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 YouLet'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.
SO REALLY MAKE SURE THE SOUND YOU'RE MAKING SUITS THE MUSIC YOU'RE PLAYING - AND ABOVE ALL, THE REST OF THE BAND!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 SongsYou 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...
PRACTICE UNTIL YOUR SONGS ARE GOOD ENOUGH FOR RADIO.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. NervesI 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.
HOWEVER, THE REAL KEY IS TO LEARN HOW TO FOCUS ON RELAXING.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 MistakesDon'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.
YOUR AUDIENCE DON'T WANT TO HEAR "BITS" OF SONGS, THEY WANT SOMETHING TO LISTEN TO.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 AudienceAs 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.
SO, WHEN YOU'RE PLAYING A GIG, PLAY IT FOR YOUR FANS, NOT FOR YOU AND YOUR OWN EGO.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