Plugging in your guitar is a no-brainer. You're smart, so there's no need to tell you something you don't already know. This post is a general primer for beginners who are just getting started.
First, it's best that you start by checking your amp to make sure the volume is turned down. Bad things can happen if your amp is turned up when you kick it on. By bad, I mean loud, destructive noise which can in some cases damage your speakers. If you are plugging in an electric guitar, you could also make sure it is turned down as well, just to be safe.
Next, inspect the cable you are going to use. If the ends of the cable have screw-on type connectors, make sure they are tight on both ends before you plug in. You should also check that there are no bent or broken connectors, frayed sections, or exposed wiring along the cable that will cause feedback or other electrical disasters.
After you have checked the cable, plug it into the guitar or the amp, ensuring a complete connection. You will often hear an audible "click" letting you know the connection is solid. Then plug the other end of the cable into the amp or guitar, whichever remains.
Now, go ahead and turn on the amp, and bring up the volume some. If you have levels 1-10 on the dial, try 2 or 3. If your guitar has a volume knob, now is the time to turn it up. Strum a few chords or play some licks and adjust as needed.
Following these steps can save you a lot of grief and possibly a lot of money.
This is a mini-series by guest blogger, singer-songwriter Kirk Douglass.
Previously we discussed where to go and what to bring for a good busking session. Today let’s consider some things you can do to make your vibe a little more polished and also discuss a couple things that most experienced buskers will tell you are no-no's on the street. As with anything pertaining to the arts, many rules can be broken, but it's much better to learn them first in order to determine which ones should be followed.
Most buskers will recommend standing. People like to know that you're really working it out there so standing helps A LOT. You'll also have more air if you're singing and mobility to move around which will really help your presence. Jam out and let them know you're working it. The more you do to excite what they're hearing the more enthusiastic they will become. These things should lend an air of professionalism to your vibe which is certainly something you want. People respect you when they know you're working hard.
Busking takes time. Don't overdo it but don't be afraid to take breaks either. Often times you won't see your first tip inside of the first hour. You'll almost NEVER see twenty bucks inside of two. Take a sip or two of water between songs. Set your instrument down and check your text messages every hour and a half. Play something instrumental or something that has a long intro every twenty minutes or so if you're singing. Three to five hours is a good busking session so it's important not to burn yourself out.
Interacting with passersby can be critical to your end-of-day earnings, so it's important to think about. Eye-contact, smiling, nodding, waving, saying hello, and dancing with those who dance by are all great ways to boost the likelihood of receiving a tip. Shouting out things such as crude jokes and phrases like “Gimme a dollar” or jumping into a private conversation will ruin some people's perception of you. Avoid these as it is important to maintain a good rapport with the entire community if you wish to have long-term success.
Most of what we've discussed so far is subjective. In most cases these are great rules to follow but depending on who you are and what you play some will make less sense than others. There is however one rule that, no matter who you are, you should follow at all times: Respect your environment. To quote Egon Spengler (Ghostbusters): “Don't cross the streams... It would be bad.” In good areas there will be bars or storefronts playing music as well as other buskers. If you can hear them, move down. I cannot stress this enough. If two pieces of music can be heard simultaneously, they both sound bad. If there is a panhandler standing give him/her some berth. Twenty to thirty feet should suffice. This just comes down to a matter of respect and community.
Entrapment is another thing to avoid. Pay mind to restaurants with patios and sidewalk seating. Some diners may appreciate your entertainment but there will always be the possibility of those who do not. If they're having a meal, unfortunately, your vibe could ruin it for them no matter how talented you may be. We don't want to do that so it is important to give a wide berth.
Once you feel ready to venture forth and conquer the street music scene, finding your own approach is the next step, so get out there and start playing! You'll find there are tons of little things you can do to affect how people perceive you. Everything from how you're dressed to what's on the ground around you contributes in some way to you as a whole busker. We'll talk about that more soon enough.
♫ Kirk Douglass
This is a mini-series by guest blogger, singer-songwriter Kirk Douglass.
Let's talk money. One of the first things people say when we begin to find ourselves in our instrument is “Open up the case and make a couple bucks!” Many of us are familiar with the proverbial subway singer but how does one go about becoming a troubadour? If you think it sounds easy, you're mostly right.
First things first: "Location, location, location." Finding a good spot is nearly as important as
knowing how to play your instrument, perhaps even more so when it comes to busking. Many people will toss you a buck simply because you're doing something productive. They won't, however, go out of their way to do so in most instances, so knowing how to spot a good place will go a long way in helping you to come home with a nice, jingling pocket.
Foot traffic is key. You want to set yourself up where people are walking. The best places are
leisure locations. Restaurant rows, movie theaters, venues, and shopping plazas generally have a steady flow of pedestrians, most of whom have expendable income which they are already intending to spend that day, so they may think "What's another dollar or two?" Business districts and transit stations generate plenty of foot traffic but these locations are often noisy and the people are just trying to get to work. They're looking to make money, not give it away. Also, the excess noise will make it difficult for you to be heard. Your dynamics matter, and if you intend on doing this often, blasting your sound as loudly as possible could cause your technique to decline, or worse: if you're singing as well, you could damage your vocal chords. A nice portable system is perfect for this scenario but that's a topic for another time.
Once you've found a good location it's time to pick out a good spot. Try to get there fifteen or
twenty minutes early. Walk around the area and see which side of the street people tend to be walking on more. You want to be where they are. Listen for noise, some stretches will be noisier than others. Finding a nice quiet spot will ensure that people hear you clearly and can appreciate your sound. The better they can hear you, the more likely they are to tip. Finding a wall to set up in front of will help with a little resonance giving you a little more "sonic" bang for your buck.
Now that you know what you're looking for in a spot, you should do a quick check to make sure
you have everything you need. Obviously you need your instrument and everything that you need to play it. A tuner, extra strings, a strap, and multiple picks if you use them. Try to find a nook or place on your guitar to stash an extra one while you're playing, in case it flies out of your hand. This way you can grab the spare and land your next chord in rhythm, skipping a beat or two if need be. Have faith that no one will notice. If you're already beginning to work as an artist, you should absolutely have a sign with you as well. Your name, your website, and your contact information should all be included in the design. Even if you're not really developing as an artist just yet or don't intend to, a simple thank you is a nice touch for your receptacle.
You will need a receptacle. Different buskers use different things for receptacles. Anything from a hat to your instrument case to a little cup are all great receptacles, although most buskers would recommend using your instrument case. It's one less thing to carry and it just has that vibe to it. Tossing a couple of bucks
of your own into the receptacle before you start helps people to realize what you're doing out there so don't be afraid to try doing that.
Armed with the knowledge of where to go and what to bring it's time to get out there and start
making money in one of the funnest ways possible. Busking is pretty straight forward. You stand on the street. You play music. However, there are some do's and don'ts to busking.
♫ Kirk Douglass
Musicians of all levels are often prone to developing bad habits. These can be devastating on our progress, as many bad habits become second-nature when done continually and on a regular basis. In order to get the most out of your lessons, learn to tackle these problems directly during your daily practice sessions.
1. Avoiding Technique
Much of the music we learn requires technical skills that need to be learned properly so that we can perform pieces with as little difficulty as possible. It is tempting to continue to practice music in ways that have become familiar or easy, thus bypassing the task of learning a new skill. When your instructor asks you to play a piece in a certain way, it is probably for a good reason. Be sure to pay close attention to any peculiarities specific to the music you are practicing.
2. Not Practicing Assignments
Always practice the pieces your instructor asks you to practice, and be sure to practice all your music during each practice session. Sometimes we get pressed for time, or forget, or just don't want to make the commitment each day, but we can't allow ourselves to fall into this mindset. Don't spend all your practice time on a piece you like when you have other music to practice as well. If you do, you will only hinder your growth and it may take a much longer time to learn the music you are assigned.
3. Giving Excuses
Try not to be a person who brings excuses to your instructor at lesson time. Everyone knows that we all will have circumstances that interrupt our practice time. Make sure to get all your practicing in, even when it means giving up something else to do so (like television for example). If something does prevent you from practicing, be sure to get your practice time in as soon as possible so you don't forget to do it. If you are always giving excuses for not practicing, you are only preventing yourself from making real progress as a musician. If you feel like your instructor is asking too much, then it is best to mention that at your next lesson so you can discuss your progress and create a strategy that will allow you to get the most out of your practices.
Can you think of any excuses you've given to your instructor (or to yourself) lately? Please share your bad habits and how you handled them below.
Properly caring for your instrument is always important, because doing so will extend the useful life of the instrument and often increase the time between more serious maintenance or repairs. But in severe weather, this is even more important. Extreme temperatures can seriously harm your instrument, especially stringed instruments.
I’m sure you already know that the solid materials used in our instruments tend to shrink as they get colder, and expand as they are warmed. Over time this back-and-forth action can seriously warp the instrument, rendering it unplayable. Keeping our instruments in an environment where temperature is constant is best, but of course this is often difficult to achieve. There are many reasons our instruments get exposed to extreme conditions. You may have to transport your instrument to a lesson, or take it out to get repaired. You might be playing a show or going to jam with friends. Sometimes you simply can’t avoid exposing the instrument to hot or cold conditions.
One of the best things to have is a case of decent quality. Most band instruments are kept in cases because they are broken down into smaller pieces for cleaning, transport, and storage. Likewise, most stringed instruments are also kept in cases that protect them from the elements.
I often see guitars that are unnecessarily subjected to extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, the guitar is an instrument that is often left out of its case (if it is kept in one at all), or it is kept in a cheap bag which offers little to no real protection from very hot or very cold temperatures.
I realize that the better cases are more expensive, but I look at it as a protection of your investment. Why pay hundreds of dollars on an instrument, but not bother to protect it? Maybe you have that kind of disposable income, but most of us do not. Regardless, many folks don’t realize that their instruments change as the surrounding environment changes. Ever been outside and stood in your swimsuit for 20 minutes on a cold day where the temperature is below freezing? I bet you aren’t used to that, and neither is your instrument! Be realistic. Understand that not protecting your instrument may cause it to become difficult to keep tuned, or even play. If your instrument doesn’t have a case, get one now! Make it a priority if your instrument is valuable to you.
Really good cases are "hard shell" cases and offer a padded interior that is often lined with a soft surface. Some even have built-in temperature and humidity gauges to help alert you to any changes in conditions inside the case. This is the best type of case. The next best option is to find a padded "gig bag" that has a soft outer shell, but still has padding for protection on the inside of the case. Cardboard cases are often seen with cheap guitars, and these cases are pretty bad. They're unreliable, often don't fit the form (shape) of the instrument, offer no protection from temperature, and very little protection from rain and humidity. Avoid this type of case unless you have no other choice. Even a case like this is better than no case at all, especially if it's snowing and 28 degrees outside! The worst type of cases are flimsy vinyl or polyester bags with no padding. NEVER buy one... in fact, if anyone ever offers one to you, I suggest you take it and immediately drop it in the trash.
Besides a good case, remember not to leave your instrument in your vehicle for long periods of time. On hot days, the sun can heat the vehicle and melt plastic and the finish or coat on your instrument. Yikes! On extremely cold days, the instruments can become brittle and even crack. If you are transporting your instrument on such a day, make sure you take your instrument inside with you, or drop it off somewhere it will be safe before you go elsewhere. I have often taken my instruments inside with me, whether it was work, school, meetings or whatever I had going on. Just remember to take it with you when you leave!
Does your instrument have strings? Detune all the strings while in transit in extreme temperatures. Colder air will tend to make the strings contract, which will put more pressure on the ends of the instrument. Cold air can also dry out the cork rings in your wind instruments, so be sure to grease the fittings if your instrument uses grease.
Vocalists, take care of your body. Do not breathe in very cold air if you can help it. Try breathing through a scarf instead. Colder air is generally drier, and will dry out your throat and vocal chords. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, but be careful - if you drink too much cold water on a cold day, you can lower your body temperature and thus lower your performance ability, not to mention increase your risk of getting sick. Take smaller breaths in cold air.Breathe through your nose if you are out in cold air; the nasal passages warm the air as it travels to your lungs. Having a hot drink will warm the larynx, but avoid beverages containing caffeine because they act as a diuretic and will dehydrate you faster.
When traveling in your vehicle, avoid the temptation to place your instrument in a position with the heat or A/C blasting on it. Extreme and sudden changes in temperature can ruin instruments just like prolonged exposure can.
Finally, remember that you want to gradually warm or cool your instrument once it is safely indoors. Open the case and let the instrument return to room temperature on its own before you play it. If you are a vocalist, spend 20-30 minutes allowing yourself to get warm before you attempt to sing.
How do you protect your instrument from extreme temperatures?
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It's that time of year. That's right - resolutions! Do you remember the last ones you made? Me either.
Most students will probably say that they need to practice more, and that's not a bad resolution to make. Just remember that by forming good practice habits, the quality of practices will become much better. Has your teacher asked you to do something over and over? Maybe you should put it on the list. Is there something you want to get better at? Add that, too.
Here are a few examples you might add to your list of New Year's Resolutions:
You see, a list is a good thing to have because it helps organize our thoughts. The next step is to act on it, and make those resolutions happen.
Whatever you decide to put on your list this year, be sure that your goals are realistic. Start small. Be determined to do the best you can to succeed. Strive for excellence in your music.
One of the most important things you need to address when considering music lessons is getting an instrument in your hands or the hands of your child. For the beginning student, the cost of the instrument is less important than the quality of the instrument. As students mature musically, they become aware of the craftsmanship of their instrument and may eventually outgrow the one they have been using. This will inevitably lead to the student looking to purchase or obtain a new instrument that meets their needs.
However, cost can be a major obstacle for many people, which often pushes them into a mindset of "what can I afford?" rather than "what is best for me (or my child)?" When possible, it is always best to ask for recommendations from professional music teachers prior to making a purchase or renting an instrument. Sadly, this isn't always an option.
So what do you do?
My opinion is that before you purchase or rent an instrument, you know without a doubt that you need to acquire one. The instrument you have collecting dust in the attic might be just fine for beginner lessons. Do you know someone who has an instrument you can borrow for a few weeks while you decide if taking lessons is what you really want? Ask them if you can borrow it, or if they know someone who has one that might let you play it for awhile. This really is the first step - determining the need to acquire the instrument. Music stores that also give lessons will oftentimes direct you to purchase or rent one of their instruments, even if the instrument isn't a good fit for you. This is because they rely on sales as well as lesson revenue. Be sure you trust the person you speak with at the store before you make your decision at these places. Many stores can give you very helpful information that will help you decide what's right for you, especially smaller local stores with a good reputation.
If you have already addressed this question seriously, the next step is to determine whether to rent or buy. You may not have the luxury of being able to rent in your area, but even if there are no music stores near you, there are always online dealers you can order from. Personally, I recommend trying out an instrument BEFORE you buy it, for many reasons, but if this is the only option for you then I suggest doing your research and read reviews on the instruments you're interested in.
Purchasing an instrument up front is the right decision for some people. If you know you're going to play for a long time, or you feel you can get a better deal by doing so, then buying an instrument might be the best way to go. If you own the instrument, you can always sell it later on if you no longer play it. You won't have to worry about monthly payments. You won't have to report damages like scratches and dents that happen from time to time. The best part is that YOU OWN IT, and the instrument is completely yours - you can do with it as you please.
However, owning an instrument means that if something happens to the instrument to cause it to become damaged and need repaired, you will have to take care of that yourself (take it to a shop, or do the repairs on your own). Unless you carry insurance on your instrument - and most people don't - you will have to front the cash to get the instrument into playable condition again.
Renting an instrument is the other option. When you rent an instrument, you often will be asked for a down payment and then you continue to make monthly payments for as long as you own the instrument. Damage can still happen, but your rental agreement or contract should spell out the details of repairs and maintenance. Pay close attention to the contract because you might end up paying for the damages incurred! The best part about renting is that there is a much smaller cost up front. You can walk out the door with a rental instrument in hand and then you continue to benefit from having that instrument as long as you continue to make payments.
The best option for renting is a "rent-to-own" program. These programs allow you to make your rental payments as normal, but each time you make a payment, a portion of that payment is applied toward the total cost of the instrument, allowing you to pay it off over time. Once you have paid for the cost of the instrument, you become the new owner of the instrument. There are disadvantages to this option as well. Depending on your rent-to-own agreement, you may end up spending far more than the instrument is worth. You need to determine this first, before you enter into any instrument rental agreement. The second drawback is that by the time you have paid for the instrument, it may be time to purchase or rent another one! This happens frequently with young students who literally outgrow their instrument. Renting an instrument might be better if you are concerned about your child needing a new instrument within a year or two.
There is no right or wrong answer here. The right decision is the one that best suits your needs (or your child's needs). You may find that by spending a few dollars on a cheap "toy" guitar from the chain retail store gives you an opportunity to discover that you really aren't as interested as you once thought (also very common with children). Or you may find that you really do want to continue to learn to play the instrument, and then you can move forward into a rental arrangement or purchase an instrument knowing that you've made the right choice. Unfortunately, cheap instruments are pretty terrible instruments to learn on... they're really designed as toys rather than instruments. But once you've made your informed decision, you'll feel more at ease parting with the rental fee or purchase price later on.
Finally, as a note of caution, I suggest spending time with any instrument BEFORE you purchase or rent it. During these moments you may find something needs fixed, or is the wrong size, or simply doesn't suit you. whatever you do, be sure to ASK QUESTIONS when considering your purchase. A little time spent before you buy will help you get the best quality instrument for your money.
I'm often asked what age is appropriate for a child to start guitar lessons. I completely understand where this question comes from, as it usually stems from parents who have heard other teachers recommend they wait until the child is older. There are reasons for this, and I feel I should address these first, as they are valid concerns on the part of the teacher.
To begin with, young children - especially children between 5 and 10 years old - have much smaller hands and fingers than their adult parents. Naturally this poses a problem if the instrument is a full-size guitar. There are half-size and 3/4-size guitars available from reputable makers that are scaled to fit a child's hands and the reach of their smaller arms. These guitars will feel much more comfortable to the child and they will find they are better able to 'handle' the instrument.
However, there is more to the concern than just the instrument's size. Young children are still developing their fine and gross motor skills, both of which are required to play the guitar - especially fine motor skills. If the child is not able to control their fingers and press firmly on the strings, they will not be able to produce good tone. Students need to keep their fingers arched and relaxed for relatively long periods of time (up to a few minutes, which is taxing on small hands that are not yet fully developed). One common workaround for this is to have the child play with nylon strings, which are generally slightly thicker than steel strings and far less painful for soft, young fingers.
Young children may also have difficulty reaching the frets on the guitar. Playing a note in the first fret and the third fret simultaneously can be a real stretch for them. One way to bypass this problem is by teaching them to play higher on the neck. This can be done while still teaching notes and scales and chords. Some teachers may opt to have the student use a capo, which raises the pitch of all the strings and allows the student to play higher on the neck of the guitar while still reading music intended to be played lower on the instrument.
Another concern is the attention span of young students. A 7-year-old should not be expected to be able to focus on much more than a short passage or two at a time. Some students are more capable of focusing their effort on playing than others, and the amount of music you give them to practice will likely vary between students. This is one of the most stressful factors for teachers of young musicians, and I feel is also the least important. Lessons are often structured in 30-minute sessions, which is fairly standard for private lessons and even many (I daresay most) college-level lessons. Understanding that your young student may not be able to apply focus for that amount of time is key to maximizing the effectiveness of your lesson. If a student becomes tired or disinterested during a lesson, it is time to change the focus. Perhaps move on to another technique or song, or integrate other concepts into the lesson. Puzzles that teach young musicians to recognize intervals might be a valuable use of that time. At the end of the lesson, you might go back and play through exercises the student has already completed, thus cementing those skills into their minds and giving them a sense of mastery over their musicianship.
Finally, a child's ability to practice regularly each week is a major issue. If the child is unwilling or unable to practice a reasonable amount of time, they will progress much slower than when they do practice, if they progress at all. If your child shows interest and demonstrates the ability to handle the responsibility that practicing requires, then they may do well with guitar lessons.
Having considered these issues, I've found that the only way to really know if a child is ready for guitar lessons is to put a guitar in their hands and see what happens. I know many well-meaning parents run to the nearest "Buy-Mart" and purchase a colorful and properly-sized, but poorly manufactured and barely tunable instrument. I do not recommend these guitars for anyone intending to use them for lessons. However, I do see the value in allowing a child to explore this 'toy guitar' to see how deep their interest really is before investing in a proper instrument. This way, parents can gauge their child's interest without spending much money initially.
I teach young children to play guitar and make accommodations with almost every student, including the methods described above. Each child will have different needs and abilities, though, so your teacher must take all of this into consideration. In some instances, a teacher may have to decline to teach a child. Making that call will differ between teachers, and if a teacher tells you they won't teach under a certain age, don't be afraid to ask why. They may even have other ideas for you that may be helpful.
So okay. Many of you understand how private music lessons are conducted. You pay a qualified teacher to teach you or your child and in return you pay a weekly or monthly fee, sometimes called 'tuition' to the instructor or music school.
But there are many folks who don't seem to understand why teachers set the rates they do. Recently, I wrote a short article in the Studio newsletter titled 'Where does all my tuition money go?' Here it is:
"The tuition paid by students every month covers much more than just the thirty minute lesson. It also covers preparation time and expenses for instructional materials, printing costs, office supplies and Studio expenses, incentives for students, bookkeeping, trips to local music shops, your instructor’s training and professional development, professional organization memberships maintained by the instructor, taxes, newsletters, travel expenses and vehicle maintenance, business license fees, website design and fees, Studio promotional items and advertising. They say that time is money, and in the case of a music studio, it is really true. All these things make it possible to provide quality lessons for all students. Rates and fees are kept as low as possible to keep them affordable and competitive."
There is a high price to operate a small music studio, and many teachers simply stop at the thirty minute lesson, effectively bypassing the higher costs associated with running an actual studio. You see, part of running a studio is running a business. Who pays the business fees and taxes? I do. Who pays for materials and printing and office supplies such as ink and paper? I do. Who pays for the internet connection and maintenance of digital devices? What about strings for guitars, picks and books and lesson materials? What about all the time it takes to personalize each lesson to each individual student? Advertising costs? That's right, just me. Did you I also pay for internet service provider fees, website hosting and email? Or how about the ever-rising gasoline prices I pay to fuel my vehicle in order to bring lessons to your home?
How is it even possible to keep up with all of that? You might say, "Just get more students." That's very hard to do if you only offer a thirty minute lesson and do absolutely nothing to promote your service. For private music teachers, it is a constant struggle to keep a studio growing.
When I restructured my payment policy in March, I abandoned the payment-by-week method and opted for a set monthly rate. That change means that now a student can expect 50 lessons per year and the cost increased only 60 cents per lesson. Sixty cents! That is not even enough to cover travel expenses per student. So far I have been able to keep my Studio tuition rates affordable, and comparatively my rates are on the low end. Incidentally, there are no plans for a tuition increase for the 2014 year at this time.
So the next time you hear someone beleaguer the cost of private lessons, go ahead and remind them where all the money really goes. Music teachers everywhere will thank you.
I'm excited to offer this blog as a new facet of the Studio!
My goal for this blog is to open up conversation on a wide variety of musical topics relating to music education, private instruction, musicianship, and private studio business matters. Whether you are a student or teacher, there is something here for you.
STUDENTS & MUSICIANS
Students will find many insightful posts here and are encouraged to comment on them. You don't have to be a student of Sean Carey Music to get involved! Anyone who visits this site can join in at any time.
Teachers, your input is valuable as well! Most of the topics found on this blog relate directly to teaching in a private studio, but many of them have value across the wide and diverse spectrum of music education. Your insights are valuable to all of us who teach music.