Playing in public

Since releasing my cd I have been working on getting out more and gigging.  The past year or two I let it slide, i was busy working on the cd and I guess just was not really feeling motivated.  But now I actually need to sell some discs, and the best way to do that is at live shows.  So i gotta get out.  

When I first started gigging occasionally several years ago I would always get nervous.  What do I say between tunes, is the audience going to like my music, am I to boring, etc?  The more I have done it the less nervous i get, though I still get that little tightness in my stomach, especially if I am going on solo at a bigger venue. I wanted to put down some thoughts that I have had after the last few gigs.


  • What to start with. I like to start with a piece that I am really familiar with and can play in my sleep. For its best if this piece is of moderate tempo, so I can burn off some of the nervous energy that results from getting on stage. If I start with something difficult I won’t be able to manage it, and believe it or not, slow pieces are actually harder at this point in a show.  With more space between the notes, my fingers have to be in exactly the right spots, which is kind of hard to do after just going up on stage and being a bit nervous.  So i generally start with something of moderate tempo, and then pace the set from there to what feels right.

  • Talking between tunes. When first playing out I found this the most difficult part, and it still generally gets me more nervous than actually playing the music. Thats the fun part. I think the only way to get better at this is to do it more. Usually before each tune I will try to talk a bit about, perhaps relate some personal story as to who I learned the tune from or something like that. Sometimes if a joke or something funny occurs to me I will try it, and if I get a good reaction I mentally file that one away for next time. I have seen professionals who will use the same jokes and stories year after year at gigs. I think you just figure out what works over time for you and your personality. 

  • Losing your place. This is a scary one.  It has almost happened to me a few times but I managed to recover, and hopefully no one in the audience was the wiser.  With alot of these tunes I have played them for years, so there are times I will zone out mid tune, and start to think about what I am going to say or play next, what such and such person in the audience things about my music, where I am going to go after the gig, etc.  Then all of a sudden I snap back to the moment, and realize my fingers have been on autopilot and I don’t know where I am.  Both times this has happened it was during a slow air, and I just fumbled my way back to the main theme, and hopefully it sounded like a variation. To avoid this I just try to not let my mind wander when playing.  I keep my attention focused on the music, trying to execute it well, just like practicing at home. If my mind starts wandering to something else I bring it back on the task at hand. 


So there you have it, some things I have been thinking about after the last few gigs. Hopefully they help some folks out.  If you have any other tips for live let me know in the comments!




Comments 1

  1. Great post. The Bach cello suite I’m working on right now is full of places where something repeats, but the second time the thing that follows it is different. I’d had a lot of trouble with it, where I end up going back to the first thing instead of continuing where I was, if my mind’s not fully in it. It’s like when you know two tunes that start the same way, if you’ve just played one it can be really hard to play the other. I think the standard advice is the right thing; work on these things slowly enough that you can’t rely on muscle memory, and mentally play ahead of where you are physically playing. Sometimes carelessness or just lack of focus while learning these trouble spots can lead to them being an ongoing problem.

    I have tried mentally focusing on what I am about to play on stage a few times, too, minus the playing at 1/4th speed part. I mean, mentally playing just a split second before physically. It really helped, not just to keep me on track but it raised the level of my conscious participation in the performance and it certainly made it a lot more exciting for me. And who has time to be nervous when you’re focused like that? It can be kind of draining when it’s not the habit yet, though.

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