Learning About Music and The Music Business

A lot of people learn on their own. They get a guitar, bass or keyboard and maybe a chord book and go to town; however, getting professional help can be a benefit.

I did it by the hunt and peck method, been playing for several years and was doing a good job at it, but there was a young kid in my building who had been playing guitar for just six months and he was so far beyond me it was disturbing. What was his secret? He was taking lessons from famed jazz guitarist Joe Pass -- at like $100 a lesson.

I was a bass player, but Willie Brannon was far hotter than I was. He took private lessons and once remarked that they did him a lot of good, especially in the realm of not picking up bad habits that can hurt your playing, such as wrapping your thumb around the neck of a guitar or bass (it's supposed to be up flush against the back of the neck).

To take lessons with hot players you have to pass an audition. One very good guitarist I worked with, Billy Rieger, was taking lessons from famed jazz guitarist Jimmy Stewart (a guitarist who has shared a stage with Carlos Sanatana's mentor, Gabor Szabo -- in fact Szabo even recorded one of Jimmy Stewart's songs), however you’ll find many good, lesser know teachers through your local musical store or in the local classified ads of your newspaper. Most music stores, in fact, offer lessons. One store that used to be down the street from me in Atwater Village included a student guitar and several lessons for a modest flat fee.

ISBN: 076455106X ISBN: 0764553569

Some people do well learning out of a book. When I was starting out about all there was were the various offerings from Mel Bay which covered mostly folk and classical guitar – but that will teach you the basics, especially for lead guitar work which is all scales! One high school senior I talked with learned out of Guitar For Dummies (there's also Rock Guitar For Dummies) which is an excellent franchise series of books detailing the how-to’s of just about anything you can imagine! She plays both acoustic and electric guitar and will also be going to music camp this summer, which is another excellent (but somewhat expensive) introductory place for someone young (generally these camps are restricted to those between 13 and 21 years of age) to not only learn about the music experience (her camp will include a trip into a recording studio) but gets you into networking with other musicians, which is an important aspect of the music industry! (It’s not what you it’s who you know.)

As with many of my contemporaries, this young player’s family is helping her in her endeavors. Her father got her both a Squire electric and a Tascam four track recorder, which augments her Yamaha acoustic she’s had for several years already. These elements are the same types of tools many record companies supply to their starting artists and they are excellent tools for composing, learning and, with great skill, time and patience, they can even produce a final master capable of getting you on the radio! She’s working on putting a band together with her friends – again networking and playing is one of the best things you can do!

A lot of people are networking over the internet these days. Victoria Bell is doing her work out of the North East and has connected up with several collaborators, producers and photographers who are working with her on various aspects of her songs, demos and promotional packages.

There are a lot of clubs and groups at Yahoo for original music and bands. Many members post for players near their location and often make good connections. But there’s a downside to the internet, which includes a lot of predators and people out stringing you along. No one should readily give out their home address or phone number until you dealt with a given person for quite a while. It’s a good idea for anyone networking by mail or e-mail to get themselves a post office box ($28 for six months) and use that address for initial communications!

For me, however, my improvements came slowly and mostly by playing live gigs for years and working with drummers light years ahead of me in timing and technique -- it was a struggle just to keep up with these players, but after a while I was able to hold my own. Once you get out into the real world and start playing, learning how to lock in with other players and keep pace, your chops improve tremendously! That’s why school try to get their students into the regular performance groups within the campus, even though most are classic, Latin or jazz oriented (few school have rock or folk ensembles).

Full time schools can offer a lot to the musician and there are a few trade schools, such as Musician's Institute in Hollywood, home of GIT (for guitarists), PIT (for drummers) and BIT (for bass players). They also have a complete recording set up. It is not a cheap school, so you really have to save your pennies for ages or take out a loan. It is also not an easy school, some world class players teach there and they come up with some interesting lesson plans. One drummer I knew was working on the beat, timing and techniques for the song "Tell Me Something Good" by Rufus, which, when we sat down and analyzed it with him, was a very complex arrangement. That was one week's lesson.

Another good private school in Los Angeles is Dick Grove, located in the San Fernando Valley. If you look around you'll find similar types of private instruction in cities somewhat near to your location -- and if you're just starting out the kid teaching at your local music is a good beginning, probably to a reasonable cost such as $20 or $30 a lesson. In Los Angeles we have a franchise called the Learning Tree, which offers all sorts of private training in various artistic realms, at a reasonable cost. These courses are often taught by professionals working in their field, but again you'll have to look at their course outline to see if they are teaching what you need to learn.

My old studio partner Alan Mayer, who'd been playing guitar for twenty years, took several night courses at a Junior College in Phoenix to learn MIDI and computer based recording on Pro tools. Another friend of mine who was a very good guitarist, Gary Mould, also took some jazz band at Valley College in Los Angeles.

Junior college is a low cost way of learning with few prerequisites. Today a single course is still under $100 at most of these two year schools, the only thing is that not every school has a course like my old studio partner Alan took in Phoenix! So you will have to make a few phone calls

A Santa Clarita Unified School Distric High school music recording studio with Pro Tools and mixing board.

Today some high schools are teaching advanced music and recording. Out in the Santa Clarita school district in the Valencia-Palmdale-Lancaster suburb of Los Angeles they teach both video and audio production with high end equipment, producing cable access television shows that sometimes feature local bands. For their audio recording they have a complete Macintosh Pro Tools set-up with a huge studio quality mixing board (pictured at right).

Awards received by the school's music and recording department.

There are also a few four year colleges offering a superb program that actually generates big-time professionals in the field -- the Berkelee College of Music in Massachusetts, for example, whose alumni include Paula Cole, Bruce Hornsby, Melissa Etheridge, Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, Jan Hammer, Quincy Jones, Diana Krall, Branford Marsalis, Steve Vai, Al DiMeola, Aimee Mann, Seamus Blake, Mike Stern and Juliana Hatfield. Down in Florida at one of their Universities they have a complete recording set-up and their staff includes regular columnists for the famed recording magazine, Mix. Another Florida University participates in a classical music summer camp program introducing high school students to their music school and programs.

The college program is, however, a fully matriculated course that requires you to take general educational classes including History, English, Psychology, Science, Math and other "solids" as a part of getting your BA in Music or recording. The costs are also much higher than even the Musician's Institute in Los Angeles -- upwards to $10,000 a year for tuition. You may also need a good SAT score, with a 3.0 or better GPA to get into some of these schools!

If you either can't afford any of these lesson (or you are like me, at odds with authority and into tinkering) getting a guitar, bass or keyboard and a few instructional aids will do the job. A metronome is the first aid your really need if you intend to play professionally. Learn to lock in to the clicking beat as that is what music is all about -- fitting in with others. The metronome is your first drummer (and a drum machine will also work -- bass players need to lock in with the kick drum, totally and completely). One of those $100 Casio or Yamaha keyboards with full sequences also make a nice tool. You can program in chord change patterns and play guitar along with these changes.

For guitar players, books with chord charts (tabs) will get you started. My long time associate Gary, when we first started playing as a teenager, also found books that show with TABS how to play the intricate solos for some of the Doors songs. He learned all of Robbie Kreiger's solos by heart and then he went on to learn Jimmy Page's solo's from Led Zeppelin on his own, using what he'd learned from the books.

To learn more about record companies, the Los Angeles local scene and selected act, check out Music Connection magazine. It is an excellent one stop, regular source for people, places and things that have to do with the commercial world of music.

To learn more about the recording side of the industry, check out Mix magazine which has various regular issues that include music and recording schools, studios in various parts of North America and lists of Producers.

To learn more about the music business in general you can find books through orgnaizations like the Bar Association of Beverly Hills who have compiled and sell low cost books on the music and entertainment industry. Judy Green Music in Hollywood, one of the best resources for songwriter's materials, contracts and books by entertainment attorney Walter Hurst. There is also the Seven Arts Press in Hollywood and the books of attorney Walter E. Hurst.

Our Music Special continues with these other articles:
Learning Music | Promo Pictures | Booking Agents| Managers | Producers | Pressing CDs or Vinyl
Record Companies | Copyrights | Recording Software | Sound Cards | Guitar and Bass
Multi-Track Recorders | PA and Live Sound | Microphones | Recording Engineer Doug Miller | Bands in Texas
Unknown Teen Band: Y@nK | Gigs and Clubs | Songwriting and Theory | Radio Airplay

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