a good mix of jazz, blues, pop and a little latin, and it’s more than enough to keep me practicing. The songs I choose now though are ones that are easier to maintain, e.g. I don’t stress too much if there’s an upcoming gig and I have to play that song.

So, to all you budding solo guitarists out there, sure, learn Classical Gas, Windy and Warm etc but don’t let it get you down if you aren’t cutting it as good as the big boys. Take some time to find other music you also like, perhaps arrangements that don’t take 3 months to learn , and that are within your reach for now.

There’s an audience out there for you, I guarantee it.

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