This article is about some of my early struggles as a pro guitar player and how I overcame them…I hope you like the info here.
As a young jazz guitar player, I really struggled to make ends meet.
I taught, played weddings, and did little gigs and in NYC it was a “scramble”. If you live in a smaller town, with fewer musicians – it can be a little easier.
You may be in this situation yourself, wondering how you can boost your gigs, raise your prices, and so on.
I needed a solution for my situation at the time.
There was an oversupply of musicians in NYC…and because of certain things I had been taught I was not “connecting” with the audience which meant fewer gigs, and more financial hardship.
Fast forward to 2007…the year that solo fingerstyle guitar changed my life.
“Success” is personal and musical, but also has to do with gigs & professional life. Without enough gigs, the personal and musical aspects of life suffer…so all aspects of what we call success are connected.
The solution to success lies in audience connection, delivery of the music, and a “re-orientation” of what’s important and what’s not.
That’s why I have launched Study With Adam…to show you & others what I have figured out. It’s more than just ‘put your finger here’ type lessons.
Just the same way I love my audiences when I perform, I want to give something great (practical, usable, and REAL) to my fellow guitar pickers (YOU).
When Music gets Too Intellectual…
Audiences dry up, and so does your pay.
I myself studied classical and jazz guitar. Classical and jazz music are awesome, but due to the school business, music has become too intellectual, IMHO.
When an intellectual musician plays, it’s like there is a “plexiglass wall” between the musician and the audience.
The audience can “appreciate that the musician is good” but doesn’t really DIG the music, down in their soul.
Musicians based on intellect often say things like:
- “I did everything they told me in school, how come I don’t have enough gigs?”
- “There must be something wrong with the audience!!!”
- “Things ain’t what they used to be!”
- “All they want is pop music, those idiots don’t hear how smart-cool-hip I am!”
- “Audiences today have no taste!”
And then they teach their students this:
- Play all the intellectual music games, and get good grades in school.
- Your fellow musicians’ approval is more important than the audience’s enjoying it.
- If you have no gigs, it’s the audience’s fault for not being “sophisticated enough.”
This is why many educated musicians have lost contact with an audience.
(I am not “dissing” classical or jazz. I love George Benson, Oscar Peterson, DIzzy Gillespie – all master musicians who do in fact “connect” with the people)
The AHA Moment That I’ll Never Forget…
As I was in the “cocoon” developing my solo repertoire, I’d play at restaurants with a jazz duo (guitar and sax). However, on our breaks, I’d play a few solo tunes for practice.
One night I played a solo version of “I’ll Be There” and it brought the restaurant patrons into applause!
This was an AHA moment!
“Play clear melodies for people with a good tone and good groove.”
Everything that I will teach you is not “ordained” by a school. I have no administration
that I have to answer to, except my own experience.
I am going to show you what’s worked for me. In a nutshell,
- Play groove & melody with a good tone
- Play tunes people know OR tunes they can understand
- Don’t lose the people with long improvisations. Only musicians care about that.
- Watch the people and see what they like, and take notes.
- Find the sweet spot that makes YOU and them happy. (balance the giving and taking)
This knowledge is not “ordained” or “approved” by a school system. It’s coming straight at you from real-life experience.
As a dude with “rubber hits the road knowledge” I can show you what’s worked for me and what hasn’t.
I wish you all the best in your musical journey!
RELATED: 10 Tips for Healthy Guitar Practicing
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Dominic Fraser says
Thank you very much for your enlightening post and it will inspire a lot of us who is starting their journey with guitar learning. 🙂
Congratulations on a very nice tone and technique in your video. I also appreciate your message and approach. It makes total sense to me. I play guitar (electric and acoustic ) and also sax, clarinet and flute.
I also play electric bass which is my main instrument and I am rehearsing with a latin style band at the moment.
I would really like to learn to play my guitar ( and potentially sing ( a challenge) in local bars, hotels and restaurants. My current thinking is to use my electric guitar to play some jazz with some backing tracks for the rhythm ( tunes like “have you met miss jones”) I am working on my technique and repertoire to get it good enough. I do believe that I have the potential for a very good sound and in my past performances with bands I know that I can connect with audiences. It seems a long slog to turn the potential to reality although I am making progress. Do you think you could help me with guitar playing please?
Thank you in advance
Tim, if you already play bass, then think like a bass player. Learn standards and play the bass notes & sing the melody. Next, do jazz voicings with just the root 7th & 3rd. I have no instruction on that yet, but I’ll come up with something. Just dive in. AR
Jim Kangas says
This is a really excellent point. I know recently I’ve been working more on some of those great tunes that I grew up on (60’s-70’s) and making them a little more hip, because I LIKE THEM. Many of the musicians I admire (e.g., Frisell) have taken really, really simple tunes and worked them over. At the end of the day, I am like the audience, too!
Saw a picture these days that showed what you say. On Top is “You love it” On bottom is “You are paid for it”, on the right side “The world needs it” on the left side “You are great at it” in the middle where all four meet you can find your purpose.
EXCELLENT! Thanks Norbert!
Chris Akin says
I see you wrote this months ago but it is awesome advice. I play solidbody electrics and played off and on for years with a pick, never playing good, never feeling comfortable, just following the “rules”. I took it up again several months ago just strumming with the flesh of my thumb ala Albert King. It was a total awakening. I was playing better than i ever had; i could actually feel what string my thumb was on so my left and right hands were allways in sync. What used to be a mountain of a problem for me was suddenly nothing. Ive started to use my index finger some also to be more polyphonic, but its amazing what one can do with a thumb. In regards to your other comments; i feel the most memorable songs are most times the simplest. I appreciate your helpful advice, and your website, thank again
ISn’t it amazing how a small change can open up a new universe? Enjoy the journey…AR
I hear you Chris. I had a similar experience. For a variety of complicated reasons, life took me away from guitar for more than 2 decades. When I retired, I decided to come back. I expected to be rusty, but No. I was suddenly playing music when before I had only played notes. My hands started to work better too. I was enjoying playing and I heard new pieces in my head and could visualize how to play them. I heard performances in a new way, and could get inside the music. It was just all clear to me. Can’t explain it, but it’s nice to hear I’m not the only one. Suddenly retirement is an adventure, not a downhill slide.
The struggle is too real… You certainly have some really solid advice here. I personally just play guitar as a hobby but one of my friends is in a band and he seems to be struggling to get gigs and gather an audience. Will suggest him check this page out. Thanks
Hi Adam. How do you go about landing solo guitar restaurant gigs? I just moved to a new city and have been cold calling restaurants asking if they need music and haven’t had any luck.
Nailed it dude! I must agree, playing something that is technically demanding but the audience doesn’t relate to won’t get you asked back. When I play an acoustic version of Bohemian Rhapsody, the crowd can’t help but sing! It’s not about what the audience thinks but rather what the audience feels; if you get them singing along, they WILL have a good time and your value as a live performer goes up.
Such great advice on how to please your audience. Play familiar tunes they’ll recognise, or if not so well known, a tune that is very musical with some great chords or some clever bits as I call them, and you’ll be popular & be invited back.
I know exactly what you’re saying. Play what people want to hear. Why is that such a revelation? But you’re right, it is. Keep on reminding us, boss.
One thing I find helps me is to research the song in detail. Who wrote it? When? Where? Why. Did it impact the author’s career? Did it impact a particular audience? Who? Who else played it and what did they do with it? Is the influence of that song apparent in their other music? Are there more second’ and third-generation players? Has it influenced them? Songs aren’t just musical constructs. They have a life! Have the interest to find out. Have the enthusiasm to share the history with your audience. It will make your performance better, and keep the audience hooked. If they only want music, they can play CDs. They want to be entertained, and nothing is easier or better than telling them about the living history of the piece.
Brian Wendt says
As a solo guitarist in Colorado I struggle with this issue all the time. How to get gigs and what to play. How to present myself as a performer, guitarist and composer. I go to many solo guitarist concerts and watch the artist as well as the audience. On my website (brianwendtguitar.com) is a blog about how after a Tommy Emmanuel concert, on the drive home only Classical Gas and a Merle Travis song were stuck in my brain. Not one of his great original compositions could I replay in my brain. Also for years when I played in Southern California I was known as the guy who played Classical Gas, not for my original compositions. The familiarity earworm problem is a good way to describe this. It works against a guitarist/composer getting people to remember his compositions, which hurts his long time career identity.
There are other blogs about my observations of the audience when I’m playing you might find interesting.
All so a big problem in Colorado is that Ascap/BMI fees and threats are causing restaurants and bars to stop have live music and the only possible work around is to play all originals or old tunes that Ascap/BMI have no control over.
Any advice or comments?
Peter Smith says
Very wise advice here, but I have to echo BrianW’s comments from 2018 as well as factor in the complications that the pandemic exposes. The BMI/SESAC/ASCAP folks have posed a huge threat to doing covers in live venues in my area of NC. Add to that the limits that the pandemic has imposed makes for a complicated situation beyond just what we do musically.
Admittedly, a lot of this is out of our control, but I would be interested in hearing an update as to what your thoughts are nowadays.