How to prepare for a recording gig by David Weiss

How to prepare for a recording gig

by David Weiss

Over the years, I have played on close to 100 major motion picture soundtracks and quite a few television soundtracks and jingles. In addition, as a side musician, I’ve played on dozens of CD’s. Most of those gigs have been an oboe and or English horn but several have been on the saw. People sometimes ask me how I prepare for a gig when I haven’t seen the music in advance and have only one session to do it right. Here are some saw tips for a successful recording session.

Musical preparation sight reading:

It helps to have basic sightreading skills, including the ability to take the tune up or down an octave. Reading music simply requires practice. All of us can improve our sightreading, just like any other aspect of playing. One really good way to do that, even if you can’t sightread at all, is to take a few lessons with a piano teacher. Explain to the teacher that you just need to read one note at a time. What you learn on the piano will transfer more readily than you think to solve playing, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Basic ability to write musical notation:

At times the leader might ask you to play different notes from what’s on your page or copy a few notes from someone else’s part. That’s another thing that a piano teacher could help you with.


Sometimes you might be asked, as I was in the Grammy award winning film “Oh Brother Where Art Thou,” to listen to a tune and add an improvisation or counter melody on top of it. You need practice find a group to jam with and work on it!


Be able to control it! Often the leader will ask for a change in the style of vibrato, asking for more vibrato or less vibrato or no vibrato, and the player has to be able to adapt immediately. Again this is something that can be practiced and improved.

Playing to a click track:

In many cases the music that’s being recorded has to be In Sync with action on the screen. For that reason it is very common to be given a set of headphones to play along with the click, basically a dedicated metronome beat. Get used to playing tunes with a metronome so you won’t be flustered by it at the session.

Warming up:

Get used to playing with very little warm up. On some sessions there simply isn’t any opportunity to warm up at all. Also, keep in mind that spending too much time warming up can cause endurance problems, especially if it’s a long session. Save yourself for when the red light goes on.

Logistical preparation:

Knowing where you’re going will take a lot of stress away from the day of the session. What I often recommend is to drive to the studio a day before hand, check how long it takes, the parking situation, etc. Have phone numbers just in case: the studio, the contractor, and perhaps one or two of the other musicians. If it’s a non-union gig, arrange to get paid on the day of the session

What to bring:

In addition to bows, mallets, rosin, and a thumb cheater (I rarely use one but if my thumb gets tired it’s nice to know I’ve got one with me), I usually have four saws available:

26 inch Stanley– greatest flexibility, higher range of notes, good projection, easier to use for up tempo playing

28 inch Blacklock — a fine all around saw with deeper tone which sometimes records better depending on the mikes used.

28 inch Mussehl and Westphall– another very good all around saw, and perhaps the best software using mallets

30 inch Sandvik Stradivarius– lowest range, warm tone

Cases for your saws:

Look professional! Avoid bringing in an unwieldy bunch of loose saws. If you have a nice case that holds them all that’s great. If not, perhaps you could just bring in your favorite saw and leave the rest in your car in case they are needed.


You must have a pencil for making changes to your music: inserting dynamics, adding or deleting notes, putting in cues to make counting rests easier, etc. I always prefer using a number one soft pencil because it marks a dark darker black without having to press into the page and is easy to erase


Even though most recording studios have the headphones, I like to bring my own, which is a wired earpiece with a dial for volume control an fits very comfortably over one ear.

Promotional materials, Laying groundwork for the next gig:

Have with you a business card or flyer or a CD of your playing to give away so producers will remember you for the next time.


We’d like to hear about your recording experiences and for you to share with us your own tips that you found to be helpful.


David Weiss


Saw Player News: Winter 2008-2009

David Weiss was a renowned saw player and oboist who passed away in 2014. We are all lucky to have access to his marvelous columns in the Saw Player News. He routinely shared great advice.


Many thanks to the IMSA for allowing me to reproduce these article. Check out their page! 

Posted in


Rowena Southard, your blog hostess, is a musical saw enthusiast who lives in California. She loves all kinds of music and has a special fondness for unusual instruments.