As musicians, we spend a lot of time practicing things but a lot of us don’t ask WHY we’re practicing. We have vague notions of things like, “to get better” but nothing concrete.
This leads to things like shred guitar groups on Facebook where it’s a constant one-upsmanship of technical skill. And while that’s a natural phase of skill development, it often doesn’t have a whole lot to do with making music or being musical in a band context. Paul Gilbert once talked about how he had to completely change the way he soloed when he toured with Mr. Big because the highly technical things that blew people’s socks off in 500 person clubs in LA were completely lost in arenas with cavernous reverbs washing everything out.
Why we do something can inform both what we’re doing and how we’re doing it as well.
Last night, I played a gig with KoriSoron, the band I play in with guitarist Farzad Golpayegani and percussionist Dean Mirabito. The money was negligible and the audience was small but that gig was more informative that a month in the practice room because I had real time analysis of what worked and what didn’t work in a live setting. Furthermore, when I looked back at my improvisations I could determine what I thought I was playing versus what I was really playing.
If you want to play live music, you should play live shows as often as possible and see live music as often as possible to see what works. I’ll add much better clarification of this idea with a quote from what I would say is a must-read interview I did with Miroslav Tadic:
Performing has both a physical and the mental aspect to it. They’re connected but people have different levels of reactivity to each of them that can only be tested in performance. The good news is, you don’t need to be in a club or a concert hall with a bunch of people who have paid for tickets to see you to develop that skill. All you need is for a couple of people to actually sit down, listen and pay attention to what you do.
Most people, including myself, have found that there is really no difference in playing for ten people in your living room or playing for 2,000 people in a concert hall you’ve never played before. Mentally it’s the same thing and in both situations you go through the same kind of reactions. Once you learn those reactions and observe yourself in that situation, those reactions are not going to surprise you when you’re on stage and this is the most important thing.
For example, lets say the physical reaction is that your hands are sweating, shaking or cold. These are all physical reactions to this mental state of performing for people. You don’t experience that in the practice room, but if you go in front of people and all the sudden your hands are sweaty and you’ve never played with sweaty hands, it’s a terrifying experience. But if you know that your hands sweat when you go in front of people and you know how that feels you will know that you’ll still be able to play. It’s not going to be as enjoyable as when your hands aren’t sweating, but you’re not going to be completely thrown off by that because you’ll have already had experience with that. Eventually they’re not going to sweat, because what’s making them sweat is going to go away. That terror of being in front of people will turn into inspiration.
Next time, I’ll talk about ear training, the one music book I would tell every musician interested in improvising to buy (no it’s not the Real Book) and how to save yourself tens of thousands of dollars in tuition by doing so.
As always, thanks for reading!