With Joe Waller
Most musicians will agree that it is not possible to fully master an instrument, there is always something new to learn. However the most challenging part of learning will forever be grasping the basics. The vast number of people who give up learning an instrument within the first few months support this claim. But for those who persevere will reap the rewards. Joe Waller a singer/songwriter from Hampshire can vouch for this. After learning to play guitar Joe quickly progressed to write his own songs which he now performs in pubs and clubs across the south of England. What you may be surprised to learn is that Joe went from learner to performer in just five months. We were intrigued, so asked Joe what his secret to quick learning was and if he could offer any advice. Joe went the extra mile and documents his first 18 months, this not only gives us a great insight into Joe’s rapid progress but gives tips and advice for us all to make use of.
Months 1 – 4
I guess the start of the whole process was deciding to buy a guitar. Although I had been considering buying one for many years (like the majority of the general public). It took me a few seconds of watching my sister’s boyfriend play, to buy one online. I paid £75 for the guitar and practiced every day in May of 2013. With no money left, YouTube was the only way that I could learn. Learning was not made easier this way, but development at a personal speed created a process that allowed me to come and go at any point, this could not be done in a music lesson. By searching online I could specify the level I was at and what song I would like to learn. There are so many good tutorials and channels online dedicated to teaching correct technique for beginner musicians, many give detailed explanations of exercises for better finger placement and speed.
My next-door neighbor came to my house in the 2nd month of learning, not knowing I had begun to learn. He is in a band and was looking for a support act, amazingly he asked me to perform. It was the understanding that he believed in me which made me agree to play. This only meant I practiced more, trying to learn 7 songs which I could sing and play at the same time. Some days from here onwards, I practiced 5 or more hours a day. Looking back on my progression, every song sounded very similar with no personal twist on the songs or any change in speed or style. For the listener, it may have sounded less than average, but for me it was a huge achievement.
Months 5 – 8
My friend was extremely influential in my progression, helping me improve songs and even work on my stage performance by making me perform in front of him countless times. YouTube was still being used on a daily basis to work on new covers, this was the part of practice that made learning the guitar interesting as performing the same song seemed tedious at times. A week before my first ever live performance I sat down one day and wrote a song from some new bar chords I had learnt. Again, YouTube supplied me with some musical theoretical understanding that led to me knowing simple chords progressions. 5 months on from picking up the guitar and equipped with 7 songs (1 being my own) I performed in front of around 80 people in a small venue. I sat down, as I was too nervous to stand, but I left the stage understanding that I wanted to perform again and again. At no point did I feel like I was ready to perform, but for anybody that is about to perform, you never will. The only possible way to tackle your first performance is to do it. Maybe not in the fashion that I did, but possibly at an open mic night with more accepting listeners.
Every day after my performance I practiced new songs and new techniques, gradually pushing myself to play harder material and more difficult skills. I tried to play live as much as possible, sometimes upwards of twice a week in different open mic venues.
Months 9 – 18
Now I am able to play reasonably difficult songs, placing a personal twist on music I learn. I now write original material that is constantly developing as I find my own style in music. I can now instantly read chord or tab sheets to play music live or, with a little time, change the key to a song without using a capo; all of which was learnt and developed through YouTube. It was only in these months did I begin to get invitations to larger music venues and established acoustic nights.
Progression now comes from my original music and developing my ability to write good songs, and this I appreciate takes the most time as many of my favorite musicians took years, sometimes decades to produce their best material. As long as the process is fun and you can see development, you will always want to be performing.
The most difficult task now is to grow past the ‘primary stage’ of performing. It is relatively easy to gain a small fan base in the area that you live but to expand into other areas and gain further fans is very difficult. The easiest way for this to be done is by networking at gigs in the area you live. Word of mouth is still the most powerful way of spreading your music and gaining new gigs. By doing this I have gained invaluable links in the music business, written songs that I use on my sets now and learnt how to record and produce my own music. There was no time line that I had set for when I would like to have achieved something within music, but the excitement of performing constantly drives me to accomplish new things.
Work really hard at developing your musical ability, understanding and performance. It never happens over night and I know this is only the start of my career; and without continuing hard work my music will not progress. YouTube and other social platforms are so easy to use and of course are completely free, there is no better time to learn and get your music heard.
Network as much as possible. This means gain friends within the business that are like minded who will continuously push you to do better. Gain friends in the business who can get you gigs and airplay on different media platforms as you never know where this may lead you.
Finally, never let an opportunity go to waste. I have played in venues where the sound technician is the only person watching. I had pictured other gigs to be the same, but the one person watching has proved important to my career so far. Paid gigs won’t be offered straight away and the hard work, travelling miles to play at a small venue in front of no one means you earn the opportunity for the paid gigs.
Overall enjoy music, the people that you meet and the process of developing as an artist.