I received this message from a acquaintance this week:
I'm thinking of trying to get some piano gigs, but I have only ever played solo and mostly classical work. I have a great ear and can also read music well (thought my sight reading skills suck), and I'm just wondering if you have any advice on practicing to prep to play with a group?
I’m excited that you’re interested in playing piano in a group! Here are 5 things that can help get you started:
Get a professional keyboard
It doesn’t have to be super expensive, just something that can look/sound professional onstage. I’d recommend a well-rounded feature set for your first keyboard that includes as many of the following as possible:
• Quality piano, organ, and electric piano sounds
• The ability to “tweak” sounds (i.e. change the cutoff, attack, etc)
• The ability to save sounds
• The ability to assign favorites
• The ability to put effects on sounds (i.e. a delay effect on a synth pad)
• The ability to layer sounds (put one on top of another)
• The ability to split sounds (put one sound on the bottom, one sound on the top)
• The ability to do all of the above quickly (i.e. not too many submenus)
Also, don’t forget to get a keyboard stand, sustain pedal, and various cables you’ll need. If you have the money, also grab a keyboard amp.
Practice your scales
Practice every scale you know, including all the modal scales (Ionian, Dorian, etc). Also, learn the blues scale and master it in every key. If you get stuck, go to the sheet music store and buy a book of scales- there are many great titles available.
Using a metronome or a drum beat, use the scales you know to practice soloing. If you get stuck on what to play, check out youtube videos of the soloists you’ve admired and mimic them. Some of my favorites to watch and emulate are Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Find other musicians for group jams
Volunteer to play at your church, if you have one. Check out local coffeehouses for potential collaborators. Reach out to anyone you know that plays music, and ask if they know of anyone who needs a keyboard player. Be persistent, but always friendly and helpful.
Don’t expect to get paid at first. Just like any industry, money comes with seniority. I didn’t get paid to play in a band until 3 years after I started doing shows. Be patient, and focus on offering something that’s worth paying for. You’ll know when the time is right to start charging.
Don’t get discouraged
Nobody walks into a music scene and instantly gets gigs. It’s going to take time to build up your chops and develop a reputation as a reliable keyboard player.
Focus on keeping your word, delivering more than you said you would, and not being demanding or hard to work with, and you’ll quickly find a place professionally in whatever market you’re in where you can shine.