Nov 22 2010

Ten Tips for Guitarists Playing with an Orchestra

Playing the guitar with a  professional, symphonic orchestra is truly one of the most exhilarating musical Ten Tips for the Guitarist in the Orchestraexperiences I’ve ever had. The sonic and timbral output from an orchestra is huge – much more so than a jazz big band (or most heavy metal bands, too ) and when you are a part of it, it’s like being intoxicated in a joyous musical brew of awesomeness!

Here are the things that have helped me succeed when playing engagements with professional orchestras.

1. Review Your Parts Before the First Downbeat
Most orchestra personnel managers or librarians will arrange to have you pick up or send you the music  one to two weeks ahead of the first rehearsal. After receiving the music, the first thing that I do is look for the guitar features and play through them, working out fingerings, page turns, etc. Then, I look for anything else tricky in the music like time signature changes, fast, cut time sections, challenging tutti parts, etc.

After I have the musical requirements clearly in my mind, I look at the instrumentation so I know what guitars and gear to bring to the engagement. (electric, acoustic, nylon string, etc.).

2. Arrive at Least One Hour Before the First Rehearsal
Get to the first rehearsal super early because there could be a lot of unknown challenges waiting for you when you arrive. Because most orchestras do not have guitarists playing on a regular basis, the spacial and technical requirements needed by guitarists is easily forgotten by the orchestra sound technicians so be prepared to work with what you are (or aren’t given).

3. Bring the Right Gear and Prepare for any Contingency
Bring your own preamps and direct boxes, if you are playing acoustic guitar and also bring a high quality amp that you can plug into as a personal monitor. (I use a Roland JC-77). if you are doing any electric guitar work bring a small but powerful guitar amp, preferably with a line out. I like to use a Twin Reverb with a small pedal board when I am being mic’d from the amp and a Fender Princeton Recording Amp when going direct. Also make sure that you have a clean power source or at least bring a power conditioner and RF choke with you, just in case.

4. Bring Pencils and Erasers
You’ll most likely be scribing notes onto your charts during the rehearsals so have a few sharp pencils and an eraser handy. The changes could be fixes to errors that made it into your part or the composer or conductor may call some audibles at the rehearsal.

5. Overdress at the Rehearsals
Remember that you are the “new guy/gal” and making a good first impression with everybody in the organization is essential to your continued participation with that orchestra. For example, if the rehearsal schedule contains any dress rehearsals, come dressed in your prescribed performance attire. One of the orchestras that I work with lists dress rehearsals on the schedule but the musician attire is casual for all rehearsals. At the first rehearsal I was decked out in a tux while everyone else was dressed in shorts and t shirts. A few of the  musicians later  told me that they appreciated the fact that I cared enough not to take any chances and over dress for the rehearsal.

6. Have a Clear View to the Conductor
Make sure that you can see the conductor and make sure that the conductor can see you.

7. Keep Your Eye on the Conductor
Unlike playing with a click track in the studio or a metronome, playing under the direction of a conductor can mean subtle tempo fluctuations during the performance of a piece so keep your head up and your eyes on the conductor so you can catch any tempo fluctuations.

8. Bring Plenty of Business Cards
You will be expanding your musician network with every personal contact that you make in the orchestra so be prepared to accept and give out several business cards.

9. Be a Ball of Focused, Positive Energy
Nobody wants to play with a musician that’s overly serious and stoic so be joyful and have a great time at the rehearsals and performances. People like being around happy people so be happy.

10. Express Your Gratitude & Thankfulness
Make sure that you express your gratitude for being asked to play with that organization. Most of the time the orchestras’ hiring manager is a musician in the orchestra so be sure to tell him/her that you enjoyed the opportunity and would welcome future engagements.

Oct 6 2010

Increasing Your Earnings While on the Road

Ever since the current recession has taken hold, the gigs that we’ve once taken for granted are no longer there. Many of us are going out on the road for the same amount of time and for less money. In my situation, this is mainly due to less routing engagements – Not a good thing. The routing engagements are where most touring bands pay for their traveling expenses. So how do we recoup our lost income and actually come home with more money?

Offer More Services to Your Customer
Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that businesses need to understand and meet the needs of their customer in order to survive. As your customer changes, your business needs to be there with the services your customers need, when they need them. There are more and more baby boomers out there everyday, reacquainting themselves with the instrument that they once played back in the day, looking for a pro like yourself to reignite their passion for music.

Our primary service, as guitarists, when on the road is providing a live musical performance. As we all know, many of our customers are also aspiring musicians themselves checking us out in hopes of learning something and getting inspired.

For years, I would have people come up to our band members at a performance and ask “Hey, can I get a lesson the next time you are passing through town?” There are a lot of semi-pro and amateur guitarists out there that would love to pick your brain when you are passing through their city or town either through a guitar class or a private guitar lesson provided by you.

With a little bit of preparation and networking, you can incorporate a profitable, traveling guitar education program into your touring schedule, right in the city or town (or en route to the city or town) where the gig is happening.

Here’s How I Did It
Contact the venues on the upcoming tour, along with any music societies, libraries, churches, music stores or music schools along the tour path and pitch your “lessons on wheels” program to them. You can also collect contact information from the people who have expressed an interest in a learning opportunity with you and then pass that information on to the hosting venue close to where they live.

Guitar Lessons on the Road

Guitar Lessons on the Road

All you need is a quiet, small to medium-sized room with chairs and music stands. Ask the participating venues to collect the tuition and provide you with your payment on the day of the class. Most venues or organizations can provide these simple requests and materials without a problem.

Your program will add value and prestige to the host venue and the community. I usually give 20% of my gross earnings to the hosting venue so they make something, the community gets the benefit of your program and you have just increased your tour take-home pay for that tour.

Sep 10 2010

Little Walter would of loved the Epiphone Valve Junior

During this last summer tour with The Bill Lupkin Band, there were some big changes in the transportation department. The band van passed on to a better place – the scrap yard in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We replaced it with a much smaller vehicle, which saves us some fuel expense but also created space issues for us and our gear.

I usually travel with my Marshall 1974X, housed in it’s road case but with the smaller vehicle, comfort and space is at a premium so I started looking at possible alternatives to the 1974X. I picked up an unmodified  Epiphone Valve Junior head, and paired it with a Mojotone 1 x 12 cabinet loaded with a single 16 ohm 20- watt 12-inch Celestion G12M-20 “Greenback” reissue T1221 speaker, connected with a Monster Cable #SP1000S3. I was using my 1962 Gibson ES-335 on the gig.

I tried this rig on our last tour, with the first date at The Fat Fish Blue in Cleveland, OH. We started the set with Little Walter’s “Aw, Baby” and man, I was blown away with the tone. It was exactly the tone I’ve been hearing on those Little Walter recordings from the ’50s with Dave and Louis Meyers on guitar. I can get a more refined version of that tone with my 1974X, which I dig,  but this rig dished out that raw, spongy tone that comes from those small wattage amps that were prevalent in the ’50s. The Valve Junior head has  4, 8 and 16 ohm outputs so just about any speaker cabinet will play nicely with it.

One caveat: At times, the Valve Junior can get a little “farty” with a guitar with humbucker pickups;  I solved this by changing my attack or lowering my guitar volume – Problem solved.

I highly recommend checking out the Valve Junior if you play blues, rockabilly, early swing, or any other music that requires some subtle to not-so-subtle gritty overdriven tones.  It’s a great little amp that for me was a perfect addition to my amp collection.

Sep 8 2010

Teaching Your Guitar Students While on the Road

As working guitarists, we all love going on the road and playing gigs. It’s a rich part of the experience of being a professional musician and we all have such great stories to tell when we return home, right? Like many of you, when I’m not on the road, I maintain a modest roster of guitar students and give weekly private guitar lessons and teach a few guitar classes.

Whenever I was about to go on the road, I would have to either cancel my guitar students or reschedule them prior to my departure. Neither of these options were ideal for myself or for my guitar students – I would lose that income and my students would lose momentum and in some cases drop from my guitar teaching roster. And if you are like the many guitar teachers who rent guitar teaching space, going on the road can mean the end of your profitable guitar teaching income.

I solved this problem with Skype, a HD webcam and a laptop. Since most hotels, motels and lodges have free WiFi, getting connected to the internet has not been an issue for me while on tour. You can also get a USB modem, if you have the space in the tour bus to do the lessons while traveling. I’ve used my USB modem quite a bit when I’m out of the country or whenever the hotel doesn’t have an internet connection available. Here’s what you will need:

Gear Required

  1. Laptop Computer
  2. HD Webcam
  3. USB Modem (optional)
  4. Skype Account
  5. Skype Documentation

Here’s how I did it:

Get a good HD webcam
You don’t want to skimp on this. Remember that your guitar students are used to face-to-face interaction  with you so the closer you can get to that experience the better. I use this HD video webcam and it works great for delivering guitar lessons. You can see a great review on HD webcams here.

Create a Skype account
If you don’t have a Skype account already, sign up for a free Skype account here. Your students will also need a free Skype account in order to participate in the lessons.

Download and install Skype software
Download the free Skype software here.

Launch Skype from your laptop and sign in
Use the Skype username and password that you created when you signed up.

Fill in your profile and add a picture of yourself
From here, you can upload your profile picture and add some other information about yourself.

Add your guitar students to your Skype contact list
Click on  “Contacts”, located in the Skype application menu bar. From here, you can add your guitar students.

Video call your guitar student and give the lesson
Click on “Contacts”, located in the Skype menu bar. From there, locate your guitar student and double-click their name. Then, click on the video icon.

That’s all there is to it. Now when you are on the road, you aren’t losing your teaching income. In fact, you can also extend your teaching reach by offering your guitar lessons to students located outside of a comfortable commuting range.