Nita Strauss: my top 5 tips for guitarists
One of Nita Strauss' top five tips for guitarists is "never believe that you're good enough," and the LA-based axe virtuoso can back up her own advice with a true story: Before landing the coveted slot in Alice Cooper's touring band this past spring (a spot held until recently by Aussie six-string star Orianthi), Strauss received an early morning call from producer Bob Ezrin.
“I had auditioned for Bob and [Cooper manager] Shep Gordon, and I got the feeling that I was really close to getting the gig," Strauss recalls. "More than anybody I've ever met, Bob really knows what he wants. He told me, 'This is what you do right, but this is what you're doing wrong.' And then he really laid it out for me: ‘You’re a shred guitar player. This band needs a rock guitar player. If given the chance and you get this gig, can you become that kind of guitar player?’"
Strauss didn't even have to think about the words as they left her mouth: "Yes, absolutely." Right after that, she took her first-ever guitar lesson. "I had a great guitar teacher, Bill LaFleur," Strauss says, "who immersed me in a lot of the bluesy rock basics that I sort of breezed by when I was growing up. It really opened up my world." So, too, did the intense two days of full-band rehearsals before hitting the road with Cooper. "Two days to get ready for 80 shows," Strauss marvels. "That's like 'get your act together now.'"
Prior to joining Cooper's band, Strauss performed with a number of different acts (Critical Hit, Blood Runs Black), and her "learn-the-gig-fast" ethos paid off when Jermaine Jackson asked her to tour with him in South Africa. "Jermaine said to me, ‘Can you play funk?’" Strauss recalls. "And I went, ‘Yep’ – even though my background was really in metal and shred. But you know, you learn. You do what you need to do for the job."
Until recently, Strauss was best known as "Mega Murray," her stage moniker in the all-female Iron Maiden Tribute band The Iron Maidens. While she admits that some might have been initially drawn to the group for the novelty factor, she insists that the band couldn't have lasted if they didn't pack some serious musicianship.
"Once people see that you can really play, all of those preconceived notions go away," she says. "As a younger player touring with a bunch of all-male bands – and all-female bands – I would get mad when I’d hear people say, 'Pretty good for a girl.’ I used to have a big chip on my shoulder about that. But I don't hear that kind of thing anymore – not in a long, long time."
She pauses, then adds, “There’s certainly things in life you just can’t change, so you have to learn to embrace them. Maybe that just comes from a certain level of confidence. For instance, being called a ‘female guitarist’ doesn’t even bother me. I don't even mind if they say, ‘hot chick guitarist.’ As long as they’re saying nice things about my playing, it’s fine.’"
Strauss will be on the road with Alice Cooper throughout the fall. Click here for dates and ticket information. On the following pages, Strauss runs down her top five tips for guitarists.
Never believe that you're good enough
“'Good enough' just doesn't cut it. You have to always strive to improve. Sad but true, but just being a fantastically rad guitar player isn’t always going to open the door to scoring a gig or getting your band noticed.
“Open up your mind. Collaborate with other artists and learn new styles of music. And I’m going to say something unpopular: Get your image together. There’s the dreaded ‘I’ word – ‘image.’ It’s true, though: You need to pay attention to how you present yourself to the world, and that’s a huge part of the self-improvement you need to focus on as a player.
“Think of guys like and Justin Derrico or Nuno Bettencourt – the guys who have the killer gigs. They look cool! Nobody ever gave a guitar player a hard time for looking good, or for at least making an effort – except maybe me. [Laughs] So work on your image as well as your playing. It's substance and style, and the two things do go together."
Be mindful of your social media presence
“It might sound silly and shallow, because hey, we’re serious musicians – we’re supposed to be above all of this stuff. But that’s not the case. We’re in a different world now, and you only get one chance at making a first impression.
“These days, that first impression, a lot of the time, is through your Facebook and Twitter. Make sure they really represent who you are. And make sure you have your dot.com registered, as well. Get your actual “at” registered. This is a mistake I made a while ago. I wish that I had gotten @NitaStrauss registered at Twitter and Instagram, because somebody else has those accounts and it’s not me. So it’s a catfish out there; people think it’s me, but it’s not.
“So get those accounts together, but again, be sure that your social media presence reflects who you are as an artist. If you want to be a crazy, old-school Motley Crue kind of rocker, go ahead and post pictures where you’re wasted. If that's you're deal, go for it. But if you want to be taken seriously, pictures of you partying all the time aren’t gonna do it.”
Find a metronome that doesn't have an annoying sound, and make it your best friend
“Embrace the metronome – it’s there to help you. And never, ever be afraid to slow it down to a snail’s pace until whatever you’re playing is clean.
“This is something I still struggle with to this day. It was really difficult for me when I was working on some blues rudiments recently. I was like, ‘I’m a better guitar player than this – I should be playing it fast!’ But no, I wasn’t going to really learn it and master it if I just burned my way through. I had to give myself up to the metronome and let it keep me in check.
“Never be too prideful when you’re alone in your room and you’re working something out. That’s what ‘alone time’ is meant for. So slow down, work with the metronome, and as you get better and better, increase the speed by 10 beats per minute until you’re playing it perfectly and cleanly to the speed you want.
“Just don’t be impatient – it’ll come if you put in the work. A lot of people say, ‘Ethics is what you do when no one’s looking,’ but here’s the other truth: Discipline is that thing you have when no one’s looking.”
Branch out from the norm
“Of course, every guitar player has learned from listening to Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix – that's a given. But what about some of the other less-heralded players? People like Shawn Lane or Gary Moore or Rob Marcello – check them out, too.
“There’s a lot of players who fly under the radar that have so much to offer. Find the hidden gems out there and learn their licks. Go on the guitar forums and see who other people are talking out. Ask around. I’ve read things like, ‘Nobody knows who this guy is, and he’s amazing!’ That’s been huge for me. I've made a lot of cool discoveries that way.
“Get immersed in the underground. Read up on who your favorite players’ influences are, and then go listen to them. I guarantee you’ll stumble across some people you might not know. And when you do make a new discovery, tell your friends. Remember, we're supposed to share music.”
Fall in love with the guitar every day
“There’s a reason why you fell in love with the guitar in the first place. What happened to that? It’s so easy to get into the trap of working at the guitar so much that you forget the most important thing of all: that you love the guitar, and that it’s there for you.
“Sure, you have to find your strengths and weaknesses and work on them, but always remember to keep it fun. Take some time every once in a while – every day, if you can – to just play something that you like. It doesn’t matter what it is; if you like it, that’s all that matters. Don’t lose sight of the enjoyment factor.
“It’s called ‘playing the guitar,’ not ‘working the guitar.’ Playing the guitar should never feel like a job; if it does, you’re doing something wrong. So take a second, clear your head, and go have some fun with your instrument. That way, everybody will have a blast when they hear you play. People can tell when you’re having a great time making music.”