Monday, August 29, 2011

Beginner's Tips for Playing Live

Some time ago I promised to post some tips for playing live shows. I think there are a few things that you should consider before going on stage. Most beginners think only about practicing their parts but there are actually many more little things to be considered. If you are well prepared you avoid stress and you play better, and you might even enjoy yourself! OK, here we go:

  • Stay in tune! This is really important, playing out of tune is a dreadful experience for your audience and for your fellow musicians. But what can you do? First of all tune your guitar well before going on stage. If you left your guitar on stage after the soundcheck, then take a few seconds to check the tuning before you start playing. It might be quite warm on stage which makes the strings relax and you'll sound flat. The best tuners for the stage are either floor pedal tuners that mute the signal when you stomp on them, or headstock tuners which use a vibration sensor (no microphone!). Please do not unplug your cable from the amp, plug it into some handheld tuner, tune, then plug the cable back etc., this looks very unprofessional and it also takes forever! OK, now you've done all that but still, while playing you notice that you went out of tune. If you have a floor pedal tuner it's pretty easy to quickly tune up again, even during a song. If you've done this a few times it will only take you seconds. The same is true for headstock tuners (even though they are a bit more conspicuous). And if you have good ears, just tune by ear while you're playing! (OK, if you're that far you probably won't be reading this right now ...).
  • Play with new strings! They sound better and you considerably decrease the chance of breaking a string while playing. BUT, do not change them an hour before the gig. It's best to change them one or two days before because then they get the time to stretch out and they will not go out of tune anymore.
  • Always have a backup guitar ready! If everything goes fine you won't need it, but still, many times things go wrong. If for some reason your guitar goes so out of tune that you can't handle it in a few seconds, or if a string breaks (even though you certainly followed my previous advice), then you'll need to quickly switch guitars to save the song/set/gig. It's of course always great to have a knowledgeable friend backstage who is able to tune your other guitar, repair a broken string etc. It's easier to find people who like doing this than you may think!
  • Know your parts! This may sound obvious but I've seen it go wrong much too often. I know you can play your parts in your living room, and probably even in the rehearsal room together with your band. But with beginning bands (and even much later) things can go wrong on stage: the drummer misses a break, the singer starts a chorus even though there should be a verse etc. This means that you must be able to improvise and be flexible enough to change your part if necessary and to simply react appropriately to what's going on around you. And this is something you cannot plan, you just need to know your parts much better than just being able to play them under ideal circumstances.
  • Listen while playing! This is related to the previous point. Many times people are totally immersed in what they are playing and they don't even notice what the other band members are doing. Sometimes when discussing a certain guitar part with my students I would ask "and what is your bass player playing here?". Then I get that funny look like "how am I supposed to know, I'm the guitar player!" Be aware of what the other musicians are doing! You're making music together, not as independent individuals (hopefully, at least ...). Learning to listen is of course a process that takes some time, so start practicing it way before you go on stage!
  • Do not use sheet music on stage! Of course, I've used sheet music myself many times, so how do I dare to tell you not to do it? Well, if it's your first gig then there are so many other things you have to deal with that the extra attention you need for reading music is probably too much. Just know your parts by heart, at least until you get some live routine.
  • And what if I really have to use sheet music? OK, you probably have your reasons. Either you're a busy musician who cannot remember all sets of all bands you're playing with (would you really be reading this then?), or you're standing in for someone and you really didn't have a chance to learn everything by heart, etc. Well, in this case use a stable professional music stand. If you want to put it right in front of you then make it very low so the people can still see you (don't forget to wear your lenses if you need them!). Otherwise just put the stand on your side so you don't obstruct people's view. Sort the music and put it in some folder so you don't need to be fiddling around with sheets between the songs. Make sure the sheets do not fall off of the stand! This is especially important if you play an open air concert. In this case I always use clothespins (pegs), so put some in your guitar bag, just in case! And of course make sure that you can see your sheets! You cannot count on the light on stage because it might at times be too dark to read well, so make sure you have your own music stand light with you.
  • Relax! OK, that's easier said than done, but try to enjoy what you're doing even if it's a bit scary the first time. Look at the people out there, smile (at least from the inside), and be happy that finally you got the chance to stand on stage playing your guitar. Enjoy the sounds, the groove, communicate with the others and just realize that you're not practicing anymore, you're PLAYING!
Alright, these are a few points which came to my mind and which I consider important. There may be many other things that I missed. Anyway, I hope they help you a little to get more pleasure out of playing live!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vanillewijs theater show in Heeze

Yesterday we played a theater show at the Brabantse Dag in Heeze (Galerie des Beaux Arts). It was in a big tent which was completely packed. The show was a lot of fun and the live band was one of the best we've had so far. This time John Maasakkers joined us on drums and percussion, and John Dikeman played sax and flute. The people there were very nice, there was great catering, and we got a lot of positive feedback after the show; all in all, a great day ...

Here are some impressions:

::: soundcheck and getting ready :::

::: Showtime! :::

New TABs & Sheet Music Page!

Hi there,

I made a new page with links to TABs and sheet music that I use in my lessons. A few things are already up there and I'll keep on adding more stuff, so check back regularly!

TABs & Sheet Music

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rehearsals for theater show have started!

Today there was the first rehearsal after the summer break for the Vanillewijs theater show. It's a theater piece for children with a lot of music (pop/world) that we write ourselves. The show is fun and we got a good live band, so playing the music is real fun too. The show will be on 24 August starting at 14:00 at the Galerie des Beaux Arts in Heeze (NL), so if you're around we would love you to join us! I'll post some pictures of the show later. That's it for today, stay tuned!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gig in Austria

I just came back from a few weeks in Austria where I spent my vacation. During that time I got the chance to play an open air concert in the beautiful old town of St. Pölten with Maalo & the Funk Fellows. This is a band I used to play with frequently until a few years ago. It was great to get together again and to play live on stage. What made it even more special was that there were two new guys in the band: Georg Beck, a great Austrian drummer, and Rue Kostron, a very good bass player, both of whom are very busy musicians. I must say it was one of the tightest rhythm sections I've ever played with!

Here are a few pictures from the rehearsal and from the show:

This live show reminded me that it might be useful to give you a few general tips for playing live. Some of those tips are actually very simple but nevertheless I often see beginners make the same mistakes (like getting out of tune or breaking a string and not knowing how to handle the situation etc.). So in one of the next posts I'll give you a few tips that I find relevant and useful for playing live (and especially playing open air). Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Video: 'Another Life'

I've recorded myself playing a composition of mine, 'Another Life':

I came up with these chord changes while working on a concept called 'modal interchange'. I just use a simple right hand picking pattern which remains more or less unchanged while moving through the chords. Let me know what you think.

Article on Pentatonic Scales

Hi there,

I would like to share with you an article that I wrote some time ago:

Pentatonic Scales: Theory and Applications

It shows you how to use pentatonic scales over different types of chords and I hope it helps you to use melodies and patterns that you already know in new ways. Any comment is welcome. Enjoy!

PS: this article is quite technical; I'll try to post some more accessible stuff soon.


Welcome to my new guitar blog! I work as a guitarist and guitar teacher in the Netherlands and in Austria and I'll be posting guitar related stuff that I consider useful (or at least fun) for my students and for everybody else who is interested. I'll cover anything that I come across in my life as a musician, guitar player and guitar teacher. It is often through my students that I discover new music, new styles and playing techniques. I'll share all things which I wish I had been told when I was a young guitar player. Of course, I'm still learning and improving as a guitarist and as a musician, and I'll also share those things with you which I am working on at the moment. I hope you will find some things that are useful for you! Check back regularly.