Nothing quite comes close to the experience of playing a live show. It’s truly incredible to be able to express yourself on stage through music, and to be rewarded with an engaged and receptive crowd.
Performing music live is certainly a lot of fun. But it can also be stressful if you are not adequately prepared and if your musical equipment isn’t in top condition. Believe it or not, your mindset can also be holding you back from reaching your full enjoyment from being on stage too.
Whether you are playing at a local open mic night, or if you’re performing a theatre to a thousand people, we’ve got you covered with these top tips to help prepare you for successful and enjoyable live performances.
1. Hone Your Craft
Delivering an outstanding performance requires dedication and commitment. The music industry is highly competitive, and in order to perform to the best of your ability, you will need to be disciplined with your approach to practice.
Too often, we can see bands and musicians perform lackluster and mediocre displays. Being well-rehearsed and confident with your material is essential in order to make a great and lasting impression on a crowd. As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
No matter what type of instrument you play, whether it’s guitar or cello, an excellent way to pick up on your errors is to record yourself practicing and to listen back to the audio. It will help to highlight any weaknesses in your playing and give you the opportunity to correct these mistakes.
Playing to a high standard does require discipline. But more importantly, practice should be fun and enjoyable! As a drummer, I have learned that most of my improvement and maturity has been a natural journey of self-discovery behind the drum set.
As a drummer, I have learned that most of my improvement and maturity has been a natural journey of self-discovery behind the drum set. – Gideon Waxman
2. Play Great Sounding Equipment
As a musician, your choice of equipment will help to form your overall sonic identity whilst performing live on stage. If you want to sound great, you should endeavor to play with quality musical equipment. You will also be required to tune your instruments accurately and diligently to deliver a professional and polished sound. Even ever-so-slightly out of tune instruments can really expose amateur tendencies.
The day before a show, it’s always best practice to install fresh musical instrument accessories such as drumheads, instrument strings, or woodwind reeds in preparation for an important concert. Investing in a protective musical instrument case will ensure that equipment is kept in tip-top condition whilst being transported to and from the show.
Ensure your equipment is all set up correctly on the day of the show, and have spares readily available just in case. Unfortunately, things can go wrong when you least expect, so make sure to pack spares for anything that might break and will need replacing.
A drummer can deal with countless broken drumsticks on stage and even experience a bass drum pedal spring snap mid-performance. For this reason, it’s necessary to pack plenty of provisions and correctly set up your instrument before an important show.
3. Be Efficient and Organised
Acting in a professional and organized manner will really help prevent setbacks and delays on the day of a show. Promoters and show organizers can sometimes be inflexible and uncooperative. Aiming to be ready for the time of your allocated sound check will help the event run smoothly.
Being considerate of other musicians that are performing on stage is also a necessary part of playing shows. Changeovers can be stressful, and efficiency with setting up and taking equipment off stage will benefit everyone.
You will want to take full advantage of the sound check time that is available to you. This time is valuable, especially just in case of any unexpected technical issues that might arise, which will need to be resolved before you play.
4. Warm Up Effectively
Whether you are a vocalist or instrumentalist, an effective warm-up routine is crucial in order to deliver consistent and fluid musical performances. Warming up helps to re-engage muscle memory and familiarize the bodily processes involved with coordination and control over the instrument.
There are a wide range of vocal warm-ups to help stretch and relax vocal chords before going on stage. Without appropriate warming up, vocals are susceptible to croaking, sounding shrill or going off-key.
Not only are warm-ups necessary to help you play to the best of your ability, stretches help to significantly reduce the risk of injury whilst playing and also promote relaxation of the body. Performing music is a physically demanding activity, and stretches will ensure a correct range of motion and improve overall flexibility.
No matter what type of music you might be playing, developing a good warm-up routine is a great habit to instill. Relaxed and warmed up muscles will help to take your performances to the next level, and you will feel a drastic change to your overall energy and comfort whilst playing.
5. Trust In Your Own Ability
It’s showtime, and it’s likely that you will be feeling both excited and nervous. This is completely normal and expected. You might aim to put in a lot of effort and try really hard to impress the audience. But too much effort has a detrimental effect on musicians. Believe it or not, your innermost ability exists without you having to try and find it, or having to engage it.
Allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes. This sounds conflicting, but it’s in a relaxed state without expectations and judgment that we truly engage our peak performance. Regimented, consistent practice allows us to perform to a high standard without having to think about it.
Drawing a comparison, professional sportsmen like boxers and tennis players are engaged in a state of relaxed concentration whilst competing in their sport. This is known as playing in the zone mentally. They don’t need to remember how to punch or think about where to hit the ball correctly. This ability is fluid and instinctive, with years of practice enforcing deeply rooted muscle memory.
This is an important shift in perspective that can help you to perform at the very best of your ability, and allow you to enjoy the experience of being on stage more too.
Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer & music educator and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can find more of his advice at Drum Helper – which is a free online resource dedicated to helping drummers achieve more from their playing.