Tariqh Akoni on Getting the Gig

WHILE PLAYING GUITAR WELL IS CERTAINLY AN ART, IT IS ALSO an art to keep your phone ringing. Tariqh Akoni, who gets calls to play guitar with everyone from Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Christina Aguilera, and Whitney Houston, to Kenny Rogers, LeeAnn Rimes, Stevie Wonder, and the Backstreet Boys, is apparently a master of both arts. Currently musical director for Josh Groban and Guitar Department Head at LAMA, Akoni offers these insights into how to maintain a steady stream of dream gigs. —Jude Gold

“A good place to start,” says Akoni, “is to make sure you have in place what the great studio guitarist Michael Thompson calls ‘The Six Ts’—tone, touch, taste, time, technique, and ’tude. Tone includes good gear choices coupled with an ability to dial in a good sound or replicate the tones on a recording. Touch is how well we manipulate guitars using dynamics and ‘bone tone,’ which can include everything from being able to finesse a nylon-string part to knowing how to dig into a Telecaster. Taste is knowing what to play, and when and where to play it. Time is your ability to make a band sound good by playing with a metronomically even feel, as well as knowing when to play ‘behind’ or ‘in front of’ the beat—skills that will inspire bassists and drummers to recommend you for gigs. Technique is not simply speed, but the ability to play a part articulately, and with the perfect expression. Always make sure that you are able to play a part perfectly before bumping up the tempo, as speed is a byproduct of confidence, not just rote memorization. Lastly, ’tude refers to the emphasis and accents that we put into the music. Some parts need a more aggressive approach while others require a more subtle and sensitive interpretation.

“Speaking of attitude, it’s also important to stress the value of being a genuine and positive person. Remember that when it comes to auditioning for a touring gig, you’re not just being assessed for chops, but also for whether you’re someone the rest of the band wants to live with for the next year. So always be that person that puts in extra effort. People know that I’d rather be two hours early than ten minutes late. As the great musical director Rickey Minor likes to tell me, ‘There’s no traffic on the extra mile.’”