What They Don’t Tell You About Becoming a Musician

how to become a musicianWhen you become a musician — whether you’re playing the guitar, the drums, or another instrument — you’ll notice a pattern when others find out about your skills. Read on to learn what they don’t tell you about becoming a musician, in this guest post by Brookings, SD teacher Carl S…  


Every musician has his or her own story. Some people play as a hobby and may play the occasional gig. Others are gigging frequently or perhaps teaching music. No matter what type of musician you are, you should ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Be honest with yourself, and whatever your answer is, well, that is just fine. What don’t they tell you about becoming a musician? At some point, you’ll be a music teacher of some sort.

Surprise! You’ve learned one song on the guitar — now people identify you as a guitarist. If somebody you know decides that they want to learn guitar, they will likely come to you for advice on how to get started. What do you say to them? If you haven’t experienced this scenario to some degree yet, you will.

Early in high school, I decided to be a multi-instrumentalist. Saxophone has always been my “primary” instrument, but I play and teach many instruments. Like many 15-year-olds, I had the desire to try my hand at guitar. Having had solid experience with another instrument, it came to me very quickly, albeit self-taught. One day, I was in our high school music room playing a song I’d figured out on the guitar, and one of my friends heard me playing. “I didn’t know you played guitar!” he said. This was immediately followed by a request to join a garage band, help him with his bass playing, and write songs together.

Whoa! Am I even capable of this? Well, I went for it, but as soon as I said yes, I felt the overwhelming anxiety of not being as virtuosic as I was falsely perceived to be. At this point, I had learned everything that I knew about guitar from a Walmart poster. I’m serious. Poster + guitar = now offering advice?

I needed to learn some things and quick! I immediately started thinking, “Who do I know that plays guitar well?” Seeing a pattern here?

No matter when we decide to give making music a try, someday, you’ll teach somebody something about music. Don’t be afraid of this; rather, rise to the challenge and let this be your inspiration to submerse yourself in thoughts and ideas that will in turn push you to the next level.

For example, I’ve always been sort of a hobbyist in regards to guitar. I teach music for a living at a university, so guitar has always been an outlet instrument for me. I teach big bands, so now I have college-level jazz guitarists coming to me for advice. The best way for me to teach them was for me to pick up my guitar and put myself in their shoes. I’ve had great success teaching them, and they go on and on about how much more things seem to make sense. I’m just having fun playing guitar with them!

Music is an art. This art of how to become a musician is passed down from generation to generation via friends, family, and mentors. On behalf of music teachers everywhere, welcome to the club!

CarlSCarl S. teaches saxophone, music theory, piano, and more in Brookings, SD. He completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in saxophone performance at the University of Kansas in 2014, and his Master of Music Pedagogy and Performance from Oklahoma State University in 2011. Learn more about Carl here! 


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Open Mic 101: How to Overcome Stage Fright & More

open mic stage fright

Thinking about stopping by an open mic night, or hitting the stage for karaoke? Performing in front of others is a fantastic way to boost your confidence and meet other musicians in the area – but it can also be pretty scary if you’re a newbie! Luckily, learning how to overcome stage fright is easy when you focus on the right things.

For some quick tips and strategies on getting rid of those pesky nerves, check out this informative video:

Read on to learn more about how open mic nights work, how to prepare for your first performance, and how to overcome your stage fright!

How Do Open Mic Nights Work?

Every venue is different, so you may want to contact the owner or host to make sure you’re prepared (check their website or social media sites for contact information). Some venues run on a first-come, first-served line-up – simply show up, and ask the host where to sign in. Others may require you to submit your name prior to the event, or might go by a lottery system if there’s a large turnout. Keep in mind that most places will also have a time or song limit – for example, two songs maximum, or a 10-minute timeslot.

You might also want to find out beforehand what kind of set-up the venue has. Do they have backup instrumentalists or a full band to accompany performers? Should you bring your own equipment, or will there be amps and other gear provided? Should you be prepared to play an all-acoustic set? If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to the host before the event, there’s nothing wrong with attending just to watch, to get a feel for the environment and the crowd. You might even find the inspiration you need to join in on the fun!

Tips for Surviving Your First Open Mic

– Prepare your piece. While some performers prefer to improv on stage, as a beginner you may feel more comfortable if you pick out the song you’re going to sing or play in advance. Consider giving a mock performance in front of your family or close friends, if you want extra practice in front of others.

– Invite your friends! Sometimes, all you need is your best supporters cheering you on from the front row to give you a confidence boost. If you get nervous, looking at a friendly face can help. On the other hand, other performers might feel even more nervous around people they know. Figure out what works for you.

– Don’t forget to warm up. Open mics may feel pretty relaxed, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on your warm-up – especially if you’re a singer. Step outside and tune your guitar, run through some scales, do some vocal warm-ups, or whatever you need to do to prepare.

– Get settled. If it’s your first time performing, or you’re feeling particularly nervous, you may want to show up a bit early, so you have time to settle in and relax before you’re called on stage. Review your piece in your head if that helps you, but don’t work yourself up!

– Use visualization strategies. The mind is a powerful thing, and often just visualizing yourself having a great performance can do wonders for your self-esteem! As you practice leading up to your performance, visualize hitting each and every note. Picture the audience loving what you do. Think about your sheet music in your head, and get your fingers used to the movement on your instrument. When your mind and your fingers are working together, your piece will feel like second nature.

– Appreciate your audience. During your performance, think of the crowd as your allies. Remember, there will most likely be other people attending the open mic for the first time, who may be just as nervous as you! And the rest of the crowd? They’ve all been in your shoes once before!

– Ignore your inner critic, and stay calm. When you’re particularly nervous, the negative voices in your head may seem extra loud. Check out this helpful advice from teacher Victoria W. to combat the feeling and help you learn how to overcome stage fright. Did you make a mistake, or forget the words to what you were singing? It happens to the best of us, even professionals – so don’t sweat. Do what you can, stay calm, and most likely the audience won’t even notice.

– And the most important tip: Relax, and have fun! The whole point of open mic nights are to provide positive and welcoming environments for performers of all levels to show off their skills. This is your opportunity to shine – make the most of it!

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Music Criticism: How To Handle a Critical Audience

how to handle criticismYears ago, I heard my first band would be featured in the local paper and I was so excited to read the article. I hurried home to read it and found that the short blurb was far from complimentary. A public critique like that can make you want to give up. I certainly wanted to hide under my bed for a week!

However, I have learned how to handle criticism and continued to make music that makes me happy. In the time since then, I have been lucky enough to receive both criticism and positive reviews. How sad it would have been if I had quit music over one review!

If you’re struggling to cope with a critique, here’s my advice to deal with music criticism gracefully and even learn from it. Read more

Nail Your Audition for X Factor and More

Do you think you have what it takes to be America’s next big singing sensation? With shows like The Voice, The X Factor and American Idol holding their open castings, you might be thinking about grabbing that microphone and sharing your talent with the world. As you prepare for your audition day, take some tips from expert TakeLessons certified vocal instructors to make sure that you really shine on camera! Read more

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?

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You might also like…
What’s Causing Your Stage Fright?
Overcoming Stage Fright: 4 Important Steps
5 Insider Tips for The Voice Auditions

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