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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Playing out at last
Playing out at last
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130 posts
Nov 03, 2019
2:04 AM
After many years of lurking on this forum, irritating my family at home and buying lots of gear to improve my tone etc I have finally found a blues jam that is close enough and makes me feel comfortable enough to lose my cherry.

I've been to a couple now and the 'rabbit in the headlights' feeling is starting to subside.

I take a bass and my harps, usually get 2 songs on each.
When I play bass no one seems keen on making eye contact as I walk back through the audience to my seat.
This is in contrast to the warm reception I get when walking back after laying harp.
The main compliment seems to be "it was good you didn't play too much." Hmmm!

Everyone is supportive and I am learning lots and enjoying myself.

The usual problem of not being able to hear myself is very real. I did ask about Harp amps etc but they don't want to change. As I'm a newbie I won't press the point. The harp players get set up with a vocal mic.

Two things to mention:
1. I will try playing with earplugs so I can hear myself.
2. I am going to have to work on my chops rather than just fiddle about with gear when I practise at home. I've just spent an hour with a metronome and I decided to write a long post here rather than do any more.

I feel like I have pushed through a significant barrier and would like to thank members of this forum for helping me to understand the stuff that has got me this far. Long way to go though.

452 posts
Nov 03, 2019
7:04 AM
First rule: Protect your hearing. Don't take it for granted.
There are "musicians' ear plugs" that are worth the investment. I wish I'd had them. I did other stupid things to my ears, but a few loud jams iced it.
You'll see this advice here occasionally.
In any case, That's a significant barrier to cross. It's a rush, isn't it? A great journey to be on.
Phil Pennington
6250 posts
Nov 04, 2019
3:04 AM
Getting up at a public jam is definitely challenging. I don’t feel I’m very good at it, but better than I used to be.
I’m reading Margie Goldsmith’s book of interviews, slowly. One thing I took note of was from James Conway, about improvisation. He said that ... Corky Seigel? ... told him to focus on dynamics and his improvisation would improve. He said he applied this advice and believes it’s good.

I’ve also taken to closing my eyes while I’m improvising. Not the entire time, because you need to see what’s going on at certain points too, but I think eyes closed can help focus on the music.

I’m trying to think of jamming as an interaction with the players rather than trying to impress an audience.

Unless I’m leading the song. Then I have a responsibility to the audience too.
At our Blues Club gig we usually have a jam as the middle set. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes not. There’s often a harp player, sometimes 2 or 3. If they’re visiting they’re usually pretty skillful.
Sometimes there’s a harp amp in the backline but often it’s PA. We hire a good sound person to manage that.
Depending what sort of person you are, I think it’s good if you can sing and lead a song. If you’re the singer you’re usually gonna be in charge for that song, which can make life easier. Might take a while before you go there?
Playing bass is a great thing too. Every member of my band (except me) was playing bass in a second band at one stage. 2 of them still are. If you play bass or drums you’ll always be able to find a gig.

I love that remark about not playing too much. Sounds like faint praise but it’s indicative of many experiences with harp players at jams. I think the advice about dynamics goes somewhat to that too. If you’re thinking dynamics you’re not going to play mindless runs of notes.
I get that about writing a long post instead of practice. I do that all the time, hence my post count.

Anyway, congratulations and well done. It will definitely help you become a better player and have more fun
132 posts
Nov 04, 2019
8:15 AM
Thanks Guys

Agree on protecting hearing - love music, would hate to lose it. I don't think it is dangerously loud - I just can't hear myself.

It really has been a revelation: stuck in a traffic jam this morning. Tried improvising to a backing track - it felt very natural and smooth for over 20 minutes. Never been able to do that before.

Eyes closed: yes to help with the stage fright. At one point (during a 4 draw) I heard some whooping. Had a peep out of one eye but couldn't see past the stage lights. Keeping an eye on the leader between choruses though.

I have been pretty stuck for a long time, so I guess the changes I am getting will be wide and varied. Just gonna ride it for now.

I resonate with all the above points, very insightful - thanks for making them.
jason campbell
118 posts
Nov 05, 2019
5:54 AM
Re: getting complements with harp but not with bass. Most non-musicians look at guitar, vocals and harp as lead instruments and bass and drums as backing instruments. Often they can't even discern what the bass player is playing. You're probably doing great on both instruments.
377 posts
Nov 05, 2019
7:18 AM
“I don’t think it’s dangerously loud” Anything over 85-90 decibels is potentially harmful and good earplugs are cheap insurance. There’s an app for your phone called DecibelX which will let you know how loud your jam is. The jams I play at are usually 95-105 dB
143 posts
Nov 27, 2019
2:02 AM
At the Jam last night.
DecibelX read 94.5 dB in the middle of the audience.
Probably not a properly calibrated tool but there it is.
However, as with many musical events it was a lot more comfortable with the soft foam earplugs in. So I left 'em in all night.
Helped me hear myself on the harp too.

Thanks for your comment Re the Bass. I think you are probably right.
Although I did get lost in a 12 bar last night and a kind person in the audience had to hold up 1, 4, or 5 fingers to help me find myself again.
6329 posts
Nov 27, 2019
2:52 AM
94 is pretty loud. That’s usually peak at our Blues Club gig. I measured level a few times because there were complaints. It seemed to average around 90 and peak around 94-5.
I have a pretty low tolerance for loud, dense music these days. I might have to try some earplugs.
145 posts
Nov 27, 2019
7:19 AM
Loud - I have no idea how accurate the phone based sound meter is.
I remember from having microlights noise tested that it is a highly critical business with calibrated instruments etc.

Earplugs - I used the little yellow foam cylinders that compress before insertion and expand in the ear. Used them for years on motorbikes etc.

Been looking at these musician's ear plugs. Some of them claim to prevent 'occlusion.' this is the effect that makes things louder in your head when they are inserted.

However, I think I want this occlusion effect to help me hear myself play. So the cheap foam ones may suit me better.

I have bought some Musician's earplugs from Fleabay - will report back.
147 posts
Nov 28, 2019
4:31 AM
Earplugs arrived - they screwed up the order so it will be a little while before I can check them out (not putting them in so as to avoid hygiene being part of the argument)

Android based sound meters:
I have evolved a cunning plan to set up something at home that is as loud as the jam and see if I can't figure out a rig that will resist feedback at that volume.

Establishing the volume levels is the first step; tried out several Android based Db meters across a couple of devices and I can report that they are all over the place - there is absolutely no calibration at all.

I guess I will have to just pick one and stick to it. I can measure the jam and use that as a baseline. My reasoning is that if I can make the same amount of noise as the jam without feedback then I stand a chance.

The only problem now is how to placate the neighbours...
Homeless Joe
4 posts
Nov 29, 2019
10:37 AM
I wear sunglasses when I jam because it reduces audience distractions and I can concentrate on the music better.

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