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Tuesday
Aug182009

Play with your instruments and toys, learn them inside and out

Many artists strive to get the best gear, the top equipment and the most stuff that they can possibly cram onto stage or into the studio. Whether it’s that drum or this toy or that additional instrument, many musicians today have too much stuff, and most of them don’t even know how to use half of what they have. So play with your toys. Mess around with buttons, sounds, tunings, setups, etc. You may know the basic sounds, but what else can you do to find out even more about your gear?

In some ways, when you purchase a certain effect or instrument, it’s like you have purchased a kitchen’s worth of supplies and food. When you only use a certain configuration or a certain set up, it’s the same as only using one kind of food from that kitchen. I have a favorite food, but I also like variety and I like to know what all my options are before I prepare or order what I want to eat. Why not apply the same ideas to your gear?

Play with your gear, change the settings, do the unusual to get out of the usual mode. You never know what you may discover. Take a little time to experiment each day with your gear and/or instrument to find out what might inspire something new and different.

Missing a string or not missing it at all.

This goes for tuning, setting up, and practicing. Guitarists? Have you ever worked on your songs with one string missing? How would you rephrase the chord or substitute for that chord if you are missing a string? How does it make you approach your soloing in a different way? Do you find yourself creating or finding new licks from having that string missing?

Why not try it over the period of six weeks where each week you remove a different string? Run through your tunes, your practicing and improvisation to see what happens. You may find you’re more prepared and able to continue playing during performances even if you break a string.

Write it down

Don’t spend time worrying about losing your settings and the ones you like the most. Write them down. List where you have knobs turned to or settings placed at. You can take pictures if that helps as well. Then write down the different settings you discover while playing with your toys. Keep a little diary of different settings and their effects, what you like, what you don’t like. Jot down both the good and the bad. Alyssa, a good friend of mine has a quote I like on the topic too. “Sometimes what doesn’t work is more helpful than what does. It’s so easy to skip over the discord, but, even though it’s not pleasing, it can turn into something beneficial and, ultimately, beautiful.” It will help you learn how to find and remember the sounds you like as well as help you learn what you don’t like and how not to avoid it.

Conclusion

It really is simple. Play with your food. Don’t just settle for the sounds you know. Take chances, take time and add some effort to learn the full array of the gear you have. Understand how you can change sounds and how those sounds can change your playing. From turning knobs, to taking away a string, to removing a drum to anything and everything in between, research, listen and think of different ways you can express yourself. You already invested the money in the gear. Invest the time to know it inside and out.

© 2009 Loren Weisman

www.braingrenademusic.com

Watch out for Loren Weisman’s “Realistic Music Careers 101 Seminar” coming to a city near you and Loren’s book “The Artist’s Guide to Success in the Music Business” coming in 2010.

Reader Comments (4)

Although your writing consistently annoys me, I also think you've got a genius angle with a huge potential demand. Most people, in any endeavor, really do need to have common sense explained to them at length, and will benefit from your work. I bet your book will do really well, man, and I'm learning to appreciate you.

Slowly.

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Thanks for this. I was so guilty of this in some of my early projects (and a few recent ones). I would ask myself "What other effects can I put on my bass?" - even before I had mastered the last pedal or even had the best amp settings or tone control settings mastered on the instrument itself!

It's amazing what you can do with less, the creativity it takes to make music with less gear, less strings, less money, less options in general. I think of Mark Sandman from Morphine (who if you aren't familiar with please go out and listen to the album "Cure of Pain" Immediately if not sooner) who played a bass guitar with only two strings with a slide... He did more with two strings than most bass players ever did with 4 (or 5 or 6 for that matter).

I wonder if Hendrix had access to pro-tools... Well okay- I think I just hurt my head thinking about that but the point is limiting one's options in the creative process can be a great thing and can help you appreciate ever piece of gear, every string, every note.

I had a friend who when learning to fly a plan had an instructor who would place soap cups over the gauges on the plane that he was relying on the most until he could fly using only one or two gauges at a time. While I won't be signing up for flying lessons with that guy any time soon it is an interesting approach and certainly forced my friend to rely on parts of the control panel that were out of his comfort zone which lead him to be a more well rounded pilot.

A very long-winded rant I apologize. Thanks Loren for the article.

Rick
http://musiciancoaching.com

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterRick Goetz

I came across a similar post regarding DAW plugins. I am a mix engineer and read an article from another engineer who said to stop using presets and start playing with and creating your own settings. This is something I firmly believe in.

To add to the sections titled "Write it down", most of the gear today allows you to store your setting so that you can recall them later. Give this a try people. And then tweak those stored setting even more and store those. This will give you infinite options and help get your creative juices flowing.

-dave lopez

August 20 | Unregistered CommenterDave Lopez

That's why i'm down to just one acoustic guitar :) I sold off my PA because it was stressing me out to play gigs where i had to run sound. Now i only play shows where sound is provbided, I can play unplugged, like a house concert, or I have a little 2 channel amp that I used to use for busking in Santa monica that works for most small to medium sized venues.

August 21 | Unregistered CommenterMark Cool

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