First Timers: Getting Started with Jaca Freer
Each year we create new habits and set ourselves challenges. Resolutions, goals, tasks. Often these fall by the wayside, or we don't have the confidence to even go ahead with them at all. This year we wanted to reach out to any aspiring musicians who are yet to pick up an instrument, but really want to. The aspiring musicians who feel like confidence, age, gender or even the cost of starting out might prevent them from succeeding. Well take it from us... you can 100% do this, and it is possible. We got you.
We spoke to Jaca Freer, of Freer Ideas and indie-punk pop band Colour Me Wednesday; a musician and teacher with a great passion for teaching, playing and encouraging others to do the same. Jaca is an agender, graysexual, white, temporarily enabled, vegan anarcha-feminist who would like to see a world where anyone’s gender, sexuality, race, class and ability isn’t used as justification for denying them equal access to any kind of expression or opportunity, musical or otherwise. Read below what Jaca has to say on the subjects of facing your inner anxieties about learning an instrument for the first time, lessons vs self teaching, and connecting with other musicians of a similar ability and style.
Jaca Freer / Photograph by Jenn Doveton
If you're lacking in confidence to pick up a new instrument and need that extra push to take the leap and go for it, how do you recommend approaching taking those first awkward and often quite nerve-racking steps?
Firstly, just remember that every musician you admire was a beginner once and in the words of Jake the Dog from Adventure Time, "sucking at something is the first step to being kinda good at something!". Some people can pick up instruments faster than others, but if you really want to do it, putting the time in to practice and play will definitely get you there and you'll see how it's more about practicing and enjoying it than it is about some mysterious 'talent' that skilled musicians are perceived to have. Don't get discouraged by finding it difficult at first!
If you have any friends that already play you could ask them for tips, or if not, there are lots of online forums and Facebook groups for beginner musicians that are very encouraging. Youtube tutorials are endless so have a look around on there some advice on playing most instruments at any level. There are also apps for learning instruments now such as Yousicion.
There are also projects in the UK like Girls Rock Camp and First Timers Fest that organise workshops explicitly for beginners and encourage you to start playing with other people by focusing on demystifying learning an instrument. You only need 2-3 chords, one drum groove and a couple of lines of words to write a song... and some songs don't even have that much!
Lessons or Self Teaching? What are the benefits of each and where can you go to find online or in person lessons in your local area?
Personally I always had drum lessons as a teenager, and now I'm a drum teacher so obviously, I'm going to recommend getting lessons if you can! But I do also know a lot of fantastic self-taught musicians who make amazing music so it's definitely not essential to take lessons.
The main benefit I see in having lessons is just having someone else's experienced opinion on your learning progression, someone who can guide you and recommend things that'll help you get to where you want to go quicker. You just have to make sure you have a teacher who has YOUR goals and interests at heart rather than just pushing their own ideas of musicianship onto you. A good teacher can introduce you to good practice exercises, new music to listen to, break down your learning into manageable steps and give you that extra motivation to practice each week if you need it!
Teaching yourself, on the other hand, can have more freedom, but takes more self-motivation. You can focus on exactly what you want to play and be less pinned down by conventional ideas of how to play. Palmolive, the drummer of The Slits and The Raincoats, was self taught and has a completely unique style of playing and plays some of the most interesting drum parts I've ever heard! You can also do a bit of both, learn songs and riffs/grooves/melodies on your own, and just occasionally have some lessons to get some extra advice on how to play a specific guitar part or drum fill. It doesn't have to be either/or!
If you do want a teacher then a recommendation from a friend is always going to be a better way of getting someone who you know is good. Otherwise, a quick online search for music schools or individual tutors in your area should bring up a few results. You could even just straight up ask a local musician who you admire if they can teach, but just be aware that not everyone who is a good musician is also a good teacher!
Buying your first guitar / drum kit / bass or keyboard. What advice can you give for a first timer without a huge budget?
Buy second hand! You can get cheap instruments new from music shops, but the quality will never be that great, so have a look on Gumtree, eBay or Craigslist for that amazing bass guitar that's been hiding in someone's attic collecting dust for years. A personal favourite place of mine to look (although I hate to rep the company) is Facebook Marketplace. It's often even cheaper than Gumtree, it comes up with people selling things in your local area, and the algorithms mean that the more you click on music-related gear, the more it comes up first, meaning that if you take a bit of time to browse over a few weeks, you should be able to find a good bargain. If I find something I like the look of, I always check out reviews on other sites before buying it or ask a friend with more knowledge about music gear than me so I'm really sure that it's worth it. There are also lots of Facebook groups specifically for buying and selling music gear where you can also ask about what you’re looking for and get advice from other people.
I always try and buy a little bit above my current playing level if I can afford it. There's nothing worse than buying a cheap 'beginner guitar' and feeling like you've outgrown it and the low-quality sound and feel is limiting your improvement after just a few months!
If someone's end goal is to be in a band how can they connect with other musicians and work towards starting or joining a band?
Sorry to rep the corporation again but Facebook groups can be really useful for this. There are lots of groups in the UK dedicated specifically to beginner musicians, and also for queer musicians, women musicians and POC musicians, as well as groups dedicated to particular genres of music, so it can be a good place to connect with the type of people you want to play in a band with.
Don't forget that getting on with the people in your band is just as, if not MORE important than wanting to play the same kind of music. You might end up spending A LOT of time with them in rehearsal studios, recording studios, at gigs and on tour, so make sure you're friends as well as bandmates!
If you're not on Facebook then online (or printed) classified ad sites can be good too, or if you're old school you can put print ads up in your local rehearsal studios, music schools, music shops or venues saying what instrument you play, what musicians you'd like to find, what kind of music you'd like to play (giving specific band references can help!) and any other requirements you might have.
Jaca Freer is a drum, guitar and bass teacher based in Brighton and has helped organise gigs and beginner workshops with DIY Space for London and First Timers Fest. They play drums with DIY indie-punk-pop band Colour Me Wednesday and do session work. They have also produced zines about drumming.