Gig Tips for Pianists – Part 2 of 2

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In Part 1 of our article “Gig Tips for Pianists” we discussed some very important aspects of gigging, including where to find gigs, selecting repertoire, and general etiquette pointers. Here we’ll discuss some more gig tips that cover a range of topics.

Gig Tips #4: Gear

Gear – meaning keyboards, synths, controllers, amps, all that fun stuff – is a constant temptation for musicians. Everyone wants to have the most awesome-sounding (and looking) gear. The pursuit of such toys will usually result in a hefty price tag and a good amount of distraction. Here’s my 2 cents: better gear won’t make you sound any better. Only practice and performance experience will do that. It might make you look cooler, and it might be more fun to spend time learning all the bells and whistles of a new toy, but it will never make you a better player. If you can afford great gear then by all means go get it. But great players can make mediocre keyboards sound amazing.

Gig Tips #5: Should I Play Free Gigs?

This is a constant argument among musicians, especially college players who are getting some of their first tastes of what it means to be a professional musician. One side suggests that playing gigs for free takes money out of musicians’ pockets because people won’t pay when they can find musicians for free. The other side argues that free gigs are more about getting experience, exposure, and marketing yourself. I think the latter is the better argument. Musicians need to start somewhere and often these free gigs are excellent venues for getting your feet wet and learning what it means to play in public, build a 1-2 hour set of repertoire, and perhaps work with other players. In reality there will always be free gigs, so view them as an opportunity, not an obstacle, to further hone your skills and build your network.

Gig Tips #6: Practice Time

Practice time is a valuable commodity and an essential part of music performance and composition. There is really no way around the fact that practice makes perfect. Like many adults I have a wife, kids, a home, bills, a job, and a mass of miscellaneous “to-do” items on a daily basis. But just like going to the gym, practice time is more about getting to the piano than hoping to find a 2-hour block of free time. So rather than try to fit in 1-2 hours per day of practice and feel bad about myself when I inevitably fall short, I find 20 minute chunks a couple or three times throughout my day. And I’ve become incredibly efficient with my practice. I practice rhythmic and ear-training games in the car. I listen to music throughout the day and practice active listening and transcription by ear. And when I get to the piano I get right down to business, not wasting time playing for my own listening pleasure but working on whatever my current project or goal might be. A little tip: Always try to get up from the piano a more improved player than when you sat down, no matter how slight the improvement.

We’d love to hear your thoughts so please use the comments section below to chime in, or suggest your own gig tips!

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  1. Even though I’m not a performer, I feel so much better about having my yamaha p105 rather than a Steinway piano right now after reading this article! however – – – 🙂

  2. I used to complain about playing a “house” piano that was dreadfully out of tune. Then I read an article by the great pianist, Dick Hyman, who said that the condition of the piano should never be an excuse for a poor performance. Instead, he said, learn multiple styles so that you can still sound good on a bad piano. For example, master the “honky tonk” style so when you encounter a piano in terrible condition, you can still make it sound appropriate for the genre that you’re playing. I heeded that recommendation and I’m always prepared to knock out a fair number of barroom classics that sound like “period pieces” when played on neglected keyboards.

    Dick Hyman is extremely well versed in numerous styles and I’m glad I took his direction to heart. It’s not the gear;it’s the musician. Thank you, Willie for reinforcing that adage.

  3. There are many recordings of Art Tatum which were informally recorded.
    Many of them on less than perfect pianos
    They still sound magic to me !

JPC glossary / key

  • RH – right hand
  • LH – left hand
  • HT – hands together
  • CM – contrary motion (to move in opposite directions)
  • Harmonically – to play as chords (all notes together at once)
  • Melodically – to play as a melody (single note) – arpeggiate
  • R7, R3, R37 – chord shells (Root-7th, Root-3rd, Root-3rd-7th respectively)
  • bpm – beats per minute. Refers to the metronome setting