A few years ago I was talking to my family doctor about my immune system. I was afraid it was crashing because a least once a month I would catch a new bug. During our discussion he asked about my teaching job. Yes, teaching unfortunately puts the teacher and the student in a situation where germs can be spread quickly. At that time I was freely tuning and playing instruments that didn’t belong to me. Not to mention the repair work I was doing on those old worn out instruments that had been handled by who knows who over the years. The doctor recommended I use caution when handling someone’s instrument other than my own. From that day forward I try not to play or tune a student's instrument. When working on used repair work I often wear rubber gloves to prevent the spreading of any germs and it has reduced my sick days.
As we are all faced with the world-wide COVID-19 crisis I thought this would be a great subject and one that nobody is talking about: how to protect you and your family from the unnecessary spread of germs in the music world. So, let’s look into some things I have learned over the many years.
More and more our society is pushing for more products that are antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral. Some also prefer to say STERILE. Our bodies by design of God were not meant to live in a sterile environment. We as children (and if you're from the same generation as me) grew up playing in the dirt, eating bugs, and countless other things. We drank from garden hoses, made mud pies, and shot spitballs in school. As a result of our childhood play, our bodies and immune system became stronger. Keep in mind that total sterility is a brief and short moment. A lesson I learned from my old paramedic days is once a sterile object has been handled or exposed to room air it is no longer to be considered sterile. It will only remain antiseptically clean until used.
Most germs cannot live on a hard surface for a long period of time. Some die simply with exposure to air. However, certain groups of viruses are quite hardy (like coronavirus) can live on metal, wood, or plastic for up to 3 weeks. Musicians must be concerned with their instrument hygiene to prevent the spread of these unwanted germs. Music stores, music teachers, or anyone who comes into contact with exposed strings and equipment are more susceptible to infections from instruments that are not cleaned or maintained properly. The sharing of instruments is a widespread accepted practice in my profession which could very well lead to the sharing of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
So what can each of us do to help stop the spreading of these germs? Online lessons are great...I had to throw that one in there, LOL. However, maintaining good instrument and equipment hygiene is simple and easy.
As we all are facing a long road ahead of us due to the coronavirus and we must work together to help prevent the spread. Follow ALL recommendations of our federal, state, and local officials. Stay home if possible. Wear your protective mask and gloves when you must leave home and wash your hands often to help keep us all safe and well. I hope this post has helped us all realize that germs are everywhere but we all, even musicians, can do their part to prevent the spread and keep us all safe.
Taking Local Music To The World.
As a young child, one of the greatest gifts I would ever receive was the gift of music lessons. I owned my first instrument, a guitar, at the age of five. I was self-taught until the age of 11 when I started taking banjo lessons in Vertress, Kentucky under the wing of a great man and banjo player, Milton Emberton. I learned everything I knew about the guitar on my own and from fellow players and family. It wasn’t until I started banjo lessons that I realized I had been missing out on some valuable knowledge and I had so much more to learn. Music has always been important to me even from an early age. You see, I was an only child growing up and music was how I replaced that empty void of no brothers and sisters in my life. Music soon became my best friend growing up and a lifelong friend as I became an adult. I never dreamed I would become a professional musician or a music teacher one day.
Back then we didn’t have the learning tools available in today's world. I’m sure my mother and dad got really tired buying needles for the record player we owned because I would spend hours trying to hit that one spot on those old vinyl records to hear that one chord or hot lick again. Television was also a great learning tool back then. We could only get three channels on the old black and white but every time I could find a music show my eyes were glued to the screen to learn something new. Yes, many things have changed since then. We now have the technology to learn right under our fingertips on the internet--but is it better? I’m not sure. I still think the greatest musicians come from a background of personal one-on-one teaching from a private instructor. I believe nothing takes the place of learning hands on from someone who has perfected their instrument. Just seeing a song performed up close and personal is so much more gratifying than watching a recorded image on a screen. Let’s look at the reasons I feel personal music lessons excel over being self-taught with books and videos for becoming a skilled musician.
by Steve Hall
Board Member, Official Kentucky State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest
In baseball, when a player is called up to pinch hit, he’s generally a big hitter and everybody expects him to deliver better than the feller he’s hittin’ for. When I thought about that for a moment, my excitement about stepping in for Terry quickly faded, because this feels more like bringing in the pitcher in place of your power hitter. I’ll take a swing at it, but chances of a hit were far better with the other feller. I look forward to Terry’s posts, and he does a great job every time out. I reckon if you’re reading this, he either didn’t have time to write anything himself, or he decided this was good enough to sit amongst his work. I’m gonna assume the latter and feel good about that.
By way of introduction, my father, Jodie Hall, was the founder of the Official Kentucky State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest, held at Rough River for 4 decades. Terry asked if I could share with his readers a bit about how the contest came into being. Well, when Terry Strange asks for a favor, you’ve gotta step up to the plate. So here goes. The first contest was actually held at the Grayson County fairgrounds in Leitchfield on July 4, 1974. But its roots go back way yonder past that, plumb back to the 1930’s and 40’s.
Dad was born in 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression. His family lived in western Hardin County, at the Breckinridge County line, near the head of Rough Creek. Times were hard, more than most of us can comprehend today, and music was hard to come by. Today, we have instant music, anytime, anywhere. Back then, you had to seek it out or play it yourself. This often involved walking several miles on a weekend to a house where they were having a dance. I don’t know how everybody found out about a dance back then, but they did. And boy did they ever turn out for it! In rain, snow, and bitter cold, pert near everybody in the community would show up at the house, and they’d move all the furniture out of the sitting room and dance til mornin’.
Dad’s Uncle Joe played the fiddle, and Dad grew up listening to him play and call square dances. Dad learned to play the guitar, mandolin, and several other instruments, his brother Staley played the bass, and when their little brother Reedy was finally big enough to play, Dad taught him how to chord the old piano in the front room of their home. Reedy and his band, The Kentucky Ramblers, would go on to start the Lincoln Jamboree in Hodgenville, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Friends and neighbors would visit and often stay a few days, and most every night concluded with a jam session. Dad could play most anything, but his true love was the fiddle. He never was a great fiddler himself, but he surrounded himself with great fiddlers and loved playing with them more than anything in the world. His best friend Leonard “Ragweed” Best in E’town, Lonnie Peerce in Louisville, Bud Meredith, Herman Alvey, and his buddy Randall Meredith in Leitchfield, all were great friends he picked with every chance he got.
So when Dad attended the Tennessee Valley Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in the early 70’s, he found his calling. He decided if they could do it in Athens, Alabama, then they could do it in Leitchfield, Kentucky, and he set out to figure out how a feller would do such a thing. Dad knew he was gonna need a lot of help, both promoting and emceeing the event, so that was his first task.
Leo Mudd was a brassy young KSP trooper making a name for himself in those days, and he was perfect for the job. Only problem was, Leo was promoting and DJ’ing Leitchfield’s big-time disco dances – hey, if you were there, you know they were actually pretty darned great for little ol’ Leitchfield - so a fiddlin’ contest wasn’t exactly gonna turn his head.
What Leo did care about was people, especially youth and folks with special needs. He was heavily involved in the March of Dimes and T.A.P., the Teen Action Program, which was a group of teens who volunteered to serve others in their community. Dad got with Leo and told him his idea, and they decided the fiddlin’ contest would serve to raise money for the March of Dimes, and the M.O.D. and T.A.P. volunteers could be the event staff. That turned out to be a beautiful marriage, and the partnership lasted for many years, with many of the same folks working the contest for years to come.
After Leo came on board, and a host of volunteers with him, they were ready to go. They held the first contest at the fairgrounds just down from our house in Leitchfield, and from all accounts, it was a pretty good start. The following year, they decided to move to Rough River and take advantage of the natural amphitheater by the tailwaters below the dam. The 4th was a pretty big weekend for the park already, so they suggested the 3rd weekend in July when they didn’t have anything else going on.
Dad and Leo went to Frankfort and had the contest named the Official Kentucky State Championship, and in July of 1975, they held the 1st official state championship. It was modeled after the contest in Athens, Alabama, that had provided the inspiration.
Tough times followed and the contest wasn’t always a success. I clearly recall a year where Dad announced it was probably their last, and a feller got up out of the audience and turned his hat over on the stage and put some money in it. Most everybody in the audience followed suit, and bailed them out of a bad year. Through times like that, just like our friend Terry Strange, Dad’s love for music and his desire to share it with others drove him to stay the course. Lifelong friends like Leo Mudd, Brent Miller, who took the reins as coordinator when Dad needed to step down, and all the music friends he made through the years are a testimony to the rewards a life full of music can bring.
If your life isn’t filled with music - real music, played on a real instrument - then maybe it’s time to give my buddy Terry a holler. You never know where it might lead. Uncle Joe made a choice to play the fiddle, and the impacts of that choice are so far reaching they are simply immeasurable.
Thank you Steve for sharing with us the history of the Official Kentucky State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest. Please visit the official website of the championship for news and information http://kyfiddler.weebly.com/.
I remember watching an episode of “Little House on The Prairie” on television many years ago. Commonly during the show, the Ingalls family was struggling for money and Pa Ingalls was trying to sell his beloved instrument for cash. During the haggling process, the storekeeper declared that the instrument was a country item called a “fiddle”. While on the other hand Mr. Ingalls insisted that the instrument was a “fine violin”. The distinction between the two has been a topic of many a shade tree conversion and most still today struggle to understand the difference between the two, if any.
Just like most, I grew up hearing all the stories that describe the difference between the two. I was told that the difference was in the strings. A violin is played with “strings” and a fiddle has “strangs’. I was also instructed that a violin was carried in a case and a fiddle was carried in a sack. I guess we could go forever with the stories and jokes that have been told over centuries about the beloved violin or fiddle. So, what is the difference? Does it depend on a certain musical style or is there a physical difference between the two instruments?
Over the years I have grown to love this instrument. Even though my playing skill still suffers greatly today I love to hear its warm tones and the soft touch of someone who can play it well. One of the best in my area is a good friend of mine, Mr. Ben Probus. He amazes me every time I hear him play. His skill on this instrument is a testimony to the beauty that can be found in this complex little instrument. When Ben plays along with other great players in their field I believe that the instrument becomes both the violin and the fiddle because of their skill, gentle touch, and style. In fact, there is little or no physical difference between the two instruments that I can find.
Both the fiddle and the violin have the same main components: a body, neck, and peghead with scroll work. The scroll work may differ from one maker to another. You will find anything from human faces to animals carved in the peghead to replace the scroll work but the construction of the two is still the same. Both have their strings supported by a bone or wooden nut at the top of the neck and a wooden bridge between the two F shaped sound holes. You will find that both use a sound post inside the instrument to carry the vibration of the strings from the bridge and out of the sound holes. The tuning pegs may differ from the more original ones, just basic friction pegs to more modern ones with bearings or gears. The chin rest and the tail pieces can be replaced with more modern and fancy ones but they still serve the same purpose. So, we now know it's not the components that differ. It must be something else.
I have found over the years with a lot of reading and research that the only difference between a violin and a fiddle is in the setup and the style of music that is played on them. The setup is definitely different depending on the style of music played. A classical violinist often plays a musical piece written by another composer. Therefore their playing will be very precise and accurate with very little or no freestyle playing and usually playing only one string at a time. So the bridge of a violin used for classical music will have more arch to the top or angle than its close relative the fiddle. Fiddle players like myself often change the angle at the top of a bridge to flatten it down so we can easily play double strings or notes called double stops and drones.
The bowing styles between a fiddler and a violinist may also differ as well as fingering techniques. A fiddler may play very fast but never leaving what is known as the first position. A violinist is more likely to utilize the instrument’s entire range of sound playing in all positions of the neck. Another definite difference between the two might be the position it is held. A trained violinist will always hold the violin under the chin in a proper playing position while a fiddler player may also hold it against their chest area or free from resting it at all. None of these differences can be considered better than the other. All of these setups and techniques are just distinct ways to perform on the instrument.
Call it what you may, violin, fiddle, or even the devils box; this wonderful instrument has touched our lives and has helped form music into what it is today. No matter what style is played or how it’s played the violin or fiddle has and always will contribute to the musical worlds rich diversity and wonderful sound.
Taking Local Music to The World.
In 2011, an Irish guitarist, Dave Browne set a new world record for the longest guitar session ever. The talented guitarist played non stop for 114 hours, 6 minutes, and 30 seconds between the 12th and the 17th of June. Back in 1985, the guitar player for the Reynolds Family Bluegrass Band played non stop (other than mandatory bathroom breaks) from 6:00 pm on that Friday until the following Sunday morning to win a new guitar. That I know to be a fact.
In 2001 a British musician, Chris Black, fell so madly in love with his red beloved Fender Stratocaster that he married it after 35 years of dating. He named his new wife, Brenda the Fenda. The ceremony was held in a church in London and was officiated by his friend. Now I do love my Fender guitars but…
The first ever Stratocaster which actually came with the serial number #00100 was sold by a good friend of mine Mr. George Gruhn of Gruhn’s Vintage Guitars in Nashville Tennessee for staggering $250,000. In 2014, George sold the 1954 sunburst-finished Strat. The current owner remains anonymous and all George would reveal was the new owner lives in the US and is not a professional musician.
BB King famously named his guitar Lucille. The reason? One evening while playing a dance in Arkansas, two men began fighting over a woman. The result of the fight was a barrel of kerosene was knocked over causing a huge fire. Once outside, Mr. King realized he had left his prized Gibson inside, so he darted into the fire to save it. The following morning, he christened his guitar Lucille which was the name of the woman whom the fight was over.
Most people know that Bill Monroe is a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee but did you know he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Mr. Monroe was a true mandolin master and kept a rattlesnake tail inside of his mandolin to keep the mice out of it and absorb excess moisture. He taught me this trick himself and I keep three tails inside my mandolin today.
In order to increase the interest in buying mandolins, manufacturers hired salesmen who established mandolin orchestras in small towns that encouraged people to buy them. Some of these early musical groups still exist today.
The first stringed instrument that Orville Gibson (founder of Gibson Guitars) built was actually a mandolin, finished in 1894. He also invented the archtop guitar, based on a violin design.
Mandolins evolved from the lute family in Italy between the 17th and 18th centuries. The deep bowled mandolin was produced particularly in Naples and became common in the 19th century.
The banjo originally came from Africa as a folk instrument. Joel Walker Sweeney (1810-1860) was the first professional musician to play a banjo while performing in minstrel shows. Also I think his playing was a huge influence on the great Earl Scruggs.
Willian Boucher (1822-1899) was the earliest commercial manufacturer of banjos. The Smithsonian Institution has three of his banjos from the years 1845 to 1847. Boucher won several awards for his violins, drums, and banjos in the 1850’s.
The banjo had been referred to in 19 different spellings, from “banza” to “bonjoe” in the early 19th century. Around here we just call them banjers.
After the 1850’s the banjo was increasingly used in the US and England as a genteel parlor instrument for popular music performances.
The Jazz Age created a new society craze for the four string version of the banjo. Around the 1940’s the four string banjo was replaced by the guitar.
Some things you might now know about the violin
The most expensive instrument in the world is the Lady Blunt Stradivarius violin. It sold in 2011 for $15.9 million.
Most people consider playing the violin an intellectual pursuit. However, a violinist can burn around 170 calories per hour. That’s equivalent to about one soft drink!
The word “violin” comes from the medieval Latin word “vitula”. What makes this one of the funniest violin facts is that oddly enough, the modern Latin translation of vitula also means “female cow.”
The main body of the modern violin contains 70 different parts. In high quality instruments, these parts are all made from a variety of woods.
Even though Mozart was a prominent pianist and composer, he also played the violin. In fact, Mozart’s father began his son’s musical training on the violin.
The violin and fiddle are the same instrument. Even though the term “violin” is more often used in connection with classical music and the “fiddle” with Irish or folk music, they are in fact the same.
ral music fun facts
There is a very unusual orchestra in Vienna, Austria which uses instruments made from vegetables. They have been playing their bizarre music program for almost two decades and at the end of each concert the produce is used to cook soup which the group serves to the audience. Boy, talk about “Will work for food”.
Scientists have discovered that different frequencies in sound have an effect on how we taste foods. Now hold on; this one gets better. The theory has proved to ring true so much that the well known ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s even produced a line of ice creams with QR codes on the cartons that would allow consumers to access flavor- enhancing music. Ben and Jerry’s weren’t the only ones to test out this music theory. Researchers at Berne University of Arts found that cheeses aged to various types of music can bring out various types of favors. Cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor than cheese that was not. I found this very interesting. The study also found that cheese that was exposed to Hip-Hop music had a much stronger odor and flavor, making it the favorite of all cheeses tested.
Leo Fender is known to all of us as the genius inventor of the legendary electric guitar. His models from the Stratocaster to the Telecaster were and are played by the most famous string musicians in the world. Fender has written music history with these instruments. The ironic fact is he himself could not play guitar.
Music greatly impacts and boosts our capabilities. Listening to music while reading or learning something could trigger the learning. Research has shown that you memorize things in a better way with music playing, as compared to complete silence.
Just as we suspected, according to a French study, music stimulates drinking. While a man needs an average of 15 minutes for a beer while listening to soft music, he only needs 12 minutes with loud music. Well then, Cheers!
Rock n Roll meets wildlife. Termites love rock music. Say what??? According to Australian researchers, they eat wood twice as fast when they are exposed to heavy metal music. The vibrations in the wood encourage them to nibble at high speeds. Try this one with your lunch when you’re in a hurry. Just don’t blame me for the stomach ache!
For every $1000 of music sold, the average musician only makes about $23. Now you know why musicians work such long hours.
A 2001 study found that cows produce more milk when listening to relaxing moo-sic. Sorry I couldn’t resist that one.
The first and only band to play on all seven continents is the heavy metal band Metallica.
I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have been putting it together. If you know any music facts we haven’t heard yet feel free to leave a comment on our website. We all would love reading about them.
Taking Local Music to The World.
I remember years ago when I first started playing a guitar we would venture to our local Western Auto store a few times a year. Now for you younger children of the music world a Western Auto store back then wasn’t just a place to buy auto parts. For a small child like myself…it was a wonderland. Not only did they carry auto parts but also toys, guns, bikes, tools, and yes, musical instruments. Back then we didn’t change strings as often as we should have due to the cost and the travel into town to get them but when we did it was special. And for those of you that can remember the so called good ole days, yes I did play Black Diamond strings back then.
As a teacher I get asked all kinds of questions every day about strings. So in this blog we will take a close look at the most talked about and most neglected part of a guitar--the strings.
Many years ago guitar strings were made either from wire or gut, often called catgut. Now I never understood why these strings constructed of animal parts were referred to catgut when they almost always were made with the intestines from sheep not cats. Today strings are divided into two basic types, steel or nylon. Steel strings are used for electric and acoustic guitars while the nylon strings are mainly used for classical or flamenco style instruments. We will be spending most of our time on the steel string and how it’s constructed.
The steel guitar string is manufactured in three different types. Most of us will not recognize a couple of these but to us grey haired musicians we have probably used all three in our day. Because it is impractical to make thick plain strings, the top three strings on the guitar, E, A, and the D string are wound and sometime the G may also be wound. The central core may be either round or hexagonal. With the steel strings, the core is made of steel and with nylon strings, the core is made of nylon. The material used by string manufacturers to wind this type of string varies. This material, known as the winding, can be yellow, white, or silver metals ranging from stainless steel,nickel, gold, or silver. Either white or yellow strings can be used on acoustic guitars although most pickers like myself prefer yellow bronze or brass wound strings. Only certain strings can be used on the electric guitars with magnetic pickups. These are the magnetically responsive white metal wound strings. Neither yellow metal strings or nylon strings will work on an electric with magnetic pickups. The shape or profile which the winding gives the wound string will vary according to whether the string is roundwound, flatwound or groundwound. Roundwound strings are what we most commonly use in today’s world of music but the others are still available if you’re willing to put some research into finding them.
These are the most common strings on the market today as I noted above. To produce the three and sometimes four strings, the steel or nylon core is wrapped round with a long continuous length of round wire. The winding is done automatically by a machine that spins the center core. Roundwound strings produce a good tone and volume and, when new, give a clear ring that is suitable for both acoustic and electric guitars.
I’m sitting in the third center row from the front and my view of the stage is perfect, excited from weeks of waiting to finally get to hear this band play. They are introduced and come on stage only to immediately kill any enthusiasm I had. It looked like they finished their last minute clothes shopping at the local Goodwill store. Their pants are ripped and their tee shirts are faded and torn. One male member of the band was even bare footed with painted toenails. Clearly their disheveled hair hadn’t been combed, cut, or washed recently. While their stagemanship was good, the music well-played, my first impression of them destroyed any good thoughts I will ever have for their music. No, I’m not talking about the newest and hottest hard rock band but a country/folk band.
I guess you can just call me old fashioned but whatever happened to the days when a performer entered the stage looking his or her best? What happen to looking good in the public eye, making a good first impression, etc? Music artists and performers today are going on stage in front of thousands of fans looking like they put no effort into grooming. I have a hard time understanding the new look of today's musicians and their appearance. This week I will try to convince every new act and some old ones to look their best while performing in front of the ones that truly bring them their paycheck, THE FANS.
Looking back thirty years I remember when I first got hired as a banjo player. At that time of my life I never wore a tie and only had a few pairs of dress pants to my name. I soon learned that when performing professionally the first thing the public notices is your appearance on stage and it will be the last thing they remember. In my new band all the members believed in looking their best at every show we performed. Coat and tie was mandatory for every gig we played, even the small ones. Throughout the years I spent in this band I realized they were onto something that led us toward the road to success. People's first impression of you on stage is so vitally important and most modern musicians overlook this small but essential factor. At every show we played over the years we received great complements on how well we played and how professional we looked doing it. Just the fact that we looked top notch made us feel more successful than we were at the time and confidence was communicated to the audience through our music. It was a chain reaction I soon learned to appreciate and use to my advantage in all areas of my life.
Most people don’t enjoy being classified, particularly musicians, but you have to see your dress as part of your identity. First impressions aren’t soon forgotten. Clothes alone won’t make or break you but making a good impression should be a priority if you want your career to have any longevity at all. Now if your still reading this I am guessing you’re a paid musician or someone who wants to be one and you and I both know that being one isn’t as glamorous as most people think. By choosing the right wardrobe for the right genre of music we can make a brand for ourselves, feel confident on stage, and even convince our audience that our music is better than what is actually is. The main idea is if you want to be treated as a professional musician you should always look the part on and off stage. By dressing like a professional you will notice that you gain more respect and get a better reaction from every person you come in contact with.
In my teaching career before I met my wife I used to think differently. I would dress in bib overalls or blue jeans and didn’t put much thought into my attire. After we dated for a few months I began to notice she dressed very professionally even on her days off from her job. We have had many a good conversation on this subject and I have come to realize that she was right. If you dress professionally you get treated professionally with more respect from everyone you come in contact with. She was totally correct in her reasoning and demonstrating the principle “Dressing with dignity shows others you respect yourself and them”. Then I remembered the days performing in front of crowds and being in the public's eye and realized that why our band’s look was so important for us. I am not performing much these days but I now view my daily attire as a teacher differently than before and found it works.
The cost of the clothing isn’t the issue and you don’t have to go into debt to look your best. Certain music deserves certain attire to look good when performing. Let’s look at a few simple things you can do to improve your own or your band image while on and off the stage.
First, always remember that what you wear is an outward reflection of the kind of people you want to attract to your music and your respect for them. That’s one to ponder on for awhile.
Second, whatever outfit you choose to wear make sure it’s clean. Unwashed, ripped, or stained jeans aren’t going to help you make a good impression. It doesn’t prove to people you haven’t sold out—actually it says quite the opposite, that you have no goals and ambition. Shoddy clothes bring shame to you and your family.
Third, make sure your clothes are appropriate for everyone, including children, to see. This requires a little common sense on your part.
Fourth, always, both on and off stage, come across as totally professional in your appearance. Remember what I said earlier that if you want to be treated as a professional, look like a professional.
Fifth, always make sure your style reflects the music you are representing. Little effort and a lot of thought should go into this final suggestion. It goes without saying that rockers shouldn’t look like a jug band or vice versa.
After many years I have realized that being a professional musician requires not only many hours of hard work and dedication but it also requires a good image in the public’s eye, both on and off stage. We should take great care of how we look no matter where we go or what we do to keep that special image working in our favor.
Taking Local Music to The World
You can hear from back stage that the place is a sold-out crowd. Ten minutes before show time and your stomach feels like you just swallowed the back tire off a school bus. You anticipate it will be a great show if you can just get through it in one piece. You've practiced for hours, getting every note smooth and your music set is in order. You know you can do this and the time has come to face the crowd and that microphone. The M.C. announces the show is ready to begin and calls for the curtain to open. And just like that you're ready to present yourself on stage for the first time in front of hundreds of people. You have entered a new world and a new direction in your life, a world only a few select ever get to experience but ALL want. You have just become a Professional Musician. This week we look at how to cross the line from amateur to pro and be prepared when that great moment arrives.
For most of my twenties and into my thirties I went from one lifelong dream to another. During that time, I was playing in a really good band that was receiving a lot of exposure in the music world. Working a full-time job and being booked to play almost every weekend was a dream come true for me. You see, I started playing music at the age of five. Even at that young age I loved the excitement and thrill of the performance. At the age of six I was taking my guitar to school on a regular basis to perform for my classmates. From that moment of my first school debut I longed to get better at my craft and desired to someday play as a professional musician. So, not knowing that later in life my dream would become reality, I worked very hard and long hours to improve my music.
What does it take for you to become a professional musician? What steps must you take to work towards that goal? Well we will explore what I think just may help you succeed.
First, if you want to be a pro in your field, you're going to have to break the terrible amateur habit of looking at what other musicians have without paying attention to what they did to get it. Chasing the results without understanding the process or labor they went through will lead to a short-lived career and failure. A really good friend of mine and a very well-known professional musician once advised me early in my career “Don’t do what I do. Think like I think if you want to make it in the music world.” That proved to be some very good advice. Here are other things I have discovered over the years that just may help.
Amateurs have to be wait for clarity. Professionals take actions.
What do I mean by that? In my case, I spent way too long waiting for someone to call me a musician before I was willing to act like one. In time, I learned that clarity came with action and action produced clarity. We MUST perform our way into professionalism. One thing I have to renew in my life daily but learned years ago is we must first call ourselves what we want to become then get to work on the mastery of the craft. Not only must you constantly improve our skills on our instrument of choice but we have to look and act the part of a professional.
Amateurs want to just arrive. Professionals want to always get better.
“We are all apprentices in a craft no one ever masters” goes the saying. Some just get better at it faster. For the longest time I just wanted to be recognized as a musician. It wasn’t until I started teaching and performing around true masters that I realized just how little I knew and how much I still had to grow as a musician. Your goal should always be to grow from a good musician into a masterful and creative one. Make your own path and style and become different at what you do. If you don’t do this, you delude yourself into thinking you’re better than you really are which is the fastest route to failure.
Amateurs just practice as much as they have to. Professionals never stop even to the point of it becoming painful. It’s just not enough to show up every day. You have to keep challenging yourself, keep pushing beyond your limits. This is the true key to growth in music. I remember over hearing a conversion between my Dad and a blind student I once had. The student asked my Dad if I was always able to play so precisely. His answer was immediate, NO. He explained “Yyou don’t know the nights his mother and I laid in the room next to his and prayed to God that he would learn that lick or song he had repeated over and over thousands of times or he would just give up.” What am I trying to say? You have to practice, practice, and practice more. Eat, sleep and live with our instrument as if it has become attached to you. Always remember this important fact. Practice doesn’t make perfect--perfect practice make perfect.
Amateurs jump at their dreams. Professionals build bridges.
It’s not about the giant leaps of faith or getting your big break like most people think. If you’re waiting on that to happen you might want to pack a lunch. Once again, it’s all about the daily practice to improve yourself better than anyone else and develop a style of your own. Look at it as if it was more of a marathon than a sprint. Commit to your practice time and make every minute count for something. You have to make goals for yourself and see them through.
Amateurs fear failure. Professionals crave it.
You will have to have many failures on your way to success. I can promise you that. I have failed and disappointed myself time and time again over the years. Remember that it’s a natural thing to fail. The important thing is that we as musicians learn how to grow from it and move on. What a professional knows that others don’t is the failure can teach you more than success ever will. Truly successful musicians use failure to move forward in their careers and don’t look back.
Amateurs just want to be noticed. Professionals just want to be remembered.
You have to care more about the legacy than the ego. Most of us and yes, I include myself in this, sometimes are too focused on the big break instead of delaying immediate gratification in exchange for long-term success. Immediate gratification is what most musicians seek, hearing the response of the crowd and seeing a good reaction to a show well played. Yes, that is very important to every musician out there but don’t let the moment overcome you. Don’t let the success of the moment make you overbearing to the people or musicians around you. Keep in mind that you're in this for the long haul. Don’t become so wrapped up in your success that you forget to recognize and thank the fans and the people who put you there. Always take time after your performance for the fans and maybe they will always remember your kindness and most important remember YOU!
I hope this was some use for you and you understand that being in the spot light sometimes isn’t what it seems. Being a professional never is an easy road to travel and it takes a ton of work to keep it productive and exciting. Hard work and smart decisions will help make your dreams come true.
Taking Local Music To The World.
Ok, it’s around 1976 and for the first time I am taking my hobby of music and sharing it with whoever will listen. I’m now on stage almost every Saturday night playing my banjo, fiddle and, when asked, my guitar. I’m now an Opry performer. Yes, that’s right, an Opry performer. During the 70’s I played the Opry several weeks each month. Not the famous Grand Ole Opry farther south of Elizabethtown but the famous “Small Town Opry” in Rineyville, Kentucky. It was a wonderful show each and every Saturday night with sell-out crowds almost every week. Other regular performances I appeared where I could sharpen my skills as a young musician was at all the music jamborees throughout the state. I also was a regular for the local square dancing Club, “Hardin County Fair Squares” and still managed to find time to play in a band of my own. At these parking lot square dances they would fill local supermarket parking lots with huge crowds, using a hay wagon for a stage and filling the parking lot with square bales of straw for makeshift seats. The music and fun would continue throughout the night. That was a wonderful time in my life and little did I know that the knowledge I learned from those early shows of my career and the musicians who played them would benefit me the rest of my life.
It was there that an old seasoned musician recognized that I didn’t understand music theory and taught me one of the most valuable pieces of information a musician can receive--The Nashville Number System. We would sit backstage before and after the show and during our breaks. He began to explain chord progressions and numbers to this young player and how that knowledge would make me a better musician. I will admit it took a few months for the light to come on but it eventually did. Over the years this knowledge has helped me become a better musician in the recording studio and on stage. So let’s look at the most overlooked fundamental subject of the music world and why so many beginners refuse to learn or just aren't taught.
Where did the Nashville Number System come from? My research indicates that one of the first groups to use this system was The Jordanaires, the famous gospel group that provided the back up vocal tracks on most of Elvis Presley’s gospel albums. Later this method was greatly improved by Nashville’s famous harmonica player, Charlie McCoy. The numbered system is a trick used by seasoned musicians to figure out quick chord progressions and patterns on the fly. While it has been used by musicians for many decades Nashville eventually received the credit for this music system. I think it was because of its popular use in recording studios across the south and Tennennee in particular. The beauty of this system is you need not a masters degree in music to use it and you DO NOT HAVE TO LEARN TO READ MUSIC.
Over my teaching career I’ve developed my own approach to teaching the Nashville Number System that I use for my younger students with good results. It seems that this method also helps the older student to catch on fastier to its uses.
The music scale consists of seven notes, EFGABCD and there are seven numbers in the system. Each note or chord as we will refer to them as has assigned numbers for identification. Now it’s important for you to know that a group of chords that go together in harmony is referred to in music as a chord progression. I like to teach that the word progression means a family of chords that go together like a household family. The three most important members of that family being, Mom, Dad and the Kids. Mom or the main key that your playing in is number 1. Dad being the second chord in the progression or family is number 4 and the children become our number 5 chord. For instance, if we want to play any song in the key of G, G will become the number 1 chord. Number 4 will be used for the C chord and number 5 for the D. See example below,
1 4 5
So, the numbers 1,4,5 tell us the three main chords to any progression we may want to play. With this being said it also makes changing keys in a song easy and fast. This can be applied to any key by always using the main key of the song as number one and counting or saying the letters of the musical scale as if saying your A,B,C’s. Remember 1,4,5 is the main body of the family you wish to build on. Now these numbers can be arranged in any order but one of the most popular progressions used on thousands of songs is the old standby of 14151. That would translate into GCGDG.
That covers the three most important numbers in the system so let’s look at the other four out of the seven. In a lot of cases a song will have an odd or mysterious sounding chord. This is often the minor chord of the progression, known in the music world as the relative minor. There’s another word that means family: relative. Just backing up my earlier statement about the family unit of numbers. So, an easy way to find the relative minor in any key is the Nashville Number System. It will always be the number 6 chord. See example below,
1 45 6
The E chord is the relative minor for the G progression called E minor. Please note this also works for any key you choose to play in.
Now we have covered four of the seven numbers in the system. Let’s explore the second chord in the system or the number 2 chord. The general rule I was taught years ago is if there is a number 2 chord in the the song 99.9 % of the time the number 5 will follow it. The number 2 chord in this family can be like an aunt or uncle. Some students refer to it as the Grandmother of the family. Grandparents aren’t immediately part of your main family but are seen often. That’s like the number 2 chord in our number system. I have played thousands of songs over the years and I have found this to be true almost every time. One example I can give and you will understand easily is the key of G. Anytime you play the number 2 chord in that key the number 5 will follow. If you’re an experienced musician you will understand the point I’m making. If your a beginner, the important thing to remember is 5 after any 2 will almost always lead to success in finding the next chord played.
The chord progression for Amazing Grace in the key of G:
1 4 1 1 2 5 1 4 1 6 5 1
G G7 C G G A D D7 G G7 C G Em D G
Remember, in music theory the 7th chords can be played between any two major chords.
Well, we have now covered numbers 12456 in the Nashville Number System. Let’s look at the only two left. Just like the number 2 chord we reviewed earlier the number 3 and the number 7 were taught to me in this manner.
Look at number 3 and number 7 as second or third cousins in your family. You don’t see them very often but they are a part of the family. The only exception to this is in Bluegrass music. We Bluegrass musicians use the number 3 and the number 7 chord a lot. I think these chords along with a capo are what gives bluegrass that high lonesome sound. I’m not saying these numbers or chords can’t be found in other styles of music but are more common in Bluegrass and old time music. For example:
Little Maggie ( Bluegrass Standby) Key of G 4/4
1 7 1 5 1
G F G D G
The Old Home Place ( Bluegrass Standby) 4/4 Capo second fret Key
1 3 4 1 5
G B C G D
1 3 4 1 5 1
G B C G D G
The Nashville Number system has so many more uses and I could write for hours on them. We have only covered the main basic lessons here. I hope you will take the time to study the Nashville Number System and learn all you can about music theory. The two combined together will produce a great musician and will help you learn a new song and new progressions quickly.
Taking Local Music To The World
We can all agree that music has a massive impact on our lives because it’s everywhere we go. It has the power to alter our mood and change the whole feel of a room at any moment. Today I will try to look at just why is it that this sound is so important to us? Imagine that moment when your favorite song comes on the radio, or a piece of music is played you love so much that you remember exactly where you were the first time you heard it. That’s one of the things that makes music special for me and I know it does you as well.
Truthfully it’s a fact of life that we don’t all love every kind of music. It’s that specific taste that sets each of us apart, so much so that many of us would even go as far as saying we couldn’t live without our music of choice. I started playing music at the young age of five, learning everything I could about country guitar and its players during that time. I know at the exact I heard a five-string banjo for the first-time bluegrass was going to be my music of choice. Something inside of us longs to hear or produce that magical sound that stimulates our very soul.
Now over the years my love for all styles of music has matured and grown. I can enjoy great classical music event right down to a good country square dance. The wonderful thing about music is as musicians we appreciate and admire all musicians and their individual styles. Unlike other pleasures in life, music has no immediate value, but with so many different genres it can reach out and move so many different people in all kinds of ways.
One of the strongest statements I heard is there is no barrier in music because music is a medium through which anyone can speak. There are no language or age barriers because it is a universal language. Several years ago, I had the honor of hearing a singer with a marvelous voice sing a spiritual number in a local music store in the German tongue. Even though I couldn’t understand not one word of his performance the tone of the music moved me to the point that I fully understood every word. Point proven that music is a universal language.
Through tones and vibrations our minds receive messages from music that we process as good and bad. Each of us has developed our own music taste with this individual but natural sorting process. For example, I have never understood or liked some of the so-called hard rock or rap music. Something about the tone and the way it’s performed has no effect or appeal on me at all. But I love the sound of what is called today vintage rock or southern rock. I grew up listening to it all my life and that brings me to another point I wish to make. Even though I can’t find any material to back me up on this statement I feel we often choose our musical preferences on what we heard the most growing up. If you were raised around a big city or exposed to hard rock or rap music more than likely you will lean toward that style of music the rest of your life. Not saying we can’t or won’t change our taste later in life but more than likely the tones we heard even in the womb before our birth steered us in our musical direction of today.
Have you ever noticed regardless of the genre, when the right chords are combined most of us will get goose bumps or a chill up our spine? The scientific term for this reaction is “frissons”. We can also get these by just looking at a piece of art work or watching a movie but are more common in the sounds produced by music. Why do so many people get the chills when the music is just right? Researchers tell us that because music stimulates an ancient reward pathway in the brain, it encourages dopamine to flood the front of the brain. This is a part of the forebrain's reaction caused by an activation of things like addiction, reward, and motivation. Certain music has always had that effect on me as I know it has you. Music can be a lifelong friend, our companion in life's travels. It can motivate us like nothing else can and is a huge part of our everyday lives.
No one really knows and we may never know the true answer to that question, “What Makes Music So Special”. I do know that music moves each of us in our own unique way. It can bring on happy feelings along with sad ones and we should all learn to appreciate all the different styles and the musicians who make this possible.
Taking Local Music To The World.