Category: Guest Post

Tempo Memory – By Mike Outram

This is a guest post by Mike Outram.  Mike is a London based guitarist, professor at Trinity College of Music and The Royal Academy of Music with performing credits including Tony Levin, Gavin Harrison, Robert fripp and many more.  More about him at:

You’re in Gardonyi’s, looking over a piece of music that seems interesting and you want to get the gist of how it goes. Your sight-singing is impeccable so that holds no problems, but what’s that in the corner of the page? – ’120 bpm’.

Can you guess what the tempo of the piece is? One way to do it is to look at a clock and count the rate of the seconds – that’s obviously 60 bpm [beats per minute]. Double it if you need 120 bpm; half it if you want 30 bpm; triplets would move at a rate of 180 bpm. And then, is it a little faster or slower than one of those? Great, but what if there’s no clock?

Well, make a tempo map. Pick some very memorable songs that you can easily imagine and map their tempo. Start vague and get more detailed as you go on. Ideally, they’d be songs that everyone knows, definitive versions, for it to work. And you have to have a pretty accurate mental image of the song at roughly the right tempo.

I started out thinking I’d get a list of ‘the most popular songs of all time’ and work out the BPM. But I think what you really need is:

1. a really memorable song that you know very well and can easily imagine.

2. a way of linking the BPM to some content within the song. Or, any way of memorizing the tempo that’s quick and doesn’t involve rote memorization.

I found this great site, which is a list of thousands of songs and their tempos. On that site, you can look at all the songs at, say, 120 bpm and then just choose the song you know best at that speed and then come up with a way of memorising the tempo. For example, it’d be great if ‘When I’m 64′ was actually 64 BPM, or 128. But it isn’t, so forget that. But you get the idea, eh?

Ok, so now you have the problem of memorising which songs go with which tempo but maybe that’s where you can get all creative in service to the common good by somehow linking a tempo to a song, Tony Buzan-style 🙂

So, maybe you’re a massive Queen fan. Of course you are! If so, I’ll start you off. Here are some Queen tracks and their rough BPM. Can you think of a clever way to memorise the tempo?

40 bpm: Somebody to Love – 40 bpm is from ‘Find’ and ‘Body’ in this song. (I’m allowing this kind of fudging the rules). We Will Rock You and Save Me also work. Maybe you could think, 40 bpm is the first thing on the metronome and the first thing you need in life is Somebody to Love 🙂 That’s a terribly lame example but I am sure you are WAY better at this than I am.





90: Fat Bottomed Girls

100: Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy

110: Another One Bites the Dust

120: You’re My Best Friend

130: Now I’m Here




Use this site to test your tempo memory powers: Can you nail 90 bpm? Try it…

Other games to try if you’ve got no friends or are pathologically bored: Try and name any tempo and hit the bpm and nail it straight away. Or, try to keep the tempo the same for more than two beats.

So the question is: Are you geek enough to make a tempo map? Do you instantly know the tempo of a particular song? Why? How? Why aren’t you sharing your knowledge here? Or maybe it’s just me…

Jazz Camp Wraps Up, Good Teachers vs. Good Motivators – By James Danderfer

This is a guest post: by James Danderfer. “One of the best kept secrets in Canada, … a truly remarkable musician.” (- Bill King, Jazz Preview, Jazz FM91.1) James gained experience as both a band leader and sideman performing in Canadian jazz clubs, festivals and CBC radio programs, on cruise ships internationally, and in New York City. After his celebrated debut recording “Run With It” (Cellar Live, 2005), James’ curiosity for traveling and learning about other cultures lead him to Shanghai, China where he worked as a freelance jazz musician and music instructor at international schools. After his first year of living in China, James proposed a project to the Canada Council For The Arts to compose a musical imagery of modern-day Shanghai, a juggernaut of development in the forefront of a rapidly changing nation. This year long project resulted in a concert tour of China and a subsequent CD recording in Canada entitled “Accelerated Development” (Cellar Live, 2008). More about him at:

Two words,… jazz camp. That’s right, all week long I’ve been waking up at 7:30am, driving an hour across town, and teaching kids (age 12-17) how to swing. … Despite the fact that I, myself am not sure how to swing at 8:30 in the morning!

There were just enough kids for two 7-piece jazz combos and the format was well suited to my abilities as it was quick, focused, and goal oriented (a concert at the end of the week). I like to think I’m a pretty good teacher, perhaps “over-thinkers” are handy in this way because we really think through the processes of what it is we do.That said, I’m really only effective in certain situations.

Case in point; I’ve tried teaching kids private lessons over a longer period of time (6-12 months) and if they didn’t really want to be there (and most of them did not) then I found it damn hard to motivate them to practice. I’d play for them and find songs they wanted to play, or give them great recordings to check out, sometimes I’d offer incentives to practice (ie candy and/or stickers). As a last resort I even made one kid do push-ups as punishment for not practicing, which by the way, was fucking hilarious . (Hey! Don’t judge! The kid thought it was funny too.)

Alas, my methods failed with all but a few of my private students at which point I decided that I was not a good teacher. However, since that time I’ve realized that I am a good teacher, just not a good motivator. If a student comes to me wanting to learn, I can deliver. If they don’t care to learn, I’m useless. I know some professional musicians who are great with kids and know how to inspire them, and God bless those people, we need more of them.

Anyways, that’s a long way of saying that this year’s jazz camp had a lot of eager young musicians and was therefore a success!

On that note, I’m going to tap out of this SMNP. Thanks to the jazz camp students for an enjoyable week and to Mr. Holmberg for organizing the whole thing again this year!

Being a Freelance Guitar Player in NYC, 2010 by John Shannon

This is a guest post: by John Shannon. Modern guitarist, vocalist and song crafter John Shannon believes in the power of music to enlighten the mind. Having already toured the globe with some of the brightest rising stars of indie rock, folk and jazz including Sonya Kitchell, Haale and Hiromi, Shannon's solo work has taken him on a journey into his soul and beyond. More about him @

Flexibility and Minimalism

There are two things that come to mind as far as the lifestyle requirements of a freelance guitarist in New York City: Flexibility and Minimalism. Lets take a look at what it means to be a flexible musician. First off, what it means to be musically flexible. This is not meant to feed the age old idea that you have to master all styles to be a great player, which is pretty much an unattainable ideal anyway. This is to suggest that you can jump into any musical style and bring something appropriate to the table as a guitarist. Most times I find people are hiring me not to blow them off the stage, but to play a part in the alchemy of their music. Iʼd like to note here that the highest goal as a sideman should always be to make everyone around you sound great, always be a servant to the music and the musicians around you. To be flexible means to be able to play a few jazz standards, to pull out a Beatles song or two off the top of your head, to fake Jimmy Pageʼs solo on “Stairway to Heaven”, to know all current bands in case someone sais “can you make it sound more like Kings of Leon”, to play quiet, to play loud, to have a range of guitar effects that cover most scenarios, to know when to lay out and stop playing, to have a few classical pieces under your belt, to be able to conjure a decent intro to any given tune, and most of all to listen. You have to become a great listener. Not only constantly listening to new and old music, but to know that when someone sais they want something musically, to know what they really mean though they donʼt know how to express it in guitar terms. Such as “can you play it more like thereʼs a tumbleweed rolling by…” To which you either walk out the door (just kidding) or switch to your bridge pickup, put on a little tremolo and twang out a straight open D minor chord.
The other flexibility Iʼm talking about is with your schedule. You have to make things work as much as possible for the people who are hiring you so that itʼs easy for them and so theyʼll want to have you back on their gig. You have to be up for a rehearsal or two with or without pay to begin a new music relation. You have to be up for a hang at all times to keep meeting new people to play music with. Saying all this may make it all seem like a big old hustle, but if youʼre playing music because you love music then itʼs a joy to constantly meet new people who also love to play music. This is also not to say that you shouldnʼt turn gigs down. For the most part as a freelancer you should take all gigs that come your way, but if you really donʼt like a project, do yourself and the artist a favor and donʼt take it. If weʼre gonna play music for a living we should enjoy it. With that being said, part of flexibility is knowing how to enjoy all music. Get to know your limits on all fronts so that you donʼt burn out because free lancing anything in New York City is a very active lifestyle.
Next, a key factor, I think, in being a free lance guitarist in New York City is adopting the minimalist mindset. Hereʼs why: If you play guitar with the minimalistʼs mindset combined with aware listening, you will never get in the way on someoneʼs gig. That is the first unspoken rule for any artist when they are considering whether or not to continue working with you. It is much better for someone to ask you to turn up then to turn down. Be aware of the space you occupy in any given situation, and start small. Minimalism in music relates to appropriateness in music. Also in naming minimalism as a key factor in NYC freelancing, I mean that your lifestyle may require it. I donʼt really need to say this, but if your motivation for playing music as a guitarist is to get rich, you are better off practicing Guitar Hero until they enter it into the Olympics. Iʼm not saying it wonʼt or canʼt happen, Iʼm just saying it takes alot of standard $50 gigs to buy a penthouse apartment. For that matter the same goes for anyone who is in music to make money before making music: better to become a doctor instead and help people while earning alot of money because creating intentionless music governed by the latest music fad to dominate the radio, internet, and tv waves only serves to make society less intelligent as a whole. Stepping off my soap box now, you also need to figure out how to achieve a great sound with a minimal amount of gear. New York has an extensive subway system and you donʼt want to have to worry about finding a parking spot right before the gig. For me a small light solid state amp on a cart (bumpy sidewalks can ruin small tube amps), a small shoulder strap pedal board and a gig bag guitar case work just fine. You also want to spend time learning the range of your effects so you can make the most of just a few pedals.
You have to be willing to live minimally and enjoy it. Learn how to make the money you earn spread. Minimalism will take care of that. Itʼs important for me to say that you donʼt have to be a “starving artist”. With this mindset you can be a “surviving minimalist”, doing what you love.
In conclusion, the main thing is to learn how to let the music guide your life. If you love to play guitar, then make it your spiritual path and learn how to listen to it for guidance. Donʼt respond to vibrations of urgency or negativity from anyone. Stay in the zone and believe in your own guitar playing. The rest will take care of itself.



The artist, the businessman and the spiritually fulfilled – Making a living out of music by Mike Relf

This is a guest post: by Mike Relf. Freelance guitarist, guitar teacher and more Mike is a regular deputy for many bands. He is well known as a sideman to many and enjoys a reputation as a versatile & musical freelance guitar player along with that of an experienced and inspiring teacher.  More about him @

It’s been a while since I was at college but I still remember taking a range of different classes including subjects like composition, production, music business and sound engineering. These were lessons that left my guitar still in its case despite me trying to become a better player. I mean, that’s why I was there right?

Of course I have learnt a lot since those days and my main maxim nowadays is to spread myself amongst a few different activities to best ensure my long term success at this career. Let’s set one thing straight first of all though… It’s not going to happen for you. There are positive steps that you can take (we’ll get onto those later) but the main thing is to look at what you have versus what you want and then look at what you will need to do in order to match those two things together. I have seen so many times (especially for some reason with musicians!) that the ideas are there but there seems little energy or drive to get on the case and put some energy in. Let’s get started.

What do you have to offer? Personally, I try to cover as much ground as possible. I can play a number of instruments, sing, lead a band, play session, offer deputy cover, engineer a mix, produce a record, teach most of these things and more. Even if your skills aren’t that broad, you can look at a few areas to get you going and ensure that when one thing quietens down, there is still plenty left to do. They say that the key to good business is to be an effective middleman. For me, it’s purely about getting organised. Some time ago, I split my own potential into a few areas and was surprised that only about 50% related to actually playing the guitar. Try it. Make a pie chart and prioritise your skills as a percentage. Include everything that you can think of. Now look at your diary. Does it fit? Right now I probably have more than 50% of my income coming from playing gigs. That means that there’s a deficit in another area. If the gigging suddenly stopped (I could break my wrist), I’d be a little exposed and my ‘business’ could fail.

pie chart

Get organised and have a plan! – I know that from May to August is perfect wedding season so I try to run a function band of my own as well as offering background stuff for mealtimes and keeping on the deps (stand ins) list for other bands that might need me at this time. There’s good money in this so learn a repertoire of pop songs even if you‘re not too into it. You can make at least 2 or 3 times the pay of a pub gig which will free up more time for the things that you do want to do. During the same summer period, teaching can be on a decline as peoples priorities change so build up your numbers over the winter months by getting onto an online registry or two (you’ll find me on a few). Put some thought into your lessons and your students will soon mount up. If you have some qualifications or decent experience, spend a little time on the phone to schools and register your interest by sending a CV. Peripatetic teaching is hard to come by (dead mans shoes!) but it is out there and can offer even more consistency when the gigs are less around January/Feb. You’ll want some more consistency as well and, whilst not huge payers, local bars and restaurants will offer something in the way of good regular work if you are persistent enough and can show them a good product. Duo’s are good money and this is also a good way to pick up potential party and function customers. There’s always the opportunity for some session work too so keep your ears open even if it’s just playing on another bands demo, you could make a few bucks. I also engineer for a band or two on occasion so think about this if you can work a pa. Of course there are other alternatives much as production or song writing and these can earn you good money if you find yourself in the right place. Even on a small scale, if you have some recording gear you could charge for cutting a band demo or two. Can you set a guitar up? Shops charge a mint for this service so make sure your students know that you can do it too. These are a few thoughts about how to get it together. How’s your pie chart looking?

Ok so here it is… you’re not alone. For all kinds of reasons, there are millions of people the world over that want a piece of what we’re doing. You may struggle if you don’t want to play covers music (even on the side?!) so if you feel that you ‘have’ to play function stuff, make sure that you are also working on creative projects such as your own album of music. You are an artist first so remember that. Try and remember why you started playing in the first place. Just don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring. You’ll have to make some sacrifices (at first at least) in order to make it work and it will take just that… work.

As an advocate of balance I also need to say that all artists should be equipped with adequate business skills. If you get a booking, send a contract. Don’t undervalue your services so check out how much the other acts might be getting. Set up contracts for your students to help protect yourself from cancellations. Be professional and prompt to gigs and don’t be scared to ask for numbers or hand out cards. You alone are responsible for your publicity so do a good job of it!! Reputations are fickle things and the local circuit is smaller than you think. To be honest, the international circuit is probably smaller than you might think! You won’t want to think of yourself as a brand but it can help when you’re designing a website or sending out an invoice.

So it’s turbulent and a bit scary but making a living from your chosen instrument is both exciting and fulfilling. Remember that there are specific organisations out there to help make it easier for you and building your own support system of local musicians is crucial too. After all, most of the time you can’t gig it alone. Having a trade to offer is a very old institution and goes right back to the days of carpentry and street entertainers. Often when I’m loading up the car after a crap gig and wondering why I bothered turning up, I remember the stories of the old kung fu masters who would practice their craft on the street (busking) to earn money by showing off tricks like balancing on a spear or breaking boards (very little to do with the art itself) just in order to continue to be able to practice more of the art they were devoted to. Makes you think…

Some positive steps.

Get a website. If you have a product, are a teacher or have anything to promote, get it done! Mine is a resource for a few things such as promoting demos for duo acts or simply having a place for people to find me. It also helps me visualise how my ‘brand’ is looking.

Network – Jams nights are a good way to play with new guys and also an excuse to get out of the area and into some new venues so see what’s happening in your area. See your friends play to get some perspective on your own projects and you can use things like Facebook to stay in touch. Generally, we all work on the same nights so it’s hard to get out to see people sometimes. Make the effort!

Increase your skills – Get a teacher (no matter what standard you feel you are), keep a diary of practice if you can and put the work in. You will have a better career if you are a better player.

Join Relevant Membership affiliations – Such as the Musicians Union. It’s a good route for insurances too. If you’re teaching, you should also get a CRB check done. Protect your own interests where you can.

Accounting – Keep the best possible records of mileage info, gigs, expenses etc. Also it’s handy to keep a folder on your pc with stuff like invoice templates. Having a printed invoice to give to a venue looks 100 times better than hand writing one on the night. Be as professional as you can be. Also on this note, keep your equipment in good working order. There’s enough to worry about without having to repair stuff on the gig!

Save money – You don’t always need a pension plan (especially in today’s shaky climate) but it is an up and down industry. Make sure you have provisions for the quieter months and don’t overspend during the peaks! A sudden car repair bill can be quite a shock if you’re not ready.

Be positive – You’re doing this because you chose to. No good complaining at the gig even if it’s not your bag. Keep things moving forward and changing and you won’t be left stagnant doing the things that you don’t want to do.