Monday, August 29, 2011

Beginner's Tips for Playing Live

Some time ago I promised to post some tips for playing live shows. I think there are a few things that you should consider before going on stage. Most beginners think only about practicing their parts but there are actually many more little things to be considered. If you are well prepared you avoid stress and you play better, and you might even enjoy yourself! OK, here we go:

  • Stay in tune! This is really important, playing out of tune is a dreadful experience for your audience and for your fellow musicians. But what can you do? First of all tune your guitar well before going on stage. If you left your guitar on stage after the soundcheck, then take a few seconds to check the tuning before you start playing. It might be quite warm on stage which makes the strings relax and you'll sound flat. The best tuners for the stage are either floor pedal tuners that mute the signal when you stomp on them, or headstock tuners which use a vibration sensor (no microphone!). Please do not unplug your cable from the amp, plug it into some handheld tuner, tune, then plug the cable back etc., this looks very unprofessional and it also takes forever! OK, now you've done all that but still, while playing you notice that you went out of tune. If you have a floor pedal tuner it's pretty easy to quickly tune up again, even during a song. If you've done this a few times it will only take you seconds. The same is true for headstock tuners (even though they are a bit more conspicuous). And if you have good ears, just tune by ear while you're playing! (OK, if you're that far you probably won't be reading this right now ...).
  • Play with new strings! They sound better and you considerably decrease the chance of breaking a string while playing. BUT, do not change them an hour before the gig. It's best to change them one or two days before because then they get the time to stretch out and they will not go out of tune anymore.
  • Always have a backup guitar ready! If everything goes fine you won't need it, but still, many times things go wrong. If for some reason your guitar goes so out of tune that you can't handle it in a few seconds, or if a string breaks (even though you certainly followed my previous advice), then you'll need to quickly switch guitars to save the song/set/gig. It's of course always great to have a knowledgeable friend backstage who is able to tune your other guitar, repair a broken string etc. It's easier to find people who like doing this than you may think!
  • Know your parts! This may sound obvious but I've seen it go wrong much too often. I know you can play your parts in your living room, and probably even in the rehearsal room together with your band. But with beginning bands (and even much later) things can go wrong on stage: the drummer misses a break, the singer starts a chorus even though there should be a verse etc. This means that you must be able to improvise and be flexible enough to change your part if necessary and to simply react appropriately to what's going on around you. And this is something you cannot plan, you just need to know your parts much better than just being able to play them under ideal circumstances.
  • Listen while playing! This is related to the previous point. Many times people are totally immersed in what they are playing and they don't even notice what the other band members are doing. Sometimes when discussing a certain guitar part with my students I would ask "and what is your bass player playing here?". Then I get that funny look like "how am I supposed to know, I'm the guitar player!" Be aware of what the other musicians are doing! You're making music together, not as independent individuals (hopefully, at least ...). Learning to listen is of course a process that takes some time, so start practicing it way before you go on stage!
  • Do not use sheet music on stage! Of course, I've used sheet music myself many times, so how do I dare to tell you not to do it? Well, if it's your first gig then there are so many other things you have to deal with that the extra attention you need for reading music is probably too much. Just know your parts by heart, at least until you get some live routine.
  • And what if I really have to use sheet music? OK, you probably have your reasons. Either you're a busy musician who cannot remember all sets of all bands you're playing with (would you really be reading this then?), or you're standing in for someone and you really didn't have a chance to learn everything by heart, etc. Well, in this case use a stable professional music stand. If you want to put it right in front of you then make it very low so the people can still see you (don't forget to wear your lenses if you need them!). Otherwise just put the stand on your side so you don't obstruct people's view. Sort the music and put it in some folder so you don't need to be fiddling around with sheets between the songs. Make sure the sheets do not fall off of the stand! This is especially important if you play an open air concert. In this case I always use clothespins (pegs), so put some in your guitar bag, just in case! And of course make sure that you can see your sheets! You cannot count on the light on stage because it might at times be too dark to read well, so make sure you have your own music stand light with you.
  • Relax! OK, that's easier said than done, but try to enjoy what you're doing even if it's a bit scary the first time. Look at the people out there, smile (at least from the inside), and be happy that finally you got the chance to stand on stage playing your guitar. Enjoy the sounds, the groove, communicate with the others and just realize that you're not practicing anymore, you're PLAYING!
Alright, these are a few points which came to my mind and which I consider important. There may be many other things that I missed. Anyway, I hope they help you a little to get more pleasure out of playing live!

No comments:

Post a Comment