Top10 Ses­sion Tips

Get­ting into ses­sions is not easy. But here are 10 im­por­tant things to bear in mind if a stu­dio or the­atre show ca­reer sounds like it might be right for you.

Guitar Techniques - - Q & A -

HGet known lo­cally

Turn up to watch other bands, go to jam nights and open mics, be­friend all the lo­cal mu­si­cians and bands and let them know what you can do – even stand in for a num­ber or two, if you can. Th­ese days there are small stu­dios seem­ingly on ev­ery cor­ner. Look them up and pop a re­sume and CD in, or email them a YouTube link to some­thing you’ve done. Most ses­sion ca­reers be­gin through word of mouth, but if no one knows you you’ll never get started.

Learn read­ing and the­ory

Most pro­fes­sional ses­sions to­day (and pretty much all ‘show’ gigs) re­quire a high level of read­ing as speed is of the essence and the £££s are tick­ing away. Good the­ory is vi­tal. Chord charts too, and the Nashville num­bers sys­tem is also a boon to know (look it up!). But don’t for­get a great ear and an in­ven­tive mind, as ar­range­ments are of­ten changed on the fly; if you’re known as the guy who can come up with an in­stant ‘hook’ you’ll do well.

Be punc­tual

If the ses­sion starts at 10am, be set up and ready to go on the dot (that’s not the time to ar­rive!), be sober, and a nice guy to be around. The great stu­dio bands – The Funk Brothers, Mus­cle Shoals, The Wreck­ing Crew, The Sec­tion, Mitch Dal­ton’s Ses­sion Kings, etc - hap­pen be­cause a bunch of play­ers ‘click’ both mu­si­cally and per­son­ally. A sense of hu­mour goes a long way, too – you’ll def­i­nitely need it!

Have top qual­ity gear

There’s no need to ar­rive with a truck­load, but a hum­buck­ing gui­tar (Gib­son ES-335), Strat-type, Tele-type, good steel and ny­lon-string acous­tics are the min­i­mum. But a banjo, 12-string, man­dolin and ukulele might be handy to have in the boot – just in case. The ma­jor­ity of our ses­sion he­roes used Fen­der Deluxe Re­verb amps and the ob­vi­ous ef­fects – over­drive-dis­tor­tion, fuzz, wah-wah, cho­rus, de­lay, com­pres­sion etc; but don’t for­get the new breed of pro­fil­ers that are prov­ing very pop­u­lar in stu­dios – and of course strings, a capo, a slide – and a tuner!

Spe­cial­ist or all-rounder?

This is a tricky one. If you’re known as the best coun­try gui­tarist for 100 miles you’ll be first call on the list. But if all you can play is death metal – no mat­ter how bril­liantly - your op­tions are lim­ited. Some ses­sion play­ers are all-rounders with a known spe­cial­ity – you play clas­si­cal gui­tar, too, or can dou­ble on pi­ano, or har­mon­ica - har­mony vo­cals are a great sec­ond string to any mu­si­cian’s bow. Once you be­come known on the scene you’re likely to be booked as ‘you’ and not just ‘gui­tar 2’.

Leave your ego at the door

You’re hired to do a job, not to show off how great you are. The pro­ducer and/or artist are the boss, and what­ever they ask you to do it’s your job to come up with the goods. You can of course of­fer sug­ges­tions, but even then be care­ful – you don’t want to come across as ar­ro­gant or a know-it-all.

Play for the song

You’ll need to be aware of the stylis­tic traits in what­ever kind of mu­sic you’re called to play dis­torted power chords won’t cut it on a funk ses­sion, so make sure you lis­ten to the mas­ters of any style in or­der to slot in and feel ‘right’

Tim­ing and tun­ing

Per­fect tun­ing, of course, goes with­out say­ing. But the ses­sion en­vi­ron­ment is stress­ful, and likely to cause ner­vous play­ers to tense up and po­ten­tially rush their parts. Lis­ten to the drum­mer’s kick and snare, and the bass player’s groove, and aim to lock in with them. Most peo­ple pre­fer to hear the gui­tar slightly ‘lazy’, rather than in front of the beat, which can sound twitchy and ner­vous. If in doubt, spend prac­tice time with a metronome.

Be a good em­u­la­tor

When it comes to an im­pro­vised solo a pro­ducer will of­ten ask for some­thing rem­i­nis­cent of what an iconic gui­tarist might play. So make sure you can, at will, evoke the style of Gil­mour, Knopfler, Clap­ton, Hen­drix, Al­bert Lee, San­tana, Nile Rodgers and other in­stantly recog­nis­able play­ers – this goes for licks, tones, ef­fects et al. It doesn’t have to be 100%, (don’t lift copy­right riffs or so­los) but just enough to pro­vide a recog­nis­able flavour.

Be a gen­er­ous mu­si­cian

Steve Lukather has many tales of the great play­ers that helped him out when he was start­ing out in the ses­sion game – stu­dio stars like Lee Rite­nour. If there’s more than one gui­tarist on the ses­sion, don’t hog all the good bits and leave them the dross. Talk about who might do what best, and share du­ties fairly. Be pre­pared to strum an acous­tic if the other guy’s the bet­ter soloist for this par­tic­u­lar job – and do it bril­liantly, with good grace. Don’t be afraid of dep­ping out a ses­sion that you can’t do. A pro won’t steal the gig, and karma is a won­der­ful thing.

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