Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Letter Back In Time

This post is part of a group blogging event organized by MusicianWages. We decided that, as the decade came to a close, in lieu of a “best of” list, we’d ask a single question for other musician bloggers to answer. Here was our question:
“If you could go back to 1999 and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?”

Dear 1999 Sans:

Yeah, you. (It will be several years before you take on that name. But you know where it comes from — Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" through the Rich Show band No Direction.) The one thing I would like to tell you is that, starting fairly shortly, most everything you might want to happen with music will happen. Within a few months, positions will open up at church so you will play on the Wednesday night band. You'll be the acoustic guitar player, and you will eventually gear up to a decent piezo-equipped acoustic. You will get pedals, an amp and eventually a second electric. Even a fiddle. You will gain friendships that will allow you to occasionally start to jam out. It will not always be fun — the standard setup will be you getting new songs and working through it during the half-hour before you play, so you will feel entirely unprepared — but that's a bit of a boot camp that will make you a better player. And you will play out at least once a week over the next ten years. Here's some bulk pieces of advice for you:
  • Learning to read music is good, but not crucial. Nobody you will play with more than twice over the next ten years will read music. Nothing anyone wants you to play will be written out in more detail than with chord sheets.
  • That being said, theory is important. Knowing chord relationships and such will allow you to transpose, and very often, you'll have to be able to transpose something to a more singer-friendly key right before you play it. So knowing the difference between a major seventh and dominant seventh will be useful.
  • If you rely on others for gear, you will be disappointed and silent.
  • The songs in the Fiddler's Fakebook are way too complex to use as a starting point to learn to read music. Especially "Blackberry Blossom".
  • Two related thoughts: There's no shame in dropping out and coming back when you know where you are. and It is better to play the wrong note at the right time than to play the right note at the wrong time.
  • Learn to let it go. If you have a bad night, you have a bad night. If you play a bad note, you played a bad note. If the soundman doesn't turn up the guitar in the mix, he doesn't turn it up in the mix. Let that go and do the part you have control of now as best as you can.
And that lap steel? It's a fun thing to have, and it helps you work on your ears, but really, nobody wants to hear you play it but you.

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