Archive for October, 2011

How to: Open Mic

Posted by Brian on 25th October 2011 in How to:..., Performing, Practice

One of the biggest and most important steps when learning to play music, is performance. Somehow, when people are listening to us play, everything changes. Songs that we can play perfectly and effortlessly in an empty room, become much more difficult when someone, especially someone unfamiliar, is listening.

Of course the first step is to play in front of family and/or friends. Just say, “Hey, I need to practice playing to an audience. Can you listen to this and tell me what you think?” And if you have friends or family who play music, do them a favour and ask them to play for you.

The next step, is to find an unfamiliar audience. And the best place to do that is at an “open mic” (also commonly called an “open stage”).

Now don’t be scared… they’re not a bad as you think.

People who go to open mics don’t go to be critics. They go to encourage. Most are participants, and the ones that aren’t are usually trying to work up the courage to participate. And yes, your first performance may well be a “train wreck”. But it won’t kill you. And that which doesn’t kill you…

Here’s how to prepare for your first open mic.

Check it out.

Find out as much as you can before you go. Are you allowed a certain number of songs, or a certain amount of time? Is it a “themed” open mic (i.e. bluegrass, celtic, etc.) or is it truly “open”. If it makes you more comfortable, go and check it out once before you perform, but take your instrument, just in case. If someone asks you to play, its okay to say, “I’d like to listen a bit first.” But if they ask again later, don’t say no.

Prepare.

Decide which songs you’re going to play and practice, practice, practice. If you want to perform standing up, practice standing up. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice blindfolded. Videotape yourself. Watch the video. And practice some more.

Perform

Play your best song first. It’s not a concert. You don’t need to save the best for last. Playing your best song will maximize your comfort level.

Don’t bail out. Even if your first tune goes horribly, stay with it. The longer you’re up there, the more comfortable you will get.

Stay until its over. If you can, stick around and listen to other performers. On top of being courteous to the other performers, there is a very good chance that someone will come around and thank you for coming out and encourage you to come back. If this doesn’t happen, its not you – it’s them. Find another open mic. Also, try to complement or encourage at least one other performer.

Evaluate

You will probably be your own worst critic. Don’t wallow! Try to pick just one thing that you will try to do differently next time. Think about what other performers did that you liked, or didn’t like and try to apply those things to your next performance.

Go Back

Finally, no matter how well, or poorly, it went. Try again. If you didn’t like the “vibe” of that open mic, try another one. But make sure that you try again – it will be easier – and it certainly won’t kill you. And that which doesn’t kill you…

 

 

At What Age Can a Child Start to Play Guitar?

Posted by Brian on 19th October 2011 in Beginners, Guitar, Relatives of the Guitar, The Instrument

It is a question that I get a lot and, as with most things, the short answer is, “The younger, the better.” Having said that, there are challenges for the young beginner. The biggest one being finding a good quality instrument that fits.

Unlike the violin, it is hard to find a decent quality guitar in any size smaller than what is known as a “parlour-sized” guitar – about three quarters of the size of a typical guitar – usually suitable for a child who is eight to ten years old, depending on their height. Most guitars smaller than this are nothing more than toys, not really useful for learning anything meaningful. But there are exceptions.

How can you tell the difference between a toy and a proper instrument?

The first clue is where you are shopping. If you’re not in a store that sells musical instruments, and only musical instruments, then you are probably buying a toy. The second clue is price. There are bona fide music stores that sell toy instruments simply because there is a market for them, but if you ask, they will probably recommend something of better quality. Generally, for a new instrument, you need to be spending at least $200 to get something of decent quality.

An excellent option for the very young (or very small) beginner is a baritone ukelele. A baritone ukelele is slightly larger than a regular ukelele and it’s four strings are tuned to the same pitches as the four highest strings on a guitar. (For those who don’t know, the “highest” strings are the ones closest to the floor – the thinnest ones.) You can usually get a decent baritone ukelele starting at about $150. To truly mimic a guitar’s tuning, you would need to replace the “fourth” string – the one furthest from the floor -  with a thicker string that can be tuned an octave below the standard tuning of the baritone uke. (The distinctive tone of ukeleles comes from the fact that the fourth string is tuned to a pitch between that of the first two strings – an octave above what you might otherwise expect.) Replacing the fourth string can easily be done by the salesperson in the store.

Also, a regular ukelele would make a great starter instrument. The tuning is different, but the “intervals” between string pitches are consistent with the guitar and the skill of playing is fully transferable. Good quality ukeleles usually start at about $100 – though some ukelele courses are able to provide decent instruments for $60-75 as part of the course, because they buy in bulk and don’t necessarily have the overhead costs.

I have also seen instruments known as guitar-leles – basically a six-stringed ukelele. However, I have never laid hands on one that I would buy. Any that I have picked up have been terribly intonated (meaning that the notes don’t sound correctly as you move up the neck), despite having reputable brand names and being sold in reputable stores. I would avoid these instruments, unless you are knowledgeable enough to make a good judgement or someone you know can go with you to check the instrument first.

In fact, having a knowledgeable friend accompany you is always a good idea. Don’t be afraid to ask, because most musicians are quite happy to have an excuse to take a trip to the local music shop. And shopping with someone else’s money is always a treat.

 

 

Down To The Bass-ics

Posted by Brian on 11th October 2011 in Ear Training, Music Theory, Musicianship, Relatives of the Guitar

A while ago I was asked if I would be willing to play bass guitar in an upcoming musical at my kids’ school. At the time I didn’t own a bass, but said that if they could find me a bass to play, that I would be willing to give it a try.

As luck would have it, not long after that, I found a bass that was being sold on consignment at my favourite music shop. It was affordable and playable, so after getting clearance from everyone who might have concerns about such a purchase, I took the plunge.

Playing in the musical was a ton of fun and the kids did a great job. And since then, I’ve been playing bass regularly in the “jam band” that I meet with from time to time. That’s been a lot of fun too.

And while I am a firm believer that dabbling in other instruments will never make you a better guitarist, I am now persuaded that playing other instruments can make you a better musician.

In this case, it has helped my ear greatly, which has always been one of my weaknesses. I have a much better sense of the important intervals (major  third, minor third, fifth, and dominant seventh) because playing bass is mostly about playing arpeggios (chords played one note at a time), and these are the intervals that form those arpeggios. It has also forced me to get to know my fretboard a little better, especially on the D and G strings where I have always had a tendency to just “fake it”.

I’ve also discovered that kids think that bass is way cooler than guitar.

Cool!

Finally!

Grace in Small Things: Guitar Edition

Posted by Brian on 5th October 2011 in General Music, Grace in Small Things, Guitar, Journal

You are hereby challenged to find the joy in small things, because life is short and love is large.

GraceInSmallThings.com

Grace In Small Things is a website that encourages us to look past the noise in our lives and look for grace in the “small things” – those day to day moments of joy that we sometimes forget to acknowledge and appreciate. This strikes me as an excellent idea, so I am going to take up the challenge with a musical “Grace in Small Things” drawn from the last week or so.

Here we go:

1. The realization that one day soon I will have a Don Ross tune in my repertoire – not there yet, but barring a God-sized intervention, it will be.

2. Being sufficiently inspired to start learning another Don Ross tune.

3. Attending a guitar teacher’s workshop and learning that there is still much to learn.

4. Working on learning it.

5. Jamming until the wee hours with great friends who also happen to be great musicians.

Video of the Month: Kevin Horrigan

Posted by Brian on 1st October 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitarists, Video of the Month

Another product of the guitar program at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Kevin Horrigan also took first place in the 2011 Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Championship.

Update (October 10th, 2011): Kevin was kind enough to write and provide further biographical information:

Kevin won the 2011 International Finger Style Guitar Championship in Winfield, KS, as well as the 2011 Canadian National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship in Kingston, ON. Kevin is the only person to have won first prize at both competitions. He graduated with High Honors from UW-Milwaukee in 2008 with a BFA in Finger-style Guitar Performance, studying Finger-style with John Stropes, and Classical with Rene Izquierdo. While it may not be immediatly apparent in his music, his favorite genres of music are Roots Reggae and Afrobeat, and his favorite band is The Fleet Foxes. Kevin is currently working on his debut record “Self Oscillation,” which will consist of 12 original compositions, including Lion’s Lament. At this point, it is an independent project. DOB: 7/21/83

Here is Kevin playing “Lion’s Lament”:

 

Kevin Horrigan’s website: www.KevinHorrigan.com

Kevin Horrigan’s YouTube channel: www.YouTube.com/user/heddykevy