Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

Improve Your Performance

     
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Your performance ability is not the same as your playing ability. One will always lag behind the other and the bad news is that you will almost never play as well on stage as you do in the practice room. The good news is that as your playing (practice room) ability increases, your stage performance will increase proportionally. Not every performance will be great. Strive not for perfection every time, but for consistency. Strive for constant goodness and occasional greatness to maintain and improve your average performance.

The audience doesn't know whether you're at an easy or difficult place in the music (unless you project your discomfort), and they don't care. They're just there to enjoy the music, so let them enjoy it. Don't project your insecurities onto your listeners, they don't want them, just enjoy yourself and focus on the music. Keep your concentration close enough to technical matters that you can play the piece, but focus mainly on the musical result you want to convey. Be an artist, not an athlete. An impressive technique is only the means to achieving a musical end, so d on't compete against others or compare yourself to them except to stimulate your own desire to improve. The real competition is against yourself. Work to improve your technical prowess only as a means of achieving greater expressivity.

You're trying to create something, not impress someone. Take pride in what you do and use constructive criticisms that friends give you, but ignore the destructive criticisms that come from people unsure of themselves or who simply don't like or what you do. If you can free yourself from being concerned about other's unrealistic expectations, you can enjoy where you are in your playing now, and move toward the future. There are people waiting in line to put you down, don't join them!


Once you start, play the piece all the way to the end without stopping. Don't make false starts, don't stop the piece and start it again. When you make a mistake, keep going, if you stop and correct the mistake, you've now made two mistakes. Always be looking forward. What's past is past. Even if the whole thing falls apart, finish it solidly and let the last note ring for its full value. Nothing's more unappealing to an audience than someone who, at the end of the piece, scowls, groans, and bemoans his fate. Problems you didn't foresee may become clear to you when you run the piece as a whole so make an honest evaluation and go back and work on problem areas and especially on the connections between various sections you've worked on individually.

Accept that perfection is not possible. Don't drop your standards, but accept that you're human and mistakes will happen. Avoid the common error of providing the audience with a running commentary of your mistakes. "oops... sorry about that... let me try that again... sorry..." and the like are not good examples of communicating with the audience. When you make a mistake, keep quiet about it. you're almost always the only one who notices. If you have a memory block so severe that you can't continue with the next note, skip to the next phrase or section that you remember clearly. If you can't do that, go back to the beginning of the section you're on or back to the beginning of the piece. When all else fails, go on to your next piece.

View the audience as friends, not enemies. Your listeners just want to hear your music, and want you to play it well. Consequently, they're supporting your efforts, not trying to undermine them. People who come just to hear you make mistakes should be pitied, since they're completely missing the music. Most people think that everything sounds great in the practice room, and then when they get on stage, everything sounds like a mistake. You have to turn this completely around. In the practice room, you must be hypercritical of what you're hearing, because you have the opportunity to change it. Once you're on stage, there's no time to fix anything, so you have to accept it as it is and focus on the positive, on what sounds good.


Get in tune and stay that way, there's no excuse these days for being out of tune. You can pick up an electronic tuner for peanuts. If your guitar doesn't stay in tune, or is out when you play up the neck, chances are you need new strings. If it's out of tune with new strings, then have the intonation adjusted.

Pay as much attention to what you don't play as to what you do. In other words, let the music breathe, let it be an exercise in contrast. The holes you leave make what you do play sound better. Even if you don't hear it at the time, your audience will. The great players we know and love wouldn't be household names if they over-played. They'd be sitting at home wondering why the big break hadn't arrived for them.

Avoid too much alcohol when playing, as it makes you look stupid, and avoid any other drugs that incapacitate you. After the gig, well that's different........

Know what you're playing. Never play anything without knowing its context and how it fits into the tune. Know what key you're in, what chord is being played and it's role within that key and which notes you're playing in the context of that chord. This becomes automatic after a while. It's hard work at first, but stick at it until it does become automatic. Playing away without knowing what you're doing will get you nowhere fast.

Play within your own limitations. We're all made differently. Some of us have long quick fingers, some of us are getting old and stiff. There's nothing worse than listening to someone trying to play beyond their capability. Much better to make beautiful music with one or two notes than to go for twenty and muff them all. Lucky for all of us, playing guitar was never a contest.

Let the song rule. Guitarists often think they're indispensable. So do drummers and bass players and keyboardists, not to mention the singer. The fact is, the piece of music is boss. Let it be so.

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