Sunday, April 26, 2009

location, location, location

Last week, I played electric bass guitar for our local senior center with the University of Dayton Big Band. UD purchased a rather large and heavy 400 watt bass amp for me to use for this.  

At rehearsals,  I love how this amp cuts through the horns and give a booming feel to the overall sound of the band. However, I don't like having to lug the thing around the campus and heave it in back of my car.  

For the performance last week, I decided to leave the big UD amp on campus and  take a much smaller and lighter 50 watt practice amp that I bought for my keyboards. In order for the bass sound to cut through the horns, I brought my ultimate support speaker stand that extends to a height of eight feet. Having the bass amp so high enabled the bass voice to be heard over the horns even from the back of the room. Of course, I tone of the bass voice was there, but not the gutsy booming feeling that you can only get with the larger amp. The good news is that it was an absolutely beautiful day and the little amp fit in the trunk of my new goldwing motorcycle. I rode to the venue with the bass guitar strapped to my back. After a long, gray winter in Ohio, there was no way that I was going to drive a car on such a perfect Spring day. 

For anyone who is thinking about getting a sound system, make sure to invest in good speaker stands so the you don't have to blast out the first few rows of people to be heard in the back.

The financial saving of not having to buy a larger and more powerful amps will pay for the stands. The additional height will make for a more overall balanced sound from anywhere in the room.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

printed gig charts

This week I am going to focus on printed gig charts. 

First, make a copy of the master part that you are playing and file away the master. Gig books get lost, drinks spilled on them, marked up with specific gig directions etc. 

Second, premark the music by taking a highlighter pen and highlight every key change, tempo change, dynamic marking, repeat, DS, coda,and every rehearsal number or letter.
Third, Tape multi page charts together so that they are all connected when placing on the music rack.

Fourth, highlight an arrow from every repeat, DS, and coda to the place in which it repeats.

Fifth, take a portable mp3 recorder to all rehearsals so that you can record the rest of the band playing this chart for later individual practice. I use a Boss micro BR digital recorder ($250) that fits in my pocket and creates mp3 files to load on my iPod for later use.

This easy tip will make every future rehearsal and gig a more pleasant experience. I learned this the hard way!

Don't forgot to check out and subscribe to the musicteachers911 podcast available for free on iTunes.

Hope all your gigs are successes!

Larry Marra

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Don't make a rule that you aren't willing to follow.

This week I am going to focus away from the professional side of performance and talk about something that I tried musically just for fun.
I heard about a great new site for meeting people of similar interests called
This free site is so simple to use, but such fun as it involves meeting people in your area with the same interests.

To get started, type in your zip code and search for meetup groups in your area. I found several in the Dayton OH are that looked appealing. Two that are the most fun are: Dayton Swing Dance and Dayton Folk music. 

The swing dance group meets at a local club every Wednesday evening and offers free swing dance lessons to the members. The first week, I walked in to discover that the instructor is the guitarist for one of the College gospel choirs I'm in. I learned to swing danced for two hours  and loved every minute of it. I have been back twice since and plan on making this a weekly event. If you are looking to find  groups of nice people  in which to spend a free evening or two. I highly suggest checking this out.

The other group is focused around folk music. This group mets at a coffeehouse once a month. Everyone brings a guitar and sits around the couches. Each person is given a turn to chose a favorite folk song and everyone just plays and sings along.  The first night I attended, I had a nice time as I had just bough a Washburn acoustic and have only used it on one professional gig since Christmas. Since I play a lot more bass and piano than guitar, I had hoped that this group would be a way to keep up my guitar chops hot while having a nice time with other musicians in the area.

Something about the overall  sound of the group bothered me though. All 18 of us were strumming the same chords on acoustic guitars. There was no musical variety from song to song. I tried fingerpicking and even playing chord inversions high on the neck for variety, but the volume of the other guitars made it hard for me to hear myself. I felt my playing was unnecessary to the group and stopped playing after about an hour. 

Laster, I suggested to the group leader that I bring an electric bass and small practice amp for the next meetup. This would give the group a fuller sound and different bass lines would vary the song styles more.

She looked at me with shock and disbelief as if to say, "What!!! all electric instruments are forbidden!!" I tried to reassure her that there is electric bass and a lot of folk music. Her response was staunchly against it. I offered to let her work the volume control on the amp if she questioned my ability to balance with the rest of the group. She still didn't budge. She did offer to let me play her grandfathers fiddle. (no telling how badly in shape this is in). but I knew that it would be unplayable an no fun at all. She informed me that only acoustic folk instruments would be allowed to participate. PERIOD!

Now, as a band leader for too many years than I care to remember, I know that the director is the one in charge. If I meant what I said to my band students all these years about how they should respect and follow the director's wishes, I should do the same.

I wish you could have seen the look on her face when I told her that next time I would be bringing my banjo!

Banjo?????? A banjo is way too loud for this group and you'll drown out every guitar in the place! Is there any way to play a banjo softly? 

Not really.....

(I have used a felt autoharp pick on occasion when I played "Mame" and "Hello Dolly" for a local community theatre group and it did help). Finger picking without fingerpicks is another option.

She tried everything in her power to dissuade me from bringing my banjo but still remained firm on denying my electric bass to participate.

(The truth is that my could play a lot softer on my electric bass than I can on my banjo)

The next meetup folk sing is in three weeks and I will try to post what happens.

The lesson for her on this post is post is:

Don't make a rule that you aren't willing to follow.

I will give you a hint and let you know that I have every intention of playing my banjo with a balanced volume as a courtesy to the other members. The old rule still applies:

If you can't hear the other musicians, you are to loud.

Don't forger to check out the musicteachers911 podcast available on the itunes store. It's free!

Larry Marra