Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The 13 People you meet in the Community Musical's Pit Orchestra:

This is a response to a Facebook post I saw about this blog:

As you may know, I work every year in the pit orchestra at my local community theater (notice where I put the 'r' there; that's the way it's spelled!).  Enjoy.

1. Director (who isn't in charge of music): She would like to have a say in the 90 cuts that litter the rehearsal room floor, but the "Music" Director just doesn't need another dance number to prepare for.

2. The Pianist: She's the one who goes to every audition, rehearsal, and staging. She also has played more notes by the end of the show than many of the actors will ever sing.

3. The Veteran: This person has played in every single production since the theater group started. His/Her notes are likely still etched on the music from the first run of Oliver.

4. The New Family: This is the young couple with possibly one on the way that swear up and down both of them will still participate when the baby comes... We'll see...

5. The Bass Player: He's a high schooler who's mother knows the director and the director was desperate. He can read music, but prefers it if some just tells him what key and style to play.

6. The Handle Bar: He is either a trombone player or a tuba player. Somehow, out of every bit of improbability, he looks good. Like the star of a cigarette commercial from the '80s good.

7. Mr./Mrs. Infinite Wisdom: Sometimes this is the same as the Handle Bar. No matter what is happening in the music or in politics of the musical, they have an overly wise and insightful comment that makes everyone stop and think...awkwardly.

8. The I-Play-Everything: This person usually is a woodwind player. They play flute, clarinet, some clarinet no one has heard of, and anything else they can lug into the pit.

9. The Guitar Player: They never played a single bit of jazz music before the picked up the guitar part for "Anything Goes". Also, they think they set the tempo. Silly guitarists...

10. The Percussionist: This is not the trap set player. They bring as a minimum three large timpani, at least one xylophone, and four bags stuffed full of noisemakers.

11. The Setup/Teardown Guy: This person, regardless of any personal life, comes two hours early, setups up everyone's chair and stand (somehow correctly), lays out the cables for mic'ing and stand lights, and then after the show stays two more hours to make sure everything is put back correctly. We love this person. We pick up their check at the after party.

12. The High Schooler: She (and it always is a she) is the flute player (and it always is a flute player) who came because she wanted the extra line on her college application. Now, she might be looking at how much her flute will go for on craigslist.

13. The Tuba Player: He plays the bass book. Even though there is a bass player. He is also why almost every song has that om-pa feeling.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent Writing Challenge 1 of 40

So, in addition to multiple other personal things I'm doing for Lent this year, I've also decided to challenge myself in song writing.  I've never really done much song writing before. But, I've always wanted to.  In order to jump start myself a bit, I'm going to do 40 songs, 1 a day, through Lent.  Since today is Ash Wednesday, I've started early.  Take a listen:

Copyright 2014 by Danny Fowler

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Guitar vs. Ukulele: Personal Reflection

A week ago I spent Wednesday through Sunday at my first national music event: The Folk Alliance International Winter Music Camp and Conference.  I can't tell you how much of a blast I had.  Not only did I learn a ton, but I felt like a very respected member of the teaching staff for the camp.  Tons of friendships and contacts were made, and a new step in my career was made.

Over the last week since then I have had two out of three gigs and tons of time trying to absorb the many notes that I took that week and made since.  I've already logged something close to thirty (that's 30) hours this week in music between playing, practicing, and writing.  In all of this, I have also been reflecting a lot.

In particular, I've been reflecting on my time spent on guitar vs. my time spent on ukulele.

Honestly, I love both instruments, but as a musician I am constantly forced to do two things very well:  Play my instrument and create an image.

I can play both guitar and ukulele well, but ukulele comes much more naturally to me.  It seems like everything from rhythm to melodies lay out in a much more logical way.  Which is crazy, I know, given how similar the instruments are.

As for image... Well, let me just say that one of my favorite gigs, Headrush, talks more about my ukulele music than about my guitar.  Even my mom likes my ukulele more than my guitar.

I don't want you to get the idea that I'm giving up guitar for ukulele.  Far from it.  My work at my church alone will keep me playing guitar quite a bit every week.  Add in the musicals I do and the fact that I just really like playing jazz guitar, and I'll be keeping up with it.

But, as my forte performance instrument... I've decided to finish the Koolaide and go full on with ukulele.  I'll be focusing more time on that instrument and working more and more on the arrangements for my gigs.  I'll also be doing some recording and notation which I will share with my blog here.  The end goal: Building my brand as a ukulele player.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Finger Nails

Most guitar and ukulele musicians realize that nail care is a part of being a good musician.  However, very few of us play often enough to need to think beyond just keeping yourself well groomed.  I know of a several musicians that keep a nail care kit that has a clipper and a file in their case or gig bag.

But what happens when you play a lot?

Well, by a lot I mean two or more hours a day, every day.  That is close to what I average.  Some days, it seems more like I will get a four hour day in.  This can be rough on your nails.

The way I strum ukuleles is by using the top of my index finger for down strums (and the pad for up). Even on nylon strings this can wear down a finger nail quickly.  In addition, I noticed recently that when I play guitar, I tend to graze that same nail across the top of the strings even when I am using a pick!

It is because of this that I started asking the wonderful ladies in my life about nail care.  Guys, you won't believe the amount of good info the ladies have on nail care.  It's kind of impressive!  After this "research", I've come up with a few habits that guitarists and ukuleleists should have when it comes to nail care:

The 4 Nail Care Habits of Effective Musicians
  1. 1. Moisturize - You'd be surprised how much just keeping your hands well moisturized will help with your nail health.  
  2. 2. Vitamin E - Using a nail specific vitamin E application will keep the nail bed healthy and strong.
  3. 3. Trim Them Often - Everyone's nails grow at different speeds.  If you are like me, you should plan on trimming them weekly, not just when the "need it".
  4. 4. Hard as Nails - Lastly, when you find out that you have a nail that gets worn more than the others, use a product called Sally Hansen Hard as Nails with Nylon. It will keep them hard and won't wear off near as much as the nail itself.

Other Tips

A lot of players use the press on type of acrylic nails.  Everything I have read about them makes me cringe.  The talk is that your nail will eventually get a fungus and fall off.  I'm guessing you don't want that.

If you really need the longer finger nails for picking (and some do), my advice is to go to a salon and tell them you are a guitarist/ukuleleist and that you need only one hand (or so many fingers) done with gels.  Gels will last a while.  Once you are used to them, you can probably invest in the equipment (lamp, applicator, etc) to do them at home.

Of course, all of this is for your right (picking) hand.  For your left hand, the best thing is to keep them short and clean.  I've had students before who had longer finger nails and liked getting them done up.  Hell, Dolly Parton performed with strangely long nails!  But, you aren't Dolly Parton.  Odds are, if you have longer nails, they are getting in the way.  Make the sacrifice and cut 'em down.  You'll thank me later.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Folk Alliance Music Camp: Getting Closer

As I've been getting closer to the February Music Camp, I've been refining my Swing Guitar Lesson and getting more and more excited.  Then, the other day I get in contact with one of the organizers and discover that not only will I be giving a workshop on Swing Guitar, but I will also be doing one on Swing Ukulele (as well as leading a few Ukulele jams).

No details are set yet, but I've already had to send in a synopsis of each lesson.  The trick was, I'm don't really have the Ukulele workshop written yet!!!

Now, I'm scrambling a little to get my draft finished so I can iron it out.

The cool thing is, I've never really thought about Swing Ukulele the same way I do Swing Guitar.  Because of the regular repertoire inherent in the Ukulele culture, which is very saturated with swing tunes as much as it is with folk and classic rock, I've always felt Swing Ukulele was sort of a natural part of any Ukulele player's repertoire.

But, now I'm really looking at it.  I'm breaking down what I do already and what I find myself working on in this genre.  What I'm finding is that there really are some differences between just playing Ukulele and playing Swing Ukulele.  What is even more astounding to me is the amount of differences I've finding between Swing Guitar and Swing Ukulele!

Eventually, I'll post a lot of my findings and ultimately my lesson here.  But for now, I think I need to concentrate on writing and polishing both lessons and getting ready for the upcoming awesomeness of the Folk Alliance Music Camp!


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Practice Log: Day 1

All together, I only got about 2 hours of practice yesterday.  Usually, on Wednesdays I get an extra hour and a half of work with my praise band.  But, due to incoming weather, we chose to cancel the worship service and rehearsal.  But, I'm not counting it as one less than my goal.  I'm counting it as two more towards my goal.

Finding the time is going to be a challenge.  Three hours of playing when there isn't a gig or a group rehearsal can be daunting.  I'm betting on the key being setting up specific amounts of time to work on different concepts and tunes.  Also, focusing on getting 2 hours daily of practice each day and them gleaning the extra time from gigs and performances will grow me towards my goal rather quickly (seeing as gigs can be as much as three hours long by themselves).

A good breakdown right now might look like this:
  1. Warm up (15 min)
    1. Finger Exercises (5 min)
    2. Scales/Shapes (5 min)
    3. Arpeggios (5 min)
  2. Chord and Harmony Exercises (30 min)
  3. Tunes (60 min)
    1. 10 to 15 minutes per tune
    2. Focus on Harmony, Melody (single note), bass lines, and lyrics
    3. Make sure to put it all together at the end
  4. Warm down (15 min)
    1. Same as warmup at a lower speed.
I'll try to have some tunes and exercise examples in the coming days to illustrate better what I am working on.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 and New Years Goals

So, at the beginning of the year I'm wrestling with new goals and looking ahead to what is to come (which is a lot).  Last year I was successful at cultivating a beginning solo career, starting a new worship at my home church, and making a name for myself as a teacher and performer of swing music (in my town at least).  For the next year, I've got a tall hill to climb if I am to really "make it" as a musician.

2014 Music Goals
  • Planning:  Stay ahead of my planning for worship service(s) <- I may have as many as four total by the end of the year to plan for!
  • Practicing and playing: 1,000 total hours logged
  • Professional development: Find a mentor to help me better understand the local musician market.
  • Blog more about music.
I've got a few more personal goals too, but these are my big music ones.  In particular, the goal of 1,000 hours of total practicing and playing time is a big one.  That is just under 3 hours per day!  Which can get very grueling very quickly. 

Incidentally, if you have an 8 hour job, this may not seem like much.  But, consider the physical, emotional, and intellectual cost of each of those hours in addition to the hours of planning and preparation that come before each.  Being a musician is like being a fighter jet.  For every hour of flying (playing), you have to put in close to ten hours of maintenance (planning).  Maybe not one to ten literally, but there is a lot of off fretboard time to playing guitar professionally.

Breaking it Down

So, estimating 3 hours a day is rather generic for this.  But, as I've often learned, every day is different.  A better way to look at the amount of time is how much per week I should look at.

1,000 hrs / 52 weeks = 19.2307...

So, we could say about 20 hours a week either practicing or playing.  That seems reasonable.

Just to keep it clear, I'll define practicing or playing as the time actually connected with the guitar and working either on technique, tunes, etc or playing gigs, jam sessions, bar mitzis, etc.  I won't include planning worship, setting up gear, running a sound system, or other non fretboard stuff.

However, there is a lot of music practice that happens away from the fretboard.  Things like building scale knowledge or reading books/articles about technique and developing the drills and exercises to teach them to yourself.  That stuff definitely counts!  And song writing!  Don't for get songwriting!

Blogging More

I'll probably use the blog to track myself through this process along with an overall progress bar.  Plus, this will give me a spring board to bounce ideas on practice regimes and exercises to maybe help others get a good idea of ways to better themselves on guitar and ukulele.

In addition to that, I have a big series of lessons coming up for the Nukesters and I'll be blogging that lesson along as well.

Over all, this will likely be a post heavy year.  I hope you enjoy every minute of it!