From the May 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY DAVID HODGE
Think about your earliest musical memory. Was it your mother singing to you? Was it you singing along with your friends? For me it was my father playing saxophone in wedding bands and dabbling in guitar and banjo. I learned from him that music has the power to move people in many ways. This led me to playing many musical instruments myself. The more instruments I learned, the more I realized how important it is to play with other people and for other people.
Music is meant to be shared, because doing so gives back to everyone involved, listener and performer alike. Here, you’ll get some ideas about how to go about sharing music with others. Some will be obvious, others maybe not. But hopefully these tips will inspire you to go out and share your music with the world.
1. GET OUT THERE
Sharing music can have many forms. The most obvious one is performing, but there are lots of ways to do so, some not as apparent as others: You can play at an open-mic night. You can play for your friends at an informal gathering. One can make it a regular event on the social calendar—say, music at so-and-so’s house every third Sunday of the month. You can play at retirement homes, nursing homes, or even hospitals. Doug Schmolz, a guitarist based in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, has a weekly gig at the Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington. He makes a circuit around the floor, and there are chairs positioned in the hallway so that he gets a chance to serenade several rooms at once.
You can also cater to kids. Another Berkshire County performer, David Grover, holds court at the Great Barrington Town Gazebo every Saturday morning during the summer, and the place is packed with families. They all love it when he plays “Little Bunny Foo Foo.”
When I was just out of college in the early 1980s, my band had an ongoing gig at the Center for Enriched Living, an Illinois institution for young adults with developmental disabilities. They loved having the chance to dance and sing.
Busking is a British term that means to entertain by performing on a street or a public place. Besides being a great way to share music, it can also help you develop your act. One of my former students, Marilyn Miller, busks with her duo in the Hudson, New York, area on a regular basis. She says, “One of my favorite busking memories is when a woman who had been sitting behind us for some time approached us at the end of a song. She said, ‘I just want to let you girls know, I felt so down today, but listening to you two just standing there on the street singing lifted my spirits up so wonderfully.’”
2. HOST CONCERTS
Performing isn’t limited to musicians. Some people love music but don’t play, so they share their space in order to get the music out to others. The relatively recent trend of hosting house concerts is a great example of this.
Canada has a wonderful nonprofit arts organization called Home Routes, formed in 2007 to create a linked group of community-based house concerts all across North America. The program works by recruiting 12 different host homes in 12 communities, so that performers will have a complete touring circuit. “Home Routes is about meeting mutual needs for the artists and the communities,” says the organization’s artistic director, Tim Osmond. “It’s about developing a vibrant infrastructure for folk music.”
3. BECOME A TEACHER
Besides performing, teaching is an excellent way to share music. A teacher not only shares music but shows by example why it’s important to do so. The good will one feels when sharing music gives a student more incentive to practice in order to perform. It’s a perfect, sustainable cycle.
In addition to private lessons, teaching groups is a great way to share music and to stress the importance of playing with others. It’s fun, and having something specific to play in terms of repertoire gives one added incentive to practice.
Tom Serb, director of the Midwest Music Academy in Plainfield, Illinois, says, “Teaching guitar gives me the opportunity to always be exposed to new music. It’s a win-win situation: I get new things to listen to and play, and the students get to understand how the musical skills I’ve been showing them can be used to construct and re-create the music they like.”
4. SHARE THROUGH A MUSIC SHOP
A less obvious way of sharing music is through owning or working in a local music shop. By showing and demonstrating an array of musical instruments, a store can introduce customers to different ways that they can express themselves musically. The shop can display many different types of instruments, some of which customers may never have seen or heard—and which they’ll be inspired to take up.
A store can also educate customers on the ways that different body styles and tonewoods—as well as strings, picks, and other accessories—impact the way that guitars sound. This can help customers discover the gear best suited to their goals and playing styles—the tools that they will use in sharing music.
Claudia D’Alessandro, who until recently owned The Music Store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, puts it this way: “Shop owners, like teachers and other music professionals, share their knowledge and skills so that others can enjoy the making of music as well.”
5. PASS THE MUSIC ALONG
One can also share music by going out to hear others perform—a habit that is at the heart of keeping local music alive. One also shares music by making suggestions. How many times have your friends—either by an old-fashioned mix tape or a Spotify playlist—turned you on to an artist that you might not have found on your own?
A bit of warning: sharing music is highly addictive. You’re bound to find yourself being challenged to come up with more and more ways to do so. And you’ll also discover that sharing is one of the most rewarding things you can do, musically speaking. Imagine one day hearing an accomplished musician say that you were the inspiration behind their taking up guitar in the first place.
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.