Updated: Jun 18, 2020
"No man has any natural authority over his fellow men." - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
You have been playing guitar for almost a year now.
You already have some nice skills with the guitar.
You can play many of the songs you love.
Some of your friends have even told you that they like how you play.
What's the next step? Well, play in a band, of course!
The problem is that if you have never played live in front of strangers, then you, my friend, are in for a treat.
A good show is not only about good music. It's called a show, not an audition, because there's more to it than just sound.
It's very likely nobody every told you this, though. It's so easy to spot a newbie player onstage because they are like a deer caught in headlights: paralyzed with such a fear that not even Freddy Krugger himself would be able to instill even on a Halloween night.
In this lesson, I'm going to show you what you need to know in order to play with Authority so that people listen to you for real and take you like you want to be taken: like a Badass Rockstar.
First of all, it's fair to point out that each audience has its own likes and dislikes, and these should not be challenged. I say should not instead of must not with purpose, and I'll explain that to you in just a moment.
These tend to be a set of invisible, unwritten Laws that emerge in certain groups, which must be met at a bare minimum in order to be part of it. It's fine, you know what I mean.
It's like a game of what frat you belong to. You have to meet their expectations or else they'll kick you out after humilliating you in front of everyone on campus by bathing you in honey and covering you with chicken feathers.
No, I've never suffered anything like that, I just saw it!
Not matter what music sub-culture you belong to, what style you play, how skilled you are, whether you are grass or rock Pokemon, there are four areas you must nail in order to project an image of authority, so that people recognize you mean business.
Because at the end of the day, we all want to be taken seriously and with respect.
Let's start with the most obvious and then move on to more advanced stuff.
The first step is rather obvious, and it is, in my opinion, the most important.
Your music must be good. It does not need to be great, but it should be interesting at the very least.
Although this is so obvious, it's most likely the grayer area, since there are no rules as to what makes music good or interesting. However, here are a couple of guidelines you can use to make sure you are on track:
Do not copy other musicians
We all have our heroes, I know. Still, it's one thing to admire someone, and another totally different to imitate them too much.
You know the kind, it's those who will start with a cover band, then move on to a tribute band, until finally just openly copying their songs with other lyrics and call them "original music in the style of".
There is much subjectivity in this point, I'm afraid, but know that there is a threshold you eventually cross and all of a sudden it becomes too much, and you've ruined it.
Plus, at least 90% of you will be able to come up with examples off the top of your heads of bands that imitate others, who are always regarded as "sellouts", "thieves", or just outright dishonest.
It's OK to draw inspiration from others, but don't let that get to your head too much. Take your own path, it will be better on the long run, plus:
Pay extra attention to Iñigo, especially if you made the mistake of killing his father.
Avoid using the same chords or chord progressions too often
Often times we hear a chord progression and we instantly think of "X" band.
The choice of chord progression is one of those things that can make or break a band, to catapult it to star status or sink it like lead in the sea.
I'm sure you can think of many artists or bands that have gone into oblivion after having a one-hit success. On the other hand, it's very rare that a band can survive for longer than 5 or even 10 years. Yeah, I know, the Rolling Stones are just about immortal at this point.
Here's the thing, guys...sooner rather than later, using the same exact progressions, or even harmonies for the sake of it, will make your music either boring or just about the same to everything else you've already done. Neither of those outcomes is something you want to instill on anyone.
I know what you might be thinking, and yes, I do recognize that most artists have a couple of tricks that give them their personality and style; I'm not saying that is not the case. What I do mean to say is that it's one thing to have a personal style and another completely different thing to have all your songs sound the same.
If you want to use a simple chord formula for the choruses of your songs, that might be OK, but make sure that at the very least you change the chords involved, or even change the progression elsewhere on the song.
Consider using odd chords or scale notes on each song
Here's some aspect of music that most people either never considered or were told that it is forbidden, or something just like that.
The truth is that it's highly likely that what you heard is BS. Yes, I'm sorry.
Music Theory was invented to provide context to what music is all about, but music existed long before Theory was even a concept. This on itself should be enough to recognize what is really important.
Not matter how technically skilled you are, the fact remains that music is still something to be experienced with the ear, not the brain. Yes, I know what you are going to say, and I know it's the brain that actually processes the music, yeah, you know what I mean!
Playing in the same tonality, scale, mode, whatever you want to call it, is fine. Still, it's not like you cannot break the rules. In fact, I would argue that it's when you break the rules that music actually becomes interesting.
If your music has all the same sounds, progressions, chords, fills, then after a couple of songs the listener already knows how everything's going to sound like, and even when. I tell you, if there's no surprise at all, then something is missing in your music, up to the point that it ceases to be music and becomes more of a set of rules.
How does it feel when you can anticipate to any birthday party surprise? Not very good, huh?
This topic can be very extensive, but let's just call it a day by saying that you must never be constrained by whatever theory is telling you about what you should and should not play, and instead be open to using whatever it is that you find sounds nice.
Experiment with different sound effects
If you have some experience with guitar, more than 6 months, then I would absolutely recommend you experiment with sound processors.
I say sound processors in a broad range, since there are many options out there. You can get stand-alone options, like pedals and multi-effects units, but you can also go with software plugins, which are especially useful for recording.
If you are a rock player like me, it's highly likely you already have an overdrive or distortion pedal. This is great, as it's in the very basis of rock, but it doesn't have to end there.
Do not shy away from other options, like delays, flangers, octavers, harmonizers, among many others. Give yourself at least one shot with all those, since you never know what it is that you might end up liking.
Practice your music
This is trivial.
Or is it?
I've had my fair share of experience playing and rehearsing with many people. Most people, for some reason, don't really practice the songs they have to play before they have to play them. Does that sound like a contradiction? Well, it's not.
I've already talked about this on a previous post, where I talked about the "Three Mindsets For Creating A Band", and if you haven't read it yet, I recommend you do so. The short version goes like this:
If you cannot find the time, will, or whatever else you need to practice your songs, you simply cannot play in a band.
This same principle translates to any other situation in which you might find yourself with your guitar. It's not like you would like to be at a campfire with friends and someone hands you over a guitar for you to play something for everyone to sing, and then you start playing any song, but when you get to the chorus you say:
"Wait, guys, the chorus went something like this...hmmm...maybe it was this other chord...or this one..."
If you do, you just killed the vibe right there, and it's not likely to come back. Nobody will take you seriously like that, especially since most people (non guitar players especially) don't care for the technical aspect of the guitar, but do care if you can make them have fun and sing along.
Moral of the story: always have a couple of popular songs in your repertoire, and have them well practiced. They don't have to be too many, just 3 to 5 songs should be enough in case you have to play something in any social event. Oh, and this includes having some basic acoustic guitar skills, even if you are a full-on metalhead like me.
Do you think that if someone where to give an acoustic guitar to someone like John Petrucci on a campsite he wouldn't know what to play? Exactly my point.
Be skilled enough, not the best
I've been guilty of this, I'm afraid.
It's especially dangerous for metal guitarists to try to be the best virtuoso player in the whole World (and Beverly Hills), but let me tell you why this is not in your best interest.
First of all, there is the diffuse line of when is it that you are the best of the best? Who do you have to defeat to be so, and how is it that you even defeat another player? This alone should be enough food for thought.
Secondly, the truth is that most music does not require a guitar gimnast to play well. Although there is a certain skill cap for some styles, it's safe to say that a player with one year of experience has enough skill and knowledge to be able to play virtually any kind of music out there.
Even if you are into modern progressive metal (bands like Symphony X or Dragonforce), where the skill cap on lead players is very high, would you rather spend years of your life practicing, with little to no social life as well as other healthy aspects of life, instead of diving all in first and start playing as soon as possible, even if it means playing as a rhythm guitarist?
I've asked this same question to some buddies and the answer is always "dive right in", but for some reason many out there do not do it. Beats me.
Ultimately, what I want you to consider here is that it's better to start playing music reasonably well instead of waiting for who knows how long before actually getting into it, which is something that might even never come.
Your Body Language
I'm sure you've heard about body language plenty of times these days, as there are so many people talking about it and how it relates to dating, work interviews, and plenty more situations.
Well, guess what? It also plays a major role in how a musician is perceived, especially while performing.
Body Language is often a reflection of your inner self. This is so because our species spent most of our evolution without any form of verbal language, so we somehow evolved for the most part to communicate in a non-verbal way. This is why body language is so important for a musician, as you want your music and your presence to do the talking, not your mouth.
The easiest definition of what body language is, is the visual communication that comes from the different postures your body is set to, which usually include all of your body.
It's easy to say you are a great musician, but it's quite difficult to look like such, and I do not mean here the aesthetical aspect, (although it also plays a role), but rather be perceived as such.
I'm sure you've heard out there the "fake it 'till you make it" advice. Though I do not discard the fact that this might work for some, I'm going to suggest a better approach in this section:
Force it to make it.
In order to add to your Authority as a musician, you need to aquire what is referred to as High-Level body language. These are a specific set of postures that display strength, confidence, status, as well as other many other sought-after qualities.
What we are going to discuss in this section is pretty much universal, although there might be some niche audiences where you can benefit from bending these rules. More on this later.
Let's move on to what kind of body language you should adopt.
Adopt Confident Postures
Confident body language can be thought of as each position in which you are exposing your body. Any position in which you are opening your arms and exposing your chest is a good example, but also focusing on the shoulders (slightly leaned back) and back (straight, not hunched over).
These kind of postures instinctively relay the following messages:
You are confident.
You have nothing to hide.
You have something to offer.
Most people prefer are drawn to others who display these traits, so as a musician you can virtually always benefit from this, as it will make your audience pay more attention to you, which is always great.
Of course, body language is not only a matter of the legs, arms, but also facial expressions. You know the kind, those that make wild expressions...
These also play a role, but because they are more complex, we'll not discuss them in this article (though I'll certainly talk about them in the future).
Let's analyze some postures you should avoid:
Posture #1 -- The Hunchback
If at any time you are playing and start hunching over the guitar, it just doesn't look nice.
Apart from the fact that it's not a good position for your back's health, it also looks almost submissive for whoever is watching you, and definitely not a good pose to be in.
Posture #2 -- "I hope they don't see me"
Whenever you are afraid of what others will say about you, you tend to try to hide and be invisible.