Beginner Help and advice needed for busking

Taz

Busking Oracle
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3,626
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Rugby UK
Ok, so how many of you have considered going out into the streets, horn in hand, and doing some busking?
Well I am hoping to do just that. Firstly I have been to the council offices in Rugby, where I live, and gained permission. Busking licences are no longer required in this neck of the woods, you just phone them up, let them know when you plan on playing and they let you know if you can play that day or not. Nice and relaxed I thought
The next thing I thought was to learn some nice melody lines to some popular tunes, like the Beatles, Gordon Haskell and the like and then give it a go
What I would like to know from some of you with far more experience than I have, is Have you tried it? What did you learn from your experiences and what advice you would give an inexperienced muso like myself.
I've played with 2 bands so far, so I've always had the backup (read as "Had to carry the bl**dy sax player again") so this would be a totally new thing.
So come on any help or advice will be gratefully received

This thread appeared to be of great interest to some of us so I thought I'd bring it back to life (anything for a free beer!):))):)))
PS I guess that my new Avatar gives you a clue that I took all the advice seriously!!
 
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Taz

Taz

Busking Oracle
Messages
3,626
Location
Rugby UK
Part 2

Thanks for all the good wishes guys and galls, I don't think Rugby was quite prepared for this...

I had been keeping a keen eye on the weather this morning, windy but dry and quite sunny, not too bad. I had decided that I needed an image so I opted for a black pair of trousers and a black shirt with the compulsory black shades and a black hat (naturally). I loaded my gear into the car, checking it one last time as I went. I then got into the car and drove the four miles into town. I parked as close to the centre as I could. As I started to unload my stuff I suddenly realised exactly how bl*^dy terrified I was. My hands were shaking uncontrollably and my mouth was as dry as Ghandi's flip flop! How could this be, I've played in the front of several bands, gigging in pubs and clubs, without as much as a tremble! So why should this be so different?
I gave myself a swift pep talk, and decided not to turn around and go home. So, I bit the bullet, and set up in a spot I had previously chosen. It was a fairly wide pedestrian street. I inserted the cd and pressed play.
Wow... The sound that reverberated from the opposite buildings gave me a great perspective of my tone. I was pleasantly surprised. To my ears, the sax sounded warm, rich and very very smooth....nice. Fairly soon, my nerves appeared to just fade away.
A lady of about 70, approached me whilst I was playing "Georgia on my mind" in her hand were a few coins, as she lent forward to throw them into my case, she whispered,"Thank you, you have reminded me of when I used to go dancing with my late husband." I think that the emotion that welled up inside of me was transmitted to all in the way I played the rest of the tune! (Boy was I glad I was wearing sun glasses.)
I was very surprised to see several people stop and listen, some were tapping their feet and even singing along! Most people just walked on past as if I wasn't even there, others looked as they walked, the occasional flick of the wrist as another handful of small change rattled into my case! Two teenage girls linked their hands together and danced a waltz, boy did I feel good.
I had been told by the local authority that I would have to change my location after about half an hour, so when I made my backing tracks, I made ten tracks lasting around thirty minutes. As soon as they ran out I would have to move on. Well I repeated the process twice more in different places, thoroughly enjoying myself in the process.
When the last echos of Baker Street had died away, I packed away my gear and made my weary way home. I was absolutely worn out, I hadn't realised how much energy I had used.
When I got home I emptied the cash that I had collected onto the table to count it.
Had it all be worth it? Well from a personal sense of satisfaction, the old lady had made my day, after her comments nothing else seemed to mater, I had reminded her of happy times, she had made me realise that I have an ability to make people smile. Who needs cash? I felt on top of the world.
Financially was it worth it?
You do the maths. Ninety minutes playing, for fifty six pounds and forty pence! That's almost forty pounds an hour!

Now the advice bit. If you have ever thought about dressing up and taking your beloved sax into your nearest town centre, stop thinking about it and do it. I had the best time ever had I'm still "buzzing" now!
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
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21,997
Location
Just north of Munich
This is something to aim for! Are you still doing it? Did anyone try and move you on?

Have often wondered why guys busk - often fine musicians - is it for fun, or cash as they've fallen on hard times.... See a lot of them in Munich, some appear to be residents and are selling CDs as they busk. Seems to be profitable for them as well. They seem to move around a lot, guess they're also forced to move on...
 
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Taz

Taz

Busking Oracle
Messages
3,626
Location
Rugby UK
Yes I'm still going strong, although circumstances have prevented me since Christmas, but I'll be back to it asap. The places I've busked so far have been very easy going in regards to being moved on. Mostly, if you dont upset the shop keepers, you'll be ok. Having said that, Rugby has a policy of moving you on after about 30-45 minutes. As for why I do it, an old lady walked up to me once and said "Thank you, you've reminded me of a time when my late husband and I used to go dancing together." I almost wept. Enough said!:sax:
 

Chris Jones

Member
Messages
678
Location
Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Interesting thread Pete.

I have considered busking but know I would be recognised by those I would rather avoid. If I travelled to the next town I would probably be out of pocket.

What were you using for the Backing CD and how was it powered???
 
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Taz

Taz

Busking Oracle
Messages
3,626
Location
Rugby UK
What were you using for the Backing CD and how was it powered???
As in what sort of music or what was I playing them on?

I produced some of my own tracks very simply with "Band in a Box" I also bought some great tracks very cheaply from Ameritz. They make some really good tracks and you can hear a short demo as well.

As for playing them, I had an old car cd player knocking around, so I built a box out of chip board, painted it black, fitted some speakers that I bought at a car boot sale for £3, placed a car battery in the back of the box, and then put the whole thing on a trolley It cost me about £15 for the trolley, about £15 for ten backing tracks and everything else was scrounged! The sound that is produced by this knocked together system is superb! The battery will out last me in terms of play time.

If you are planning on doing some busking all I can say is do it. Even if you don't earn much, you've still been paid to practice!
 
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Chris Jones

Member
Messages
678
Location
Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Thanks Pete,

I was curious about the system used to play the backing tracks.

I do like your idea of the Car CD. With car boot sales It wouldn't take long to find a Car radio with CD and MP3 connection. :welldone
 

tengu01

Member
Messages
732
Location
London, UK
Busking experiences

Your initial busking experience really made me smile. I have to agree, it is absolutely terrifying when you first have to get yourself out there but the rewards from people who appreciate what you do has to be seen to be believed.

I would firmly second that: Get out there and play your socks off people. It's a wonderful experience. Terrifying, nerve-wracking and incredibly rewarding

:)
 

Lodger

Member
Messages
108
Location
Darwen, Lancashire
Congratulations

I enjoyed reading about your busking and greatly admire your courage! I also envy your ability to play for so long without music. Although I play many of the sort of tunes that you describe, I have always played with bands or at home with music, so I have never learned to play anything significant by heart. I think I'm too old to learn now.:(
 

dooce

Well-Known Member
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1,415
Location
Daventry
Thanks Pete,

I was curious about the system used to play the backing tracks.

I do like your idea of the Car CD. With car boot sales It wouldn't take long to find a Car radio with CD and MP3 connection. :welldone
As the photographer of Taz's avatar - for which, I note, I have never received credit;} - I can vouch for the quality of the car-boot-sale sound system.

And indeed for the quality of the mans busking. :welldone
 

tengu01

Member
Messages
732
Location
London, UK
I enjoyed reading about your busking and greatly admire your courage! I also envy your ability to play for so long without music. Although I play many of the sort of tunes that you describe, I have always played with bands or at home with music, so I have never learned to play anything significant by heart. I think I'm too old to learn now.:(
To be honest, it started off with me barely remembering enough to get me past the 30 minute mark and having to repeat and stretch songs by sticking in some admittedly amateur improvisations and hoping to find my way back to the song in the end.

As for learning songs, it's a strange thing. For songs I have learned and continued to play with sheet music, my brain seems to concentrate purely on reading the music correctly and following the chord symbols. Where I have had to jam the tunes, I had to learn without. I don't think you're too old to learn at all, but a few pointers might help.

1. Pick a song you can hum or whistle
2. As you already know how the song goes, slow it right down into a series of 4 or 5 notes
3. Work it out on your sax, going back to the song if you're not sure of pitch
4. Keep it slow, adding to it gradually and going back to the beginning from time to time, to stitch it all together
5. Once you have the whole song under your fingers, then increase your speed.

It does sound rather dull, but I have found this method has worked for me. I hit a kind of wall where I could remember quite a few of the tunes when I started learning the sax (and my sight reading was truly atrocious) then there was a huge gap where the many songs I had read/played simply didn't stick. I suspect it's just a different area of the brain being used. So I had to go back to carving it into my brain via my ears

Lastly, pick something slow and relatively simple to start off with. Looking at the score is cheating.

possible starting points: Watermelon Man, Canteloupe Island, Nature Boy, Happy Birthday, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The song itself doesn't matter as much as the method you use to make it stick. I'll be very curious to hear whether this works out for you. Good luck and let me know.

ps. I don't know about courage. The first few times, my palms were sweating, my knees were knocking and my fingers felt like they were someone else's
 

Lodger

Member
Messages
108
Location
Darwen, Lancashire
I don't know about courage. The first few times, my palms were sweating, my knees were knocking and my fingers felt like they were someone else's
Actually I think it shows some courage if you feel like that and still go on!

Thanks for the ideas for learning songs/tunes. They make a lot of sense and I am sure that is the way for me - slowly plodding. As it happens, two of the tunes you have suggested are ones I can do by heart - Twinkle, Twinkle and Happy Birthday - I can also manage the National Anthem on a good day.:welldone

Thnaks again - I'll give it a try.
 

Pee Dee

Member
Messages
425
Location
Dorset
1. Pick a song you can hum or whistle
2. As you already know how the song goes, slow it right down into a series of 4 or 5 notes
3. Work it out on your sax, going back to the song if you're not sure of pitch
4. Keep it slow, adding to it gradually and going back to the beginning from time to time, to stitch it all together
5. Once you have the whole song under your fingers, then increase your speed.
Hi. Fancied doing a bit of busking meself like Taz, but as I only play from music, and busking with a music stand don't look very cool, thought I would have a go at learning a tune 'by ear'. Picked a tune I can whistle and hum as you say, but no joy - frustrating. So tried memorizing the notes. Got about 3 or 4 bars, but that was the limit of my memory bank, must be Alzheimers setting in, but reading your advice above, i'm encouraged to have another go.
I know quite a few tunes by memory, so it's just picking the easiest one.
So got 12 notes play with, must be able to find a tune in there somewhere:D
 

Pee Dee

Member
Messages
425
Location
Dorset
Actually I think it shows some courage if you feel like that and still go on!

Thanks for the ideas for learning songs/tunes. They make a lot of sense and I am sure that is the way for me - slowly plodding. As it happens, two of the tunes you have suggested are ones I can do by heart - Twinkle, Twinkle and Happy Birthday - I can also manage the National Anthem on a good day.:welldone

Thnaks again - I'll give it a try.
Hi lodger, think I got the same problem as you. Can't teach an old dog new tricks eh? Like you I'm gonna give it another go. Twinkle twinkle, and Happy Birthday seem as good a place to start as any:D
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Young Pete,

If you are acquainted with the old jazz standards, quite a lot have the same harmonic progression. (Pretty impressive words - wonder what they mean?)
For instance, 'Our love is here to stay.' and 'I'm beginning to see the light.' Learn the first eight bars of each and as they repeat, that is 24 bars of the 32 dealt with. Now just busk the 'middle eight' or is it 'bridge' that you teenagers call it? If you can't get a good five minutes out of those two, try the kazoo, but only the chromium chromatic version.

'Rose room', The Duke's 'In a mellow mood', Humph's 'In a busy street' and my 'In a busy rose street but a mellow room' and you've got another twenty minutes.

'St. Louis blues' can be improvised for hours, don't worry about the key changes, and you will know that you are a really good bluesman when the pedestrians start throwing themselves under buses.
 

Pee Dee

Member
Messages
425
Location
Dorset
Thanks OG for coming up trumps once again, you have solved my problems:confused:
I think i'll go back to watercolours, or amateur radio dit dah, dit dah, dit dah:shocked:
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Pete,
I was only trying to help, lots of 'standards' are AABA format so with just the A section (the backing track looks after the B) it IS just eight bars per tune. Used to work on the Archer Street Pick-up-band-circuit. :sax: :welldone

As for the blues remark, as long as they do not have their fingers in their ears as they leap under busses, you are doing a good job. >:)

Dah dah dah. Dit dah dah dit. Using paddle key, standing in the River Wandle, wet string end fed Zeppelin on two egg, porcelain naturally, sky hooks, QRP, of course. ;}
 

Mamos

Member
Messages
691
Location
Falmouth Cornwall
Great thread Taz

I would like to have a go at busking some time in the near future but I need to add to my meagre repertoire

Do you play mainly jazz standards or popular songs or a mixture of both?

Also, do you do a lot of improvising or do you stick to the tune as much as possible so people recognise it as they pass?

mamos
 

tengu01

Member
Messages
732
Location
London, UK
Busking and improvising

Hey Mamos,

On my first few busks, I ran out of songs to play rather quickly and so started improvising on some. Strangely enough, when you're really wailing, it tends to grab people's attention. Sometimes they give you cash for just hearing someone tearing into a tune, not because they recognise the tune.

Now I have a slightly larger repertoire, but still on one or two songs, go a little nuts, just for my own amusement too. I think there's room for some improv on a busking set

(ok, I'll get off the soapbox now)
 
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