In a Band? Take a Lesson from Bob Dylan

There’s no one quite like Bob Dylan. After all, it’s hard to compete with a recording career of over 50 years, a long list of achievements and awards, and spots in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

But if the idea of pop princess Kesha covering a Dylan song doesn’t seem right, you may want to stay away from the newest 4-disc compilation “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.”  The project features newly-recorded Dylan covers by 80 artists, including Adele, Sting, Dave Matthews, punk rockers Bad Religion, country duo Sugarland, hip hop artist K’naan, and – yes, we’re not joking – Kesha.

Throughout his career, Dylan shared his talents and influence with fans all over the world, appearing on numerous television programs, headlining several music festivals, and touring extensively around Europe, Australia, and the U.S.  If you have a band of your own, it’s important to follow in Dylan’s footsteps – that is, get out there and start playing more shows.  Whether it be street performing, neighborhood gigs, or European tours (dream big!), here are 3 great reasons to play live:

1. You’ll Make New Fans
Fans – or your fans-to-be – can’t get excited about your music when you’re playing it for yourself in your rehearsal space, no matter how good it is. Recordings are good – and important – but there is nothing quite like a gig to really get your fans enthusiastic about your music. Think about your own experiences as a fan – are you ever quite as keyed up about music you love as you are when you walk out of a really great gig? A good live experience just makes your fans more loyal to you.

And what happens when your fans are loyal? They tell their friends. They bring their friends to your shows. Some of those friends will become your fans. And then they will tell their friends. And so on and so forth until you need to book a bigger venue to cram them all in.

2. You’ll Hone Your Craft
First of all, don’t shy away from playing live just because you’re not 100% sure you can hit every note without a flub 100% of the time. It’s fine to play when you’re a little rough around the edges – in fact, in some genres, getting too slick will lose you fans.

But the more you play live, the better you will get at it. Your sets will become tighter. Your confidence will grow. Getting comfortable on the stage is a crucial skill for a musician to have, and no, it didn’t just come naturally to all of your favorite bands. It’s something that takes practice, just like everything you do as a musician. You will only get better from show to show.

3. You’ll Open Doors
Live shows are the ultimate in networking opportunities for musicians. At every show, you have the chance of meeting (and making a good impression on) new bookers, promoters, music journalists, musicians, managers, agents and more. Even if, say, the local DJ you meet at your next show isn’t the one to put your new song in heavy rotation, maybe the journalist they mention your show to gets curious, seeks you out and writes a story about you. Maybe the manager of another band on the bill passes your music on to a label. The possibilities are endless – and every new face at a show is potentially the face that will make THE difference in your music career.

Not convinced yet?  Let us know your thoughts, comments, and questions by leaving a comment! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

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5 Tips for Smooth and Efficient Guitar Chord Transitions

Beginning guitar lessons is an exciting thing – learning the notes, building your first chord, and of course, playing your first song.  However, it’s not all sunshine and roses.  Learning to play takes commitment, practice and the motivation to get over some common beginner hurdles.  First, the painful process of building calluses can drive many to stop practicing.  Second, there’s always that awkward stage of learning to seamlessly transition to different chords.  You know the drill –  practice makes perfect.  But here are some additional tips from Teachstreet.com to help with switching chords:

1. Keep your fingers as close to the fret board as possible.  When that pinkie and third finger start flying out in space it takes longer for them to come back down.

2. Build your chords from the bottom string up.  For some reason a lot of us get in the habit of building our chords from the top down.  Like in an open C major chord, starting with the 2nd string, then 4th, then 5th.  The problem with that is your pick is going to hit the bottom strings first, so get those notes placed first.  That extra split second will give you a chance to get the last top bits of the chord in place.  I know it seems like a negligible amount of time, but you’ll be surprised how it can improve your guitar playing.

3. When moving from one chord to the next, move the finger that has the farthest to go first.  For instance, in moving from G major to C major in the open position, your first finger has to move all the way from the 5th string to the second.  Lead with that finger and you’ll find that your other fingers naturally pull along behind to end up close to their intended frets as well.

4.  Stay relaxed and let the natural movement of your hands help you get to the chord.  Believe it or not, the guitar is actually designed very well to accommodate the natural movement of the human hand.  When you use tip #3 and lead with the farthest finger, your other fingers will follow along behind it naturally and you can get them to settle in the right place.  If you tighten up they won’t move as naturally, so stay loose.

5. Keep your right hand moving.  The way your brain works has a lot to do with how your hands react.  As a beginner, your brain is giving you permission to stop in between chords and rationalizes it as “we’ll get it eventually.”  It’s normal and happens on a subconscious level.  You can easily change that by setting up a dissonance in your brain.  That means presenting your brain with a problem it needs to fix.  Here’s the way it works:  You brain loves when your hands are moving together.  So if you force your right hand to keep strumming, no matter what happens in your left, your brain will want to solve that dissonance by making your left hand move faster to keep up with your right.  Exactly what we’re looking for.

Looking for a guitar teacher who can help you master chord transitions even faster?  Search for a guitar teacher near you here.

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More Than Just Music: 7 Secrets of Successful Musicians

Despite the Oscar snubs, music shared headliner status at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Several music-related documentaries premiered at the festival, which continues through this Sunday, including films about Neil Young, Paul Simon, and Ice-T.  In addition to the films, an extensive list of music performances were scheduled around the city.  According to the Associated Press, festival director John Cooper said organizers added more music to the festival this year to encourage relationships between independent filmmakers and musicians.

Wherever you find yourself in the creative world – filmmaker, musician, artist, teacher – one important part of surviving is being a great learner.  After all, how else can you improve your craft without learning along the way?  It’s about learning from your last audition, learning from your peers, and learning about yourself.  Especially for teachers, who are often great learners by nature, it’s important to be able to pass that mindset on to your students.  And for us creative types, this is often the best part of the job.  We found a great article on the NAfME website detailing the 7 qualities of great learners, as written by researcher and author Kirsten Olson – read on to discover these qualities:

1. Great learners see learning as pleasurable. Develop your passion through intensive learning that involves focused concentration and a sense of challenge. Recognize that “failure is a huge part of the enterprise.”

2. Great learners have learned that effort is more important than inborn ability. Kids with disabilities sometimes can deal with these through their other abilities and through persistence. In Olson’s words, “Thinking of yourself as an entity always ripe for development is a mark of learners who go boldly forward.”

3. Great learners tend to have a strengths-based view of themselves and others. “This attitude,” says Olson, “is at the heart of learning resilience.” Figuring out what you excel at and practicing being satisfied with these traits can help you learn.

4. Great learners practice letting go of negative emotions, of flipping the script on what might be regarded as a failure. Let failure go—don’t brood on it. Pick up where you fell and move on.

5. Great learners are unusual problem-solvers who know how to ask for help. These people are both supported and supporters of others in their quests.

6. Great learners don’t let the institution define them. Although they take their educations seriously, they often question labels and define their own paths.

7. Great learners have passions. According to Olson, “research literature describes the importance of passion, curiosity, and deep interests” in dealing with challenges.

Do you see any of these qualities in yourself?  If so, you’re on the right track.  Leave a comment and let us know if you have any thoughts, questions, or comments! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

 

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Lyrically Stuck? Think Like Eddie Vedder

Writing lyrics like Eddie VedderEarlier this week, Eddie Vedder announced the venues for his upcoming solo tour, stopping in 13 cities to promote his 2011 album “Ukelele Songs.” The tour begins on April 11th in Las Vegas, and then works across the country, ending on May 16th in Orlando.  Pearl Jam embarks on its European tour just one month after.

Vedder’s passion-filled lyrics, ranging in topics from personal to political, have made him one of the most prominent songwriters of the rock-and-roll genre.  Pair that with his signature singing style, and you’ve got the makings of one of the most influential bands of all time.

If songwriting is something that you want to improve on, honing in on your creativity is an important skill to learn.  We suggest checking out our previous posts on writing lyrics and breaking songwriter’s block, but if you’re still not feeling creative, don’t stress too much.  For many musicians, finding new and unique ideas – and just plain motivation – are the hardest parts.  In order to help you out of that rut, here are 3 more exercises to find inspiration for song lyrics:

1.  Location Inspiration: Find lyric-writing inspiration through location

Location is very important when writing, because atmosphere affects your creative energy.

For example, it may be difficult to write sad or painful lyrics in a park. At a park you’d probably feel relaxed and maybe a little content or happy. This atmosphere wouldn’t work to channel sadness, unless you have a sad memory attached to the park (more on object inspiration next). In an empty and run-down apartment, you probably wouldn’t feel happiness, so it’d be the best location to write a “painful” lyric or two. Even your kitchen is different from your living room in evoking creative emotion. Choose the best location to write your song lyrics.

2. Object Inspiration: Find lyric-writing inspiration through objects

Rarely does inspiration just come from within. Songwriters surround themselves with things that will inspire their next creative work.

– Open a photo album and reminisce on old memories attached to your target emotion.
– Read old letters and remember where you were and what you felt when you first read them.
– Visit friends or family member you haven’t seen in a while, to get inspired.
– Watch a television show or film where your target emotion is prevalent.
– Go to a familiar place and think about old memories from there.

Use whatever object you need to channel your target emotion.

3. Topic Inspiration: Find lyric-writing inspiration through a topic or idea

Imagine yourself in a particular situation. It could be a situation that’s happened to you, someone close to you, a group of people, or someone well-known.  Now put yourself there mentally and emotionally. How does it make you feel? Explore those feelings until you’ve found your target emotion. One way to make sure your lyric idea has the strongest inspiration is to brainstorm on universal topics – issues that large groups of people are experiencing.  Successful topics are often ones that many people find relatable.

Where do you go for inspiration?  Do you write in a specific room or place to get the creativity flowing?  Share your tips with the community by leaving a comment below!

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5 Ways to Practice Without Your Guitar

air guitarMastering the guitar takes time, commitment, and passion. Don’t have hours upon hours to commit to practicing?  That’s OK.  In today’s busy world, you may only be able to squeeze in 20 minutes of practicing on some days. But think about all the time you spend commuting or waiting in line at the grocery store – why not use that time to “practice,” even when you don’t have your guitar with you? You can even use these strategies if you’re on vacation and don’t have access to an instrument! Check out these great tips from Jemsite.com about how to practice sans guitar:

1. Learn The Fretboard
The better you know your fretboard, the better you know your instrument and the more easily you can move around it. Here’s one technique to try: slip a small fretboard diagram into your wallet so you’ll carry it around with you everywhere. When you have two spare minutes, you can pull out your chart and name notes to help memorize them. If you don’t have the slip of paper handy, you can use visualization exercises. Picture a fretboard in your mind, pick some notes, and “see” where they occur on the fretboard image.

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Stop Stressing: 3 Remedies For Musical Frustration

The 2012 Oscar nominations were released today, although only two songs (“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets and “Real In Rio” from Rio) are up for the Best Original Song category. This is the first time only two songs have been nominated, which came as a big surprise seeing as how 39 contenders were originally noted back in December.

Still, the music industry has several other opportunities to shine throughout the year, such as the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, and the upcoming Grammy Awards.  And if you dream of one day taking home one of those awards, you better start working hard!

With hard work, however, may come frustration.  Maybe you’re not mastering a piece as quickly as you’d like, or you’re having trouble with a specific section.  Perhaps it’s stage fright that’s holding you back.  Wherever your frustration stems from, it’s important to learn how to handle it to your advantage.  Read on for a few helpful tips for dealing with those musical frustrations:

Tip #1. Give Yourself Credit – Before looking to improve something, look at the progress that has already been made. Appreciate and be thankful for that. Remember when you were a beginner and you couldn’t play at all? You would have been happy to have the skills you have now.  Appreciate this, and feel good about what you have achieved up to this point.  Many people beat themselves up over their own playing when they are pretty good already. This does not mean that you should become complacent or lose motivation to improve, it only means be happy with yourself and your playing as you continue to improve and move forward as a musician.

Tip #2. Become Aware of That Which Empowers and Inspires YouThere may be certain things, moments, scenarios, events, places or people that make you feel good about yourself as a musician.  These things are different for each musician.  Perhaps you become very inspired by going to see a concert.  Or maybe you get very motivated by watching or jamming with musicians who are currently better than you.  Or, maybe you become inspired by revisiting some of your old recordings and seeing how much you have improved.  Being able to realize (and have tangible proof of) how much you have grown as a musician is a powerful inspirational force for some people.  Whatever these things are, anything that gets you away from concentrating on the temporary frustrations and setbacks and focuses you on your motivation and inspiration is what you should surround yourself with.

Tip #3. Let Time Be On Your Side – Many musicians feel frustrated when big progress does not seem to come in a short period of time.  As a result, time is perceived as an enemy.  However, if you are making at least some progress over time and you are patient enough and let accumulated time work for you, then time in fact becomes your biggest advantage. Learning an instrument is much like investing money with a fixed rate of compound interest.  In the beginning, the investment seems to grow so slowly that it seems like you are watching grass grow, but over the years, the growth will explode because of the exponential power of compound interest. If you know that time is on your side, you will be sure to feel much better about your musical future.

How do you handle your stress when you’re feeling frustrated?  Let us know – leave a comment and share with the community!

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Oops! How to Handle Your Biggest Music Flubs

Have you ever made a mistake during a performance?  Hey, we’ve all been there, and it happens to both us regular folks and celebrities alike. Fortunately, when we mess up, it doesn’t end up all over the Internet.  And despite how you may feel right after making the mistake, it doesn’t mean the end of the world.  Trust us.

First, take a look at our previous blog about how to change your attitude when it comes to making mistakes.  Once the deed is done, however, the key then is how well you keep your composure.  You might be frustrated, and you might be disappointed in yourself, but don’t let it show.  Here are some key tips for keeping your composure when you make a mistake:

1. If the mistake is so bad that you need to start over, feel free to take a moment to breathe, adjust your positioning, or take a sip of water. Smile or nod at the audience if you feel the need to ease any tension, or simply get back into the music – you’re more affected by the mistake than they are.

2. Set a comfortable rhythm in your head (or metronome).

3. Start again from the beginning of the song (if you’re not too far in) or restart the page or line.

4. Stay calm! Your energy is better aimed toward playing and enjoying the song.

5. Don’t worry about perfection; it’s about conveying a feeling through music, and the opportunity to do so is never lost.

If all else fails, you can also amaze (and, ahem, distract) your audience with an awesome stage trick.  Hey, every little bit helps!

Readers, what other strategies help you when you make a mistake?  Leave a comment below! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

 

 

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How to Build Confidence On Stage

Today we lost legendary R&B singer Etta James, whose adaptable style, powerhouse voice, and fiery hit “At Last” made her one of the most recognizable blues performers of all time.  Her talent has been recognized in several different ways, with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

As with many soul singers, a voice that powerful demands a commanding stage presence as well.  If you’re on the shy side, sometimes all it takes is some extra performing experience to break out of that habit.  Anytime you see an opportunity to perform, grab it!  And yes, that includes karaoke, as cheesy as it sounds.  Check out this great list of other ways to gain experience and increase your on-stage confidence:

– Open mic nights. Great for getting used to singing with a live band, and for getting seen.  Many bands started as a result of people meeting each other at open mic nights.
– Peruse Craigslist for bands looking for lead or backup singers.  (Being a backup singer is a great place to start if you have no prior live band experience.  You’ll learn a lot even as a backup singer.)
– Start or join an a cappella group.
Student recitals. If you are taking lessons with a voice coach or at a music school, there are probably performance opportunities through there.  They may not be the rock-star performance situations you ultimately envision yourself in, but they’re valuable stage time nonetheless.
– Start a duo. Team up with a pianist, develop a repertoire, and start playing in restaurants and bars.
– Start a band. Easiest if you are a teen or twenty-something, before your peers have real jobs, kids, and mortgages.
– Hire a band. For those with deep pockets:  if you’re willing to pay for a professional band’s rehearsal time, even a novice could start a rock trio and play standard covers in bars.
– Try out for a role in a musical theater production.
– Join a choir. There are lots of community choirs – some are open to all ages and levels, others require auditions.
– Prepare yourself to sub in a party band. Even if you don’t win an audition to be a party band’s new lead singer, they may find themselves in a tight spot one day if their lead singer gets sick.  If you prepare a standard party repertoire, you’ll be ready to step in if and when a last-minute opportunity arises.
– Make a live music video. Design a stage area somewhere – your basement, your garage – and videotape yourself performing to backing tracks.  When you’re ready, call some musician friends and have them come over and play the song(s) live with you performing up front.  Videotape that and put it up on YouTube and on your own web site to help you connect with bands looking for singers.
– Learn an instrument. If you don’t play any instruments, guitar is a great one to start with because an acoustic guitar is very portable and is enough accompaniment.  This opens the door for you to write your own music and get hired for small gigs. (Search for a music teacher here!)
Play on the street. If you do play guitar – or, once you have learned a few chords – go out somewhere and practice playing in front of people.

What are YOUR favorite ways to get performing experience, and what has helped your stage presence?

Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

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Photo by Roland Godefroy.

How to Audition Like the Pros: 5 Secrets

auditionsWhether you’re auditioning for American Idol or your school orchestra, a lot of factors tie into preparing for an audition, beyond just practicing your piece – we’re talking what you eat, what you wear, and what you think about beforehand.  Here, The Bulletproof Musician gives us 5 non-conventional things to consider when preparing for an audition:

1. Food
What are you going to eat the night before? The morning of? What are you going to drink? How much? If you are a regular coffee drinker, are you going to wean yourself off weeks ahead of your audition so you don’t get caffeine withdrawal headaches? Plan all of this out and test it in advance, so that it is part of a familiar routine come audition day.

Keep in mind that you may be out of town on audition day, and may not feel like dragging yourself around in a new neighborhood just to find breakfast. Be sure to practice being somewhat flexible and adaptable in your preparation.

2. Clothing
Practice performing in the clothes you plan on wearing, even down to the socks and shoes you plan on wearing (this impacts pianists more than other instrumentalists, but still).

Here, too, practice being somewhat flexible – if you’re flying to an audition, you never know when the airline might misplace your luggage and lose your lucky socks.

3. Instrument
Run a few mock auditions on different pianos, a sub-par set of timpani, or a string slightly out of tune. Don’t allow yourself to be thrown off, even if the instruments aren’t exactly to your liking.

4. Environment
Conduct your mock auditions in less than ideal environments. Try big rooms, small rooms, cold rooms, hot rooms and rooms with acoustics of various types.  If at all possible, scope out the room you will be auditioning in the day before. Walk around in it, play a few notes if you can, and take a mental snapshot of the space so that you can mentally rehearse having a great audition in that space.

5.  Sleep
Think of all the practicing you are doing, and combine this with the other daily responsibilities and demands that life and school place on you. What is the result? Physical, mental and emotional fatigue. In a study of Stanford University athletes, researchers found that increasing sleep led to greater alertness and vigor, faster reaction times, greater accuracy, speed, and explosive power.  Note that just a couple nights of good sleep won’t cut it. Since most of us are operating on what sleep researchers call a sleep debt, you’ll probably need at least several weeks of sleeping 9-10 hours a day in order to begin reaping the benefits.

Keep things in mind and you’ll be prepared for anything that may come up during your audition.  Readers, what other tips have helped you ace your auditions?

Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

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How to Bounce Back from a Bad Audition
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Photo by eflon, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Simple Steps for Perfect Pitch

It turns out a lot of fans want to be someone like Adele when it comes to the karaoke stage.  According to Lucky Voice, an online karaoke simulator, two of the singer’s hit songs,  “Someone Like You” and her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” ranked as the two most sung karaoke songs in 2011.  Out of the 3 million karaoke performances tabulated through the website, one in four singers chose “Someone Like You”.  “Rolling In The Deep” also placed high on the list.

Singing your heart out on stage is a great way to get over fears of performing in front of a crowd, but it’s always a good idea to keep your audience in mind.  And by that we mean… at least try to stay on pitch.  Need a little help? Continue reading…

Landing Gently
Sometimes we are off pitch when landing on a particular note because we land on it too hard, too fast, or with too much tension.  Here is a great technique to practice called Ghost on the Stairs:

First, emphasize the problem:  Imagine a heavy basketball bouncing down a stairway.  Sing the difficult phrase as if your voice is that basketball bouncing down (or up) the stairway of the notes in the phrase.  Try to land hard on each note – you will probably overshoot pitch.

Now, do the opposite.  Pretend your voice is a ghost floating gently around the stairway.  Sing the difficult phrase by floating gently from note to note, rather than bouncing.  You may need to slow down fast phrases – that’s fine!

Now, find the happy medium between the two, where your pitch lands gently but accurately on each note.

Avoiding Overshooting High Notes
Individual, short high notes can be particularly tricky – they are easy to overshoot since they are psychologically far away.  To increase your accuracy of such notes, first hear the pitch in your mind first, before singing it.  With practice, you can learn to do this even while singing the preceding notes.  Next: If the note isn’t staccato, slide up to it so that you have a chance to calibrate your ears with your vocal cords.  In practice, sing the note by itself (be sure not to strain).  Notice where you feel the pitch.  Does it feel like it’s behind your eyes?  In your nose?  In the top of your head?  Mark this location so that you have a physical reference for where to aim when singing this note.

Repetition to Ingrain Muscle Memory
This approach is especially helpful for fast pitch transitions, such as quick vocal embellishments.  Quick embellishments don’t allow time for pitch adjustment based on hearing, so using muscle memory to ingrain the feel of the intervals will allow you to let your body take over and sing the intervals easily based on familiar feel.

Like most techniques, this approach is most effective done over several short practice sessions than in one or two long practice sessions.  Don’t try to make too much progress on a single day – just push to the tempo that’s currently just past your limits.  If you do this for just a few focused minutes every day or every other day, your brain will integrate your progress at night and you’ll find that the next day, you have improved.  Soon you will find that you have a number of vocal embellishments that you can sing effortlessly because your muscles and body know exactly how they feel.

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Photo by tinou bao, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.