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Sam's F.A.Q.

10 Handy Tips





These are some things I've picked up over the years, things I incorporate into my musicmaking, which I thought might benefit other musicians, particularly improvising musicians. They'd apply to musicians at all levels of development, but would of course best suit those in the beginner or intermediate stages. Hope there's something here for you:

    1) LISTEN. To all kinds of music. The best quality you can have as a musician is openness, so open yourself up to all the styles that are out there. It doesn't mean you have to like everything-you certainly won't-but you'll at least know it's there, which will enrich your musicianship in more ways than you'll realize.. Charlie Parker was supposed to have listened to music pretty much across the board: to jazz, classical music, pop and even hillbilly music. He's about as good a role model as I can give you here.
    2) Have another instrument you play besides your own. Actually most do, but if you don't, you would do well to take up another instrument. Horn players are always well -- advised to take up piano (at least a little bit), for both the visual and polyphonic elements. If you sing, and don't play anything, just like your horn player buddy, take up piano and learn as much as you can-that way you can accompany yourself(at least a little) and express your ideas better to the rest of the band. They'll love you for it, and I'll love you for it if I'm on the gig.
    3) Try writing your solos. That is to say, composing them on paper. I've done this intermittently over the years and a very good guitar player I know uses it in his teaching. As a matter of fact I took a lesson with him, where he had me do just that -- write out a chorus on a standard. And it does really get your ideas together. Much more concentrated, much less pure technical fluff (something all instrumentalists but particularly guitarists and trumpet players are notorious for).
    4) write out somebody else's solos. Some musicians swear by transcription as an essential practice: if music practice were weight training, it'd be the Bench Press. It's not #1 with me (I guess it'd be #4) but it is important. It's great for the ear, and you also really walk in that player's shoes a bit figuring out their stuff. Ultimately you want to walk in your own shoes but transcription will help you get there.
    5) avoid just playing out of patterns when soloing. we guitarists are probably the worst offenders here, since guitar is a visual, (at least potentially) pattern-oriented instrument, but no instrument is 'without sin', as it were. Listening to someone play just from a couple patterns is like watching somebody run across a room in a Flintstones cartoon (or for that matter, really any Hanna-Barbera production) in that you see the same background scenario over and over and over: tablelampchair / tablelampchair / tablelampchair. Personally the solos I most like to listen to are ones with a bit more variety, who at least use space better and thus make the music more interactive. which is what it's supposed to be anyway . . .
    6) Technique. It's good to have as much technique as you can, as it gives you the ability to play (and thus express) more different things on your instrument, a wider range of things. But it should be used in service of one's ideas, not as an end in itself. Technique is to one's musical 'organism' what the rational mind is to the human organism: a perfect servant and a lousy master! Listening to someone just displaying chops is much like #5 with the patterns. It gets old fast- at least to these ears . . .
    7) don't discuss problems on the bandstand. It's just as bad as the couple who have their marital arguments in the front row. (wherever you're playing, nobody there really wants to hear either.) that also goes for reprimanding anybody in the band. I once worked for a bandleader who chewed the ASS off his keyboardist and drummer after pretty much EVERY TUNE!. Right in front of God and Everybody in whatever establishment we found ourselves. Uh, not good. Embarrassing to band and patrons alike and probably jeopardizes possibility of future employment -- unless the clubowner is also (like the bandleader) a vituperative *sshole, in which case a match is made . . . No,. the time to run that stuff is after the gig-or, better, the next day. On the phone, or over an otherwise friendly beer . . . On second thought, make that ROOT beer. Alcohol can sometimes fuel a fire as far as music/band issues.
    8) practice music written for another instrument. This is something I got from a very good local guitarist, himself in more the rock/heavy metal vein(s), who used to practice violin music. Personally I found as a guitarist that clarinet music (i.e.method books, w/technical exercises) work the best, as the written range on the clarinet corresponds to the guitar. The thing about practicing music written for another instrument is of course that it's written based on a wholly different instrument than your own and thus the technical 'requirements' are like apples and oranges. You have to adapt your technique to a whole different instrument, which is sometimes easy and sometimes hard as hell. But practicing this stuff has improved my guitar technique. So it's something I can recommend.
    9) record yourself on gigs. A very good thing too. Like the camera, the tape doesn't lie (much as you might like it to ) and though your subjective interpretation may vary greatly, it still shows just how you sounded at that moment. So you can pinpoint any problems you might be having in your playing, or hear what you're doing right. You may not want to tape every single gig, but it's a good thing to do, here and there.
    10) don't put down other musicians. I don't care if you think they suck. Maybe they do, but they're probably doing their damndest, so why make matters worse? Plus, it always gets back to the person somehow, and they will dislike you for it. Also, the person you're telling this to will pretend to laugh along ('yeah, what a schmuck') but will figure,'hey they could just as easily be running me down too' and won't like you either. And I won't be too crazy about you myself. So you will have at least 3 people who'll be very disinclined to help you out should you need it.Better to be nice: encourage your fellow musicians, or if you can't do that, at least keep your mouth shut. In this wide world of musicians, there will always be those lesser and greater than yourself -- and with that, surely someone who plays so well they make YOU sound like shit. (no matter how good you are). It's all relative. So just forget all that shit and play!
If I had to boil all this down, I'd say #1 and #10 are the most important. Listen. And be nice. Both these things will take you far..