Lessons about performing, lesson thirteen: Practice! Practice! Practice!

I’ve heard it said that verbosity is a sign of a poor mind. Well then, I must be an intellectual pauper, ’cause I’ve got a plethora of words. (Plethora doesn’t mean what most people think it means, by the way. It’s an overabundance, not a shitton. It’s more than you need. But, I digress.)

We’ve made it to #13! I’m not actually sure how I’m not out of ideas for this series, but here we are. Earlier, I was thinking that I was pretty much out of ideas and then this one popped into my head.

What? You thought I actually planned these things? Surely you jest! No… No, I don’t. I just mash the keyboard until something comes out at the other end. That might explain my rather lengthy articles.

(I’d hitherto blamed weed, but button mashing actually sounds more formal. We’re fucking high-minded and high-society on this here site!)

Where was I?

Oh, yes… I was telling you to click the following link to learn what it is that I’m doing. This magical blue stuff takes you to a page with some information and a link to all the other articles in this series.

Basically, I smash the keyboard with my fingers and out pops things you should probably know if you’re considering a career as a performing musician. Ain’t nobody put this shit in a book before, so you get it from me. Sorry. I wish I could just say, “Read this book!” Alas, performing musicians don’t appear too interested in writing this stuff down.

So, my dear reader, you’re stuck with me and all these frivolous words.

Without further ado, on to our next lesson!

Rule #13: Practice! Practice! Practice!

I’m reminded of a joke…

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Take the subway to 57th and it’s down the street on your right.
(Technically, I just made that joke up. I’m also going by memory, so the directions may not be correct.)

Ha! I crack me up! I bet you thought I was going to say, “Practice, practice, practice!”

Nah… You can practice all you want and you’re still not going to get to play Carnegie Hall. (Well, you might – but don’t plan on it. Let’s be realistic. I mean, FFS, you’re reading my blog – that’s a strike against you right there.)

So, you’re made it. You’re doing your first gig next month and you have everyone you need on-board. You borrowed money from a loan shark named Vinnie and now you can rent the gear you need. Your good buddy Josh has a friend who says he’ll be there to play bass and Josh is pretty sure he can rent a drum kit but he hasn’t played since he got married. Fortunately, he’s divorced now and that means he’ll have plenty of time to practice!

You sure as shit weren’t expecting me to write fairy tales, were you? If so, go visit Rolling Stone Magazine. I tell you how it really is and don’t mince words.

You’re going to be hungry, you’re going to want to quit, you’re going to encounter drama the likes of which have been unknown since middle school, and it’s going to suck. But, if you’re one of the lucky few with dedication, you’re going to keep doing it. Don’t let me stop you from trying – in fact, I’m hoping you all try. I just don’t want to lie to you. It’s a lot of hard work.

Seriously, the misconception of ease is prevalent. It’s not easy. It’s not even remotely easy. Even if you’re big and popular, it’s still not easy.

It’s worth it, however. It’s worth it because sometimes the drunk people all manage to wiggle both in unison and in time. It’s worth it because you share an emotional experience with nearly countless people. It’s worth it because you bring people a chance to emote, bring back memories, and create new memories. It’s worth it because, if you’re one of the lucky few, you’ll thrive on this hard work – and it’s seldom thankless work. No, most people are very grateful. It’s worth it because it’s worth it to the audience.

And, it’s for those reasons that you owe them quality. They’re paying their hard earned cash to let you prance about on the stage like you’re a fucking rock star. The least you can do is play to the best of your ability. The least you can do is bring them new material and give them quality music while giving them a great performance. So…

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Practice isn’t rehearsal. Practice is drills and exercises. Rehearsals are playing full songs. Practice is playing a subset of that song until you nail it just right. Practice is running scales – for hours. Practice is learning new chord progressions and working them out in your head so that you can work them up the fretboard without thinking about it.

Practice isn’t fun. No, it’s horrible. Practice is mind-numbing and dull. It’s endless repetition. It’s doing it not just until you get it right – but continuing to do it until you get it right every single time. Playing guitar is, more than anything else, muscle memory. Your practice trains your muscles to act in the appropriate way. I also strongly suggest learning good form.

If you’re curious, I try to practice for a minimum of two hours per day. I then rehearse for two hours per day. I then will find extra time during my day to just play. That’s when I play stuff that doesn’t go in a set list.

That’s when I play stuff for my own enjoyment. That’s when I play guitar ’cause I absolutely love playing guitar. That’s a limited amount of time – but it’s my time. I practice and rehearse so that I have time for my own enjoyment, as well as to ensure I give the paying customers the quality they expect from me.

On a good day, I’ll fit my guitar into my grubby little mitts for as many as six hours. I’ve done this for just about five decades – without many breaks and with only a small subset of those breaks being my choice.

The key takeaway from that is that I’ve been doing that for nearly five decades. No matter how good people think I am, I still practice. I still practice daily. I still practice with purpose. I still improve. I still learn. I still grow as a musician.

And, that’s one of the great things about playing an instrument. There’s always room to get better. You may think you’re at your best, but you’ll approve. (I’ll write about plateaus at some point.) If you want a pithy statement, then have this: “You get out of it pretty much exactly what you put into it and, sometimes, you get more out of it than you feel you’ve earned.”

You need to not just practice, but your whole band needs to practice. I can tell when my bandmates haven’t been practicing. I can hear when a performing artist is out of sorts and that may be because they’ve not been practicing. You also need to rehearse as a band. My current band rehearses for four hours per week, as a complete band, at an absolute minimum. When they’re able to feel comfortable quitting their day-jobs, we will double that number. We also have full dress-rehearsals that are in addition to the above rehearsals.

Do you know what my favorite compliment is? When someone tells me, “You sounded tight.” You get to be tight by practicing as an individual and rehearsing as a band. You need to set aside time to do both.

I find a good rule of thumb is, “Half your playing time should be practice time.” If you’re just learning or never plan on being more than a hobby player then you might only be able to play for 5 hours per week. Of those five hours, 2.5 of those hours should be dedicated to just practice.

It doesn’t stop. It never stops. You should practice until the day you die. I don’t care if you have 4 Grammies, 27 albums, and have been admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t. You still need to practice. You owe it to yourself and, more importantly, you owe it to your audience.

Remember, some of them are going without simply so they can afford tickets/cover to see you. They are your fans who buy merchandise to support you. They pay your salary because they absolutely adore you and the musicianship you demonstrate. There are no professional musicians without someone paying for it. They’re the ones that enable you to do what you love. Give them good experiences and good stories. That’s what they’re paying you for.

This one is longer than I expected it to be. Then again, I did warn you that I had an overabundance of words. Feel free to shout some suggestions at me. I’m sort of low on ideas for this series and I think that’s just because I’m forgetting stuff. Please leave them as a comment here, on this site, as opposed to making me dig them up from a bunch of other places. You can also send them to me by way of this brand new page. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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