Feb 212015
 

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say and do.

Once Asked

MoneybagIf you’re asked, I recommend asking why they’re requesting that, not to put them on the defensive, but to avoid a misunderstanding.  You don’t want to end up resenting them because you’ve gotten it into your head that you’re being taken advantage of, for example.  It may help to understand their situation.  Maybe they’re already spending all they can on the album, for example, and will never recoup anyway, so they’re trying to mitigate losses, not maximize profits (for themselves at your expense)

When I Ask

If you’re asking someone, you may want to tell them upfront why you’re asking.  Here’s some of what I tell musicians:

  • I’m a solo artist and therefore pay all studio costs (rehearsal, recording, mixing, mastering), which is typically over $5000 per album
  • If this were a band with four equal members, I’d only have to pay $1250.  You’d be paying $1250, too.  Instead, you pay nothing.
  • I pay all manufacturing, distribution, and promotional costs (which can vary in cost but is typically thousands more).  You pay nothing.
  • So while you’re not being paid, you’re also not paying anything.
  • If I also had to pay each performer, let’s say $1000 to perform on all tracks, that would be an additional $3000, making the album cost over $10,000.  I simply can’t afford that.  I don’t recoup costs from sales because that’s very hard to do with instrumental music (or even other genres).  Here’s how it would look financially:
    • Each musician’s figure: plus $1000
    • Studios figures: plus thousands
    • Cover artist’s figure: plus $1000
    • Photographer’s figure: plus $300
    • My figure: minus $10,000

In other words, everyone profits but me. I need to mitigate my losses.  The musicians no longer profit up front but get to be on an album (assuming they want to be) without having to pay to be on it, and I lose less.  Personally, I feel that either me and that performer are doing each other a favor, or neither of us are.

To be honest, this is a great reason not to be a solo artist!

Once You Agree

If you agree to perform for free, you shouldn’t bring that up again for that project, whether it’s a show or an album. An agreement is an agreement.  In some places it’s a verbal contract. Asking to be paid, or complaining that you’re not being paid, is not only putting the other person in a terrible position, but is just not right.

Of great importance is that contributing your services for free does not mean being unprofessional or acquiring special privileges unless those were also agreed upon in advance.  For example, a singer who was very far behind on the recording schedule once resentfully told me he’d take as long as he damn well pleased to complete the project because “you aren’t paying me”.  He wasn’t around much longer.

Coda

It always pays to behave professionally and like an adult, even if you are neither. Money is a frequent subject bands can fight over, so being upfront about expectations and the reasons for everything will help you keep projects moving forward while not ruining your relationships with people.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more importantly, get on with life.

The goal of this article is to enable you to take your first informed steps when you suspect you’re injured, but since I’m not a doctor or other medical professional, I don’t give out details of treatment. You’ll have to consult a medical professional for that.

What To Do Now

If you have pain, muscle tightness, or soreness now, you should stop playing guitar now until a medical professional assesses your situation. Otherwise it will just get worse. You should also avoid unnecessary arm activities like sports, lifting, or heavy computer use.

If the pain goes away after some time off, it may still return when you resume action, so see a doctor anyway. It is much easier to prevent this than to deal with it (see under “Perspective” below).

Insurance

To see any professional aside from a doctor, your health insurance (such as an HMO) might require you to see a doctor first and get a referral. Without one, your insurance may refuse to pay for your treatment.

Medical Professionals

There are many medical professionals who can diagnose and treat tendonitis, but some are more effective than others. Your primary resources are doctors and physical therapists, but in either case it’s important to have someone who seems competent and informed about tendonitis. If they sound hesitant, unsure, or dismissive, get a second opinion.

Doctors generally see people once or twice about an issue, not the many times often needed for something like tendonitis. It is a repetitive stress injury that needs repetitive attention to heal. A multitude of appointments is more typical of physical therapy.

Acupuncture and acupressure are secondary options of less certain benefit, and a chiropractor is not likely to help you unless existing neck trauma, for example, is exacerbating your arms.

Doctors

You should first see your doctor partly because they know your general health and can ascertain whether other factors play a role in your symptoms or not. A doctor can also confirm whether it is tendonitis or something similar, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, or trigger finger. They can also diagnose severity and which type of tendonitis it is (lateral or medial).

A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatories stronger than the over the counter variety and provide or recommend removable arm braces. He may recommend ice, heat, or both, and advise you on how and when to do these. Doctors will sometimes want to administer a cortisone shot directly into the forearm muscles during this appointment. Personally I did not find this effective and refused a second shot weeks later because it made symptoms worse.

If the doctor says you have tendonitis, ask them to recommend a physical therapist, preferably one with experience with tendonitis. Be forewarned that some physicians do not believe physical therapy can help with anything at all and be dismissive of its value. This is often not caused by knowledge of therapy but contempt for some treatments (also including acupuncture and acupressure) popularized after the doctor’s initial education. You might want to find yourself a more enlightened doctor in general, not just in regard to tendonitis.

Physical Therapists (PT)

Physical therapists are specifically trained to diagnose and treat tendonitis and muscle injuries. That said, you should see a doctor first anyway (see above). Compared to a general practitioner doctor, qualified physical therapists are specialists.

They offer various kinds of treatments done while you lay down on a massage table:

  • Manual therapy – This involves the PT positioning your arm and wrist in various positions to maneuver muscles, thereby revealing to the PT’s trained fingers the muscle problems needing resolution. Hard pressure via fingers releases the knots, which feel tender and sore even before this. With some practice you can learn to do this yourself, but save that for later.
  • Ultrasound – Just like what they use to see a baby in the womb but without the graphics, ultrasound is used to penetrate heat deep into the arm to increase blood flow (oxygen) to the wounded muscles.
  • Electric stimulation – A pair of small pads are placed on the arm with electric current passing in between and through the muscles to cause contraction. The PT continues with manual therapy during this.
  • Home therapy – Since you must be an active participant in your recovery, there are many activities you must do outside of the physical therapist’s office. These may include stretching exercises, forearm curl exercises, and how and when to do ice and heat (and the purpose of each). They can also advise you on anti-inflammatories, vitamins, and topical pain gels.
  • Device recommendations – There are a multitude of arm bands and braces available to either immobilize your arm to aid recovery, or lessen the strain on the injury during common daily tasks. Alternate computer accessories are also available. A physical therapist can recommend which ones to get and use under what circumstances.
  • Behavior modification – There are things you might be doing to unknowingly contribute to the injury, such as your position while playing an instrument or using a computer. You might even be sleeping on one of your arms at night, applying pressure to the now inflamed joint. Your physical therapist should discuss these things with you to help you avoid straining the injury.
Perspective

Sometimes I hear people complain about not playing guitar a few days or weeks when their arms first hurt, so to help your perspective, here are some details on my situation. I could not play at all for an entire year, then could play really simple music for 30 minutes, twice a week. Three months later I reached 90 minutes every other day and slightly harder music. At two years I developed a second case of tendonitis in both arms and started over. After five years, I was up to 2-3 hours at once, still alternating days on and off, and could finally play most of my own music. It wasn’t until 8 years passed that I could play guitar two days in a row, with one day being a “light day” of easier music, though I could get away with up to 6 hours at once, depending on complexity. It is now 10 years later, and three days in a row is still unwise.

These numbers are rough, but I received physical therapy once a week for about five years, sometimes more often, sometimes less, and slowly tapered off to nothing after about 8 years. I did stretching for 9 years, heat for 9, ice for 8, ibuprofen for 7, vitamins for 3, slept in arm bands for 3, and used a foot mouse in place of a hand mouse for 5 years, and a dictation program for most typing (especially heavy) for 8 years.

In short, tendonitis does not affect only your guitar playing, but can impact every activity you use them for, including things you take for granted like sleeping, dressing, grooming, driving a car, opening things, and even how you are perceived by others. After all, there’s still contempt for the seriousness of the injury and some people will disrespect you for having it.

Coda

If your arms are already bothering you, getting treatment sooner is much better than later. With lifestyle adjustments and good treatment, it is possible to live your life pretty well, albeit differently. It just takes time and rest, and sometimes a lot of both. The impatience you exhibited in over-using your arms may now force you to learn patience the really hard way.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

Read Part 1 here.

Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:

  •   Knowing how to write variations
  •   Effective use of keys and more dynamic, sophisticated arrangements
  •   Writing multiple parts, including dual leads and harmony, more easily
  •   Significantly easier writing of lead guitar that is more melodic and does what you want
Writing Variations

An idea is the source of all artwork, and since a good idea is hard to come by, it’s smart to make the most out of each. This is central to classical composition technique, and one thing students learn is to find variations by studying the music. An entire five-minute piece can be written from a single idea less than one measure long.

Variation is all about retaining some element of the original idea while other elements are altered, keeping music fresh and yet familiar. The variation does not have to be recognizable as such, though it helps, but listeners of different astuteness will notice different things anyway. The most important thing is that if you made more music out of your idea, you have avoided adding a second idea to the piece just to finish the writing. That second idea could have been a song of its own. It is fine to write music based on two different ideas, and this “theme 1 vs. theme 2” approach is widespread, but both ideas are then used as a source of variations.

Cosmetic variations are simple and don’t involve manipulation of the material’s structure, which is why untrained musicians often opt for this approach. One example is changing the instrumentation, such as the singer performing the melody, and then the guitarist doing it verbatim. Even extreme changes in instrumentation by all band members, while effective, are cosmetic. Progressive metal bands excel at this.

Structural variations are typically more sophisticated and involve breaking down a musical idea into its component parts, such as its harmony, rhythm, and melody. The most important of these is the melody, which can be further divided into several smaller snippets called “motifs”. A motif is a short musical idea that is recognizable. A motif can be surrounded with different chords and keys, repeated at different pitches, and used as the basis for a new melody. The motif itself can also be varied, not simply repeated in different guises. This is an extensive subject to be covered in future articles.

Knowing how to write variations will not only make your music more compelling, but it can prolong your artistic life. Why waste ideas when you can mine the song for unexploited potential? How many bands sound like they’re out of ideas after three albums? Lead guitar ideas can often be derived from something within the riffs, too.

Dynamic Use of Keys

A key change can be a powerful thing – or it can be largely pointless. In classical music, keys are used to define structure, add tension in either subtle or obvious ways, and for variation. These ideas appear throughout a music curriculum but are most prominently studied in Musical Form class. Each classical form, such as a fugue, sonata, or minuet, is defined in part by its key changes, and while you might not want to write an allemande, for example, the harmonic ideas within such a piece can still be applied to other genres.

Defining Structure: Writing a verse in one key and the chorus in another helps distinguish the sections from each other. The average listener won’t be consciously aware of it, but it still affects them. Their sense of forward motion and the “You Are Here” feeling are stronger. Without key changes, a song may feel like it meanders. For two alternating sections of music, the most basic approach is derived from chord progressions and involves changing from I to V. In other words, if the verse is in A major (I), write the chorus in E major (V), so that when the verse (I) reappears, a V-I motion occurs. This is discussed in more detail in another article, Structural Chord Progressions.

Adding Tension: When a song remains in one key throughout, it goes nowhere harmonically. By contrast, a song with key changes feels more dynamic. The goal of chord progressions is to return to the home chord (I), which is why all progressions end with it. The goal of key changes is that, once left, the home key is a destination-in-waiting, and the desire for the original key to return adds tension. This is why it is used structurally, too. Another option is to surprise the listener with a more audible/noticeable key change. They may not understand what happened, but the jarring or colorful change adds drama. This is also discussed in Structural Chord Progressions.

Variation: Presenting the music in different keys makes it sound different because keys don’t sound the same. Switching between two major keys, or two minor ones, works easily, but going from major to minor (or vice versa) often works well, too. Which key depends on an understanding of related keys and how to use a progression to change keys, and personal preference. For example, from E major, some obvious options are E minor, B major, A major or minor, and C# minor. Each has structural implications, and knowing how to return to E major later brings things to a resounding close.

Every key falls on the guitar differently, opening up some possibilities and closing others. Adapting your theme to fit can cause subtle changes in how it sounds (this is especially true of riffs). Working in different keys also changes your thinking, keeping your perspective and your playing fresh.

Writing Multiple Parts

Guitarists enjoy cleverly written guitar parts, especially when there’s more than one at a time. Whether dual leads or layered rhythm guitars, writing such parts is much easier when you’re very familiar with the internal structure of chords and have studied counterpoint. Both subjects are taught intensely in a music curriculum.

“Part writing” in Music Theory class will make it clear that you can change chords simply by changing one pitch, not moving all of them. If you’re holding A, F, D (a D minor chord in 2nd inversion), you can drop the D to a C to create an F major chord (A, F, C) in 1st inversion. This might not sound like much, and as a single guitar part, it may not be enough change, but if this is an additional guitar part, such simple motions can make great secondary writing. If it’s a 3rd or even 4th guitar, the resulting sound can be rich, like this three-guitar and one bass example from my acoustic piece, “The Joys of Spring”. It works with distortion, too, not just acoustic guitars.

 

Another version of multi-part writing is having several distinct lines in addition to the rhythm guitar’s chords. This short clip from my song “Epic” demonstrates this with 5 guitar parts that enter one by one: the main riff, chords, a melody that becomes an ostinato, double-stops, the high E string, and finally a solo. This sort of writing is difficult without some training.

 

Dual or harmony lead guitar is much easier to understand as well. Classes in Music Theory, Counterpoint and Musical Form, with all the analysis and four-part writing, will make writing only two parts pretty easy by comparison. Playing a melody in strict 3rds is effortless, and writing two different melodies that work together (counterpoint), even over riffs that have melodies, too, is also more straightforward. Listen to this clip from my song “Journeys”, where two call-and-answer leads work over the riff melody.

 

Easier Writing of Lead Guitar

A classical guitar degree will have you knowing the notes below the 9th fret fluently, and this can (but may not) help you play better lead guitar lines. For it to help, you must be able to think about what you’re doing instead of playing by rote. This means abandoning the more common way of navigating the guitar neck for the second and more thoughtful way.

The more common approach among untrained musicians is to use scale patterns, chord shapes, and memorized fingerings to find your way. This helps players go everywhere on the neck, play the same thing in many keys just by moving the hand around, and compensates for unfamiliarity with the pitches. This is how most guitarists learn to play because we’re in it for fun at first. Why waste your time learning all those notes when there’s a shortcut? Because this can come back to haunt you later – as a crutch that prevents you from thinking about what you’re doing.

The second way is to navigate via the notes on the neck. Non-guitarists might be surprised to discover this isn’t how people do it, but old habits die-hard. Once you know the fingerings in E minor, it’s hard to ignore them and focus on which notes you’re holding, but there are reasons to change. Every pitch has a melodic and harmonic relationship to the root of the key (E in this case) and the other notes. For example:

You should be able to think, “I’ll play a D# because it’s the altered 7th of E minor, and it resolves up by step to the root if it’s in the outer voice, and it’s the major 3rd of the V chord in a V-I progression, which is what the riffs are doing in background. I’m on B major (V) now, and the next chord is E minor, so my next note should be E, even if only briefly. Maybe I’ll quickly move up to a G to emphasize the minor tonality of the key. Or maybe I’ll play a G#, making it sound like I’m in E major instead, though this will only work if the riff isn’t playing a G natural. Since the chord is an E5 voicing of E and B, though, it will work.” If all of this isn’t in the back (or front) of your mind before your finger lands on that D#, you are not playing by the notes on the neck.

It is not enough to be able to figure out what note you are playing at a given moment. You must have placed your finger at that spot because of its letter name and all the associated relevancies, but this won’t happen automatically even after a degree unless you change your thinking (how to do so is a subject for another article). Even so, this multitude of knowledge about what could be done with pitches, if utilized, will make you a far more melodic and powerful lead player.

Coda

A traditional four-year degree in classical guitar, or another music specialty, is extremely valuable to longevity, versatility, and overall effectiveness as a musician. This is true even for rock guitarists, but only if you are able to apply it to the rock genre. This requires some thought and ingenuity, and many of these subjects will be discussed in further detail in other articles. The techniques can be seen in virtually all of the music I write, some of which is available as a free download. The annotated tablature shows progressions, key changes, and variations, and comes with an explanation.  A Far Cry and download a separate PDF of the notes.

Be sure to read Part 1.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a rock player, classical player, and composer, and what you can do with the degree and knowledge after.

Since I did not attend schools like the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) or Berkelee, no comparison is being made here, but this does not reflect a bias.

My Background

My pre-college experience with rock guitar was typical in that I generally ignored theory. Even when taught to me, I had little use for it and quickly forgot it. Then I took some courses at the local junior college and found it interesting, but as a budding classical musician, not a rocker. It still seemed largely useless except modes and progressions.

After two years of classes, I finally succeeded in merging classical theory into my rock playing. This means embedding progressions, structural elements and key changes, theme and variation, and two and three-part writing (on a single guitar). It also made it much easier to write melodies and solos, and to achieve what I wanted. I was suddenly a much better guitarist and composer. Two years later I graduated with a Bachelors of Music in classical guitar, Magna Cum Laude.

Colleges: Junior Vs. Full
English: Music theory circle of fifths diagram

English: Music theory circle of fifths diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Junior (or two-year) colleges are a good alternative to full four-year universities, for several reasons. They cost less, for one, but such schools are full of people who aren’t sure if the path they are pursuing is right for them. This makes it easier to change your mind and major. You can change specialties within the music curriculum or drop music altogether with less red tape. You don’t even have to follow the curriculum in order and can pick and choose courses, such as pursuing music theory but not ear training. Of course, if you become serious later, you will have some making up to do, but at least you can explore without committing. At some schools, you can even take music courses without being a music major. An audition may not be required, either.

At a four-year university, music teachers generally assume you are preparing for a future as a professional musician. There is more pressure and strict adherence to requirements. The caliber of musicians around you will be higher, but don’t assume the other students know so much more than you. Many know little about chord theory, modes, key changes, musical form, counterpoint, music history, and orchestration. Sure, there’s always that “violinist since age three guy”, but many started as teenagers and are as casual about it as you. This won’t be true at Juilliard, but the average school has average musicians, too. Don’t be intimidated. Remember, the whole point is to get educated. If they already know so much, why would they be there?

Prerequisites for Admission to Music College

This changes depending on the college, but four-year schools generally require an audition on your instrument regardless of what your major is (guitar, composition, music education, etc.) because they still want to know how good a musician you are. This is a stumbling block for rock guitarists, since a frequent requirement is to play three classical guitar pieces, one from each of the romantic, classical, and modern eras. You can’t go in there and play “Eruption”. One way around this is to start at a junior college, where an audition is often not required.

There is no prerequisite for reading music, so you can still be admitted if you can’t read at all. You’ll learn to read fluently during the constant music theory exercises and classes such as chorus, ear training, and your private guitar lessons, which provide no escape from the treble and bass clefs. With time, your ability to manipulate pitches will soar astronomically as a result.

During guitar lessons, you may have to memorize the music phrase by phrase. I did this for a long time and only used sheet music as a reminder of where I was in the piece. Your teacher will not expect you to simply start playing music put in front of you, even after 4 years. It’s just not realistic for most, though you will get faster. Guitar music is more challenging because the same notes can be played in different places, so you generally have to figure out what chord you’re going to be holding at every moment (the music does not have chord charts on it), which is one reason your instructor exists. Remember, you are there to learn, not to pretend you already know.

No knowledge of music theory or even the genre is assumed, and schools generally teach you from the ground up, from what a major chord is to who Beethoven was and where he fits in history.

Typical Curriculum

It can be safely said that the music curriculum neatly divides itself into the first two years and the last two years. One reason for this is that there are typically two years (four semesters) of music theory and ear training, which are basic courses along with class piano. You also have your private lesson (guitar) and large ensemble (chorus). The last two years are the more interesting and complicated courses: counterpoint, musical form, conducting, music history, and orchestration (guitar and chorus continuing). These are not the same everywhere, so check with the school.

Deutsch:

Deutsch: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music Theory is a general term that lumps together many subjects but is all the nuts and bolts of notes. It explains and demonstrates key signatures, time signatures, scales (and alternate versions called modes), intervals, chords, keys, modulation (key changes), music notation, and how to write simple two, three, and four-part harmony. It starts simple and continuously builds on its own knowledge. It is typically four semesters long and the first one can feel the most difficult not just because you’re starting, but because there’s more memorization and less practical “hands-on” application. In my experience, the second, third, and fourth semesters were more similar to each other, with increasingly complicated chords and key changes.

Ear Training and Sight Singing is the most feared course ever invented and goes on for four semesters. Welcome to your own personal “American Idol” experience. This course goes in parallel to music theory partly because as you learn about something in theory, you are now trained to recognize what it sounds like. The teacher will perform things on the piano, such as a scale, mode, interval, chord, melody, rhythm, or phrase of chords, and you’re expected to write down what it was accurately (after hearing it maybe three times). That’s the easy part. What frightens everyone is that you have to demonstrate that you know what a melody on paper sounds like by singing it from your desk while everyone listens. Don’t worry, you normally get to practice as much as two-dozen melodies outside of class. The saving grace here is that everyone is as petrified as you, and this is how freshmen music students bond. Misery loves company. To practice, it is advisable to work with a piano, which is one reason you’re taking class piano.

Class Piano is usually required because it’s expected that all music professionals will have at least a passing familiarity with how to play a piano. It can be one or two years. You are generally in a room full of other players, each with your own electric piano that you can’t hear unless you put on the headphones. You won’t be expected to play great piano music, but if you think that’s a relief, consider this: you’ll probably end up playing stuff like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” harmonized with a couple chords. If you find this as horrible as I did, you may opt for private piano lessons, which while harder on the hands, is kinder on your soul. You’ll need permission, however, and possibly an audition. You may also have to face a performance “jury” as described below.

Playing guitar

Playing guitar (Photo credit: hugochisholm)

Guitar is the heart of your degree, so you’ll have an hour-long private lesson with your classical guitar teacher for four years. You’ll learn technique, exercises, etudes, and representative pieces of the classical guitar repertoire from the 16th-century to today. It gets harder and more demanding as you progress. At the end of each semester, you’ll face a “jury”: three faculty members who have a list of what pieces and exercises you are prepared to play. For ten minutes, they can make you play anything off the list. There are other performance requirements, such as a solo junior recital (30 minutes), a solo senior recital (60 minutes), and a small ensemble performance (such as a four movements sonata with at least one other performer). One of the greatest advantages here is that you will learn the notes on the guitar neck, at least below the ninth fret, fluently.

Chorus (Large Ensemble): As a guitarist, for your large ensemble requirement, you will be thrown into the college chorus for four years because the orchestra doesn’t have a place for you. The college chorus is made up of voice majors, theater majors, and “the others”: people who either don’t play an orchestral instrument well enough to be in the orchestra, or whose instrument won’t be in the orchestra very often (such as a harpist or even piano majors). Through practice, it is relatively easy to sing even complicated music at the same time as a group. The voice teachers seldom single out “the others” to sing alone. They know who you are and have some mercy, but they do expect to see you trying and gradually succeeding.

Variacija1

Variacija1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Counterpoint is two or more independent melodies and is often two different semesters: vocal or 16th-century counterpoint, which is different from instrumental or 18th-century counterpoint. You may only have to take the latter, which is more relevant. The four-part writing you did in music theory helped prepare you for this. There are rules for how the “voices” can move, and it gets harder as you reach three and four-part counterpoint. You will likely have to write things like a canon, invention, or fugue, though they only have to be technically correct, not musically enjoyable. Of great importance here is learning to spot variations on the theme through analysis of written music. If you’re a composer, seeing how the greats did this will greatly augment your ability to create more material out of your original idea. This is one of the most valuable things to gain from a music degree.

Musical Form explains the internal structure of all those things you’ve heard about: canon, fugue, sonata, symphony, and so on. These are larger scale structures that are made up of many smaller forms, all the way down to the phrase. Naturally, you start learning the simple ones and work your way up. These structures are defined by chord progressions, key changes, and variations. The elements of these structures can be used in rock music without the musical form itself, and can be extremely useful.

Conducting will give you an appreciation of the conductor’s job in training an orchestra to perform to his interpretation, but won’t help you much.

Music History is condensed into two semesters for an overview and frame of reference for everything you’re learning. You’ll listen to a lot of music so you understand what music of various periods sounds like. This is less technical, and on the level of personal enrichment, is possibly the most rewarding course. Now when you hear a snippet of classical music somewhere, you know it sounded like a Beethoven symphony, and what the significance of that music is, not to mention that if you wanted to hear the whole thing, you at least stand a prayer of finding a CD of it.

Orchestration will certainly challenge your reading ability. There are at least twelve staffs and three clefs, plus transposing instruments (the note on the page might say C, but it’s really a B flat). You’ll learn the instrument ranges and how to orchestrate for each group (strings, woodwinds, brass) and combine them. This may help not your rock music, except for seeing how material can be spread across multiple instruments, but will change the way you hear symphonies. You may have to orchestrate something and get to hear the school orchestra play it. You may even get to conduct it yourself.

A Better Rocker?
Music Theory Notes-e4

Music Theory Notes-e4

For a rock guitarist, there are so many benefits to a music degree that this section became a second article titled Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2. This is a second major focal point aside from the content of a typical music degree. These benefits in the next article include:

  •   Knowing how to write variations
  •   Effective use of keys
  •   Writing multiple parts, including dual leads and harmony more easily
  •   More sophisticated arranging of guitar parts
  •   Being able to create much more emotional, complicated, or sophisticated music
  •   Significantly easier writing of lead guitar that is more melodic and does what you want it to
After College

Some think that the only point of a degree it to later get a job, especially in that field. While this is true in the practical sense, you are an artist, too, and if you never hold a music related day job again, you can still benefit enormously from your training. How many other fields can claim that?

Still, possible jobs include composing, arranging (orchestration), performing paid gigs (such as weddings), and teaching private lessons. To teach at any formal institution such as high school or college, you’ll need a music education degree instead of a classical guitar one. If you want to teach college level courses, you’ll need a master’s degree and probably a doctorate, but positions are rare due to the tenure of existing music professors. Many working musicians hold multiple jobs and have little job security, so if this isn’t for you, what then?

That’s where working in another field comes in, a prospect that leads many to snidely claim a music degree is useless, but this is nonsense. For starters, a degree is a degree. You’ve still proven to prospective employers that you’re mature enough to see it through. Don’t discount this. It’s important. Do you think people go to college just to have specified knowledge? They don’t. Many people change careers several times throughout their lives and don’t have a degree in the field in which they are now working. The fact that you’ve got a degree can be actually more important than what the degree is in, and if nothing else in college appeals to you, a music degree is far better than no degree at all.

Coda

People like to make fun of music degrees, but at the risk of being ridiculed, I’m very proud of my degree, my experience, my musical knowledge, my understanding of a truly specialized field that few understand (which makes me feel quite privileged and lucky), and most importantly, that I am able to do one of my most cherished things in my life so much better than before. I was always surprised when other music students complained about their music classes when I took more music courses than required. Maybe I’m just a geek (yes, I did do the extra credit stuff), but I thought the details of music were fascinating. I had always been an average student, but my love of music made me graduate with honors. And yes, it is an honor, one that I wear on my sleeve, thank you very much.

Be sure to read Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here.

Biased Feedback

A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here:

A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, but she actually said almost nothing about my album, which she mostly used as an excuse to mock the whole genre, only 1 of 10 comments being about my disc. She went out of her way to be rude, even searching the web for an unflattering, informal picture of me in rehearsal to accompany the review instead of using the promo shot I’d sent, and then mocking the photo. All of this revealed her bias, which meant her opinion had little value due to lack of objectivity.

In another example, regarding a novel of mine, a trusted friend complained about the descriptions being too long. It really got on her nerves; she went on and on about it. Picking up on this, I asked if she didn’t like descriptions as a general rule, and she admitted this was true and that she generally skips right over those paragraphs. “Aha!” I thought. But still, she had a point, and I took a good look at my descriptions and shortened them. They were long. The point is that, despite her bias, she still had good feedback.

Try not to discount biased feedback altogether because those people sometimes have a good point anyway, but not always.

Not Your Target Audience

When feedback comes from someone other than your target audience, you need to consider how much of a point they have. My mother doesn’t listen to heavy metal and thinks some of my lyrics are mean, but they’re nothing like Slayer lyrics, for example. I take her opinion for what it’s worth – if I want people outside the genre to listen to those songs, maybe I should keep that in mind.

Another example is when someone doesn’t “get” your work. Usually, fault there lies with the creator, as it’s our job to help the audience understand, but the audience also needs to absorb what they experience. We have to figure out when we need to fix something or leave it alone.

For example, I recently submitted a fantasy story to a fantasy story contest, so the judges were the target audience. Or were they? The story was literary, too, meaning philosophical and not an adventure yarn, for example (many things in the story were actually representative of something, not literal). While fantasy fans can certainly process and enjoy such a story, these judges clearly couldn’t, based on their feedback, which suggested many changes that basically said to me, “We have no idea what this story is about”; if they did understand, they’d never have made those suggestions. The story was over their heads. They weren’t the target audience. My mistake wasn’t the story itself, but submitting it to that contest. A literary contest would’ve been better.

This didn’t mean that their feedback was useless, however. It helped me evaluate the content of the story and, by contrast, my simpler ones.

Feedback that is Wrong

It’s tempting to think that all feedback that hurt your feelings is wrong, but that’s too convenient. However, sometimes people are actually wrong. Take this example:

Someone once told me my story had “a bunch of run on sentences”. A run on sentence is basically two sentences without the period in between. For example, “I’m hungry we ate” should be “I’m hungry. We ate.” Or “I’m hungry; we ate.” I haven’t written a run on sentence since grade school, and sure enough, not one run on sentence existed in the story (I checked). He was wrong, but was there something to learn from this?

Maybe. Many people improperly use words and phrases, like “run on sentence”. I thought, “Maybe he means some sentences are too long for him.” I looked and decided to shorten a few, though I’d never have considered them genuinely “long” (I can do a lot longer). Some readers are less sophisticated than others and can’t handle length or complexity even if those sentences are grammatically correct. Casting for a wider net, I simplified. I could’ve left them alone, but changing them didn’t hurt anything whereas leaving them might bother some people.

The point here is to not discard bad feedback but figure out what it can tell you.

Feedback that Includes Suggested Solutions (Which Are Wrong)

Oftentimes, people notice a problem and suggest a solution that isn’t a good one. As the creator, you know your intent and they don’t, so their solution may not suit your goal.

Here’s a good example: a reader took an allegory of mine literally and wanted me to say where the story took place and what else was happening in the world. Well, it took place in a forest that represented the unknown. Changing it to be Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C., for example, would have stopped it from representing anything.

Sometimes a reader wants to know something, too and complains that you didn’t tell them, but that doesn’t mean you give it to them. Sometimes they aren’t supposed to know. Stories have cliffhangers or unknown resolutions at times, and lyrics are sometimes ambiguous so people can decide for themselves what they mean. Their “upset” is okay.

Resist caving in to pressure!

Feedback that Includes Assignment of Motive

People can really cross the line with feedback at times. Sometimes they’ll assign motives to you and then criticize you for having them (when you don’t). Either that or they’ll say you don’t care about some fundamental aspect of your artwork when you do. Generally, they smear your character in some way, often going for the ego. It should be largely ignored if it happens to you. And you may want to not only stop asking for feedback from them, but reconsider your relationship.

I see this most often with reviews by strangers, where you’d think they’d be more professional and avoid personal comments, but nowadays many amateurs blog about their opinion and don’t rise above this.

An example is something like, “Ellefson’s trying to be the fastest guitarist in the world but should keep his ego in check, because he’s not.” Or “Ellefson wants to be the next J. R. R. Tolkien.” Each assertion is fabricated (I care about neither). So is, “These lyrics aren’t good because you doesn’t care about writing them.”

People shouldn’t be theorizing about your motivations or personal characteristics. It’s unprofessional for some and just obnoxious for anyone.

Sometimes they’ll make up the circumstances in which your artwork was created without knowing what actually happened, then criticize you for that invented situation. For example, “Ellefson played all the instruments on the album (he’s obviously a control freak).” In that case, they don’t know the real reason(s), or care.

This kind of feedback is painful and trying to ignore it altogether can be difficult. It’s tempting to think about it, but there’s little reason to because there’s nothing to gain, no insight hidden in the meanness, and no change to make. If that person had anything valuable to say, they would’ve done it without the attitude. Whatever glimmer of usefulness might be found in there is not worth the pain of examination.

Coda

Regardless of what kind of feedback you receive, always remember that everyone’s got an opinion and no one is necessarily “right”. This is one reason to get as many opinions as you can from a wide variety of people. It helps keep everything – good and bad – in perspective.

And don’t let it stop you from doing what you love!

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples.

Defining Helpful Feedback

First we should define what useful feedback is and looks like.  Generally it is specific enough that we can take action to correct it (assuming it’s on target).  By contrast, vague feedback leaves us unsure what someone meant or how to address the issue.

Bad FeedbackBetter Feedback
I don’t like character JohnJohn is mean to other characters. If he’s trying to be funny, I was just put off instead.
I don’t like these lyricsThese lyrics are negative and depressing, but I otherwise liked the song. Maybe you can write about a more positive subject than addiction.
I didn’t like story endingThe story ends abruptly and I felt it was a letdown after the big build up. Maybe you can make that scene longer?
It doesn’t sound goodThe music is good but the mix is muddy and it’s a “wall of sound” where the texture never thins out before getting fuller again later. That’s fatiguing on my ears.
This isn’t written wellSome of the sentences seem a little long and hard to follow. Other times it felt stilted.

The “best feedback” improves on “better feedback” above by actually citing sentences, or in music, giving a timestamp (“at 1:03 it sounds out of tune”).

Constructive Feedback

This has been explained pretty well here (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_constructive_feedback) so I’ll just quote this. “Constructive feedback is letting people know in a helpful way how they are doing, and how their performance is being perceived. Constructive feedback can be positive (letting someone know they’re doing well), negative (letting people know about ways in which they could do better), or neutral (just an objective observation or analysis). “There are two main elements that make feedback (particularly negative feedback) constructive.

  1. The content of the feedback: Constructive feedback is specific, behavior or issue-focused (rather than a value judgment about the individual), based on what is observable (rather than assuming anything about the person’s attitude or motivation), and includes some specific direction on how to make improvements if some are needed.
  2. Most important, how the feedback is delivered. To be constructive, feedback should not be delivered in a manner that provokes resentment, resistance, defensiveness, hurt feelings, shame or a sense of failure. It means not backing the person into a corner with attacks. Honest doesn’t mean tactless. This is where emotional intelligence really makes a difference.”
Destructive Feedback

This is the easiest to give and get.  “That sucks”, “this is stupid”, and “I hate that” are basics.  It usually lack specifics, offers no suggestions for how something can be improved, and uses rude words or ones with negative connotations.  It is often meant to hurt the other person and can include unwarranted, personal attacks.  The recipient usually feels defensive.

Feedback That Doesn’t Tell You Anything

Whether they mean well or not, sometimes people give useless feedback, often because it’s completely lacking in specifics. It depends on who you ask, as a fellow author is more likely to think about the things you do and give better feedback, for example.  You might have to ask for details but still not get anything useful.  It comes with the territory.  Some people won’t care.  Some can’t articulate what they mean.  And some don’t want to hurt your feelings.

To me, the worst thing is vague criticism that makes you second guess yourself and also be unable to fix the problem.  And then you might publish/release it, warts and all, because no one told you what others might be thinking.  It’s like letting your friend go out in public wearing something that makes them look ridiculous. I suspect people are afraid of the “kill the messenger” thing, expecting you to be upset with them for negative comments, so they keep their own neck off the chopping block.

Types of Feedback
Mechanics

This is the easiest feedback to get, and most people can give meaningful help.  For authors, this includes grammar, spelling, and punctuation; college grads are more likely to help with grammar.  For musicians, it includes execution, meaning whether the performance is in time and on tune.

Substance

For authors, this includes plot points, theme, and overall feel of a story or its meaning.  For musicians, this means the feel and character of a song, lyrics or the band and what it stands for.  Whether things make sense applies to both. This sort of feedback is more interpretive.  This is an area where people are more likely to give non-specific feedback, such as “I like it”.  People who aren’t in your field (non-authors or musicians) often feel they aren’t qualified to comment on this and won’t, even admitting to this when asked.  I’ve heard some guitarists tell me that they can’t play half as well as me so who are they to criticize?  They’re still a listener of music (and of that genre) and can give this sort of feedback, so I don’t agree with that.

Part 2

Check back next week for part 2, which includes sections on biased feedback, when feedback is not from your target audience, wrong feedback, and feedback that includes bad suggestions or assigns motives to you.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

0 comments
%d bloggers like this: