Throughout the years of having the pleasure of playing in multiple bands and being first call for the trombone spot in those bands, there are many details of being a professional musician that people don't talk about and/or won't tell you about. As a side man you are hired to fulfill and hopefully add to the musical situation. How do you add to the music/ band? Well there's two labels, being a liability and being an asset. How are you/ do you become a liability? You're constantly late to the gig, there's a vibe of being pretentious (diva like), you are being adjusted to instead of you adjusting to the bands needs, and lastly never nailing the book when it comes time for the music part of the gig. Being an asset normally entails, being on time or early to the gig, being someone who is helpful to everyone or multiple people when the band is loading in, incredibly busy, etc., and is a great hang/ great person to be around throughout the gig, and lastly nailing the book and showing that you're having fun. In case you haven't noticed everything except one point on each on the two labels are not having to do with playing your instrument. Being a professional entails more than your skill which is music in this case. Don't be "that guy/ that person" at the gig who is constantly being accommodated for or is known for having an attitude at the gig. Why be a grumpy person about playing music? There's not a reason for it. In my undergrad I heard this phrase and have tried my best at doing this, I have failed multiple times but that's how you learn, is by failing; "Check your ego at the door, honey." I really feel that it is important to be both a good person and great musician in order to achieve a high profile of professional playing. You're playing music and have the opportunity to be able to please yourself but you also have the opportunity to maybe even please someone else and make their day. "Music heals" as many people have said and for me personally there's not a better feeling than someone telling me "this was awesome to listen to, thank you." So I leave this note with the quote, "Check your ego at the door, honey." Enjoy what you do and if you don't find your passion you'll continue to be unhappy in these musical situations. Being a sideman entail both being a musical asset but also being an asset to others, yourself, and the band. The more you can do for the band, the more reasons you can or will be hired in the future. Positivity, being helpful, being on time, being a great hang, and being a great musician. All of these aspects will get you a gig not an attitude of expecting a gig because of your talent.
After my tenure at the University of Texas and Texas State I'm coming to an end of my undergraduate degree. During my undergrad career I performed in school and became a working musician in the area playing 3-4 nights a week all while in school for about 3 years. How did I balance this? Well first it started with sacrificing a bit of sleep in order to make the "hang" or in other words, in order to network. Networking is one of the best way to get gigs/ performance opportunities. As a student in music school there are many things that music school doesn't teach in a classroom. What don't they teach you? How to talk to people, how to initiate a gig/ negotiate a gig, how to properly submerge yourself in the scene you're trying to get in with all while not seeming like "that annoying guy". From what I have noticed making all jam sessions and making all "hangs" where the most working guys in town are playing are where you make those networking connections. While we practice countless hours in the practice room, practicing networking is just as important. Learning to ask questions like, "can I sit in later, if that's cool?" is one of the best ways to get stage time and possibly even more connections with people in town who are playing a lot. Always have your horn with you no matter the situation. Most of the time guys are looking to have a "new" factor on their gig trying to keep it "fresh". What's more new than someone asking to sit in on the gig that is normally something else. Balancing school and professional playing is tough but by taking the technical and harmonic studies we have in school we have to combine our social skills along with the musical skills in order to assure or at least give you an opportunity to play as a musician. Performing will not only enhance your resume or musical experience but it will also enhance your awareness while in performance. Being aware of yourself during a performance is one of the best ways to have great performances because you're not only paying attention to what's going on around you but you're now in control of the time and hopefully not as/ or not at all nervous. Hope this helps younger musicians trying to break into a scene or others of course.
In recent lessons with students I'm frequently asked how do you learn a tune? Many people say "listen to the original recording and memorize it" and I agree. Although that statement is true, I believe there are many other approaches that can be considered. Not every one learns the same way and that can cause a road block and/or discouragement on the path to learning a new tune. Personally, I have three steps that I adhere to when learning a new tune.
The first step is listening to the tune via the original record and hopefully liking what I'm hearing. I haven't found many original recordings that I don't like, but there are some which brings up my next point. Many times we can't connect to a melody because we haven't found a way that is interesting to our ears and because of that we struggle learning that tune. I'm not saying putting a melody in a different possibly more difficult time signature or new reharmonization or something extreme but I am advocating that maybe hearing the melody to another groove could help. Maybe there's lots of different things musically going on in the original recording (drum fills that vary the time feel, shifting chords that catch your attention, more complexity). I learned tunes like Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile" in a salsa groove, Miles Davis "So What?" in a funk groove and many other tunes to different grooves which made me more interested in the melody. It's cause and effect, if you're not interested then normally there will be no focus on the tune which now is preventing progress. While I listen to the original recording I also try to incorporate listening to the version that I like best and usually end up comparing the two and what is happening amongst the two recordings.
Step two, I learn the melody enough to be able to sing along with the recording. For me this is the easiest part. I sing melodies/ solos every day and it has strengthened my ears because of it. I learned this method from internationally acclaimed trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon. His book "If you can sing it, you can play it!" is where I read about this my junior or senior year in high school. This method is crucial for any musician of any genre. Many if not all of my mentors and professors have been strong advocates of singing melodies and etudes to improve your ear. If your ear is not strong then you will have trouble with this at first. Worry not though friends, that is why we practice! To get better at things we're not so good at.
Step three, I pull out a lead sheet and then I read what is written down and compare the recording to the page. People might disagree with that, and that's okay! I'm a visual learner and other musicians might be too. While constantly trying to improve your ears, you should also spot check any discrepancies that you might have if you're not able to get exactly what's being playing on the recording. There are errors on both sides of the spectrum. Some recordings have wrong notes and some transcriptions also have wrong notes written. This is why we should incorporate both and compare them to each other. Typo's (wrong notes) happen in all sorts of music. I've found multiple in the Bird (Charlie Parker) Omni Book and some in Arban Characteristic studies (No.1 specifically). I only found that out though by playing through it and comparing me to the recording(s) I used. The flip side of that, listening to a recording hearing three different versions and then comparing the notes to the chord being played at the time and seeing if it fits melodically and harmonically. You can do this both aurally and by comparing a lead sheet to the recording.
I hope this helps you out! Please comment below with critique or agreement or share it with your friends! Or like it! By no means am I advocating for my method being correct, I'm just trying to share a method of mine with others who are looking for a new way and or wanting to try something new!
P.S. I know all of these post are late in the night, when I'm done practicing I like to think about education so I can be a better teacher. I'm such a nerd, haha!
As a doubler on two similar horns but yet two different horns I find myself addressing fundamentals as the main point in practice sessions. I believe no matter what genre of music you're playing, fundamentals are the highest priority one should have. Personally my view has changed through the years and out of all the different parts of fundamentals I find that tone, time, dexterity, and flexibility are the most important aspects to focus on. When practicing I prioritize making my tone as pure (clear; no fuzz or air out of the corners) as possible. I feel out of the four I listed tone and time are the most important. I've equated tone with an analogy: "if you can't speak with confidence then your point will not be understood or misunderstood." If your tone isn't pure and clear to the audience will they truly appreciate what you're playing? One can make the point that tone and what's good tone is subjective but personally I feel music is about aural accessibility from sound to someones ear. Time is an important part of fundamentals as well. As a brass player our wind (air), tongue, embrochure, apeture, and finally fingers and or slide arm need to be on in sync with one another in order to make a note come out in time. Normally a sign that this is not happening would be "cracks", "fracks", or "clams" of note beginnings. If these five items are not in sync with one another then the production of sound is now compromised. I like to use analogies because my teachers always did with me. My analogy of time is when you're riding in a car and you shift out of gear because of a transmission slip/malfunction. The car is accelerating but in an unorthodox fashion. Much like playing sound is coming out of the horn but not very fluidly. Many people are respected in this art form of brass playing because of their ability to play their respective instrument with ease. This is because of their dedication to practicing tone and time.
Wrapping up, I've always been taught to use a metronome and tuner for everything. I mean everything. Scales, long tones, scale patterns, etudes, warm downs. An amazing app out right now is "Tonal Energy" and it's worth your purchase. Not only does it record you but it analyzes your intonation (tuning) and has a metronome that can be adjusted to whatever it is you're needing, i.e, 4/4, 5/4, 13/8, cut time, etc.
Hope this is something you think about in your future music endeavors!