Just like practising notes on your guitar, playing in front of an audience is a skill that can be developed.
The more you play in front of people, the better you will become at it – and knowing how to prepare for a gig can get you through those first few performances.
I remember watching my favorite bands playing live when I was young, and wondering how they could play flawlessly under the pressure of an audience. But now after growing older and wiser, and after performing hundreds of gigs myself, I know the answer to that question.
Below I’ve listed five powerful ideas on how to prepare for a gig. These tips apply to the beginner through to the advanced player.
1. Practise Your Music Effectively
If you’ve never played live before you may be faced with the burning question of ‘Have I rehearsed enough?’ I’m going to give you a simple way of instantly knowing the answer to that question.
Firstly, the idea of ‘effective practise’ is often overlooked by many amateur and even advanced players. It’s a given that you should know your material well enough to be able to play through your songs without forgetting any of the parts. But can you play your parts without any accompaniment (including drums)?
Effective practise means knowing your parts well enough that, in theory, another band member could play along to you. Practise your music with accompaniment, and then without. If you can pull it off, it will give you the confidence you need to play your music live.
‘Effective practise means … another band member could play along to you.’
2. Rehearse in the Same Venue
If you have access to the venue that you’ll be performing in then that’s a luxury. Keep in mind that acoustics differ per venue (or room), so you may end up with a completely different sound at the gig compared to the rehearsal venue.
‘Acoustics differ per venue (or room), so you may end up with a completely different sound at the gig compared to the rehearsal venue.’
If you can’t rehearse in the same venue, an alternative solution would be to have a rehearsal in a different location than the one you are used to.
3. Rehearse in Front of People
When an audience is staring at you playing your instrument, it alters your frame of mind. You will learn to perform confidently under these changes with experience.
‘Get some friends or family to watch you perform two or three songs.’
The best way to assess the effect that an audience will have on your playing is to get some friends or family to watch you perform two or three songs. This works best if you know the people quite well because it increases the pressure.
4. Practise Your Improvisation Skills
In the event you hit a blank, there is a fail-safe mechanism. This is the skill of improvisation, and it’s one that many guitarists embark on.
If you don’t know what to play, then keep in mind that as long as you’re aware of the key of the song, you’re good to go. In a very basic sense, improvisation implies that you can play any note of the scale related to the key, and it will sound in tune.
‘There is a fail-safe mechanism. This is the skill of improvisation … as long as you’re aware of the key of the song, you’re good to go.’
Improvisation is something every performing guitar player should cultivate. The more you work at it, the better you will become.
5. Develop Your Ear
When you’re playing live, you are in most cases relying only on your ears. I say ‘in most cases’ because chances are you don’t sight read.
Some of the best guitarists can hear music and instantly replicate it on the guitar neck. This is a skill learned through transcribing music, and in essence is the most important aspect of being a musician.
If you play cover music, try and learn your next song by ear. It may seem difficult at first, but with practise it will give you an edge over any musician who lacks in this ability.
‘Try and learn your next song by ear. It may seem difficult at first, but with practise it will give you an edge over any musician who lacks in this ability.’
It’s the magic bullet that will make your audience fall in love with you each and every time they hear you play.
About the Author
Dean Hailstone is the editor of PlayGuitarLive.com – the ultimate resource for the gigging guitar player. Dean is a professional guitarist, touring musician and recording artist.