How did you guys learn to busk with guitar?

somber

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So i’m planning on trainhopping and hitching this summer, and i’m gonna try to bring my guitar, and since i’ll have nothing better to do i’ll probably be playing it a ton which would be a good chance to get better at it. Also, I wanna try out busking and making some cash on the road, but im definitely not at that skill level yet lol.

Ive been playing for a little over a year now, I know all the open chords and im getting better at using progressions with barre chords in them and stuff. Im okay with fingerpicking. Ive gotten pretty smooth with playing the minor pentatonic scale but thats the only scale I know. I haven’t really bothered with learning full songs because I havent tried performing in front of anybody but myself. So the skills I want to improve are the size of my song collection and also the hardest thing for me is trying to sing while playing the guitar at the same time, that shits impossible!!

So anyways, anybody have any advice for me? Especially tips on how to learn play with a solid tempo and sing at the same time? I get that practicing is the biggest factor. Also id love to hear some of your stories about how you learned to busk and how long it took for you to get good enough to make money from it
 

Jackthereaper

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1. Learn full songs that everyone knows and are rather simple. 2. Learn to sing while you play if you cant.
3. Add some scales if you want to do some leads like dorian, mixolydian, major, and blues. They are all pretty straight forward, just need to wire your brain for them.
4. Have fun while you do it. I always got the best tips and random shit like weed, beer, food, a free epiphone acoustic to replace my worn out old one, and once the best damned tea i ever had when i was clean and having fun. If i am strung out and dreary i never make much.

I learned to busk by playing with friends in a street band when i was young. Just get out there and do it. I have also had better luck with a banjo and im not all that great at banjo. A few rolls and some singing and for some reason people give more.
 
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somber

somber

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1. Learn full songs that everyone knows and are rather simple. 2. Learn to sing while you play if you cant.
3. Add some scales if you want to do some leads like dorian, mixolydian, major, and blues. They are all pretty straight forward, just need to wire your brain for them.
4. Have fun while you do it. I always got the best tips and random shit like weed, beer, food, a free epiphone acoustic to replace my worn out old one, and once the best damned tea i ever had when i was clean and having fun. If i am strung out and dreary i never make much.

I learned to busk by playing with friends in a street band when i was young. Just get out there and do it. I have also had better luck with a banjo and im not all that great at banjo. A few rolls and some singing and for some reason people give more.
Any suggestions on some songs I should learn? All I know are modern rock songs like Cage the elephant and stuff, and want to learn more classics that everyone knows. Also can you tell me how scales work? I know that I could use a minor scale for a song in a minor key, but what about the others? Could I use a blues scale or a dorian with a song thats in minor? Or would I have to know the mode/key of the song to know what scale to use?
 

Jackthereaper

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Songs people love
1. Pirates theme on ANY instrument (he is a pirate)
2. Metallica enter sandman
3. Thunderstruck ac/dc
4. Greatful dead (depends on crowd) uncle johns band etc
5. Anything by nirvana or foo fighters
Thats a start, you gotta find your own groove though, its difficult to tell you what you’re good at and how to project it. Only you can do that.

Music theory is an entirely different animal i am unable to teach sadly. Youtube can be a great resource.

This may get you started as well, the writeup and images are much better than i am able to provide.

https://www.musical-u.com/learn/get-familiar-with-the-dorian-mode/
 
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GuyWithTwoArms

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I agree with @Jackthereaper just get out and do it. I am not a very good guitar player or singer, and lots of times I've busked i was nervous and or drunk and awful but people still kick down if you just so happen to be playing the right song for their moment. If you aren't great you likely won't make money as consistently as a good guitar player but hey, you're out there practicing and getting comfortable playing in front of people. There's not much of a down side if you don't worry about what people think, or think just because you're not making money your music isn't valuable.
 
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MetalBryan

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A friend who knew less than you about guitar made busking work by telling stories instead of singing. He'd strum a few chords at random and then start talking and plucking and being casual. He was funny though, and that probably helped. Maybe you could read the local paper and punctuate it with notes?

A cigar box style would be interesting to try because they generally have fewer strings.

Good luck!
 
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Dameon

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First thing, you gotta have songs. An average song is about 3 minutes, and you really want to be able to play for at least 30 minutes without repeating yourself. It's all about practice, practice, practice. To do it right, practice with a metronome and keep count of the beats. Learn to play those songs reliably from memory. If you fuck up, the key is that you never stop. If you drop the beat, you pick it up; if you sing the wrong word, you go with it. Record yourself playing a song through, listen, and you'll figure out where you need improvement pretty naturally.

Don't forget that your voice is an instrument. Don't neglect learning how to use it properly, learn some vocal exercises and put effort into practicing specifically singing.

The really important part is showmanship. How much you make depends a lot on how much energy you put into it. If you're out there on your feet dancing while you play, you're going to make a lot more than if you sit somewhere and don't move. Gotta make eye contact with your audience, smile at them, wink, pick somebody that's walking by and sing directly to them. Practice in a mirror; you might feel a bit dumb at first, but it really helps to get an idea of how you look while you're performing. If you've got this stuff down, you can play any simple 3-chord songs and people will love you.

What you play really doesn't matter. There's always some songs that will reliably bring in money, this varies a lot from place to place, but people will respond well to your performance, and you'll perform at your best playing music that you love, not necessarily the music that other people think they want to hear.
 

iamwhatiam

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All good points. I personally try to learn songs in at least a few different genres. What I'll play outside of a bar at midnight might be completely different that what I would play outside a coffeeshop at 10 in the morning or on a sunday morning after everyone's getting out of church.

You will get a lot of people requesting songs like Wagon Wheel, Blackbird, Bob Dylan stuff, Bob Marley, etc. So it's good to have those well known covers under your belt at least. Hell even learn a few stupid pop songs that are currently playing on the radio just in case. Bluesy/folk, old time country, fingerpicking, classical, rock/folk punk, reggae are all styles I'll play when busking. Switch it up...don't just play the same style all the time.

I've practiced in front of a mirror and have also listened to recordings of myself a lot. A metronome is invaluable for learning to play on tempo better.

And lastly, project your voice. Be confident. When I play (location allowing), I'll often sing like I'm trying to be heard from a block down down the street. People enjoy seeing someone play and sing from their heart, even if they aren't the best guitar player.
 

ibuzzard

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Sit yer ass on a corner, hat beside you, and play.

That’s how you learn. I hope and pray that some day Santa Cruz will require auditions for street buskers.Most of them I’d pay NOT to play.

“ Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”
“Practice, man, practice.”
 

iamwhatiam

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Sit yer ass on a corner, hat beside you, and play.
That’s how you learn.
That's the fucking gist of it! plain and simple

I hope and pray that some day Santa Cruz will require auditions for street buskers.Most of them I’d pay NOT to play.
Ha! I had some guy once give me $5 bucks to stop playing saxophone. What did I do? I flew a sign that said, "At least I'm not a hand drummer."
 
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Coywolf

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Haha, great advice from people who obviously have experience busking.

Location is a big one, knowing where to play at what times to get the maximum amount of "roll by". The more people, the more money. Also, knowing what parts of town certain songs work better in. I got $50 from some hipster in Bend just because I happened to be playing Violent Femmes' "Country Death Song" at that very moment.

I learned how to play guitar, and sing, my first time travelling. I just learned a shit load of easy songs: Picture, Lithium, Kid Rock stuff, Bob Dylan, Eagles, Friend of the Devil, Devil Makes Three, ect. as @Dameon said, you need a "set list" of songs you know by heart. Usually want at LEAST 10 songs you can play through without repeating yourself.

I made Eugene, OR my personal concert venue, busking outside the WoW hall, Sizzle Pie, Barmuda Triangle, Ninkasi Brewing, ect.

You just have to get out and do it. Definitely learn how to sing, well. The HARDEST part about learning to busk is getting confidence to preform in public, IMO. Once you get over that, its easy. Especially after a few beers ;)
 

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