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I'm doing a gig soon, together with a friend. We will play songs written by myself, at a small local venue.

The last couple of weeks, I've been practising a lot. I now know the songs flawlessly, technically speaking. But I have practised so much that I've grown somewhat weary of them.

Because of that, I'm now worried that I won't be able to convey the emotional content and message of the songs at the actual concert.

So, any thoughts on how to deal with this? Is there a way to practise songs to perfection (or close enough), without becoming bored with them? Or am I looking at this completely wrong..?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Playing live is very different to practicing. You will find you get an adrenaline rush, maybe nervousness, perhaps you will have astonishing vibrato (from your hands shaking - this happened to my at my first couple of gigs). You will feed off the audience's energy and responses.

So initially, I would say don't worry about knowing them too well - it will feel different once you are on that stage.

You could try thinking about choreography - I don't mean actual dancing, necessarily, but thinking about where/how each band member stands during each song. Should you jump about? Move between mic stands? Doing a bit of this could make your next couple of weeks practicing much more fun.

Do you have a song which picks you all up and gets things jumping? Play that as part of your warm up in practice sessions to help you feel more energetic. We have an established couple of songs we always start with in the practice studio - by the end of the second one we are all grinning and jumping about, no matter how we feel on entering the room.

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I suspect that when you comne to do the gig, that latent boredom with the tunes will translate into confidence while playing them. I think this underlines the first part of Dr Mayhem's answer - that the adrenalin will carry you through, and it won't feel boring at the time because performing is different to practicing. You'll feed off the audience and there will; be nerves etc. Much more "woop wahay" involved in a gig than in a practice.

One thing you could do is leave the tunes alone, don't practice between now and maybe just before the gig to let it re-fresh itself in your mind a bit.

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They're your songs, your babies. Babies grow and your songs could as well. If you regard a song as 'etched in stone' it never will be any different. For me at least, songs are the blank canvas. What else can happen in a particular song? Can the format be changed - a solo here, a bridge there, etc.? A key change makes a big difference sometimes. Can two songs be segued? What does this song sound like a lot slower? There is mileage in leaning stuff by rote, but, as you've discovered, it gets boring, just like practising pieces for an exam.A jazzer's approach may be 'I've got the bare bones of a well-known tune, what direction can I take it in for a change?' There's always a tendency for a really well-rehearsed song to become bland to the performer, but never forget that the audience, bless it, is hearing it for the first time.So keep it as if that's how you are playing it - fresh. It's often a state of mind.

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+1 for the 'etched in stone' comment. A piece should change each time its performed IMO, to reflect the performers mood –  CurlyPaul Sep 16 at 16:51
    
@CurlyPaul - absolutely. Otherwise music is going to atrophy. –  Tim Sep 17 at 0:25

Something a friend told me to do to help me just get pumped on stage is to plan some moves out for just your first song... jump here, guitar flip here (hehe), etc. This helps you get used to moving around for the show and builds a strange confidence in yourself to take care of the rest of the show yourself. It sounds silly, but it works.

For your case, since they're your songs I'm just going to assume you're singing and playing guitar, just maybe practice how they feel for you, or something along those lines, in front of a mirror so that when you get on stage you can just get into the feeling and get going.

This happens to every one, every band. Big name pop and rock acts will rehearse for hours every day months before a tour (for example, if you've seen Michael Jackson's This Is It). What you're feeling is totally normal. Take a little break from the songs before your gig and if you're bored of your songs, maybe take the time to use as inspiration to write something new!

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When you are in front of the audience, 40% of your mental capacity go to the audience. So you suddenly only have 60% left for your playing. It's a big handicap. You'll find that stuff that you have recently acquired and which works reasonably well is unusable on stage. You just can't make it appear.

The other stuff you got beat into the 60%-of-your-mental-capacity range (too bad it's hard to check for that in advance, though recording can help with that) then gets 40% of audience interaction on top, making you give 140%.

Which feels great to you as well as the audience.

At any rate, try playing with your material. Try playing it 20% faster. More importantly, try playing it at half speed while still working to make it sound interesting, consistent, compelling. Some of the figuring out of just what makes the stuff good even when played at "boring" speeds will rub off on the fast play eventually. That's a slow and gradual process. A few weeks are over rather fast...

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  • Practice starting: Make sure you can always start tunes at the right tempo and sing the first part exactly right. Do this the first thing when you start to practice, cold. Check your tempos with a metronome. Then try playing slower than your starting tempo. Then try changing your tempo. When you play in front of an audience there's a definite tendency to speed up and try to sing too hard. Don't do that. You may also overcompensate. So know how to gracefully change. Also practice singing unaccompanied but on pitch, check your pitch against your instrument.
  • Heal the fractures: Practice the hardest parts in your repetoire. If you've got that down, try starting your songs at any point in the middle. It's a good way to gracefully recover from errors and distractions.
  • Self-evaluate: Record your entire set and then listen to it closely. Believe me, this is a great motivator to practice. Your recorder is your worst enemy and best critic.
  • Practice everywhere: When you're going somewhere or waiting for a bus, sing your songs and visualize your playing. Listen to that recording and sing along. Figure out harmony parts for the songs. Try singing or playing them differently. Play with them. Do this in little pieces, 1-10 minutes at a time, but do it a lot.

"Good luck and most importantly, have fun."
-- "The Company" directed by Robert Altman

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