Here's Why You Shouldn't Take a Low-Paying Gig...

Courtsey of Casey van Wensem

Musicians seem to have a problem asking for money. It can be tempting to accept low-paying jobs as a way to set yourself apart from the competition, particularly if you're just starting out. 

The paradox of this approach, however, is that it can lead to a dangerous downward spiral that’s not just bad for you, but for all musicians...

Here are a few things to consider before you take a low-paying gig.

What qualifies as a low-paying gig?
What qualifies as a low-paying gig is really more of a personal question than a financial one. A session musician who's been playing for 10 years might be offended if someone offered him or her $300 for a day in the studio, while someone who’s just starting out might be perfectly happy with this rate.

If you really want to put a dollar amount on it, consider how your fee for a gig would translate into hourly pay. If the hourly rate is something you could live off of, then the amount you’re getting paid for the gig is probably worthwhile.

It’s important to take into account the work that goes into the job you’re doing, not just the job itself. If you get paid $100 for a two-hour set, it might sound like you’re making $50 an hour, but once you factor in rehearsal time, gear expenses, transportation to and from the venue, marketing costs to promote the event, and all of the other work you do to prepare for a gig, the amount you’re making per hour is considerably lower.

What accepting low-paying gigs says about you
When you accept a low rate for a gig, you’re telling the person who hired you that your time and abilities aren’t valuable.

The logic for accepting low-paying gigs usually goes something like this: “I don’t want to miss this opportunity, and even if I’m not getting paid enough this time, I can work my way up towards higher paying gigs.

This, however, is where the paradox of low rates comes into play: once you start accepting low payment rates, you actually compete downwards, not upwards.

By working for low pay, you’re establishing yourself as someone who’s willing to work for less than what you’re worth. Once you’ve built that reputation, it’s hard to shake it.

On top of that, you’re now working with clients and agents who are only interested in getting a deal. Cheap clients and agents will always want you to be cheaper than you are, (if you accept a gig for $80.00, maybe you'll accept a gig for $60.00), but people who understand the value of what you do are happy to pay for a job well done.

This behavior also says something about the music industry at large. When musicians accept small payouts for gigs, they’re reinforcing the stereotype that music has no real value in today’s society. Music is such an integral part of everyone’s daily lives, yet few people recognize its true monetary value.

By taking a low-paying gig, you’re not only reinforcing this misconception, you’re also incentivizing people to offer more low-paid opportunities for all of the other musicians in your music scene, (which is harmful to both you and your fellow artists).

When to turn down a low-paying gig
Musicians can complain as much as they want to about how music is undervalued, but the only way to change this misconception is to actively teach people what music is really worth.

Turning down an opportunity is a scary proposition, but sometimes saying “no” is the most empowering thing you can do. By turning down a gig because you feel it doesn’t offer appropriate compensation, you’re saying that your work has value, and that you’re not willing to engage in a race to the bottom on pricing. This creates an incentive for people who work with musicians to offer fair compensation.

You may lose some potentially exciting opportunities this way, but if you spend all your time taking low-paying gigs, you’ll never have time to connect with the people who are willing to pay you what you deserve for your work.

Some people simply might not understand how much work goes into preparing for a gig, writing songs, booking a tour, or all of the other jobs that musicians do every day. The more that people understand about how much work musicians put into everything they do, the more people will be willing to pay musicians what they’re actually worth.

Independent Artists:
If you’re building your career as an indie musician, not every gig you take will be your dream gig – in fact, you’ll probably have to take a lot of crappy gigs before you get to the good ones. The challenge is to make sure you’re not devaluing your own work and the work of other musicians in the process.

While there will be times when you’re willing to play just for exposure, to create connections, or to build up your resume, it’s often better, in this case, to take a free gig rather than a low-paying one.

The difference is that the people who offer free gigs tend to understand that they should be paying for music, but they simply aren’t able to, while the people who offer underpaid gigs are usually just trying to get a deal at your expense.

So if the opportunity seems right, go ahead and take that unpaid gig, but when money comes onto the table, make sure you’re getting what you’re worth.

Casey van Wensem is a freelance composer, musician, and writer living in Kelowna, B.C., Canada.


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The Jimi Hendrix Scale - Part Two

The Jimi Hendrix Scale - Part Two

Take a step further with the unique sounds of the "Jimi Hendrix Scale" by applying it off of the 5th string root pentatonic... 

If you like, Progressive Rock, Blues-Rock, Fusion or Funk / Jazz and Rhythm and Blues... I'd definitely suggest spending some time jamming on these Dominant 7th (aug. 9th) chords, using this modified Minor Pentatonic idea. 


Now we'll drop the tonic notes down by a half-step and create the "Jimi Hendrix Scale."


The scales new tonic (C#) will be related to the major third of the associated Dominant 7th (#9) chord. In this case, the "C#" is the major 3rd of an "A7(#9)." 

The "A7(#9) Chord:

Now comes the fun stuff. We'll create a guitar lick using the "C# Jimi Hendrix Scale," that functions for use over the "A7(#9)" chord.

 The "C# Jimi Hendrix Scale" (Lick Example):

click on image to show TAB full-screen

This scale offers some really cool sounds and some great fret-board shapes to be able to play over those altered dominant chords. And, just like with any other scale, the more practice time you put into this stuff, the more interesting melodic ideas that you'll discover along the way... So, I hope you have fun jamming on these ideas.

Click here to view Part One of this lesson.

Watch the video below... "The Jimi Hendrix Scale"

The Jimi Hendrix Scale



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Using Pentatonic to Improve Technique

Playing sloppy? Here's a solution... start ripping through these Minor Pentatonic drills to improve your left and right hand co-ordination. 

They'll help you gain better performance, higher clarity and best of all they'll pump up your skills for developing more speed...

Building speed is not just for guitar players who want to play fast and look good (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Building speed is also fantastic for pretty well every other aspect of developing accurate guitar playing.

Once you’ve got good technique and finger dexterity everything else that you play becomes easier. From rhythm playing to soloing and everything else in between. As you improve your clarity and skills for fast playing your overall ability on the guitar just gets better and better.

I’ve organized three exercises that will help you build up speed and also help you get a good grip on your pentatonic scale so you can learn to play them even better than before.

Go through each exercise slowly a couple of times before you try to speed up.

Set with a slow tempo on your metronome and when you feel comfortable enough gradually increase the tempo higher and higher. Begin at around 60 b.p.m. and strive for an initial goal of making it to 100 b.p.m. on the metronome.

Play as accurate as possible and make sure to keep your notes clear and clean.

Try to avoid accidentally hitting any extra sounding notes (unwanted tones) that aren’t supposed to be there. Try muting any strings you don’t want to hear with either your left hand or right hand.

Practice these drills with a clean tone on your amp, try them with palm muting, without palm muting, with distortion and also on an acoustic guitar. Move them to other Pentatonic patterns and extend them along and across the neck.

EXERCISE #1). A Minor Pentatonic Straight 8th-Note Sequencing

 EXERCISE #2). A Minor Pentatonic 8th-Note Triplet Sequencing

 EXERCISE #3). A Minor Pentatonic Straight 16th-Note Sequencing



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Why Do We Make the "Guitar Face?"

Guitar Face is an accepted and agreed upon occupational hazard when you’re playing a really good guitar part. But, what are the actual reasons behind why we make all these crazy facial expressions?

Guitar guys make the funniest faces. We gnash our teeth, knit our brows, purse our lips, let our mouths hang open, contort our jaws, scrunch our eyes shut, stick out our tongues, breathe heavily, grunt and groan and moan and generally get ridiculous.

According to Edmonton neurologist Dr. Valerie Sim, there are “similar” parts of the brain activated when one is improvising music and when one is making love. Both acts require focus, an expenditure of energy, a release of inhibitions.

When one is successful, the reward is freedom, bliss – and a great solo. The brain’s pleasure centres are triggered; one loses all sense of time and space in the joy of the moment of experiencing the finest that life can offer.

Carlos Santana:

Dr. Sim, a researcher and associate professor of neurology at the U of A, calls herself “a scientist who practices medicine to support my music.” She’s a classically-trained violinist who plays in orchestras, musicals and in string quartets, but also has roots as a fiddler comfortable in kitchen party hootenannies, setting her apart from legit-trained musicians who fold when the sheet music’s taken away.

“You get the tingles,” Dr. Sim says of her personal experience. “That rush – people get that from certain pieces of music, certainly performing. I’m in an orchestra and there are certain pieces where all the strings come in and there are these amazing chords and you get this incredible rush. It’s not specifically like an orgasm, but that’s why we talk about the reward centre and the endorphins. There’s an exhilaration and a rush, for certain. Yeah, I would say there are definitely going to be overlaps. Like eating chocolate covered strawberries.”

While improvising as a fiddler, she goes on, “I’ve had experiences performing where I really have lost awareness of anything else that’s going on, a loss of awareness of time where you just become the music. It’s a magical experience. That’s rare, to get into that zone.”

Pat Metheny:

Aside from the inherent pleasure induced from music, it’s those moments of intense improvisation that seem to produce the best guitar faces. There is no simple explanation.

“The auditory cortex in humans is relatively small,” Dr. Sim says, “but it connects to so many different parts of the brain … the language, there’s the technical part, and the emotional part, memory. That’s the challenge,” she says, to figure out what’s going on in the brain. One would have to put a musician’s head into an MRI machine while they’re playing a great solo – and the guitar face would probably throw it off.

Juno-nominated jazz artist Jim Head has seen a lot of guitar face in his nine years as the head of guitar instruction at MacEwan University’s music program. He says he’s embarrassed about his own guitar face. He can barely bring himself to say why – i.e., because it looks like orgasm face.

The ultimate goal while soloing is freedom, of course.

Angus Young:

“That’s the place we aspire to get to, where we’re free,” Head says. “I would say that those moments where I’m really, completely free are fewer than the ones somewhere in the middle. It’s like a big spectrum. In general, I’m at the point where I’m what the Indigo Girls said, ‘close to freedom.’ That’s what you strive for.”

Head says a lot of things go into his guitar face. There’s the physical exertion of playing the instrument itself. There’s the transporting emotion of the music. Jazz legend Keith Jarrett makes a lot of grunting noises when he solos, and has the best piano face in the business. On top of that, Head says, guitar face can express struggle. “There are insecurities, inhibitions, those things manifest, too,” he says. “It might all look the same, but there are different things going on. When something is difficult to play and you get tense, the tension manifests in the face.”

This wouldn’t be a problem for such a seasoned player – except for one thing: “Sometimes I can actually feel the fatigue,” Head says, “My face gets sore, and that’s a distraction.”

Head sees no apparent correlation between the quality of the solos and the guitar faces of the soloists, based on hundreds of guitar students he’s taught over the years. He says, “It’s all relative to the personality of the player.”

Jimi Hendrix:

Being a rock star requires a certain kind of personality, doesn’t it? This might explain why this phenomenon seems to be such a guy thing, and why so many of the best known rock guitarists have such great guitar faces. They often play with their eyes closed to shut off any extraneous input from the occipital cortex so they may release their creative powers more freely – B.B. King, Pat Metheny, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young, name your guitar hero, marvel at their guitar faces.

What do they all have in common? They all love to show off. It’s in their personalities. It can’t be coincidence that musicians who overplay are sometimes called “wankers.”

There’s some recent lore about the mysterious connection between mind and music. Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a whole book about it, Musicophilia, exploring many different aspects of the theme through real life cases of brain dysfunction. He writes of the mystery, “This thing called ‘music’ … is in some way efficacious to humans, central to human life. Yet it has no concepts, makes no propositions, it lacks images, symbols, the stuff of language. It has no power of representation. It has no necessary relation to the world.” And yet we can’t seem to live without it.

On letting go and going with the flow, jazz pianist Kenny Werner wrote a book called Effortless Mastery, in which he explains that the path to true creativity lies being “disconnected from the results.” You put heart and soul into creating the art in the moment – and then just let it go when it’s done. Don’t care what people think. Less inhibitions, better art.

The Guardian published an article early this year that deals with improvisation and the brain, written by American scientists Malinda McPherson and Charles Limb.

They found that while the motor and language centres get amped up during improvisation, other brain networks get “turned down” – including self-criticism. “Research shows that the brain is shutting down your inhibitions during these creative moments. It appears that to be really creative, you need to avoid critiquing and controlling your actions, and instead, let yourself go in order to get into the moment, regardless of any mistakes.”

It’s just like what they say – there are no wrong notes in music, only opportunities.



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QwikLicks #026: String Slide Licks in "G Minor"

NEW: QwikLicks Series - Video (026)

The latest QwikLicks video, "String Slide Licks in G Minor" is available in the FREE members area. Includes PDF handout!

QwikLicks are a FREE lesson series for all membership levels at Creative Guitar Lessons in the QwikLicks Series run through a short collection of guitar licks covering all types of playing styles, famous artist's playing styles and guitar techniques...

Episode #026 covers three key of "G Minor," licks created from out of the Natural Minor scale. The first lick works ascending along the neck on the fourth string. 

In lick two, the string slide idea descends down along the first guitar string covering a lot of distance from the 11th fret to the 3rd position.

The final lick is a construction based idea. We begin with an initial statement, shown with a single slide statement. Then, we expand upon that statement and create a lick that applies greater distance within the scale.

Sign into the website with your free members account to watch the lesson, and be sure to download the PDF lesson handout. 

If you're not currently a FREE member of the website, sign up today!


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According to Science - Here's How You Practice!

Practice is a physical activity, of course, but it's also hard mental work — if you're doing it right you'll go a long way toward gaining success. But, do it wrong, and you'll be left spinning your wheels... 

A new video published by TED Ed gets down to the scientific nitty-gritty of what good practice looks like, and what it does to your brain. (Think axons and myelin, not "muscle memory" — muscles don't have "memory.")

As Annie Bosler and Don Greene, the creators of this TED Ed lesson, point out, this advice can apply to everything from music to sports. 

They define effective practice as "consistent, intensely focused and target[ing] content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one's current abilities." 

That's another way of saying: Don't waste your time practicing the stuff you already know, just to fill up those minutes.

Watch the Video:

More of their specific advice, with each point bolstered by research:

- "Focus at the task on hand." Shut off all those digital distractions. No excuses. 

- "Start out slowly, or in slow motion. Coordination is built with repetitions." Get it right at a slow pace and then work on increasing your speed while still playing the music correctly.

- "Frequent repetition with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers." Do what many pros do: split your practice time into smaller, super-concentrated chunks, working multiple times a day.

- "Practice in your brain, in vivid detail." Visualize playing your music without actually playing it. Put yourself through the music, note by note. Imagine what it feels like to press that key, or take that breath, every step of the way.

Of course, their advice about practicing isn't new; quite a bit of it has been floating around for some time now, like in a series of posts published here on Deceptive Cadence a few years ago. But having a better understanding why and how it works is inspiring — and helps you reinforce good habits.



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The Jimi Hendrix Scale - Part One

The minor pentatonic scale is pretty much a sacred scale when it comes to playing blues and rock guitar. It's simplicity can go a very long way. But, check out what happens when we lower all the roots down a half step...

Everyone has played it, and everyone knows the shape. This is the Minor pentatonic scale (below). Have a run through it off of the 5th position to create the "A Minor Pentatonic."...


There's no arguing that this scale is great, and it has hundreds of uses. But, things change a little with all the roots are dropped down a half step.


You can see right away that there's a strong visual resemblance to our original A minor pentatonic shape, (as it looks nearly identical).

But it’s also easy to spot where our roots have shifted down by one fret on the 1st string, 4th string, and 6th string. By making that change, our A minor pentatonic scale has transformed into an E7#9b13 arpeggio. This makes it an excellent choice for use over Jimi's favorite chord type... the "E7(#9)."

The "Hendrix" Chord:
The shape of the Jimi Hendrix chord includes the "E, G#, D and G." These tones also exist inside of the "Jimi Hendrix" scale.

If we play the “Jimi Hendrix Chord” off of an "E," and then follow it with the scale built from the chords "major 3rd," (G#), we get a sound that is instantly recognizable as the "Hendrix" sound. Try it for yourself below...

The "Hendrix" Sound:

Click on image to enlarge full-screen

I hope this gets you started in playing over the Hendrix Chord chord with more interesting melodic intention and sophistication. 

The straight-forward pentatonic scale is always great, and none of us will ever stop using it, but discovering a new place to go with chord sound is not only a lot of fun but a fantastic way to expand what your ears are hearing.

Click here to view Part Two of this lesson. 


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