Grace Notes: Technology Troubles

I haven’t got a lot of (any…) experience in dealing with music technology. I can use music computer programs, but ask me to mic up a drum kit, or mix a band, I’d be lost. The only piece of ‘kit’ I own is my electric violin. When I was about 6, I walked past a music shop in Cardiff and in the window was a bright blue electric violin. I asked my mum if I could have it so she said that if I got a distinction at Grade 8 I could have one (thinking I’d give up, or if I didn’t Grade 8 was years away) and I never let her forget it. So then after my Grade 8 exam we went shopping for electric violins and I got a silent Yamaha violin.

A Yamaha Silent Electric violin (I do not own this image)

A Yamaha Silent Electric violin (I do not own this image)

I used to play it with my dad (he was on electric guitar) before I moved to London and we had loads of fun messing round with effects and playing with the different sounds we could make. When I moved however I just took the violin, no lead or amp, and I now use it for silent practice in the flat. Last Sunday however, I did my first gig on it. We’ve all seen films where the band rock up to the stage or the recording studio and plug their gear in a go! It sounds great and nothing ever goes wrong (unless that a plot point ). In reality it’s very different. I’ve discovered this on the few occasions I’ve done gigs that involved a mixing desk, and the gig on Sunday was even harder because I was one of the people with a problematic instrument! We arrived at the rehearsal starting time and nothing had really been set up. Being completely out of my depth I could do nothing to help so just ended up waiting round for half an hour while cables are sorted. Then we finally got to go onto the stage. We did various sound checks and this took a while as you have to go round everyone individually, and then get us all balanced right so it sounds good for the audience (you can barely hear anything on stage, but I’ll get to that in a minute). As this was my first time doing an actual gig on my electric violin I (rather stupidly) hadn’t thought about how I was going to hear myself (my violin being ‘silent’ means its barely audible in an empty room, let alone next to a fully functioning band) and so when we first started rehearsing I was playing complete rubbish because I could hear nothing. This was solved however with a foldback monitor. This is basically a speaker that points towards the band so we can hear ourselves. However, this in itself created problems. I had to be turned up high enough to be able to hear myself over everybody, but no so loud that it became screechy and ear splitting for everyone else. After a few tries that was sorted and most of the time I knew what notes I was playing. It was still a weird sensation for me though because I’m used to hearing what I’m doing right under my ear, and it was disconcerting to have the sound coming from about a foot away! Once this was all finally sorted (about 4 hours later) we were ready for the gig. That went well, with only a few technical hitches (the foldback monitor not being on for the beginning of the second half, one of the mics not working, and the film cameras not recording one of the numbers) and it was suddenly finished and we were all packing away. In reality, amplified gigs are far more hassle than you might think. There’s all of the gear to be set up, and the high possibility that something will go wrong. That being said, I had great fun and I did enjoy getting to perform that sort of music. If I ever do something like that again however, I definitely need to practice on my electric more often, or invest in a pickup for my normal instrument! P.s. In my last blog I mentioned a concert that some of my friends from Trinity Laban were playing in (as part of GMT Brass Ensemble). The concert was amazing and it was great to be able to watch so many students from around the UK come together and perform. The GMT Brass Ensemble were also featured on ‘In Tune’ on BBC Radio 3 so have a listen on iPlayer if you’re interested!

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