Session Guitar: Maintaining Your Identity in the Session World

Hello, friends.

This week, I'd like to speak a bit on how we can maintain a sense of self while fulfilling the constant need to make others happy.

Every day, I am asked to impersonate another guitarist. This is not as difficult as it sounds. I only have to do it for a few brief measures. However, this daily job requirement can often confuse the session player when it comes time to showcase who you really are. We are not a normal breed.

Imagine creating art all day along the lines of Da Vinci and then trying in the evening to be your own artist. The lines cross quite easily when your job and life intermingle in such a time-consuming and intimate way.

And then there is the dreaded reality of working on another artist's song for several hours (six or more sometimes) and then removing that song from your mind to work on a personal project. Ever wonder why a plumber has the worst pipes in the neighborhood? There's the answer!

How do we shut off our job to do our job? How do we find honesty when we've been basically playing a role all day? Sure, sometimes we get to be ourselves and do exactly what we want. Sometimes. But mostly you are in a service business. You can try to do what you feel is correct, but the bottom line is, you have to give the client what he wants and more.

My first and only CD (so far) took me the better part of three years to complete. I found every excuse to make sure it took that long. But the real reason was, I didn't make it a priority, which turned my life into confusion. It's hard to create when all this work and music and personal crap is interfering. (Once I started, it took six weeks from beginning to end).

The second reason was fear — fear of the unknown, fear of putting yourself out there. The studio is a comfortable security blanket where you hide behind other artists' successes and failures. "Not my fault — I played what I was told." Fear also of facing who you really are as a guitarist. And who you are as a guitarist, how you play, says a ton about the person you are. It is a journey into discovery. Not only of music but of yourself.

So this column is basically a warning and a piece of advice.

Here's the warning: Don't get caught up in your job. Have a life. If your job is playing music, and your life is meant to be playing your own music, well, sons and daughters, it's time to get tough and brave. The tough part is realizing you are going to have to separate the two. The brave part is you may have to stop your job at various times and turn down work and possibly forever lose clients to make the time to create your music.

Here's the advice: Your job is not your life. It' a job. But your music is you. Your music is more important than anything else you will ever do. That is, if you are as crazy and love and respect music as much as I do. And I know most of you do. The passion that is in you must be created. It is important that we hear it.

Don't be concerned about how technically great a guitarist is, unless you want to be that type of guitarist. Don't worry about someone else's tone, unless you desire it. And don't worry if you don't own every piece of gear in the known mega-store! After doing just that, I realize how little I need in order to create my music.

The gear doesn't take you there. Your heart, soul and mind does. Take that journey to the music and tone and nuance that touches your soul. When you come back to doing your job, you will bring back something no one else can offer but you. If you come back, you may just want to stay.

Here's a link to a track from my next CD. It's only on ReverbNation for now. It's called "The Weapon," and it was inspired by a dress. (That's not a dress, that's a weapon!) This song is a free download at my website. Enjoy!

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  • 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.

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