off the record

Ses­sion ace and Su­per­tramp gui­tarist Carl Ver­heyen of­fers well-cho­sen words of wis­dom on life as a gui­tarist. This month: it’s all about con­fi­dence.

Guitar Techniques - - Intro -

Befo re I be­came ac­tive as a solo artist, I was a stu­dio mu­si­cian. On the road, I still get asked about my years of play­ing in the LA stu­dios and what it took to play with con­fi­dence ev­ery day. Real con­fi­dence only comes with ex­pe­ri­ence. And real-world work ex­pe­ri­ence can never be learned in the prac­tice room or the re­hearsal stu­dio. In my early 20s, I spent months teach­ing my­self how to sight-read on the gui­tar in my apart­ment bed­room. But I never re­ally ‘owned it’ un­til I’d done a hand­ful of TV and movie ses­sions in­volv­ing some in­tense read­ing along with the pres­sure of 30 to 105 or­ches­tral play­ers in the room. Gui­tarists who can’t cut it don’t get called back; there are no sec­ond chances. That’s pres­sure!

Once, on a fea­ture-film ses­sion, I pulled up a chart with 19 bars of solo ny­lon-string gui­tar be­fore the or­ches­tra’s en­trance. It was very dif­fi­cult ‘stacks of notes’ chord read­ing. Dur­ing take af­ter take, as I got close to bar 19, I’d see the 56 string play­ers lift their bows out of the cor­ner of my eye. In­vari­ably, I’d get freaked out and blow it.

I started to sweat a bit, but soon re­alised this would be hard for any gui­tar player! You need to breathe deep in th­ese sit­u­a­tions and re­mind your­self, “Wait a minute, here! I’m the ex­pert in the room on this in­stru­ment, and play­ing this in­tro is some­thing most clas­si­cal play­ers would prac­tise for weeks be­fore per­form­ing.“A week later, I played on a movie called The Mi­la­gro Bean­field War, with a beau­ti­ful score by Dave Grusin. They’d hired Án­gel Romero, one of the world’s finest

As I got close to bar 19, I’d see the 56 string play­ers lift their bows…

clas­si­cal play­ers, to do the Span­ish-style acous­tic stuff. I re­mem­ber the other gui­tarists on the ses­sion (Lee Rite­nour and Mitch Holder) and I sat in front of him to watch him do his parts, but he kindly asked us to leave. Even the heav­i­est cats get ner­vous some­times!

We all went into the booth and saw him work through take af­ter take of this very dif­fi­cult mu­sic, just like I had done the week be­fore. Even a fa­mous artist like Án­gel Romero has to strug­gle some­times, but I was in­spired by his con­fi­dence and re­laxed tem­per­a­ment.

There is also con­fi­dence that comes from re­al­is­ing your strengths. On my very first ses­sion with com­poser Graeme Rev­ell, I was called into the stu­dio to play on a new Bran­don Lee film called The Crow. There was a gnarly scene in the movie where the Crow char­ac­ter is play­ing a heavy-metal gui­tar solo on top of a build­ing and throws the gui­tar over the edge at the end. I no­ticed the mu­sic on the chart and the ac­tion on the screen didn’t re­ally match up: his fingers were wail­ing, but the mu­sic Graeme had writ­ten was a slow, soul­ful bal­lad. Af­ter play­ing the part I told the com­poser, “With all due re­spect, I can im­pro­vise some­thing vi­bier for this scene.” I pointed out that the on-screen hands of the ac­tor were blaz­ing up the neck, yet the writ­ten part called for whole notes. Pulling out a ‘stunt gui­tar’ with a Floyd Rose bridge, I played a long run fol­lowed by a huge dive bomb as he heaves the gui­tar from the rooftop. Af­ter, I got paid for the ses­sion as well as a very gen­er­ous ‘ghost writer’ fee.

When you’re first start­ing out as a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian you don’t have the nerve to sug­gest some­thing like that to a well-known film com­poser, but with ex­pe­ri­ence, one’s con­fi­dence grows. At some point, con­fi­dence kicks in and you re­alise: “I know more about the gui­tar’s strengths and lim­i­ta­tions than any­one here. I’m the one with tens of thou­sands of hours be­hind th­ese six strings.”

Carry this con­fi­dence over to the stage – it will kill your stage fright dead! Re­alise that you’re there for a rea­son and, even when crit­i­cal eyes stare at you, no­body in the room can play it like you. You’re re­hearsed and ready. And there’s only one you. Visit­lver­ for more about Carl and his UK tour in Sep/Oct.

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