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I have been rehearsing an average of once a week most recently. We have a decent stock of songs, but are continually adding new candidates.

I find that on the days where I have been drinking coffee, that I tend to overplay / vamp on my parts. Listening back to my recordings, this makes me very self-conscious. The guys tell me they don't see it as an issue. But at the same time, days when I come in either not caffeinated, or just feeling a bit down, I have been told that I sounded great.

Do any of you have a regimen as far as how much caffeine or alcohol you'll drink?

(by the way, I have drank/smoked while playing in the past {other bands}. It does calm the nerves, but I find that keeping on point, staying focused, is difficult)

Alternately, if I settle on the fact that I just won't rehearse as well if I'm amped, what should I do to settle the nerves? A pharmacist once told me that a normal dose of aspirin will do the trick. Which I tried once and did not like the side effect - my bass drum foot and leg felt numb for the first half of the rehearsal.

EDIT: I changed the title from "...Performance" to "...Rehearsal" -
When I gig, I take whatever cards are on the table and run with it

  • Can't you just skip the caffeine? – Charles Oct 19 '14 at 2:24
  • Lately I have been. There are days when I feel amped regardless, though. – Jason P Sallinger Oct 19 '14 at 2:25
  • FWIW, Rachmaninoff violated his no-alcohol policy when performing his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Op. 43) in order to calm his nerves--the final variation was/is treacherously difficult to perform. At least according to the Wikipedia page. – pr1268 Oct 17 '16 at 22:14
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I'm a guitarist and vocalist for a groovy rock band.

When gigging, I quite often have a pint of lager (about 4-5% alc. nothing major) just to calm the nerves a bit. I find it works well and that strangely it also gives me a bit more energy, for an hour or so. Then I need to chug the water to replace what's lost in sweat. Bleah.

When practicing, I never drink alcohol- I'm always driving- plus I think if I drank a bit it might impair my memory of what we had practiced.

I love tea, and my band often have 2 or 3 cuppas during a rehearsal. Re caffeine: Tea contains caffeine of course but it's more about the relaxing nature of it. The stark difference between sitting and nattering with a cuppa, then getting up to have a go at something raucous or heavyweight is what seems to do the trick : Calm before the storm and all that.

I have noticed some practices are more wired than others though. I put this down to not being tired because of outside influences (my band always practice on weekday evenings, after a day's work in the office, which is sometimes tiring) and also how well (healthily) I've eaten and how hydrated I am.

I love your attitude re "grabbing all the cards" at gigs, and that you're looking at how to control how zingy you are .. makes me want to come and hear you play :-)

  • Very nice. Judging from the dialect, I'd wager it would involve a plane flight. I feel bad for the other posters here, but I think you've answered the question. Thanks. – Jason P Sallinger Oct 21 '14 at 14:49
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    Thanks- yep I'm English. 'Busted' haha. Actually I've just realised something I do, kind of subconciously, with every band I play with : we group the tunes we're practicing by how energetic they are .. eg a bit of ACDC then heftier Led Zep in a row, then cool it down with something softer or more smooth like some fatboy slim or even a spot of jazz, which means the 'manic excitement' thing gets kind of kirbed or plugged in because we know the essence of the group of tunes we're doing. Maybe that would help too ? It sounds like you don't want to get rid of your excitement, just control it a bit? – user2808054 Oct 21 '14 at 17:18
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As I'm quite easily affected by alcohol and caffeine (being a lightweight and having terrible problems with focusing does that to you), I think I can add some stuff from my own experience here. The main thought to keep in mind is that this is different for each person individually, though. A dose that works for you may very well have an opposite effect for somebody else.

Alcohol generally has the quality that it makes you less nervous, and more adventurous. In the right dose, it can make you perform better because it relieves your nerves, while not significantly impairing your ability to focus on what you are doing. Additionally, you might be more inclined to "think out of the box" when you're a bit intoxicated, which can be quite nice when you're trying to create alternative/experimental sounds. However, it is very easy to overdo this. An excess of alcohol can negatively affect your ability to focus, which can influence your playing quite badly.

Caffeine's advantages are different (improved ability to focus, improved alertness, reduction of fatigue), but the word of caution is similar: take in too much caffeine and your motor skills can be affected badly due to your nerves being "on edge" too much, or by your mind becoming too restless.

In fact, this subject was once touched by the web comic XKCD, where the effects of alcohol on programming skills were described in a graph. This particular kind of graph is called Ballmer peak: there is a negative correlation between the x-axis (alcohol consumption) and y-axis (in this case, programming skills), with a very high peak for a small number of values on the x-axis. I would not exactly call this a scientific source since it comes from a webcomic, but many people will be able to confirm that there is definitely some truth to this.

Ballmer peak

The bottom line is that it's quite difficult to take in enough caffeine/alcohol for it to really help you, without overdoing it. If you do want to try it, experiment with it during rehearsals before doing it during concerts.

  • Ha. Nice insights. Nice XKCD reference. (are you a developer / programmer?) I am thinking about using a scientific approach WRT having a tipple of alcohol. Hmm. Maybe a Four Loco is what the doctor ordered... :) – Jason P Sallinger Oct 20 '14 at 13:25
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    There's of course a Ballmer Peak for performing music. We should probably call it, what... Vedder Peak? Morrison Peak? So many options... – Chochos Oct 21 '14 at 15:01
  • As to "scientific source" – xkcd is actually quite excellent in this regard, in particular the what if blog. Things like the Ballmer peak (with two ℓ, mind!) are of course a parody, but of a thing that really exists. – leftaroundabout Oct 21 '14 at 19:11
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I think you're approaching this with the right attitude of cautious attention to effects, one that can apply to almost any drug (except the really scary ones). The obvious next thing to try is half a cup of coffee. Or half-caff coffee.

Disclaimer: I work for starbucks, so I want to help you find a way to keep drinking coffee, in some form. :)

  • To address your disclaimer, I loves me some coffee. Plus, I recently bought an inexpensive but capable espresso maker. I like feeling amped when I play drums. I think I need try a submersion approach; eventually I'll learn to be selective and play only the tasty notes. – Jason P Sallinger Oct 19 '14 at 15:08
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    @JasonPSallinger It might be worth your while to investigate decaf coffee, too. One of the issues with decaf in general is that is costs money to remove the caffeine, so to make a $10/# of decaf it's really $7 or $8 beans at most. Starbucks, I'm proud to say, uses quality beans and passes-on the extra expense to you, so the decaf doesn't taste like crap. – luser droog Oct 21 '14 at 1:49
  • I've lived most of my life thinking decaf is a waste of resources. But lately I've been intrigued. I do like the taste. And, as far as I remember, I think there is more than just a trace amount of caffeine in decaf coffee. – Jason P Sallinger Oct 21 '14 at 10:09
  • Yes, decaffeination removes about 95%. So there's 5% left over. – luser droog Oct 21 '14 at 10:35
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I drank half a bottle of coke the other day (a big one) which led to a 4 hour session of music making. So I know where your coming from. Here are some things that help me.

  • Lows are underrated, don't knock them. Just make sure you are generally eating and drinking well so you do have the energy

  • I think what your describing is anxiety, so have a google of ways to deal with it e.g.

    • Muscle Tension
    • Breathing
    • Exercise
  • Focus on that special place you go in your mind when alone with an instrument and try take that to the rehearsal room, close your eyes and feel the music

  • To be fair, I have a good grasp on what anxiety is. This feeling is more about manic excitement. – Jason P Sallinger Oct 20 '14 at 13:21
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One solution could be to find some more spazz-loving dudes/dudettes and freak out with them together with all the coffee you like. When that's out of your system you're probably more mellow with the other band. Side effect: some interesting music might be produced. Win-win.

  • Yeah...these guys I am playing with now are where I want to be. And they tend each to be very steady; not very freakish at all. I may just have to "get my ya-yas out", and play on a coffee wire until I control the dragon (like @DaveEngineer suggested) – Jason P Sallinger Oct 20 '14 at 13:28
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    @JasonPSallinger: Nothing says you can't have both. More freak out is needed :). – Meaningful Username Oct 20 '14 at 13:42
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    I think I will look into creating a cocktail with espresso and bourbon. – Jason P Sallinger Oct 20 '14 at 13:48
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The answer, as you can tell from the above, is whatever works for you. The musicians in my band either drink beer or coffee depending on what they feel will work for them. Since they're all professionals and none of them are problem drinkers, it's not an issue for us.

Sometimes I have a beer or a glass of wine to relax. Being in a relaxed state of mind is very important for giving and taking feedback in a way that is constructive.

Sometimes one of our musicians will drink coffee at an evening rehearsal, but he can do that. I can't drink coffee after 2pm or I won't sleep. But if I'm practicing in the morning, coffee helps me to concentrate.

  • Valid points. I like the tea suggestion above. And while I do like being clear-headed for practicing, I think I might start carrying a flask. :) – Jason P Sallinger Oct 21 '14 at 17:31
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If you really want to understand how alcohol and caffiene affect the body then you need to take into account a great many things, and need to consider them rather as a stimulant and a depressant.

There's an interesting point about coffee that it makes you perform better than without it... but only if you're a regular coffee drinker. The reason for this is withdrawl symptoms of coffee, so the coffee drinker needs a boost to get to normal levels.

Make no mistake, both caffeine and alcohol are drugs which change the body chemistry.

I'm not going to get all preachy, I love the beatles too.the question you need to ask is 'What state do I want to have during these rehersals?'.

Joe Satriani used to drink high amounts of caffiene whenever he wanted to get a certain mood on a song during recording, and Circles is one of the songs he recorded on coffee. I don't know about you, but I can certainly hear it coming through!

Personally, and this is my opinion, in rehearsals what you want is consistency, so there should be no drugs in your system that alter your state.

If you really want to learn about how drugs affect the body then there is no better book in my mind than Drugs without the hot air, by David Nutt.

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I'm a kale-smoothie drinkin' musician. Now that we have set the tone: When practicing at home (notice: NOT driving-yourself-home), when practicing at home I find that my self-listening is less stressed when taking some of those melty melatonin vitamins, 9mg to be exact, and it helps to practice before bedtime. Naturemade has 'em and calls them vitamelts (melatonin) that dissolve under your tounge. So relax, guy!

Whether you decide to drink any coffee + malt liquor inventions at gig time is up to you and not within the scope of my answer to you .

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Great advice above, My preference is to start playing in whatever is a natural mode for you. You should try using your mind powers to get into the mood you want on the amped/mellow scale. Then after an hour or so of adrenaline and sounds pumping through you is a great time to have a puff or a drink. Extensive exercise can get you stuck in a mode and a mood alterer can break you out of the box. The key is be already warmed up and in the zone of playing when you self medicate. That way you won't be playing stony, buzzed or over hyped, and you also won't become dependent on anything to get the show going

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