5 Differences Between Playing Live and in Your Bedroom

Do you spend hours practising and perfecting your technique, only to have no gigs? These might be some reasons why...

Ultimate Guitar
Why is it that you can practice something to perfection, but then find it impossible to play in front of just one other person?

I mean, you've sat there for hours, tirelessly working on your technique. Even Joe Satriani would be jealous of how well you can do this... but as soon as someone is watching, the simplest things just become impossible! A rendition of "Happy Birthday" feels like you're playing "Flight of the Bumblebee" at twice full speed!

Then, in your bedroom, you're the best guitarist who ever lived... but where are your gigs, groupies and millions of dollars?

There is definitely something weird going on, here! Right? The truth is that there is a big difference between playing in your bedroom, or practice room, and playing live. Most people don't realize this, which is why they never go as far as they could in music!

Apart from being professional and polite when turning up and playing a gig (you'd be shocked at how many local bands fail at this!), there are some important differences between playing something at home, and playing the same thing live. Although nerves do come into it, that isn't the whole picture.

Here are five differences between band practice and a live situation that you should be aware of.

1. Your Sound Isn't for You

Let's start with what might be the most obvious difference: your sound. When playing live, who is really listening to you? I mean, you should obviously be listening to what you're playing, but your audience are the ones who really matter. They are the ones who have the power to decide whether or not you're a hit - whether or not they like you.

Then, that will be what influences the show promoter and/or venue owner into deciding whether or not to hire you again.

I'm not saying you should totally sell out to your audience. No - you should be playing music that you love! What I'm saying is: maybe having the gain set to 11, or the treble all the way up with no bass isn't the best idea...

At home, when you're practicing, this may sound amazing to you, and make you feel like a rock god... but there's the difference. It sounds great to you... at home.

That doesn't mean it'll sound great to everyone else, at a gig.


Sounding like Dime may seem like a good idea when you practicing (and it can be pretty inspiring, too), but it's probably not going to cut it for that classic country ballad.

2. Know the Songs

You know your songs, right? I mean, how else would you even think about playing them to people?!

Well, there is a big difference between "knowing the song" when you're practicing, or jamming with friends, and "knowing the song" well enough to perform in front of people. When you're just practicing to yourself, or jamming, the odd fluffed section doesn't matter. So you screw up that scale run, or forget the key for that solo... so what?

Again, you need to be thinking in about how it sounds to your audience. Being able to just about fumble your way through a song may be OK for a jam session, but usually wont cut it live (at least, not if you want to sound good).

I'm not saying this to put you off - not at all! The truth is that there probably will be times in a live situation where you mess up - that's just human. So, the solution is to practice to the point where you no longer make those mistakes.

Much easier said than done, I know! Then, let me put it this way: I've taught many guitar students through the guitar exams we have here in the UK. There are many parts to the exams, covering theory, technique, scales etc. but one part is to play a piece. My job here is to get the student playing the piece well enough for the examiner to listen to.

The examiner will be a guitarist; they will know exactly what to look out for in the student's performance. They'll know exactly which parts are more difficult, and which are easy. So, their job is not to point out all the possible mistakes that were made, but to think to themselves "how good is this performance overall?"

Now, put yourself in the position of the guitar student. Is you're playing good enough so that an experienced guitarist would agree that it's a good performance? It doesn't matter how difficult the piece is, you could have an amazing performance of "Happy Birthday," if you hit all the right notes...


Even if you have to record yourself and listen back to do this. Listen back to your recording and think: if I heard this playing on the radio, what would I think of it? Would you be able to listen all the way through, or are you distracted by too many mistakes?

The harsher you are on yourself now, the better you'll sound at a gig (because you've ironed out more problems!).

3. Nerves

I said that nerves weren't the whole picture - and that's still true. However, there are certain things that happen due to nerves that you need to prepare for. I mean, you can still be nervous for every gig (and probably will be), but if you're prepared for it, you can start to deal with it.

The first thing that comes to mind (or rather...doesn't...) is that when you're more nervous, you're more likely to forget the notes. This is why you need to know your songs inside out - or as close as you can to it! Understanding the scales and chords being used will also help, because then you won't be totally lost and can improvise (a little bit) in the case of a blank-mind disaster.

The second thing that tends to happen is what I call "the claw." This is especially a problem for faster sections of songs, but it can happen at any point.

You see, what you're actually feeling with nerves is adrenaline pumping through your blood. This is designed to increase your alertness, speed etc. (i.e. things you generally need when facing a stressful or dangerous situation). This is the good news.

The bad news is: it doesn't always quite work out this way!

Apart from the extra adrenaline possibly causing your mind to go blank (as I mentioned) it will also tense your muscles. This is a fantastic response if what you need to do is run away from a lion, for example. Being able to tense your leg muscles faster will definitely speed-up your getaway!

However, this isn't so great for playing guitar - where you need fine, precision movements. So, what happens? Instead of being incredibly nimble and athletic, your fingers lock up (or go into "claw-mode"). This is probably the suckiest thing about playing a shred solo in a live situation.

The solution? Ah... there might be more bad news. You see, there is a solution to this problem, but it involves a bit more effort.

Yes, practicing to the point where you know your material inside-out is a very good idea.


It usually happens just before you go to play something more technical. In fact, I know when I'm just about to suffer from this because I'll hear myself think "right, get ready for the difficult part!"

It's this kind of thinking that you need to avoid. Once you've thought that thought, you've as good as messed it up already.

So, try not to think about how difficult each part is while you're playing it. I mean, you've already practiced it to the death, right? And if you've practiced it properly, you shouldn't be tensing up when practicing it. So why do you need to tense your hand when playing live?

Just remember: you can do this!

This is also why building the speed up slowly with a metronome is a good idea!

4. Stopping for Mistakes

Don't do it live! Just don't.

If you completely forget your place in a song, just improvise (you already know the chords/key, right?). There is nothing worse than a band stopping half-way through a song because someone played a bum note.

It might make sense in rehearsal, or when recording... but playing live is different.


As I said before, if you heard it on the radio, what would you think?

To be fair, improvisation probably isn't the solution if you're in a studio recording, or when you're practicing the song at home. However, in a live situation, it's better to keep the song going than to stop for every mistake! Especially if your audience are already rocking out.

I mean, who are you to kill their buzz? If you stop playing right in the middle of the rock, you'll be doing just that!

(Oh, and when I say "improvise" I mean you're filling in the gaps while you find your place again... not suddenly adding a 10 minute guitar shred solo.)

5. Interact With Your Audience

As I said before, the show is for your audience, not for you. You're there providing entertainment (read as: awesome music) for them to rock out to, and if you're not rocking out, yourself, how can they be?!

As the musician, you're the one bringing the party. This means it's not always a good idea to spend the whole gig looking down at your guitar, or your shoes! You really need to be showing the audience how to rock out to your tunes, by doing it yourself, too.

If the band is not only playing some decent music, but is rocking their faces off at the same time, you're more likely to get an audience doing the same. If your audience is rocking out, the gig will go well. If the gig goes well, the venue will want you back, and you'll get another gig.

You'll probably also gain some new fans, which is never a bad thing!

Then, after many gigs like that your band gains a reputation for putting on a great show... and you get a tonne more gigs. I've probably simplified it a lot here, but I'm sure you can see the logic.


You'll get much further that way!

About the Author:
Rob Barnes
is a guitar teacher from England who has been teaching (and performing) for many years. He also runs his own website at ChainsawGuitarTuition.net

44 comments sorted by best / new / date

    When you learn anything sat at home with your guitar on your lap in peace and quiet I always think that you’ll probably need to learn it twice as well to be able repeat it with your guitar hanging round your knees on a dark stage or blinded by lighting and smoke surrounded by crazy people climbing on the stage, standing on your pedals, knocking your tuning pegs, grabbing your ass, spilling beer on you and your equipment, climbing on the speakers, knocking over mic stands, doing kung fu and shrieking dissonantly in your ear. Assuming of course you can manage to not trip over your own equipment, avoid falling off the back of the stage, can actually hear yourself and have managed to stay relatively sober.
    Thank you for pointing out that what sounds good in the bedroom won't always sound good live. I've been saying it forever.
    Yes, me too! Sadly I've seen too many guitarists playing live who don't seem to realize this...
    Scooping the mids completely while in your bedroom is fine, but live, you're not gonna be heard. Scooping mids is the biggest thing that I hate when guitar players do. Scooping is okay in moderation, but so many players are excessive with it and lose any note definition that they have live.
    But there are exceptions, Like me, I always like to boost mids up! This makes my rhythm sound crunchy, aggressive and grainy.
    way hay me too!!! in all about the mids. works great for lots or versastile rhythm parts and can slip in a crunchy solo nice as well
    Don't forget when you're practising at home, you're usually sitting down. When you're on the stage you're usually standing up. So, PRACTICE STANDING UP!!!! There's a huge difference in posture and you hold the guitar differently, so PRACTICE STANDING UP!.
    I got told the same thing by an old work mate, He was saying that he know some people that can't play while standing up.
    #6: Wearing clothing is generally not optional. You can get away with it in your bedroom (Although Floyd springs can be...troublesome...) but on stage you look really bad naked!
    stagecraft is the one thing you can't learn in a bedroom, you've got to go out and gig, learn how to work a stage and audience, learn to play with other people,to let the other members of the band have the room to sound awesome. learning from the bum gigs is a big part too
    I kept reading 'starcraft'. I was like, the bedroom is the only place to learn starcraft
    The real question is, am I interested in making a product I intend to sell, or am I interested in music as a personal passion I'm unwilling to make public?
    It's amazing how so many people gloss over, or even don't even think about the basics; those points that really are just common-sense aren't so "common". Interaction is the biggest thing missing in a lot of local bands I've seen. Guys just standing there with a stern look on their face while they're playing. Body movement and facial expressions go a long way in projecting the energy most people want their band to have. Like you said, if you don't look like you're enjoying what you're doing, then how will I? The key word is "performance". Just like an actor doesn't merely recite the lines of a script with no personality or feeling, a band doesn't just go out and play notes on an instruments and sing lyrics to a song. Personality is a MUST!
    If I might give an advice : start to play in the streets, because people there won't mind a lot about you, and it really helps to get some confidence, and even few bucks ah ah
    I really want to start playing in the streets, but I'm kind of nervous to just go out and play. I don't really live in a city, just a town, and I can't really find a great place to play. Any advice?
    I can understand it is difficult to just sit somewhere and start to play, especially if you live in a small place where you know everyone. Then, you might try to go in a bigger city and try your chance there. The best places are : - in a street with lot of shops - On big places, the one with fountains are great - near the railroad station - near bars - if you're in France you can try near bakeries as well ah ah - Sometimes I play also play front of churches, depends of the mood of the crowd In smaller towns, just go in the main street If I might ask, do you only play the guitar or do you sing in the same time? You will see, playing in the street is a great school. You need to be smiling, to be nice to the people and they'll be nice back. But like in every place, you have to enjoy yourself. That's the key point
    I play every time I leave the house. It's getting colder so it's harder, but I play while walking to the store, every time I go out to smoke, whenever I possibly can. At the park, at the river, the world is your stage. I also take everyone seriously if they ask to hear me, I don't care if they're being sarcastic, or hoping I fail, I make every attempt to rock everyones face off, and it usually works, you just have to have a good idea of what your audience wants, or knows. A few cool top 40 tracks (Sublime is my go-to, super easy and everyone knows the words and it's USUALLY not offensive), and then branch out from there.
    Leather Sleeves
    I think someone actually made this point in another recent article, but when you rehearse, (different from practicing), it should be as if you're actually doing the gig. That means you play through your entire set, interact with the crowd (your cat, the plant, whatever). Like a dress-rehearsal for a play. If you can rehearse your set and get it down you won't have to think about what you should be doing differently at your gig. It won't seem rehearsed either, the crowd will just assume you're really experienced.
    I've found the best way to get past the "claw" thing is to focus on what happens just after the tricky part. Say you've got a quick scale run ending in a bend up to a chord tone. Try to think ahead to the exact beat you're going to hit the bend on, how long you're going to take to bend it up, how much vibrato etc.. and before you realise you've already flown through the hard bit. Sometimes you've just gotta think about something else and let muscle memory do the work.
    Leather Sleeves
    Practice it until you get it and it won't be the tricky part anymore.
    Well yeah, that bit's already done, hence the "muscle memory" part of what I said. Doesn't matter how much you practise something, nerves can still cause you to lock up.
    I think while it is important to rock out to whatever you are playing, your stage presence needs to be appropriate to the music you are playing. I watched a local show just recently and one of the local bands pissed me off, because not only did the play sweet child of mine and butcher it, but they were like thrashing to it like it was some sorta death core attila bullshit, it just didnt match, and they lost the audience so fast. So MAKE SURE WHAT YOU DO ONSTAGE IS APPROPRIATE TO WHAT YOU ARE PLAYING
    I think that the last hint is a very crucial part! You may not be the best guitarist in the world, not even the best one in your neighborhood (I myself have the "claw" problem, which is freaking horrible, I feel so stiff when playing something a little bit more technical), but if you interact with your audience and they're enjoying it and rocking to it, then you'll also rock with them: you'll enjoy yourself (we're all musicians for some reason, right?) and you feel a connection with your listeners, which consequently eases up your tension and cools you down because you feel more confident and you feel and know that you can do it. With me, things go so much better when I'm rocking with the audience. But all of these hints are important to keep in mind while doing a gig. Good article!
    I can't believe this has to be pointed out. If you sound good in your bedroom but haven't jammed outside it, how would you know how you sound. Its all about practice in any situation.
    "Your Sound Isn't for You" Eh, this is the only thing I have beef with in this article. Your sound can totally be just for you; in fact, if you actually enjoy the genre of music you're playing and pay attention to the players in that genre that you like, YOU should know better than the crowd how to achieve that sound. It's sort of your job to understand the technicalities that go into the tone for what you're doing. And if you want to get weird and have Dimebag tone for a country ballad (as in your example), then by all means, more power to you. Just an opinion of course, but I believe the best music is made by people who write music for themselves, what they want to hear, not just what'll be appealing at the time.
    Leather Sleeves
    By all means, write for yourself, but I agree with the article concerning tone. I think that the point is not so much that what you think is good live might not be good, it's more like, what you think sounds good when you're practicing by yourself in your bedroom may not sound good live when cranked up with your band. It was a bit beyond the scope of the article, but pushing the volume on an amp changes the tone in many ways. Also, when you're by yourself you may find yourself dialing in your tone to fill in for the other instruments that would be there live, etc. In the end, if you think your live tone is good, then that's all that matters!
    Great article I think that first and for most you have to play what you love and you have to play for you, and if you are enjoying yourself the audience feeds off of your energy including when your not enjoying yourself. If you have a really good show someone will tell their friend, but if you have a really bad show that same person will tell all of the people they know about that Band they saw that REALLY SUCKED !!!
    Nice article. I do gigs regularly (and have for a lot of years). You hit some valuable points.
    I feel holding onto your nerves is the most crucial part. A small way to start off is by recording what you play. This will make you conscious, increase your heart rate but the trick here is to remain really cool and enjoy playing. If you play it like you have to show it to the world how amazing i am then it won't work that way. Enjoy and play it and people will get those positive vibes.
    I think just as important, but also frequently overlooked (especially by us guitarists D is growing to vibe with your band and knowing how to listen- knowing when to play it up and when to dial it back. When playing to a jam track or synthesised backing track, you don't really get a feel for that.