Get Your Students a Gig!

“If you want your student-musicians to truly understand what it means to be a professional musician, give them opportunities to perform as often as possible,” says MENC member and jazz educator Stephen Holley.

“In performing, students discover valuable skills such as stage presence, keeping a set list flowing, how to entertain a crowd, and the mental/physical endurance necessary to perform for an extended period of time,” Holley adds. Below, he shares what he’s learned from taking students on countless gigs at clubs and music festivals.

Performing with a safety net

I spend a great deal of time finding ways to get my student-musicians in front of an audience as often as our schedule allows. Gigging while still in school gives students a chance to succeed—or fail—in a safe educational environment. Students can fall short without the risk of losing income and/or damaging their reputation. They might end up with a bad grade, but that’s about it!

Performance opportunities for students outside the normal rehearsal/concert schedule

  • Local clubs/music festivals/seasonal concert series that are appropriate
  • Non-profit organizations: zoo, museums, scholarship foundations
  • Parent/alumni events
  • Recruiting/outreach performances at local schools
  • Local radio
  • Performances that are part of a city arts program: Arts in the Park, Jazz in the Park

Musical benefits of off-campus gigs

  • Building confidence in the individual’s abilities, as well the collective ability of the band
  • Creating a love of performing music in a real-world setting
  • Gaining the endurance to perform a multi-set gig
  • Understanding stage fright and how to control it
  • Realizing how to become competent performers and engaging entertainers
  • Developing an awareness of the “musical conversation” and how to contribute to it

Opportunities for learning that go beyond performing

  • Students taking more ownership of “their” band in terms of song selection, advertising, finding gigs, running rehearsals, promotion, etc.
  • Community recognition for the school and the program
  • Training the students to be self-sufficient both on and off the stage
  • Administrative/parent support for the program
  • Additional source of income for the program

Get your students out there!

Although it might seem a daunting task at first, the benefits far outweigh the start-up pains you’re bound to encounter. Whether or not you are currently playing out to earn a living, to keep your chops up, or if your gigging days are far in the past, think about how much you learned on the bandstand. Why would you deprive your students of gaining the same experiences?

I’ve created a forum topic so that we can further discuss the subject of student gigging. What’s worked for you? What hasn’t worked for you? Lack of administrative support? Indifferent parents? I invite you to join in on the conversation!

Steve Holley is the coordinator of the Commercial Music Program at the Kent Denver School in Englewood, CO. Under his leadership, the program’s DownBeat award-winning ensembles have performed at venues in Memphis, New Orleans, New York, and Miami, among others. Steve has performed with artists ranging from Arturo Sandoval to Tia Fuller, from James Williams to Doug Wamble, among many others. Prior to coming to Colorado he lived, performed, and taught in his adopted hometown of Memphis. 
–Anne Wagener, August 31, 2010 © National Association for Music Education