Surviving the Gig: Acclimating to Performance Environment

This is the second Tuesday Tip in the Surviving the Gig series. To see the first installment, CLICK HERE.

Have you ever noticed how much better you are at guitar when you're alone in your room versus being on stage in front of a crowd? I know I'm not the only one who experiences this!

This Tuesday Tip will give you some pointers to help close that gap.

Lots of curveballs will be thrown at you in performance situations. You have a choice...either ignore them (and strike out on the gig) or practice hitting curveballs (to be prepared for the gig).

Here are some of the common curveballs you'll face relating to the performance environment.

  • Temperature - Some venues are cold. Some are hot. Playing outside? Temperature is an obvious concern, but humidity also becomes a factor.
  • Lighting - Playing on dark stages is tricky. If you depend on your eyes too much you'll be at a loss. Playing under a bright sun also brings some challenges like seeing the LEDs on your pedals. This is especially difficult when you can't see your tuner.
  • Audience - Playing in front of an audience ups the pressure big time. The more you do it, the easier it gets. As often as you can, play in front of people, even if it's just a few friends.
  • Other Noise/Distractions - On some gigs (festivals, fairs, community events) the music is just one of the many things happening at any given time. All the extra noise and movement can be a big distraction.
  • Monitors - Will you be using in ear monitors or floor wedges? Have a bad sound guy? Is your amp on stage or off? Drummer too loud? How you hear the music has a huge effect on how you play the music, thus monitors are a big deal. I was using IEMs on a gig a couple weeks ago, and my right ear went out during the very first song. Hopefully no one saw the terror in my eyes as I realized I'd be playing the whole show with just my left ear.
  • Tuning Issues - Temperature and humidity changes will definitely pull you out of tune. Learn to tune quickly and accurately. Other times, you'll be perfectly in tune but your bandmate will be out. If he starts the song, you'll sound out when you start playing. Guess what? The audience doesn't know it's you bandmate's fault. Learn to compensate on the fly.
  • Broken Strings - A couple things happen when you break a string. First, you'll go out of tune (this becomes a big problem if you have a floating trem system on your guitar). Second, you'll have to figure out how to deal with it. You can switch to another guitar if you brought a backup. If not, you'll have to figure out how to play the rest of the songs on 5 strings. The good news is that you can practice this. Take a song you know well, and try playing it without the high E string. Now try it without the B string. Go through all the strings this way. It's a real challenge, but it may save your butt someday.

    What do you do with this information? Well, you could start by taking one thing from the above list and work it into your next practice session. Want to work on playing with distractions? Turn your TV on, and turn the volume up. Want to get used to playing in the hot (or cold)? Go outside to practice.

    The more closely you can recreate your actual performance environment, the better. Obviously, there is no substitute for experience, but that is no excuse for not doing everything you can in the mean time to better prepare yourself.

    Here's the bottom line...rarely, if ever, will you have the perfect environment to perform in. The sooner you learn to deal with this fact, the better off (and the more valuable) you'll be as a guitarist.

    As always, I welcome your comments, questions, stories and feedback.

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