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.