Session Guitar: Top 10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Decide to Become a Session Guitarist
This week I am going to challenge all you aspiring session guitarists with a series of questions. Allow me to preface this by telling you that we are all session guitarists today. If you record at home or in a professional studio, you're already one. But I am speaking about session guitar as a career. Here goes!
1. DO YOU LIKE A VARIETY OF MUSIC? Are you a fan of country, rock, metal, folk, funk, goth, polka, Greek, etc.? If you actually enjoy and appreciate the dedication it takes to play a variety of musical styles, you are on your way!
2. ARE THERE MANY TYPES OF GUITARISTS ON YOUR LIST OF FAVORITES? My top favorite guitarists include Rory Gallagher, Tommy Bolin, Joe Pass, Larry Carlton, Greg Howe, Jimmy Page, James Burton, Brent Mason, Carl Verheyen, Steve Vai, Django Reinhart and Guthrie Govan. Does John 5 touch you as much as B.B. King? Each of these guys touches my soul in some way, and they are all different. If your tastes run as diversified as mine, you may move on to the next question!
3. DO YOU HAVE A PASSION TO LEARN THE WORKINGS OF MUSIC? How's your theory? Can you sight read? Play varying rhythms. Do you crave to understand how some guitarist played something? Do you study and practice daily? Do you read Guitar World cover to cover? So far so good! Let's move on.
4. DO YOU REALLY UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF THE WORD SACRIFICE? Well sure, Ron. It means to give up something! Have you given up lunch money to buy a guitar magazine? Have you told your friends you can't go out because you HAVE to practice? Have you ignored your partner at dinner on your engagement night because the musician playing was amazing? (It was only for awhile and I did apologize! ... but DAMN he was good ... and he wasn't even a guitarist!) And I could go on ... but that was a bad one! Next question!
5. CAN YOU HANDLE PRESSURE? Ever hear of red light syndrome? It's when the record button gets pressed and you freeze. Or your playing ability drops by 80 percent when you get to the studio. Or even on your own and you record at home, do you play better before you start? If so, get some help. Practice harder. Get some Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Seriously. But if you excel under pressure, well then, you may read on!
6. DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO BE PROFESSIONAL? Can you always show up on time and prepared? Can you meet deadlines, even if they keep you up for days to reach them? Can you handle financial negotiations easily. Do you know what you are worth? Then you can join the club and prove it!
7. CAN YOU JUGGLE BEING ARTISTICALLY SATISFIED WITH MAKING MONEY? Sometimes you make money, sometimes you make music. This is a harder one than you can imagine. Playing other people's music can be satisfying or frustrating or a joy. But what about the music inside you? Can your own creativity be allowed to surface? Can you sometimes be brave enough to say no? You need this time for yourself. But when you start again you may have been replaced.
8. ARE YOU A GEAR SLUT? Do you keep your gear running better than your car? Is your home studio in better shape than your home? Is your amp biased better than you are? Do your guitars go in for a checkup more than your teeth? Welcome to the world of the obsessed. Come on in ... we have candy ...
9. DO PLAY NICE WITH OTHER CHILDREN? How are your people skills? Do you know what protocol is? Can you keep your attitude in check? Can you fake being humble, even if you are an arrogant son of a bitch, just so you can prove yourself with what really counts -- your playing! Do you have patience with those less talented or informed?
10. IS YOUR GUITAR RADAR ALWAYS ON? When you are watching a movie, do you lose a part of the film when the guitarist starts playing? When you hear a song for the first time are you analyzing the guitar parts and questioning is it an amp or a model? Do you stop in the middle of NYC because some street musician is just killing it?
We are an obsessed group of people. You know us when you run into us. We usually look tired, but happy. Buy us a cup of coffee; we need to spend our money on strings.
Till next time …
Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.