Today, at Planet Singer, we have the great pleasure of discovering more about Charlie Burger with an inspiring interview where Charlie responds to ten queries from admirers and interested listeners!
Why don’t you perform with backing tracks and fancy effects?
It is just my style of performing. I like the straightforward sound of one voice with one guitar. It is how I have always approached any song as a solo performer. My initial question is: Is it possible for me to perform this solo with only my guitar and voice? It’s not always clear when I first glance at it. So, I may have a little runway to determine how I could do this new song.
However, if I am really interested in a song, and, more so, if I think I can sing it well, then I will take up the task of working out a complementing guitar arrangement that greatly enhances the song when I sing it!
I have developed a few little tricks to adding some percussive effects to my strumming, such as slaps and hits and knocks on the guitar body and jabs and muting or letting the guitar strings ring. I like to don my wooden-heeled cowboy boots; then,, for added effect, I use those boots to tap and stomp on a thin piece of Masonite wood. I also use reverb effects on both voice and guitar, but not much else.
Many folks truly enjoy the simplicity of only a guitar and a voice. There is a “campfire” quality to it. It isn’t easy to arrange a song to sound decent when it was initially arranged with a full ensemble or orchestra or backing vocals, and now it needs to be performed by one voice with a lone guitar! Nevertheless, I do enjoy the challenge of solving this. And I believe my audiences enjoy seeing it done, as well. They sense that it requires certain skills to do this well.
How long does it take you to learn a song? And what is your process of doing it?
Well, that varies a lot, depending on several factors, such as:
- The complexity of the arrangement.
- Figuring out how to adapt it to my style while maintaining the integrity of the song, its message, and feel to connect with my audiences.
- How much research I conduct on the lyrical content and the meaning of the words in the context of the song’s message or tone. Additionally, I might investigate the historical information about the song or related subjects or the artist or the songwriters. I usually watch the original videos of songs to observe how it was delivered by that artist. When the song comes from a movie, I usually watch the whole movie, including a careful review of the music credits at the end. I want to find out more about the composers and arrangers, and performers of the piece. I may go chasing off on some related tangent that intrigues me. For example, I worked on Frozen II and discovered fascinating details about the composers, the performers, the story itself, how it had impacted people, and much more. I became so deeply moved in a positive way by the song “Show Yourself,” that, for the first 100 or so times through, I literally could not play it without breaking down and weeping. I just could not contain the emotion! I had a similar journey in learning several songs from Encanto, which became one of my favorite movies of all time! I love to learn songs in this way as it gives me a much deeper, more meaningful personal involvement which I am then able to communicate to my audiences.
- The amount of practical work I need to do, especially if I need to acquire a new vocal or guitar skill that pushes my boundaries a little.
- Once I have the song arranged the way I want to play it, I usually must drill it until it is grooved in. This is where the song comes together, and I start to get the flow of it. I may have to put in extra time on certain parts or even a particular transition from one note or chord to another until I get it smoothed out. I practice each component until I am proficient. Then I work to get the entire piece seamless from beginning to end. Normally, I write everything down and make any required notes so that I may refer to it the following day or the following week and remember what I did.
- Once I have mastered it, I will perform it with my notes in front of me. I perform 10 to 15 hours on a public stage every week, so I get a lot of “hands-on” time with the music in front of crowds. Playing a song in front of an audience is more demanding of one’s skills than playing for yourself. Consequently, this ultimately raises the song to a higher level, and then I can take ownership of it. Soon, my own performance style begins to shine through, allowing me to give it my all. When I perform a song, I always, always strive to do it as though it were the first and best time that song was ever played, fresh and alive!
What is your favorite song to perform?
I don’t have one, although I have many that I particularly enjoy playing. The correct response to this question is, “The one that makes an emotional impact on you, dear listener!” If it makes you happy, smile, tap your feet, dance, sing along, drop a nice tip in my bucket, feel love for a certain location, time, or person, then I love it, too!!!! If even one person is uplifted by my artistic expression, then I consider that I am doing something worthwhile.
My “favorite song,” if I’m performing it for a young girl, may be “Let It Go” or “Show Yourself” from Frozen I or II. For someone else, it might be a song by John Denver, The Eagles, Garth Brooks, George Jones, Train, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, CCR, or Bryan Adams. The Beatles, or, or, or… My active playlist is about 250 songs, plus a nice beautiful Christmas repertoire that I do throughout the holiday season.
The truth is, I have loved and continue to love every song I do. I occasionally tear up right in the middle of a song when I am especially moved by it or when I see how deeply it affects someone in the audience. But my more usual emotions are joy, happiness, and deep admiration and love.
Did you take lessons to learn how to play?
I have learned from a multitude of sources and will continue to do so. I will utilize whatever enables me to execute what I want to perform. I hunt for and watch online videos which show how to do a particular song that I want to learn. I always watch/listen to the original or best performers’ videos to get the feel and flow of the piece. I also consult sheet music with chords and lyrics. I use www.sheetmusicdirect.com as this usually has the correct chords and lyrics, plus a play feature that goes through the whole piece note-for-note. And you can change the key with one click, buy the whole score if you need to, and other tools. It also preserves the copyrights, unlike sites that just pirate the songs and the artist never gets their due remuneration.
I always create my own sheet music and work out the lyrics and chords on it so everything lines up the way I want it to. Then I print it out and use it to practice the song, and add notes, or musical notations, any special chord diagrams, etc. I try to get this down to two sheets, if possible, so I can easily put it on my music stand for reference when I perform it. I have many song books. I listen to music and frequently Shazam it, particularly if I think I might want to perform it. The most natural way to learn something is to copy or mimic another who is doing what you want to learn to do. I think a good rule of thumb is to put in 10,000 hours of work to become good (that means professional level) at this. Anything worth doing is worth learning to do well. In the end, it is ME who is doing or performing the song live for a live audience. That is the communication that brings life. Music is for all of us, even if it is only performed by a few of us. It is owned by all who reach for it and take it into their hearts and minds and benefit from it – listeners, as well as performers.
Do you think the music was better in the old days than it is now?
The “oldies” are now part of the culture. They are being discovered newly every day by the new generation and by other people around the world. The music from the 50’s 60’s and 70’s forward has been well-preserved, and many of the youth today know the music of that era and love and respect it as their own. They will often ask me to play songs from my own youth (the 50’s and 60’s) that I had never heard before or only dimly know of. I then go and look up the artist or song and often fill in a gap in my past that I didn’t even know I was missing! Many times, these songs become my favorites as I take ownership of them and perform them in public.
Even so, there are a lot of great new artists and new material coming to the stages of the world. So, I love newer songs and artists just as much as those I grew up with. My audiences keep me growing and keep showing me things that they would like to hear me perform.
These days the internet is a fabulous library of every aspect of written or recorded music. I believe it is responsible for a worldwide Modern Renaissance in the arts, certainly in music. One can learn anything, at any level, with every kind of resource imaginable. You can see all the original artists performing their stuff on video, or, if you live in a major city you can even see many of those now-gray-haired artists still performing their songs live!
I remember one day online stumbling across a video of a collaboration of musicians from around the world all playing “The Weight” by The Band in their own styles and cultural surroundings. The video flashed from one country to another, with each artist contributing to a part of the song, all synched together on one video! Somehow, each of these musicians had come to know this Classic Rock piece and had learned to play it in modern times! I thought that was just phenomenal! I was deeply moved by how all these diverse peoples were united by their love for this one great song! I was playing this song back in the 60’s when it was first released, and here it was more than 50 years later, now becoming an internationally performed piece!
Why do you perform solo?
Time and location constraints, perhaps. I couldn’t tour with a group for days or weeks or relocate right now due to other responsibilities and commitments I have which keep me mostly here in Las Vegas.
Plus, to be part of a group requires a certain focus of one’s time and creative energies if you are going to do it to a professional level, which would be the only way I would want to do it. I’m not interested in just dabbling. I might do it if the right opportunity presented itself.
As a solo artist, I already have everything I need to perform at almost any event or wedding or restaurant, or club, and my set-up is simple and portable. I have a nice vehicle to get around in, so it’s very easy for me to bounce around from one gig to another, and it only takes me about half an hour max to set things up.
I have a diverse and well-practiced repertoire ready for almost any occasion where my style of music is needed. And I can, all by myself, keep many an audience happy and entertained.
Where do you get all your energy to perform as many hours per week as you do?
This is not something I do as a hobby or a side hustle. It is what I am meant to do, integral to my basic purpose in life. I can create all the energy I need from that alone. I barely even need to eat or sleep, although it helps! It has taken me some time and a lot of inner spiritual work to get myself together enough in this life to be doing this artistic endeavor and being who I am today. I am in the most creative time of my life right now. And my art keeps getting better and is now at a point where it is good enough to be very satisfying and enjoyable, and it fulfills my purpose to lift people up. I feel that what I do with my art is very much needed in this world, now more than ever.
I also feel that we need many, many people in the arts. And, so, I try to help artists of all types to discover their purposes and develop their talents, as well.
How can I learn to play like you do?
I love this question because it is also part of MY basic purpose to help other aspiring artists to succeed, to get on their own path of artistic development and endeavor. The first step is WANTING to become an artist and a certain willingness to do what it takes to achieve it.
I usually try to find out what that person wants to do, as well as how far they are along the path and what barriers or difficulties they are running into. I help them to get their own insight and belief that they can do it.
This is particularly important if it is a child or youth. I try to discover what THEIR interest might be and then help them achieve that.
I offer them good, trustworthy online resources and programs that I know of, such as www.justingguitar.com for learning guitar, or www.jeanniedeva.com for learning to sing correctly. By the way, I can now sing for many, many hours and never get hoarse, and I even sound better the longer I sing! I learned this by studying the Jeannie Deva Method. I wish I had found her early in life. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and failure!
Do you know how to play (some particular song or artist)?
Well, because I do have a wide variety of genres that I perform, and because I do know a lot of songs off the top of my head, I will have a fair number of successes on this question. It will usually surprise but also greatly please the person when I launch into a skillful rendition of their requested song without the slightest hesitation.
However, if I don’t know the song or any songs by that artist, I will usually tell them, “No, I’m sorry.” They are only allowed 2 or 3 requests before I pull out my song list and have them find something they like.
I keep things light and fun, and I have a rather irrepressible sense of humor and a genuine love of people of every race, creed, age, and disposition. I am a happy guy, and I have a good understanding of my fellow man, and I like to help him out as much as possible. So, I have managed to create and hold the ideal job for myself!
Do you write your own original songs and perform them?
No. I play songs that people know and can readily relate to. I make those cover songs my own, and I perform them as though they were mine. However, these songs also belong to my audiences. I am still creating this type of show and I love what it is doing for people, and I also love playing cover songs. It’s a different game than doing one’s own material.
Now, that said, I have written my own songs and have a growing interest in doing more along this line. It is not the time yet for me to go charging down that road. When I am properly set up and prepared, I may put out a song or two and see how it goes.
Check the links below, discover more about Charlie Burger!
Charlie Burger opens up to his fans, answering 10 of their most asked questions!
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