i am now only weeks away from walking into a hotel/bar and offering to play that piano in exchange for a few pennies!

i've got 50 jazzy standards, some more modern tunes, little bit of country rock, and boogie-woogie in my back pocket.

i have spent 12 months making a folder with my own personalised sheets of changes.

i've had some practice in a residential home. now it is time to get out there!

some final questions:

how long is a song - i find that if i play an arrangement (as suggested by 7 last year) it clocks in at 4 minutes (ballad).  
do you guys stretch it out a bit so you have less songs to play but same amount of music?

is boogie-woogie ok in a restauant - what if i start getting wild?

is it best to start with less classy venues and work up to the better hotels ?


There are 21 comments, leave a comment.
if you're just playing background music, you can get away with stretching out the tunes and even making up your own here and there.

as for getting wild, that kind of depends on the place - some places prefer faster music, because people will tend to eat faster and move along - making room for more customers.

be careful getting too wild too soon.  once you get wild you may feel a pressure to sustain that level of wildness - if you don't have enought wild tunage, you may get beaten up :)

(i guess you could always switch to a long version of freebird and try to back out of it)
i play at some very high end places in seattle. i usually start the evening somewhat mild because people are just getting into dinner and such, but as the evening progresses, and the amount of alcohol consumed progresses, i start picking up my playing as well.  towards the end of the night sometimes i find myself doing barnstorming boogie woogy, latin stuff, just jamming like i would in my living room.

you're ready to go to your local places that have pianos right now. just go do it, ask them if you can play during lunch hour for a free lunch or something, tell them you'd like to be considered for events and anything the normal piano player can't do.

don't undercharge for a night, either.  that's the worst thing you can do.  if you let them hire you for $75 or $90 or whatever, they'll think they can always hire you for that much.

a lot of musicians go up to a venue and say, "hey, we'll play for cheap for two weeks but then if it works out we'll need more money."  that never works!  just make sure you're getting a good hourly and try not to go home with less than $150 for a solo piano gig at any nice place.

for private solo gigs, don't go home with less than $250 at the bare minimum.
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i just went out today and got my very first, bona fide paying gig, and i wanted to say thanks to scot and also brotherdavies, this thread is what made me get off my duff and just go out and do it. i've been feeling for some time like i'm just about ready to do a solo piano gig, mostly it's stage fright/performance anxiety that's been holding me back. lately i've been hitting as many jam sessions as i can fit in here in san francisco, that's been getting me over the stage fright thing. honestly i think playing solo might be a little easier than jamming, if i screw up a song and lose the form in the middle of it playing solo, well, bfd, maybe one person in 1000 can tell the difference. at a session where half the audience is musicians, if you screw up everyone knows it.
    scot, you'll probably think i got hosed. the gig is at a nice, hip restuarant in an up and coming neighborhood (in sf neighborhoods are constantly going in and out of vogue). i agreed to do $80/night, plus i'll probably make some tips. when i walked into the place i was expecting to do what you suggested, offer to play lunches for free, but after i played a few songs the manager immediately started asking me what my rate was. i said $120 for three hours. she told me what she was paying other piano players, the friday-saturday guy gets 120, and the thursday-sunday guy gets 75. they wanted me to do tuesday-wednesdays. at that point i was so excited that i might actually be getting my first, paid, steady gig, i came up with the 80, and it was pretty much a done deal. assuming i don't completely bomb on the first night, it should be a standing gig. i think that just having a standing gig will pay off in a lot of ways, i went to one other place first and asked about a gig, the first question they asked was "where else are you playing?" i didn't have an answer, and it made me look amateurish.
the cool thing about it was that i pretty much just played my stuff, which is pretty straight forward be-bop, and they said it was exactly the type of sound they were looking for. i've been nervous that i don't do enough pop numbers, that i'm not "loungy" enough. the only thing i'm nervous about is the time frame. orignally she said they expected me to play for four hours, but before i left, when i was pinning down the exact times she wanted me there, she said it would be from 7-10. three hours i'm pretty sure i could do, with a break in the middle. 4 hours, boy that's definately stretching it.  
  well no matter what, i'm pretty darn excited right now. for years now it's been a goal of mine to be at least a semi-professional pianist. if this thing works out it will be the fulfillment of one of my major life goals. again thanks for this thread, and if there are any more tips for first timers, keep 'em coming. wish me luck!
my biggest tip for first timers is to always play your best stuff first. don't save it for last.

first impressions count.

and also if your short on material, this way you only have to have two sets of material to get through a gig.

you play your best stuff for both the first and last set.  

no one will ever know the difference and if they do start getting wise to you, you can say "by popular request and thanks for the tip".  

you can milk that stock line to enable you to play your best couple of numbers up to three times a night.

why not, they're your favorites song aren't they? why not play them more? discreetly sprinkled throughout the evening (of course).

by the third time of the night you've played your hit(s), you'll have it totally nailed.

to stretch songs you can play double arrangements, you can stretch just about any song out to about six minutes by simply playing the same 3-minute song twice back-to-back. especially if it's an instrumental.

an "arrangement and a half" will last about 4 1/2 to 5 minutes.

and that's how you stretch less than twenty songs into a 3 set evenings entertainment.

why do i give away these trade secrets? because as a first-timer i remember having to do exactly that.  

i was really good at the songs i did play, but i just didn't have that many.
you guys are sooooooooo far ahead of me, i have to admit since my childhood and the lessons i took this is also one of my life goals. as i didn't find the right approach back then, i hope it will work out now. time will tell..

>>>is it best to start with less classy venues and work up to the better hotels ?<<<

i tell my clients if they like to apply for their dream job in their dream company they should apply at least for 10 minor jobs in lower rated companies before, even if they don't like those minor jobs. they will be perfectly prepared after running through the different assessment centers for the time when it comes to the one company that really counts for them :)

i wish every single one of you the best of luck, fulfill your dreams!
with the summer months coming up don't forget outdoor venues as well.
street fairs, art festivals, etc.  i routinely see announcements in santa fe for musicians at these gatherings.  this can be a bridge from
retirement centers to club gigs.
4 hours or even 3 hours of solo piano for $80 is sad, especialy in a very wealthy city like sf. the average "low income" home in that city runs for $800,000.
i have absolutely no idea whether or not that is indicitave or not of what the average pay is here. as i mentioned, i only inquired at one other place, and i didn't get even close to discussing compensation with them. i have friends who are professional pianists who i am sure do much better. and, as i also mentioned, for me this is an experience building gig, potentially a reference for other gigs down the road. i could have haggled for another 20 bucks or so, really i couldn't give two squirts about it. if i were an experienced, gigging piano player, i  would certainly expect more money. i'm not. yet.

in my other career i'm a chef. i was well on my way to having a very promising career as an executive chef. i worked at all the right places, made all the right career moves. i only realized late in the game i had no real passion for it, i was only doing it because i was good at it. i built that career the exact same way, started out working for pitiful pay while getting an education for free.

to me it makes all the sense in the world to accept a less than great paying gig doing something i truly love, with the hope that it will open other doors for me in the future.
jwv76: i have the same attitude. i used to think i would be happy playing in a hotel for nothing! now, married, it will at least fund musical treats that are in short supply!  

i have a friend who started off playing at a country club over sunday lunch - each week people would ask him to play at weddings and parties. i also like the idea of being on-call to fill in at various hotels when the 'resident pianist' is away.

i see so many pianos in corners, under dust sheets unplayed. i went to loch lommand last year, and in a restaurant overlooking the lake i could hear cocktail piano. i found the piano but no one playing it, just piped music. on a loop.

i know that when i sit down to give a demo my heart will be pounding and i will be nervous as hell - but it has to be done!
jwv76  take the job and learn.  at this point the money doesn't matter as much as the education you are going to receive from playing this gig.  congratulations on going out and getting the job on your own.  i won't even say good luck because it doesn't have anything to do with luck.  you sold yourself to the manager because you put in the time and felt you were ready.  have fun!!
yeah good for you... but regardless of the level, playing for cheap sets precedents with business owners that they are justified in paying piano players $20 an hour (minus taxes) the same rate as twenty years ago, while everything else has quadrupled in price.
wtf??  why work for peanuts?  i thank jazz+ for injecting some commonsense -- if the hotel owner is truly paying such low wages, then she has some real low-rent guys playing piano.

personally, i'd imagine she's lying about how *little* she pays the rest of the help.  that kind of wage just doesn't happen, least of all in a major city.  

for the sake of everyone else who actually depends on this income, *please* don't play for such small wages -- it really is harmful to the market when weekend warriors who don't need the money lowball their prices for the chance to get "exposure."  charge what a real musician would charge, and don't make any apologies -- you're good enough, you don't have to charge cut-rate.  

i would bet that woman is lying about what she pays the other musicians, or else she's got some really bottom-shelf chumps who would work for that amount of green.  be smart -- don't lower yourself to her level.
looking back at the original post, it seems pretty clear to me the restaurant owner is lying about what she pays the musicians.  there's no snowball's chance she's paying a pianist $75 for three sets -- i don't mean to keep piling on, but there's just no possible way that's true.  maybe in a dive in rural north dakota, but not in san francisco.  unless she's hiring some homeless men to play piano.  there's no way that can possibly be true.

all the same, i hope you had some fun, at least.  but the restaurant owner is lying flat to your face, i guarantee it.
first of all, it's not a hotel, it's a restaurant. restaurants have less  of an operating budget, not making excuses for the place, just from my years of experience in that business i know how restaurant budgets work, and it's different than in a hotel. i did check out one of the other piano players at this place before i went in and talked to them, and you're right, he's nothing spectacular. the manager herself told me she wasn't that pleased with him, i mean, he could play, but stylistically it was a little stiff. she could have been lying to me also, i have no way of knowing.

i'm not a "weekend warrior," i left a good paying, secure job with benefits so that i could pursue this. i have every intention of someday, someday soon, of being able to walk into a place and demand to be payed what i need to get paid in order to cover my expenses. when i do that, my intention is to be able to do that from a place of confidence, to be able to say "this is what i'm charging, and in return for what you're paying, you're customers are going to walk away from here feeling like they've had a really spectacular experience." right now,  i'm developing confidence in my playing, more and more every day, but i also know that playing in front of an audience is a different ball game than playing for the enjoyment of my apartment's walls. i don't feel particular comfortable as yet being an "entertainer". i like my playing just fine, but putting on a show for people is a skill in and of itself.

i'd love to know what you guys agreed to do your very first, paying engagement for, back when you were first starting out, when you had absolutely zero credentials. if you were child prodigies who were being offered good paying gigs while you were still under you're parent's roof, hey, hat's off to you. in any job market there is a limbo land called "how do i get experience when i don't have any experience?" that's why in some fields you  have externships, internships, etcetera. i think taking an underpaid position to develop an aspect of your career you really need to work on is a perfectly noble, and intelligent thing to do.
just my two cents from my perspective as being a tutor for people who are out of work in germany: the employment centers give mostly everyone who is out of work the chance of two months of internship per year by paying the normal social welfare while the people who are out of work work for zero in a company. so we have bad examples of companies with 2 permanent employees and 30 or more interns who work for free! in addition there are so many temporary employment companies, in some trades/industries you can't even get a permanent job without having worked for a temporary employment company. their average wage for people with very basic skills or no skills at all is 9 u$ per hour. more and more companies go into this direction exploiting as they know we have too many people and not enough work. so people are ready to work for it to get the experience and may be a permanent job later on. if they get such a job offered by the employment center and deny it, their social welfare is cut by almost half.

i perfectly understand the above mentioned reasons for playing/working to get experience but the other side of the coin is quite obvious too. btw that is the part that often makes me pondering about life decisions (what would i do in such a position?  will i give it a go in politics to make a change? etc.)

sorry for not really being piano related here.....
good point about not undercutting piano players who are making a living through music. i will ask the going rate. i am planning to listen to a restaurant pianist this weekend so will do some research.

we all invest money in learning our craft - it will be a while before i even break even (realbooks are not cheap!)

regarding "too many pianos under dust covers and underplayed."
it's a sad truth, and the ones that are played are not played by real human beings, they are outfitted with computers.
i encourage all you guys to get the music out there.  it probably means developing some business saavy, but face it good live music draws paying customers into an establishment.
i've never actually done this, but i would think it might be better to offer to play a free gig or two rather than  offer to play for cheap.  playing for free can be perceived as a "gift" or "audition" whereas playing for less  would most likely be perceived as a rate for which you are willing to play.

it really doesn't matter if you're as good as someone else or not.  what matters is how you appeal to the establishment and clientel.  there are a plethora of so-so musicians (and some pretty crappy ones - just scan a few radio stations) making serious dough.  be true to yourself - each performance is a learning experience and a step to another level.  all of us are doing that.  do not sell yourself short!
think you're ready to get paid and do gigs then you almost certainly are.

if you deserve to be paid - you deserve to be paid properly!
i've found the same problem in the uk - there are so many people who are willing to play for free (or next to nothing), that it devalues the profession, especially when a lot of these people aren't that good either. thus expectations and appreciation of quality go down, as does the chance of more talented musicians getting a decent wage more in proportion to the hard work they do to get to that level. i haven't done this sort of thing for long as i'm quite young, but i understand that in many places the going rate has barely changed over the last 15 years! maybe people don't expect to have to pay for music anymore, what with p2p file sharing, and (as far as they're concerned) free music all around coupled with tv, film, advertisments, etc.
thanks for the long post, barry, i've been meaning to post a response,  been sick as a ghost all weekend. tonight was my first night at the restaurant, it went, well, ok, i guess. alot of what you said, even when  i was playing my absolute best, i didn't really get any feeling at all that the people in the place much noticed, let alone cared. kind of a weird experience. a few people dropped a couple dollars in my jar and said some nice things on their way out.

my first set i was pretty nervous. i went through a pretty good anxiety attack earlier in the afternoon, took a shower and meditated for a few minutes, and sort of got a grip on it. was still pretty shaky for the first few songs. i actually hit a pretty good stride by the 2nd set, although, like i said, the patrons reaction was pretty much the same as to the first set, non-existant. i started to just think of it as practice, and actually it was pretty good practice, in that i was forcing myself to play through tunes without stopping, something i don't do often enough at home. for me the hardest part of a tune is usually the head, i can improvise over a chord progression until next tuesday, but when i have to play the melody as written is when i usually flub it. also throughout the night i played, quite literally, every single last song i know. i actually surprised myself playing tunes i felt i only half w
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