Workshop: Language Skills
“Music is a language,” trumpeter Steve Reid told the group of student musicians gathered for his Tuesday morning improvisation clinic. “An important part of learning a new language comes from listening to people speak it,” Reid said. “If you try to learn only from a book, your playing will sound like it has no heart.” Reid stressed that students should listen to the type of music they are trying to learn and to listen to various instrumentalists and singers. He spoke of developing a vocabulary, learning licks and linking ideas together until your own voice emerges. “The larger a player’s vocabulary is, the better he or she will sound on a gig.” Reid demonstrated that the vocabulary he drew on while playing with the Back Street Boys was much different from that needed when he played with Maynard Ferguson.
On the topic of developing a personal style, Ried said, “No one sounds exactly like anyone else. You’ll never do everything exactly like another player would. We each have our own sound. Every time you play you can play you can approach a tune a different way.”
He then invited five horn players up to play with him. They traded fours with Reid, building on the melodic ideas he tossed out and developing them in their own way. Next, he told them to each take a chorus, but not to look at the chord changes. “Even if you have to hunt around to find the notes, that’s okay. Just close your eyes, and express what you are feeling.” The last sentence on the handout Reid prepared for the clinic, summed up his overall message for the young students. “Through music, you have the unique ability to contribute to your own self discovery, and communicate emotion.”
Workshop: How to Work in the Studios
Trumpeter Barry Danielian has played with many top artists in the studio ranging from pop diva Mariah Carey to hip-hop artist Jay Z, and beyond. In his Tuesday evening clinic, Danielian spoke freely to his youthful audience about the process that enabled him to become a successful studio musician and live performer.
“I wanted to be able to play in any musical situation,” Danielian said. “Preparing for that was a challenge. At your ages, you should be trying to play your instrument at a very high level. Learn how to get a good sound, develop a great time feel, and learn to read music well. Like the carpenter, you need many tools in your toolbox. It is very important to play and listen a lot. I worked hard to understand different musical styles from the inside out. That’s what you need if you are going to work as a studio musician. There used to be a lot of sessions where there were arrangements and charts, but the music business has changed. For instance, on hip-hop sessions, there are no charts or conductor. They usually play a track and ask me what I hear for it. It’s important for me to know their points of reference. Are they seeking the sound of the horn section of Earth Wind and Fire or is it Al Greene? I need to know what the differences are between the two in order to help the producer and artist get what they’re after.”
Danielian revealed his philosophy of the studio business. “This is a service industry,” he said. “The studio musician is there to serve the artist and the project. If you know how to do that, word gets around and you’ll get more work. It is irrelevant whether I like the music or nor. My ego has to be out of the picture. Studio musicians have to make the music sound great no matter what kind of music it is. I consider it my job to make the producer or artist happy with the end result.”
The amount of studio work has shrunk in recent years according to Danielian. It’s rare these days for him to get calls to go to the large studios in New York with a group of musicians. That was more common 20 years ago, but Danielian says those days are over. With the reduced cost of high-quality recording equipment, many artists and producers are working from small home studios. Danielian adapted by embracing technology and building a studio in his home. He learned basic engineering skills and can now add horn parts to recordings with a small budget without leqaving his home. “If you have the right attitude about technology, you can continue to work. Now I can work with someone in Madras, India, by having him send his tracks to me over the Internet. I add my parts and send it back.”
Danielian stressed that musicians must be motivated by love of the music. “If you are doing this career for any other reason, you might not be happy. I don’t love the music business, but I won’t let that ruin my love for music. I tell people that I get paid for all the long flights, living out of hotel rooms, dealing with food on the road and other issues. I play the music for free.”
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