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How to perform well when it matters?

5227363129_040abe9541_bHave you ever gone into a concert feeling that you are well prepared only to find out that your playing skills almost magically disappeared?

I don’t know about you but this is definitely something I am very familiar with. And if it happened to you before, you know how terribly it feels to practice hard for weeks only to observe that it was not enough.

Your confidence goes immediately down which only worsens the whole situation. And unfortunately, there is not much you can do right at that moment. Basically you can only hope for the best.

Why you cannot perform well when it matters?

The reason why you cannot perform well when it matters is really quite simple. You haven’t prepared enough.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Maybe you have practiced your songs over and over again (which by the way I don’t think is a good strategy to become extraordinary guitar player) and maybe you have even spent quite a long time with your preparation, but everything you did was done in the safety of your practice room or rehearsal space of your band.

And that’s why your playing suffers under pressure.

This kind of practice won’t prepare you for situations when the stress is high.

It is much different to play when there are one hundred people staring at you than playing in your practice room. Your hands are cold and sweating, your breathing is shallow, your guitar doesn’t feel like yours and you can’t hear what you are playing. These are the real conditions and not your “grab a coffee and watch TV” guitar practice.

If you want to take your practice session to the next level, you’ve got to put yourself and your band members under pressure.  You’ve got to feel that it really matters what you play and how you play it. The better you can duplicate the conditions of a concert during your preparation phase, the more effective it can be.

Of course, the best preparation is to play a lot of concerts in front of people, but that is not always a possibility.

I want to show you few ways that can help you to prepare better for your next gig. It is all about making it harder and putting some pressure on ourselves while we still have time to correct mistakes. In order to be better live performers, we need to reach out of our comfort zone.

These tips really helped me to become more confident with my playing when it counts. Try it and see if it works for you.

Practice standing up

You have concert tomorrow and you are still sitting while practicing? Come on, get up and move. Unless you are classical guitar player, you should not sit all the time – it is not healthy. Everybody knows that it is much harder to play standing up and yet majority of guitar players are always sitting when practicing. Dust off your strap and start practicing your rock’n’roll moves.

Practice in your stage clothes

Few years ago I was playing a gig and for whatever reasons I was wearing a scarf. I don’t remember if I was sick or I just wanted to look cool. Probably both. The problem was that I had never before worn a scarf while playing guitar. Once the show started I was in a big trouble – as soon as I began to play and move around, the scarf unwound and covered all the strings on my guitar. I couldn’t put it down because it was stuck under my guitar strap. Since I didn’t have a spare pair of hands to remove it, I had to fight with it for three and a half minute. As soon as we have finished the first song, I threw it away and I have never played with a scarf again.

If you think about it, it is very easy to prevent this kind of stupid situations.  The only thing you need to do, is to try out your stage clothes during a rehearsal. It won’t take you much extra time. Good preparation is the foundation for successful performance.

Practice with your gear

If you need to use various effect pedals, multiple guitars and amps during your show, make sure you are also using this gear during preparation in your practice room. Dialing different types of sounds, switching between amps and guitars is yet another thing that you need to be thinking about while playing a concert – unless you are lucky and have your own technician.

To these days I find it quite challenging to step on the right pedal at the right time without screwing up. The only cure that I’ve found is to practice this in my practice room. It is not my favorite part of practicing, but very valuable once I am on stage.

Don’t stop and correct mistakes

Practicing to get ready for a show is different than practicing to learn something new.

While it is a good idea to stop and correct your mistakes when you are learning a new song, you definitely don’t need to do this if you are preparing for a show. At this stage you should have your songs ready and you need to practice playing them from beginning to the end without stopping. You keep going even if you make a mistake. Learning how to cover your mistakes is an essential skill for every musician. Once you’ve made a mistake, you can’t take it back so you don’t need to stop.

Just keep playing. Pretend that you did it on purpose. (this helps a lot)

Revise your repertoire often

No matter how skilled you are, you always need to go over your repertoire and make sure it is polished and ready to go. If you get into the habit of revising your repertoire often, you will save yourself tons of time when the show is near. In my interview with fingerstyle virtuoso Daryl Kellie he mentioned that he revises his repertoire every Friday.

I think it is a great idea to dedicate one whole practice session to polishing your songs. To take it up a notch, create a playlist and perform your songs as if you are playing a concert. Turn on any recording device and you have a great material to learn from before it is too late.

As I said before, the key is to make your practice conditions closer to those that you’ll experience on stage. Make it harder now, so you are more confident when you are performing in front of the crowds.

Remember, variety of practice conditions will prepare you much better for your next performance than repeating the same thing over and over again.

How do you prepare for an important gig? Do you have some funny stories from performing live? Please share them below in the comments.

Image courtesy: Incase.

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8 Responses to How to perform well when it matters?

  1. Sebastian May 23, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    Excellent article,

    Playing standing up is really hard when you’re used to sit for years. It took me more than 2-3 months playing standing up exclusively to bring my playing to an acceptable level. Also my picking and fingering has changed completely due to this.

    I would further recommend simulating the on-stage lighting conditions. You could practice at home at night with the lights turned off, maybe just have your computer screen glowing in the dark somewhere or even simulate some simple stage light system on the computer?

    There’s also the fact that you will change some of your gear, for example playing standing up in a dark room is easier if you have fret markers on the neck not just the inlay dots on the fingerboard. If your guitar is hanging low then it is very hard to look at the fretboard.

    • Lukas Kyska May 25, 2014 at 10:04 am #

      Thanks for your comments Sebastian.

      Having a big screen with audience could be very interesting – would be fun to watch how it will influence people’s performance.

  2. Sebastian May 23, 2014 at 7:45 am #

    By the way what we could do to work on eliminating stage fright and interaction with an audience, we could place a huge TV screen in the practice room, and play a video on the screen where you can see the audience from the stage perspective? Maybe I can find some free recording, I guess it could be a short loop, doesn’t have to be a full-length recorded show.

    I really like this idea of simulating the on stage conditions, after all simulators are also used by flight trainees etc.

  3. Greg June 5, 2014 at 4:11 am #

    The lighting is a good comment. I have not played a gig but I can imagine I would notice that issue almost instantly. Lukas you make a good point about the pedals. Pros with their huge set ups make it look so easy. I think it is a new mechanic to a lot of guitar players (I have a 2 bank 4 button switch for my amp) and slowing it down is a must. If you have ever played the piano and used the pedals you know the foot sometimes is slow to receive your brain signal.

    Speaking of gigs, what were your guys’ first gigs like?

    • Lukas Kyska June 6, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

      My first gig with a band was one hell of a ride – drummer was speeding up so every song was like 20 bpm faster than normal. It was almost impossible for me to play at that speed. We had to sound really terrible. Fortunately there is no recording of that evening 🙂

  4. Sebastian June 9, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    First and only gig in the backroom of a birthday party, went pretty well considering we didn’t even have a band name and only one half-finished song. My drummer basically talked me into it (Dude we are a band, we need to play live!)

    He changed the tempo every 30 seconds or so. Improvisation in front of people is hard …

  5. Eric July 5, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    Actually pretty damn good advice for most things in life- and although it might sound silly, sometimes wearing the right threads when practicing matters- I know combatives instructors who wear fighting gear (like, the multi-pocket pants an operator would wear when deployed in the military or as an NGO guy) when training endurance and street clothes when working the heavy bag (no gloves) because this is what they’ll be wearing in an actual fight. Likewise for public speaking, if you’ll be wearing a suit then suit it up every now and then so you are psychologically accustomed to performing under the same conditions. Every little detail builds confidence. Nice post.

    • Lukas Kyska July 7, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

      Thank you for your insightful comment Eric.

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