So anyway, I’ve been super busy for the last few weeks. I’ve cut down the days I teach to Tuesday through Thursday, which has proven to be a very workable and enjoyable schedule. Some days I may do a half dozen or more lessons and that can be a bit tiring but I constantly remind myself how fortunate I am to have a skill that people want to learn that’s not only gratifying to me personally but also fun.
As I mentioned in the last post, there have been quite a few local musicians showing up to sit in at my weekly gig at the Daily Brew Café. What a great time we’ve had! The players are of various levels of ability and have wide ranges of taste in music but the results have been some pretty darn good music, if I don’t say so myself. This coming weekend promises to be more of the same with a friend who plays accordion, another who’s a guitarist and possibly a fantastic mandolin player talking of showing up. My new toy, an IPad on which I have over 120 songs ready to call up via the OnSong app has proven to be fantastic. Paired with an Air Turn Bluetooth pedal for page turns it has allowed me to tackle songs I haven’t played in years with the certainty that I’ll get the lyrics right.
Which leads me to singing. After many years of de-emphasizing singing during lessons to concentrate on guitar parts I’ve been working hard on getting my singing chops back to where they once were and I’m seeing some success. Just like a guitar player who “knows what he knows” and is satisfied with the results, taking singing for granted leads to bad habits and poor technique. Breathing, posture, phrasing and pitch are now foremost in my mind when I sing. So far, so good. And just like guitar playing, some days are better than others. I’m still trying to not tighten up on parts of songs that are a challenge – this will always be my habit, I think – but even that is getting better. The biggest hurdle that I wish I could pass is being able to hear and sing harmony. This has been something that has been a challenge my whole life. I’m even considering some voice lessons to help deal with that.
Singing well benefits from having good sound reinforcement equipment and lately my cash has gone into a couple of new and somewhat pricey microphones. Two models by Ear Trumpet are now my go-to mics after using a Shure Beta 87A for a few years. Before that it was the tried and true Shure SM58, which is still probably the most popular mic used in live performance. The problem with that mic (and somewhat less so with the Beta 87A) is that I found myself “pushing” my voice too much and the results were not pleasing. The Ear Trumpet mics are remarkable. They are large diaphragm mics with a very cool retro look, designed to pick up not just vocals but also instruments when players gather around them and they are placed at about shoulder level. This they do exceptionally well, delivery a crisp but pleasing sound but best of all, the field of coverage is very specific so feedback is hardly ever an issue. After reading glowing endorsements from the likes of Jerry Douglas and seeing them used on the PBS Tiny Desk Concerts series I decided to give them a try and I’m so glad I did!
As far as guitars and amps go, I think I’m finally G.A.S. free (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome). I know, I know, I’ve said that before but the G.A.S. symptoms have not appeared in quite a long time as I now have a Martin Custom Shop D-35 Seth Avett model, a Martin Custom Shop OM-13-CS and a new-ish Martin 00-18, all with K&K pick-ups. They all shine in different types of music and in different settings, plus they are all gorgeous to look at. And all three play like a dream. I wouldn’t mind adding a 0000/M Martin to the stable but that can wait.
The amp I’ve been using for the last year or so is the Italian-made ACUS OneforStrings8, which is truly the best, most natural sounding acoustic amp I’ve ever heard. I run a RedEye pre-amp between the guitar and the amp to give a bit more coloration to the K&K’s, plus the K&K treble boost allows me to easily adjust for changing conditions in the rooms I play. A bit more treble lets me be heard better in a full, loud room rather than just turning up the volume. The ACUS is not well known in this country and a bit hard to find but it blows away any of the high-end acoustic amps I’ve ever owned or heard. I also have a Bose S1 Pro for use where power is not available (it has a long lasting battery) but it does not sound as good as the ACUS plus the controls are poorly designed, so that one doesn’t get a lot of use. For larger gigs I still have my Carvin AG300 with extension speaker. Although it sounds pretty good as an acoustic guitar amp I use it primarily as a small PA when needed.
How about lessons? Well, I have a great group of students right now including a couple of boys age 11 and 13 who just started. Those two have reaffirmed my belief that not all pre-adolescents are sullen and disdainful of oldsters like me! They are both very excited about learning the guitar and best of all, seem to have totally open minds about music, a rare thing in that age group. I certainly didn’t! My older students are wonderful too and a couple of them have become very, very proficient; so much so that I’m constantly challenged to find them new and interesting music. This is a good thing, and I mean that. My own playing is better for it, too. Lesson planning is still my least favorite part of my job but it is necessary and even vital if I’m going to keep my students’ interest and enthusiasm.
Yup, things are busy but good. So I’ll leave you with a joke:
(sung) Werewolves of London!!
Peace & good music,