Friday, March 1, 2013

musicteachers911 heading into the Sunset

First and foremost, thanks to all my faithful readers and listeners that have been in contact over the last five years. A special thanks to Chad Criswell over at musicedmagic for both being a guest on many iTunes podcast episodes and for promoting the blog posts on his site.

Musicteachers911 was created as a podcast and blog to assist musicians and music educators avoiding pitfalls I experienced both on stage and in front of the chalkboard.

I have enjoyed your feedback and am hopeful that you took something valuable away with you. It has truly been a labor of love.

That being said...................

I feel that it's time to step back and pursue other interests. I don't perform nearly as much as I used to in order to give the younger struggling musicians a chance to play in some really amazing bands.

As for the "teacher" part?

Well, I honestly haven't taught a public school music class in over five years and am feeling out of touch with what is going on in Education today.

I will keep the blog posted as long as blogspot doesn't pull it. Many of the ideas and suggestions might still be useful.

GoDaddy will be pulling the musicteachers911 website and email address on March 14th.

You can still reach me at

As for creating musicteachers911?

It was a good run, and I don't regret a single moment!

Yours musically,

Larry Marra

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Minor fixes for a successful performance

Many musicians spend hundreds of hours preparing for a concert by focusing only on the technical execution of the notes. However, there is much more to putting on a concert than the music alone. Here are a few minor items musicians overlook. These take only a few minutes to fix, yet will make a huge difference in the quality of the performance.

1.    Is the stage ready? I have seen performances in which instrument cases are piled up behind the performers and even trash visible on the far corners by the curtains. I know a fine clarinetist that uses an elegant cut crystal wine goblet by his seat to soak his reeds. Compare this to the red plastic solo cups I see onstage from time to time.

2.    Are your shoes shined? Stages tend to raise the level of performers feet to eye level. Nobody in the audience wants to be distracted by shoes that even GoodWill wouldn't claim.

3.    One easy fix could be ironed out with...... well.... an iron. Wrinkled clothes that look you like you slept in them are distracting and sends a message to the audience that you didn't put enough thought into their entertainment experience.

4.     A concert is a dialogue between the musician and the audience. After a song is over, do you take time to acknowledge the applause? If your listeners are really moved by your musical rendition, then give them a chance to express to you how much they enjoyed it. Smile directly at them to let them know that you appreciate their attentiveness. Have you ever noticed a performer totally ignore the applause to start scrambling around the music stand, racing to get the next song up as soon as possible. It appears as if the musician is conveying a message to the audience that they want this concert to be done as soon as possible and won't be bothered with such trifle delays as waiting for the applause. 

5.     Take a minute before playing a piece to talk about it to the audience. Let them in to your thought process as to why you chose this particular piece and what it means to you. A little history about a song enhances then listeners appreciation of the piece and endears them to you. You are more than the music. Let them know that both you and the music are worth getting to know better. Injecting a little humor also eases the concert jitters and audience tension as well.

6.    Are you showing the listeners that you are enjoying yourself are really want to be there? If you look aloof and disinterested, why in the world would the audience be inclined to stay. if you can convey to them that this evening is going to be special, you have already won half the battle between you and what is available on TV that night. When I tell an audience that I can't wait for them to experience this next piece, I really mean it.

7.     When the event is concluded, hang around the lobby for a few minutes to give the listeners a chance to tell you in person that they had a great time. After all, isn't that part of the reason you became a musician in the first place?

good gigging!

Larry Marra

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Keyboard cheat sheet

When playing with smaller groups, I find that I need to change the keyboard instrument tones quite often to insure that the combo keeps a fresh and interesting sound palette. The only problem is trying to remember all of the patch numbers of my favorite sounds.

I took a technique that I saw in the 60s and 70s when marking which instrument tracks were recorded on two inch magnetic tape recording studio mixing boards.The engineer attached a strip of one-inch medical adhesive tape and used a sharpie pen to write down what instruments were recorded at the base of the boards track numbers. Of course now with digital recorders, one need just double click the track number and overwrite it with the instrument name.

So what happens if I need to change the voice selection list? A Mr. Clean Magic Erasure is a quick and easy way to remove the tape glue residue.

Good Gigging!

Larry Marra

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who's number #1

I get this question all the time...

Who is the most important member of the band?

Is it the drummer who sets the tempo ? nope....

How about the bass. still no....

Lead trumpet? (They would like to think so)....

Band leader? OH HEAVENS NO! Some bands perform better without one.

Give up? It's the sound engineer! (no kidding)

Case in point....

I was playing keyboard Saturday in the house band for our local Christian Radio Station live feed at our County Chocolate festival . This annual event is really neat. Churches set up booths at the County Fairgrounds to pass out free chocolate to kids and literature about their churches youth programs to parents. They had a "bounce House", lots free skill games, and even an appearance by "Willie Wonka".

A good sound engineer is invaluable as the sound of all the instruments must blend together to make a pleasing impression especially over the radio. Fortunately, this station employs the best sound techs I have ever met! I plugged my keyboard into a direct box and then set the volume to 50%. The techs placed a monitor right by my left foot (pictured) and used the keyboard stand to angle the speaker directly at my ears. I heard every instrument perfectly balanced and felt as if I was listening to a professionally mixed CD track of the band.

Just one week earlier, I was the host of the Area's Annual outdoor Guitarfest. For this event I am the host that introduces and interviews the guitarists at a rather large park with a band shell. For this event, the coordinator uses a volunteer sound tech that happens to own a tone of PA equipment in which he has no idea how to run.

Most of the time my mic wasn't hot and every song was riddled with squealing feedback.

Long day!

So... The next time you attend an event which uses a qualified and skilled sound tech, please make a point to approach and let them know that your enjoyable experience was because they are the most important member of the band.

Good Giging!

Larry Marra

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Before one of my big bands were getting ready to perform onstage at our local county fair, I was playing a Bb on my keyboard for all the horn players to tune. After they had the pitch securely in their ear, I then attempted to play a G so that the bass player could tune the highest open bass string. Most bass players want a G to tune so that they can tune the lower strings from this.

Well, the horn players then started to loudly play all kinds of runs, scales and arpeggios to warm up their embouchure. The problem increased exponentially as they just wouldn't stop. With less than a minute before the downbeat, the bass player glared at me with such a desperate look of frustration.
It was a very hot day and his bass was way out of tune due to the expansion of the strings from the hot temperature.

I stood up, waved my arms at the horns and and shouted.....


They shot me such astounded looks as I sat back down and calmly played the bass tuning note. The bassist was a real pro, so it only took a few seconds to get the other strings tuned up.


Just because you are tuned up and ready to go, doesn't mean that the other musicians are. Remember that you are part of a team. Team players help and respect each other.

The horns were all seasoned players, butt the size of the crowd and desire to perform well clouded their focus.

I guess ti just goes to show that we are all never too old to learn.

Good Gigging,

Larry Marra

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I'll be ready for you next time!

This one took me by surprise!

Last Saturday evening I was sitting in on keys with a newly formed 18 piece swing band. This band is priding itself on playing modern songs in the traditional 1940s swing era style. I must say that; despite the arrangement's being so technically difficult, they were simply fantastic!

We were playing for a very large festival venue, so the age of the crowd was as varied as you can get. I was familiar with some of the newer pop tunes from overhearing my daughters, KIDS BOP® CDs at her pool parties, I had to admit that these guys are really on to something!

My total surprise was just how much of the new stuff called for sight reading some really tough piano parts. Although the band thought I did a great job, I wasn't impressed with my sight reading abilities as I could have been.

The bright side of this situation is that I hand the answer right in the palm of my hand (no really, I'm meaning quite literally).

After any tume that I thought I could have played better, I whipped out my smart phone and took a picture of the tricky parts of the sheet music. I did this on stage while the other band members were getting out the new chart. I must have taken a few dozen photos!

Unfortunately, I can't go back in time and replay all the klinkers after a reasonable amount of rehearsal preparation. What I can do though, is to print out the pictures of the solos and make a book for me to run through just before I perform with them again.

I also decided to dust off my Back inventions, Chopin preludes, and Beethoven piano  sonatas to get my sight reading up and running again.

One last point........

Even when I was frantically struggling to keep up with those flurry of notes zooming by, I portrayed a pleasant disposition and acted like I nailed every passage. Never let them see you sweat!

The good news is that:

 I'll be ready for you next time!

good gigging,

Larry Marra

Friday, August 17, 2012

Music and Mayhem Don’t Mix

Submitted by featured writer Lily McCann

Here’s a list of people who have died of drug related causes. And another, of people who have died of alcohol related causes. Look down those lists and see how many of them are musicians.

This sobering exercise will demonstrate just how dangerous drugs and alcohol addiction are, particularly it would seem to those in the music industry, which is over-represented in this particularly unwelcome category. Names such as Chet Baker, Jim Morrison, Elvis and Hank Williams are familiar to us as musicians who have died through drug or alcohol use.  But the sheer number of musicians on the lists is shocking. Sonny Clark – jazz pianist; Bix Beiderbeck – jazz legend; Janis Joplin – trailblazer; Jimi Hendrix – innovator; Amy Winehouse – deep contralto jazz singer… the list rolls on and on. All of these musicians were great in their own very different ways. Each contributed to the world of music, and spread happiness through their musical talent. Each was cut off before their time.

Drug Dangers

In the world of music, whether popular or classical, there will always be drug and alcohol temptations. What is it about musicians that makes them vulnerable to this sort of influence? In the world of rock and roll drugs have always been associated with rebellion, glamour and success. This remains the case. But the tragic recent death of gifted, award-winning singer Amy Winehouse, who had fallen victim to severe alcohol and drug addiction, should be a lesson to all those who think it is possible to control drug use. Despite many months of treatment, a supportive family, giving up her career for months on end and moving home, Amy still could not conquer her alcohol addiction. She had done well to beat her heroin addiction, and was preparing for a comeback, when she suffered an alcohol induced seizure and died in her London home, aged just 27.  What are we to make of this senseless loss, and how can this sort of tragedy be prevented?

Drugs and Alcohol Aren’t Glamorous

One association in the minds of an impressionable young musician looking to their heroes as role models, is the equation of drug use with rebellion and glamour. The reality of drug use is, in fact far from glamorous. We all know about ‘addiction’. It’s what celebrities get, and then recover and do well, or don’t, and die. The word is so common that it’s easy to lose sight of the physical pain and suffering that true addiction causes. It is only through education that the association between glamour, celebrity and addiction can be broken. Reading an account of heroin withdrawal is a good place to start. Aching limbs, severe stomach cramps, jittery nerves, vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, sweating, neck pain, loss of appetite. Drug addiction is simply a terrible path to choose, and a million miles away from the joyous freedom we associate with making beautiful music. Music has the power to transcend the physical world and lift the spirit onto a higher level. When the body of a musician is trapped on in the physical world of pain and addiction, how can he be a great musician? The answer is that the addiction usually destroys the musical gift long before its time.

The Creative Spirit

The list of musicians who have died of drug and alcohol addiction is inhabited by many other creative minds. Perhaps the greater sensitivity of those with an artistic gift makes then particularly vulnerable to the dangers of drugs and alcohol addiction. There are very few famous scientists on the list, or engineers, for example. They are perhaps happier choosing smoking as their addiction, and the risk of cancer related deaths. Chantix prices are affordable, and they have plenty of time to make the choice to quit. Those grounded in the practical every day activities perhaps don’t aspire to escape in quite the same way, or seek higher inspiration which so many artists claim to long for when taking drugs. Writers, musicians, composers, actresses – those who work with the imagination and possess a creative nature seem indeed to be more likely to die early from drug and drink related causes. This is further reason for vigilance amongst young aspiring musicians. By all means emulate your musical heroes, but don’t make the same mistakes they made. Their gifts were there with or without drugs and alcohol, and in the end were destroyed by those things. How many more years of happiness could they have had for themselves and given to the rest of the world, without their untimely deaths? Drugs never made a single one of them a better musician, whatever they may have believed. Drugs just prevented them remaining alive to be the best they already were.

A few images of musicians who have died prematurely through drink or drugs:

Amy Winehouse

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky – Russian composer

Leon Bismark "Bix" Beiderbecke Leon Bismark "Bix" Beiderbecke

Monday, August 13, 2012

Piano Summer Games 2012

I'm very excited to share with you our new title, Piano Summer Games, a new Olympic themed music-ed app that lets any child learn to play the national anthems of countries in the Olympics, and then represent her country competing in the world's first global piano competition app.

The price - Free.
Here's a short trailer -

Piano Summer Games let's anybody (no musical background needed) learn to play the national anthems for countries in the Olympics using an on-screen touch piano or his own home piano or keyboard. He can then compete against people all over the world on the best performance and win medals (gold, silver and bronze) that are added to his country's medal ranking. Just today, America's users have gotten the US to the 3rd place worldwide! (live medal count feed is always available HERE)

Available for free for iPhone/iPad users.

App URL -

Best wishes,
Yoni Tsafir

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Get the Lead Out!!!

I have a personal friend and amazing guitarist, Greg Jones, who just landed a position as Praise Band Music Director of a local Methodist church. He called to ask if I would play keys this Sunday for his first Contemporary Christian service.

Rehearsal was Friday night.

I was so excited to find a beautiful (and tuned!) grand piano and very nice digital keyboard already plugged into the sound board and ready to go.

The first song was very funky and reminded my of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition", so I dialed up the clavinet patch and started dancing on the keys.

Well, it came to pass in the process of time that I learned that there were no less than six key modulations in the course of the song.

Most of the band are very sweet and well meaning non-musicians who were not picking up on Greg's key change cues.

The music ground to a halt as Greg started to explain where the changes should occur.

I was very surprised to find that I was the only one band member who brought a pencil to mark the editions on the sheet music.

Please remember that a sharpened  #2 pencil is a must when attending all rehearsals and performances.

Keep one in your case or gig bag.

good gigging!

Larry Marra

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An amp is a personal thing

from featured musicteachers911 writer and professional guitarist, Greg Jones.

 I recently rejected a friend’s offer for me to play my guitar through his keyboard amp for a gig. Like many people, he thought of a guitar amp as simply being a personal PA or home stereo system. A good stereo system for the most part, is designed to only replicate the sound recorded on the CD, MP3 or cassette (remember those?). However guitar amps are actually designed to color the tone. Different types of amps color the tone differently. In fact, you would probably not like the sound of a guitar going straight into a stereo system or PA.

Just as one might choose mahogany to build a dark sounding piano or maple to brighten up an acoustic guitar, an amp may be chosen based upon the tones the guitarist needs at his disposal. With guitar amps, there are basically three different categories of sound: American, British and Modern metal.

Fender amps represent the classic American clean tones you might hear in traditional blues and country. While these amps do some distortion as well, they typically produce more of a Texas Blues distortion as you might hear out of Stevie Ray Vaughn. On the British side, Vox amps have given us the jangly chime of the Beatles and U2, while Marshall drove the rock sounds that dominated the 70’s and 80’s with Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. Mesa Boogie (an American amp manufacturer) is one of the most popular builders of the modern hard rock/metal sound, although there are some European companies producing amps in this category like Engl and Bogner. These sounds can be found in music from Dream Theater, Korn and Nine Inch Nails among others.

Of note, I should point out the digital technology revolution is making its impact upon guitar amps as well. There are amps called digital modelers that are digitally emulating these amps. Arguably, digital modeling amps (and computers with digital modeling software) sound very close to the real thing in live situations and can fool even the most discriminating ears in the recording studio. The reason they are so convincing for recording is that the software they are using is modeling a real amp as recorded in a studio. The computer is modeling what the amp sounds like to the microphone. It is NOT modeling what the amp sounds like to our ears. These amps are very versatile, being able to produce virtually all of these sounds in one box (or computer).

So the bottom line is that an amplifier is more of an extension of the guitar as an instrument as opposed to merely something to make the instrument louder. The ‘coloring’ that an amp provides actually contributes to the overall sound of the guitar.