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Figure 9.12. D chord on the piano.
Figure 9.13. C chord on the piano.
Figure 9.14. E chord on the piano.
Figure 9.15. E minor chord on the piano.
Figure 9.16. G chord on the piano.
Figure 9.17. C minor chord on the piano.
Figure 9.18. F chord on the piano.
Figure 9.19. F minor chord on the piano.
Figure 9.20. D sharp chord on the piano.
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Let's Get It ON!
Singing and playing are easy. It may not seem like it when you first start out, but it's a natural progression, and if you work at it even a couple of hours a day, you'll grow in your abilities exponentially, at least at first. I started playing guitar when I was 14. By 17, I was amazing. I still play guitar, 22 years later, about as well as I did when I was 17. But it serves me well enough, and I never set out to be a virtuoso anyway. The logarithmic nature of the swift learning curve most people experience with playing and singing is because the more you know, the more you can learn and understand and comprehend more quickly. It's that thing of "standing on the shoulders of giants," but with yourself.
I've heard it said that "If you can talk you can sing," and it's kind of true. Some people are more natural at it than others, but most people can carry a simple melody without a lot of training. There are very few truly tone-deaf humans . If you can sing the four notes to "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and hit them pretty close to correct, you can learn to sing in a band . And the same is true with playing an instrument: Some people are quicker studies than others, but pretty much anyone as smart as a chimp can learn to play three chords, and three chords is the basis of a lot of rock music. The rest is style and what you do with those three chords.
My editor Sandy told me, "Woody Guthrie has been quoted as saying that he got by mostly on two chords. He went on to say that every once in a while he'd throw in another one if he wanted to impress some girl."
I did not find it came as naturally to me as it has to others, but I've learned enough on my own to put out a dozen records and tour the world and make a dozen people get my band name tattooed on their bodies.
I always liked to sing, but it took me a long time to get good. In grade school, someone saw me reading Pete Seeger's biography, How Can I Keep From Singing? and said, "Good, Michael, you found a book to keep you from singing."
I played guitar in a rock band in high school and tried to sing backup. I wasn't a very good backup singer . Everyone in the band said, "You're a good guitar player. Why don't you just stick to that?" I ignored them and sang on my own, in the shower, in the basement , and in the woods for a decade until I got really good. From then on, whenever I started a band, I was the lead singer, and people loved it.
Backup singers have to be technically better than lead singers. But there's also something to be said, especially in punk, of everyone in the group , regardless of ability, shouting together on some of the choruses. It's very egalitarian.You sure can do a lot with four chords and four guys (or gals) if you work at it.
A microphone (also called "mike," sometimes spelled "mic") can be used handheld or on a mike stand. A mike stand usually has a clip at the top. Mike stands can be adjusted for height and angle by loosening the locking rings, moving the shaft, and tightening the locking rings.
Omnidirectional mikes pick up equally from all sides and are more suited to recording a room full of people talking or recording a whole band rather than isolating individual instruments. They are not good for live sound reinforcement because they tend to feedback more.
There are straight stands and boom stands. I prefer straight stands for singing for some reason, even when playing an instrument, although a boom stand would put everything more out of the way of my hands.
Windscreens are used to reduce the noise of wind when microphones are used outdoors and also to reduce the sound of plosives (sounds of the letters B, D, P) and sibilants (the S sound), which can cause microphones to distort momentarily. Windscreens are also great to help keep you from getting shocked while playing a guitar and singing at the same time.
I bring one in my guitar case and put it on the mike if I get shocked and switching the polarity doesn't fix it, and the club does not provide windscreens. You might want to bring two because as your set progresses and some spit from your mouth makes the windscreen conductive, you will start getting shocked again and may want to change to a fresh one between songs.
A windscreen will also help mask the stink of beer and cigarettes from hundreds of other idiots using the club's mike. You also might want to bring your own mike to prevent this, but make sure yours is clearly marked with your name somehow, and tell the soundman when you are doing soundcheck, so he doesn't think you're stealing one of his at the end of the night. Also, don't forget to take it in the excitement of being drunk on the meager applause!
Switching the polarity means switching the polarity switch on the back of your amp or on the P.A. system. This can help keep you from being shocked when you sing and can also minimize audible hum from the speakers . AC current has no positive and negative side. (Actually, it does, but it changes 60 times a secondhence, 60 cycle, a.k.a. 60 Hz, current.) But flipping this switch basically reverses the relationship to the ground. The ground is the third plug on a three-prong plugthe one that looks different from the other two.
Figure 9.21. Three-prong adapter.
Figure 9.22. Another view of a three-prong adapter.
Never defeat the ground plug on a three-prong plug on musical equipment by using an adapter to bypass the ground and plug it into a two-prong outlet. You shouldn't even play amplified music in a room without proper grounding . To do so is asking for shocks.
Don't switch the ground switch on the guitar and the P.A. That's usually the same as not switching it at all.
Electrocution is a possibility, but if the club is properly grounded, you check the polarity, and don't stand in a puddle, you're probably safe. This, coupled with the freedom of mobility, is one reason guitarists sometimes use wireless setups. They make you less susceptible to getting fried.
I have gotten a few shocks in my day but nothing serious. I know thousands of musicians and have seen thousands of shows, and I only know of one who died from a shock , and I wasn't there. Eric Rad, of a San Francisco band called Housecoat Project, was electrocuted while onstage at The Mab (Mabuhay Gardens) playing with his solo project. People thought it was part of the act at first. My friend Jay Crawford, who later played with me in Bomb, was there and told me about it. The Mab was rumored to have had faulty wiring; that is, the stage outlets were perhaps not properly grounded.
You should always have a rehearsal studio that is grounded. Get a ground checker at Radio Shack and check every outlet. If the grounding is bad, look for another studio. Or if you're stuck with it, and can, get an electrician to properly ground it for you.
Also, take the ground checker on the road with you and check clubs. If it's bad, be extra careful, make sure you use windscreens, and make sure there's no water or beer on the stage.
When you are playing a guitar and are about to sing, approach the mike with care. I usually first touch my hand to the mike quickly at sound check, while holding my guitar strings on my plugged-in and turned-on guitar with the other hand. The hand will hurt a lot less than the lips if shocked. If the hand produces no shock, I try my cheek or chin, then my lips. I often take this further by licking the microphone, but I don't recommend it. It's sort of grandstanding and bonding, but you could get a serious shock if the polarity switches for some reason.
Be wary of the possibility that they will have the ground right for you at sound check, then check another band after you and switch it again. Do a quick check with your hand before you start your set.
You'll get a feel for all this mike checking after you do it a bit. Approach electricity with respect but not with fear. It's your friend.
Basically, get an instrument, learn to tune it, and play along with records you like. Don't plan on copying your heroes for long, but play along enough to really get a feel for what makes music work. It will come surprisingly fast. Learn some simple songs, and learn to play them, at first slowly on your own, and then faster until you can play them as fast as they are written. Concentrate on making all the changes, in time and on the beat at a slower speed, and then work on gradually increasing the speed while maintaining the accuracy. A metronome or drum machine is good for this. Start it at a slower speed and master the changes of the whole song all the way through, and slowly speed up the tempo while maintaining accuracy.
This is also a good place to point out that a difference of only two or three BPM (beats per minute) in tempo can vastly change the mood of a song. Look at this and try to find the correct tempo where each of your new songs wants to be.
When playing along with records, you may find that you'll have to retune a little bit. Most records are made with the guitar tuned to the standard tuning, but sometimes not. Or sometimes your tape drive or turntable will not be exactly at the correct speed due to old worn-out parts . It will usually be correct with a CD because they're digital. In digital realms, you usually get either perfect sound or no sound. Analog units, such as tape recorders and turntables, can give good sound at incorrect speed, and therefore incorrect pitch. You may have to tune your guitar or bass or keyboard a little sharp or flat to play along.
Many people who make music never learn to play complete songs. Go into any music store and you'll hear countless kids playing a riff from a song, but never the whole song. I would encourage you to learn to play complete songs. Practice this early on.
After you've learned to play some songs, try to write one of your own. It needn't be elaborate; you might just start with a good verse and a good chorus. Just make it strong, and make it you . Don't try too hard to imitate others. You have your own voice in you; just let it out.
Some people work in spurts, when the mood strikes. Others set aside a time every day to wait and work. They say, "If the muse doesn't show up, at least I was there." I'm in the former category.
When you first start writing, your songs probably will sound a lot like the music you listen to. But with time, you'll find your own voice and synthesize an original sound out of your influences.
Play with other people early on. This is very important. I've met a lot of hotshot guitar players who sound great in the bedroom but can't play well with others. To me, a big part of musicianship is the ability to play with people. This involves honing your listening ability and respect. Listening and respect are very connected. Some people don't listen to anyone but themselves and don't interact with anyone when they play. This is piggy .
It might even help to turn down a bit so you can hear everyone else, even if you don't feel like it. (Some of the best guitarists I've ever played with had to be told to turn up .) You have to be able to not be the "star" a lot of the time, even if you are the star. Basically, my feeling is that the songs are the star, and even if you are the singer, you should serve the song , even if that involves taking a pay cut in the ego department. Let the song shine , and you'll get to go along for the ride. And be much cooler , and about 27.898 percent happier .
Mainly, you just have to play. Get in your practice room with your people and play. Learning to play music is a long- term , lifetime commitment. You'll get a lot of it right away and learn more and more as you go on.
Mainly, just ask questions, listen, and remain open . As soon as you think you've got it all, you don't. As soon as you stop being able to learn, you become old, regardless of your age.
When most bands start out, they usually start doing a lot of songs by other people. I used to go see the 10,000 Maniacs (the top ten band Natalie Merchant used to sing in before she went solo) play in bars before they got famous. We went to the same college in Jamestown, New York, and there wasn't a lot else to do in that town so I saw them about twice a month for about two years. They were basically a Clash cover band at first. But they even did that with their own style and quickly added more and more originals to their set. Back then (especially in small towns) bands usually started out that way, doing a lot of covers and bringing in their own songs gradually. I hate the idea of being a human jukebox and would advise against it. The greatest contribution punk rock gave to music, in my mind, was to make it cool to write your own songs. But nowadays, you even have punk cover bands! Yuck!
If you're going to do someone else's song, make it your own . That's the way to keep from being a cover band. A big help with this is to not cover within the genre . If you're a punk band, do a Johnny Cash song, but make it sound like you . If you're a reggae band, don't do a Peter Tosh cover; do a hip hop or jazz number and make it your style of reggae. Ya dig? Claim it . Make it your song.
That's not copying, that's collaborating with the songwriter.
I don't read music. Well, I do, but about as well as a five-year-old American child reads English. I have a few other ways to notate stuff. I use the standard bonehead guitar system at the beginning of this chapter, either chord diagrams or tablature. I also will just scribble chords above my lyrics, with the chord written over the lyric where the chord changes. In this system, capital letters are the chord, and a small m after means it's minor; a 7 means it's a 7 th chord.
Am, C, Am, G7 means the chords are:
A minor, C major, A minor, G 7 th .
I invented a system for notating harmony. Sarah, my backup singer, and I go through each song in my room with an acoustic guitar and figure out which lines and words should be sung alone, which should be unison , and which should be harmony. We do this several times, getting better and better printing out successive versions, singing them, making changes in the computer file, and printing it out again. It's fine tuned each time.
Be sure to recycle your used pages. Or save the old ones and sell 'em on eBay when you get a following.
Here's an example. This song is on the CD twice. Once me playing it with a band (roach_gurl.mp3) and once rerecorded with me with Sarah Amstutz singing background (Roach_Gurl_with_Sarah.mp3).
(Engineer and Fruity Loop drums by Mike De Luna)
(Bass, two tracks of acoustic guitar, two tracks of lead vocals, assistant engineer: Michael Dean)
Me and Sarah just sat in my front yard one day and worked out the harmonies. Took about an hour . We wrote them down so we wouldn't forget them or change them. Then practiced a lot.
We use underlines to indicate unison and italics to indicate harmony.
No formatting means just I sing.
Every single cockroach in downtown San Francisco
knows you've earned the right to be alive
But no one feels sorry for a twenty-year-old virgin
and I think you'd steal the trophy from a child
And I know you'd take the cane
from a blinded begging lame
and use it for the kindling on my pyre
There is a house in New Orleans;
it's burning nightly in my dreams
( ooh ooh ooh ) You know I shed my soul in your backyard
Obey the voices in your head, dance to static in his bed
Our love died like Dresden on St. Valentines eve
I don't want what you've got anymore
You looked so good walking out my door (out my door)
I don't want what you've got any more
You shed a lot of sadness on my floor
I wish I'd never tasted for then I'd never want
I feel the salt beneath my skin and bones
( oooooh ) I'd rather crawl the walls alone than
( oooooh ) sit upon your humble throne
I've minions of my own to answer to
I've tasted of the poison wine,
you're tattooed upon my spine
( ooh ooh ooh ) Sometimes you charge admissions to my dreams
Hang out in another bar, cut yourself another scar
go confuse some other man and fuck the members of my band
I don't want what you've got anymore
You looked so good walking out my door (out my door)
I don't want what you've got anymore
You bled a lot of sadness on my floor
You bled on my floor
You bled on my floor
You bled on my floor
You bled on my floor
If you look around any practice space, there's tons of stuff and toys and thingies that don't really fit into nice neat categories. So I made this category for them.
Learn to grab a new stick mid-song when you drop one. Keep them within reach for when you break them. You can duct tape a map tube (that has a bottom) or a potato chip can to the side of your bass drum to hold them.
Videotape and audio tape your shows to help you improve. Watch and listen carefully later to see what works. But don't watch them the night of the show. It will kill your buzz from playing, and also the next day you'll be more clear about getting something from it.
Have 'em and wear 'em. At least through the crappy opening band. Save your ears for your music.
Taking Care of Your Voice
Don't smoke if you want to sing. If you do smoke, quit. I did, and my voice is better for it. Of course, you're gonna do what you're gonna do. But I'm in this life stuff for the long run.
Figure 9.23. A pack of earplugs.
Do vocal warm-ups before your set. This will help your voice not give out, especially on tour where you are singing every night.
Just going up and down the scale is good. I put a few other exercises on the CD (vocalWarmUps.mp3).
Drinking warm tea with a little lemon before a set will help, too. But shy away from drinking something really cold right after you drink something hot. This is bad for your voice.
Sing from deep in your lungs, not from your throat. This will help keep you from developing nodes on your vocal cords.
You'll get them from playing guitar. Permanently. On the tips of your fingers on your left hand (if you're right handed). You want them. Doing dishes will get rid of them. So on tour, get the singer to do dishes when you stay at someone's house. My sister, Christiann, once said, "You can stay anywhere in the world as long as you like, rent free, as long as you can do dishes without being asked and converse intelligently in the native tongue."
Advanced Guitar Stuff
Playing slide is pretty cool. A slide is a round piece of metal or glass you put over a finger on your left hand and slide up and down the neck to produce notes. You don't press down all the way to the neck, just touch the strings a little. And use the fingers behind it on the neck to lightly mute the strings to keep them from ringing out too much. Slide sounds great with a little delay and distortion. Check out David Immergluck's slide playing on the CD on the chorus of "My God Is a Woman " by my band, Slish. And I played slide on "Supergoose," the main guitar riff from 0:13 to 0:30.
A capo is a little clamp that can go anywhere on the guitar neck to change the key and enable you to play the same chords in different positions without having to rethink or refinger them. These are especially good for accompanying a singer when you want to keep the sound of open (as opposed to barred) chords but without the capo the key is too low or high for that singer. Jeff Buckley used one on his cover of "Hallelujah."
Figure 9.24. Slide and capo.
See the little movie on the CD-ROM for how to tune a guitar and how to use a P.A.
Everyone in the band should know how to use the P.A. system. Not just the singer. That's rock and roll 101.
Should get its own section but doesn't because there really isn't that much to say. You've either got it or you don't.
AIN'T GOT STYLE
Hootie and the Blowfish
If you don't have it, don't imitate the style of others; just be yourself and let the music push you along. Don't copy the latest look. That's a losing proposition, if for no other reason than that by the time someone notices you, the Industry will be on to the next big thing. I promise you this is true. A lot of dudes in "new metal" bands were in grunge bands 10 years ago and bad hair metal bands a few years before that. And switched style of music and dress to match.
They say that in an expensive restaurant, you aren't buying the steak, you are buying the sizzle. Style is the sizzle that is much of what makes a rock and roll band great.
This is an excerpt from my novel , Starving in the Company of Beautiful Women:
The world is fond of the image of the starving artist. People love the archetype of the struggling, brilliant young man or woman, garrisoned away in a garret, slowly going insane while producing a dazzling body of work, and then dying or being consigned to the madhouse or skid row.
The rock fan who works in a gas station cannot afford to trash hotel rooms and snort coke off of a supermodel's breasts, so he pays M tley Cr ¼e or Too-Live Crew to do it for him. The yuppie consultant cannot leave his job to pursue madness, so he finances madness in another by purchasing a powerful painting.
We pay our artists to live these lives that we daren't live. When you buy a great rock record, you are acquiring more than music; you are procuring a lifestyle.
This sums it up pretty well. The thing you have to make sure of is that the steak (the music) has to come first, before the sizzle of the style. Because without great, original, groundbreaking music, you're just playing dress up. Like Civil War Recreationists (officially called "Reenactors," but I like " Recreationists" better).
Rock and roll ain't rocket science. All you have to do to be good is be able to play three chords in the same order each time and show up at the same place at the same time a couple times a week. And most people can't even do that! They're too busy playing dress-up in front of a mirror to fucking rock.
Keep in mind: Many brash " outrageous " rockers, at all levels, are often just scared little kids at heart, overcompensating for a small self-esteem by having a huge ego.
And keep in mind the Dean Rule of Rock:
Confident is cool.
And keep in mind the Corollary to the Dean Rule of Rock :
The number of tattoos is inversely proportionate to the amount of self-esteem.
Do Your Own Thing
My band Bomb was pretty strikingly original. But because we had a punk energy, we got booked with a lot of punk bands. Usually their audiences loved us. Sometimes there would be a heckler. I recall one 15-year-old who yelled "Hippie!" at me after every song. I finally addressed him over the mike: "When you were four, I was slam dancing to Minor Threat and I was still jumping on a dying band-wagon!"
And this was 12 years ago. So you can see how dumb I think it is to start a straight up generic punk band (or pop punk or whatever they're foisting off on the radio this week) in this day and age.
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