A few bands ago, I was carrying my awkwardly long amp head up a narrow flight of bar stairs. I’m little, but I’m scrappy, so I like the challenge of seeing how much stuff I can carry in one trip. This has resulted in a pinched nerve in my shoulder, but oh well. You can’t win them all, right? So here I am, my arms wrapped around my amp head, securing it from bumping to the walls and two guitars strapped to my back. I victoriously make it to the top of the stairs, where the headlining band is standing around talking. I nod to them and move towards the stage to drop off my stuff, receiving no acknowledgement in return. The rest of my band makes their way up the stairs with the speaker cabs (a two man job, unless you’re a freaking beast). The rest of my band are guys, who immediately get bombarded by the other band to start working out the details of the night’s performance. Feeling cheated, I walk over to introduce myself as the guitarist of the band. A sort of snicker comes from the mouths of the other band as if to say “right.”
Granted, I kind of sucked back then. I did not practice as much as I needed and my equipment was not up to par with live shows. So, criticisms after a performance were well deserved. I did not get the chops to play punk rock until a few years after this. In my current band, I play a lot of leads and I am one of the main songwriters. I worked hard and conditioned myself. But I will be damned if I don’t get asked, “Are you the bass player?” by every guy I tell I’m in a band.
Let me explain. If you are an actual bass player, the bass can be one of the most complex and interesting instruments in a band. Look at Les Claypool or Victor Wooten. However, the bass is also a fallback instrument for bands who want to include a buddy that has never had a lesson. You can play a single note to correspond with the guitar chord, and just follow suit. Hell, the first band I was in I played bass because the two boys I was jamming with at summer camp were better guitar players than me. We played ‘In The Garage’ by Weezer at the lunch assembly and that was the end of our career.
Being taken seriously as a rock musician when you’re a chick is tough work. My day job is teaching guitar to kids, so I like to delve out some advice to all of my young Taylor Swift wannabe’s. I have put asterisks by the tips that I only give to my teenage and up students.
1. PRACTICE. There is never such a thing as too much practice when it comes to an instrument. I practice with my band two days a week for two hours, and an hour on non-band days. Also, learn scales and modes. You want to be ahead of the game.
2. Learn to use your pinky. You have NO idea how beneficial that stupid little finger is. I have been given more complex leads than other members of my bands because I can use my pinky, therefore letting me move more smoothly around the fretboard.
3. Be confident. No one likes a shy stage musician. Be shy off stage all you want, that’s expected. When I’m on stage I like to pretend everything makes me frustrated; I throw my guitar off my body, I kick over mic stands, I’m just a general terror. It pays off well; my current band is constantly regarded as “DC’s most energetic act.”
4. *Dress tough. It’s not fair by any means, but I was once kicked out of band for being “too cute.” Of course, if you’re not playing punk or metal, this probably won’t effect you. Maybe I should just say “fit in with the look of your band.” Being in a band is selling an image as well as a sound. Girls in country bands always look really hot.
5. *If you’re the only girl in your band, everyone will assume it’s because you’re dating another member. SO, do not hang on any of the boys. Act like they are your really gross brothers. Overtime, they will become exactly that anyway.
I hope you find these tips helpful. I like to think I know what I’m talking about. Being a girl is tough enough, but trying to be a girl in a man’s world (music, sports, politics, etc) is even harder. Men by all means have an advantage when playing music; they’re typically stronger and have bigger hands, which are incredibly helpful attributes when playing an instrument. I’m 5’5″ with a bad shoulder and incredibly small hands for someone my height. These are all just small bridges to cross.
I would like to bring some focus to two companies that help girls rock:
Guitars made for girls! The necks are slimmer, and the entire instrument is lighter in weight. I could go into the hardware and electronics, but I don’t want to completely lose you. They have short scale models (for kids) and standard as well. I currently own the Rock Candy Custom SE and it plays beautifully.
Girls Rock DC!
A summer camp for girls who simply love music. This particular one is DC based (because that’s where I live), but other cities have the program as well. They help girls with their self esteem, confidence, and everyone gets to play in an awesome concert at the end of camp. They are always looking for volunteers!
Thank you for reading. The rock world is filthy but it sure is a lot of fun. I would hate for any girl to have to miss out on it.
You can read more from Nicole Morris here.