Whether you’re new to performing live or have played numerous gigs before these top 10 tips will ensure that your next gig as a guitarist is not a complete failure.
1. Check Your Equipment
Before you leave home check you’ve packed all your equipment including:
- pedals including fully charged batteries or power supplies
- guitar strap
- music stand including lights for reading if in a dark venue
- sheet music
- guitar stand
One of my guitar fail stories is that I once played a gig where I left my guitar pick at home. I usually have one in the back pocket of my jeans but I was wearing a suit as the gig was a corporate function. So I ended up digging in the garden at the venue to find suitable bits of tan bark to be a replacement pick! Of course you can also play finger style but it doesn’t always work for every song. I’ve also forgotten my capo for an acoustic guitar gig. Forced to transpose several songs on the spot and wasn’t able to play all the open string licks I usually do.
2. Allow Extra Time To Get There
It’s highly recommended to avoid running late as this will just make you stressed before you even get to the venue and of course this won’t help with your concentration or nerves.
If you know that it takes 30mins to setup your gear get there an hour beforehand. This will allow time for getting lost, traffic congestion, searching for parking, needing to get petrol and unexpected delays that may happen on the way.
Apart from being stressful running late and failing to turn up on time can look very unprofessional to the venue owners or clients who may be hiring you.
3. Guitar Equipment Tips
I like to use picks with rough grips on them as they prevent the pick slipping in your hand when you are sweaty or nervous when performing. Jim Dunlop and other brands make these type of picks.
If standing when you play run your guitar lead through the strap to prevent it being accidentally unplugged from your guitar if stood on by another band member or yourself. One of the greatest guitar fail moments is when you step forward for your big guitar solo and all you hear is silence as you look down to see your lead mysteriously lying on the floor!
Use gaffer tape to stick down your leads running to your guitar pedals from your amp. This will prevent you and other band members tripping over them and accidentally unplugging the connection to them.
4. Warm Up Your Fingers
It’s always a good thing to get your fingers moving before you play your first song with some simple finger exercises. Warm up with this simple 1 2 3 4 finger exercise based around the chromatic scale. Try and play it 5-10 times or for 2-3 minutes. This will help your fingers to flow better when it comes to soloing and riffs.
For chords and strumming you can practice the chord changes and rhythms to one of the more difficult songs in your set. Depending on the type of music you play it may be based on open string chords, power chords or lighter funk or jazz chords.
5. Relax & Calm Your Nerves
If you get nervous before playing or performing in front of an audience try these exercises to settle your nerves.
- Take 10 deep slow even breaths.
- Take a random number such as 1354 and count backwards by another random number such as 3 or 4. Or try saying the alphabet backwards. These mental exercises will move your focus off your nerves and anxiety to the counting/alphabet exercise.
- Move your body by moving your jaw side-to-side, bend forward dangling your arms and shaking them out. Combine this with some simple stretches to relax your body and mind.
Most people at an average gig really won’t be paying that much attention unless you’re very good or very bad. In a café, pub or bar setting most people are too distracted busy talking to friends, eating and drinking to give you their undivided attention. However keep in mind that this is not the case if you’re playing in a more formal setting such as a recital which is why they tend to be more stressful situations for many musicians.
6. Play A Sound Check
Most venues will allow you time to check your equipment and sound levels. Depending on the band lineup and size of the venue what constitutes a sound check will vary greatly. For a typical rock band there will be a PA system used for vocals with the drum kit and guitar amps often being miked too. This setup can take sometime to get right with the sound engineer whether its one who works at the venue or one you’ve brought with you.
Of course don’t fail to check with the venue if they have an in house sound engineer or you have to bring your own. Once I played a rock gig a large iconic Melbourne pub presuming that there would be an in-house sound engineer but when we got there we discovered it was BYO engineer. Lucky for us that a friend of ours who was a sound engineer was there to see us play and saved the day!
If you don’t have the time for a full sound check the first song will act as your sound check. However often you should be able to play as a band for 1-2 mins to check your levels quickly before your start playing your set properly.
Make sure you don’t turn up your guitar amp too loud and face it slightly inwards so the sound travels across the stage so the other band members can hear you. Guitar amps can be very directional so if they face straight out to the audience the sound may bypass the band completely and they might not hear you at all!
Another tip is to walk around the stage finding a spot where you can hear everyone properly. There may not always be that magic spot on stage but at least make sure you can hear the drummer as they will be the one keeping time.
7. Start With The Easiest Song Not The Hardest
This is a smart thing to do as the first song will be the one where you’re getting used to the sound on stage trying to hear the band and yourself. Also your fingers and brain will be just warming up and your nerves can get the better of you in the first song so a simple song is best so you’re less likely to screw it up.
8. If You Make A Mistake Don’t Stop Playing
If you fudge a note or a chord most of the audience won’t notice. However they will if you stop, pause or lose the beat. The trick is not to worry about the last note or chord you stuffed up keep going. As long as you hold the rhythm and your timing together most of the audience won’t notice. Professional guitarists and musicians make little mistakes all the time when playing live but you usually don’t notice as they just keep going. The more experienced you become as a player the better you will get at hiding your mistakes!
9. Learn Easy Versions Of Songs/Riffs/Solos
Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where you’re attempting to play a song that is difficult or contains a challenging part that is hard to pull off. In this case it’s always good to have an alternate easier way of playing the song, riff or solo that will still work. While you may be able to play it OK most of the time at home in a live situation nerves, the sound on stage and other factors may work against you. So have a backup easier version that you can play if you feel that you aren’t up to pulling off the difficult part on stage.
10. Listen To The Other Band Members
When playing pay attention to the other band members. Listen to the beat from the drummer and watch for cues from other band members for changes in the song. Also make sure that the other band members are paying attention to you if they’re following you in a particular song or part. This is especially important at the start of a song to ensure that everyone starts at the same time and in the same time! Whoever is counting in (usually the drummer) needs do it loudly clearly and confidently especially in a noisy crowded venue. A common beginner band fail is stuffing up the timing at the start of a song.
So for your next guitar playing gig whether or big or small use the top 10 tips to prevent your gig becoming a complete failure.