Singing & Playing (12th March 2015)

Start singing - get better, quicker. 

Having played live in various guises for many years I don't really get embarrassed about singing in public any longer. Admittedly, I still experience nerves on big occasions, where I need to get it right, but the nerves  seem to disappear as soon as I open my mouth to sing and play. 
From the last few months spent teaching groups big and small, I have noticed  interesting patterns relating to the progress of those who are prepared to sing during lessons and practise and those who aren't. 

As you'd guess, the progress has been so much quicker from those who have been able to get over those initial feelings of unease. I absolutely love to see the smiles on the faces of students both young and old at the point where they realise that they have put their dignity in a basket and actually made the massive step of singing and playing at the same time and not only did it not hurt, but it felt good. That " ooh, get me!! " feeling. It really doesn't matter whether you are a good singer or not. A dodgy vocal sung unpretentiously and with feeling can be much more effective than a Mariah Carey style advanced vocal technique laden warble which makes the words unimportant.

The actor Jack Nicholson "sang" la vie en rose at the end of one of his films and I don't think I've heard it done better. Angela Lansbury did something similar in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I'm not for a minute saying that Mariah Carey can't convey feeling, she can and does in spades but the mood sometimes requires something altogether simpler. 

Singing songs while you are accompanying yourself certainly gives clues as to where certain chord changes should be. I also feel that it makes "comping " - accompaniment - techniques feel much more natural.Students who sing seem to be much less likely to get hung up on strumming patterns. Whether to go up or down at certain times. They do it automatically. Natural strumming  patterns while singing also provide a lovely percussive element to a song. Look at any solo Ed Sheeran or Newton Faulkner song for an example of this.

There are many teaching groups and organisations that talk about the "proven" health benefits of singing. In honesty, I can't say that I have seen any peer reviewed papers on this nor do I expect to find any if I look for them but I do know that I do feel better when I've been singing and I can certainly see that my students feel much better about their playing when they are singing alongside. It could all however just be the buzz and subsequent snowball effect that you get when you know you have overcome a difficult obstacle or had some positive affirmation from doing something.


My little lad recently played piano in a school concert. He had wobbles leading up to it and made mistakes in random places - rarely the same one twice- making it hard to rehearse the crease out. However, on the evening, he was faultless.  A zen like calm seemed to take over when he played and he smashed it. Sadly, I can't take any credit for this, nor do I have any answers or tips as to how to make this happen- I'd be minted if I could.All I can say is that his practise subsequently has been of a much higher standard as a result of the confidence gained. 

Finally - singing in groups...
A great way to get over those nerves is to get lots of people singing together.The ukelele group that I run in Tickhill has absolutely magical moments when everyone gets stuck in with the singing. There are still times, for example, when learning new songs,that people may still be a little bit self-conscious, but on the evenings when we have a few more extrovert people along, the result is fantastic.

No matter how bad you think your voice may sound, when you add it to a collective it always sounds so much better. 

Conclusions?

Be brave, put your dignity in a box. Laugh and feel better about yourself for having given things a go. 

Part timer (4th March 2015)

Part timer… Part timer… Part timer…
The oft sung football chant sung at me while pointing never gets old for some of my work colleagues. 
How embarrassing is it that it has taken me until march to provide my next blog entry?
Needless to say I have been busy adjusting to my new lifestyle part-time secondary teacher, part-time guitar/ ukulele teacher, part-time songwriter, part time performer.
Six months ago my knees were knocking at the prospect of giving up a full time income, not to mention the pension attached to it for something of a pipe dream. 
Six months later, it all now seems to have been a far less scary proposition to give up full-time work in a school to pursue an alternative career.
I can't say that I'm less busy, in fact I am working longer hours. Including Weekends. It is something however that I would urge other people to try. It has made me a much braver person for a start. 
Being (more) in charge of your own destiny gives you an incredible lift and stops some of the moping that you can end up doing at work when you feel powerless to control events around you. It also means that you only have yourself to blame things go wrong. I feel that this is also pretty good for the soul. It makes your approach to life much more positive and solution driven. 
I would be lying if I said that we as a family hadn't had to cut our cloth accordingly as far as our usual expenditure is concerned. It's funny but I don't miss the takeaways and the meals out. I actually quite enjoy cooking at home much more.
I would also be lying if I said that it had wiped out the uneasy feeling that I have about the business/  numbers driven way teaching in schools is going. Going part time has actually strengthened my unease in spite of being lucky enough to be working in a good school. 
So what have I been doing?
Well, the surprising thing is that the ukulele seems to have taken up much more of my time than I expected. I am a guitarist first and foremost but have now found myself running 4! yes, 4!! ukelele groups and I'm getting a wonderful kick from all of them. Two of the groups are run in primary schools, one of them is in the secondary school where I teach and the last one is an evening group run in Tickhill village nr Doncaster. Much of my time is spent trying to think of very easy two or three chord ukelele songs for beginners, or unusual covers which would work with lots of people singing. This is then followed by hours of me making transcriptions with lyrics and chord charts and trying to balance the amount of sheets to use - kids groups like everything on just 1 sheet as it's less messy - with whether or not they can be read without having to hold them 2m away from their glasses by the retirees at the Tickhill group.  
I seem to have gone through a full range of repertoire from 1950s vocal groups like The Drifters to the Morecambe & Wise song, Status Quo, The Eagles and even songs from musicals. 
One of my secondary pupils asked me if I was deliberately choosing songs from yoghurt adverts. I've never heard ukulele versions of Status Quo or Nirvana songs played on a yoghurt advert but it may be something new for advertising agencies to try. 
All in all, the first 6 months of our new life has been a wonderful time,for me especially, and has allowed us to meet so many cracking people and allowedboth my wife and I, a real on what really matters in life.

Week 2 of being a lay-about musician (16th September 2014)

I have so far resisted the temptations of wall to wall “Top – Gear” on Dave and have been hammering on with a couple of commissioned song writing projects. 

People often ask me how the process of getting a song commissioned works. So here’s the answer...

I have recently completed one from parents to their daughter /son in-law for their wedding, which, sadly I can’t show off until January, but it ran very smoothly. In the past I’ve written a song for a best man who wanted an alternative to a speech – the song went down really well with the wedding guests! I wrote another recently for a bride who wanted to remember her late father at her wedding. The possibilities are endless.

To get me started, send an outline of what the person / people in the song are about:

  • Interests
  • Hobbies
  • How you know them
  • Any funny stories – This is really important as it can go on to make a song really special and personal to you. Just a few paragraphs will do.

If you want a certain style of music, this is where you let me know too. Once you’ve paid your deposit, I’ll make a start on your song.

I’ll write a draft of the song and e-mail to you an mp3 version of it, which you can change as you see fit.

On receipt of the outstanding payment, I will then give you a completed version of the song in a nicely presented CD box. Simple as that. I could even play live at the wedding too!

Unleash your creativity!

If you feel your inner artist chomping at the bit and fancy writing the words yourself, you could send your poems, lyrics, limericks haikus – ok the last one is impossible to write a flowing tune to but you get the point.

A recent customer in the States wanted to write an anniversary song for his wife. He supplied all the words, I did the music. Here is the result. 

Bizarrely, I find this more difficult than writing the words myself but it is nice for the writer / recipient to see their name on the work alongside the copyright symbol on the CD having been credited with the contribution.

Anyway, if you've got any questions, feel free to contact me.

A new chapter... (8th September 2014)

Brett playing at Art in the Gardens, Sept 2014Early start as usual, but with one mad exception. I'm not going into work  this morning! It feels a bit naughty, as I have done no ground baiting whatsoever, as so many people do at work. You know, the croaky voiced and puppy eyed thing those idle malingerers do when they tell you how poorly they are feeling as a prelim to going off sick. A farce that is interrupted by a miraculous recovery when the conversation interests them, and then a slow slip back into the act afterwards, followed by 3 days off leaving every bugger else to pick up the pieces. Well, my time off is legitimate as I have gone part time in order to do more music work. I've waved my son off to school this morning and now I am beginning a bit of a new chapter in life. Teaching guitar, ukulele, writing songs for people and commissions for businesses and trying to get more gigs. I need to establish a new routine quickly as this could end up with me noodling on the guitar in front of wall to wall Top Gear reruns on Dave - bloody tempting, but there are bills to pay. Yesterday was the start of it really. A beautiful day in the Botanical gardens, Art in the Gardens, a two day festival. I'm so glad that I chose Sunday, as Saturday was a total washout. I played a couple of half hour sets to loads of people through the day, on a lovely stage set up by Chris Fox of Fox Audio hire. Included in the crowd were a handful of family and friends who are normally the ones that tell me to put the guitar down while they are watching telly. All great fun, I also tried my hand at being a guitar tech as Julia McInally broke 2 strings in one song. I loaned my precious guitar to her, replaced the broken strings on hers, and trimmed the ends quicker than I ever have before - about 2 minutes with no string winder!  But failed on the tuning up front as I didn't have a tuner and couldn't hear a thing as the band carried on from the stage. Oh well, that's one career I'm destined not to follow. Right then.. Enough faffing  about writing stuff that no one will read, Top Gear is starting...