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What to Learn from Performance

If you want to play at OOTB:

Get to OOTB as early as you can and put your name on the blackboard. Once the compere has arrived, he or she will speak to people in the order their names appear on the blackboard, offering them a slot. After all the slots are full, the next two or three are in the queue for a ‘squashee’ slot: i.e. one song.

If you’ve played a full slot one week, you can’t do it again the following week: you can, however, get a squashee slot the following week if one is available.

If you don’t manage to get a spot – come back next week! Numbers fluctuate quite a lot and just because the roster was full by 7:15 this week doesn’t mean it’ll be the same next week. It’s easy to forget that we are on stage to entertain the audience, and we need to find a way to connect with them rather than just become immersed in ourselves. To entertain, you need to perform the music, not just play it. There are a million different styles of performance, and you need to find one that suits your own personality, and the type of music you play …. we’re not going to prescribe one ‘correct’ way of performing, but practice practice practice will help you find the style that suits you…

Nothing beats just playing live as much as possible…

Performing the songs you have spent hours/days/weeks slaving over in your bedroom can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of your life . . . and it can be hard to control the nerves in order to do the song real justice. An amazing song can be lost on an audience if a dodgy performance distracts from it (conversely, a distinctly average song can get a great reception if performed well). So how do we get around this? As we’ve said, being well practiced beforehand is incredibly important, but we all know that however many times we can perfom perfectly at home, being on a stage in front of a pub full of expectant punters is an entirely different matter! Now, I would like to be able to give you an easy answer about how to control one’s nerves, but there is nothing better than just practicing performing. Play the open mic circuit, and try and play in a mixture of places – the places where everyone listens intently to you (OOTB, the Listening Room), as well as the places where you have to work at it to get attention (the Blind Poet on Tuesday nights for example).

Things to practice while performing:

1. Eye Contact. Look at the audience – it’s easy to get distracted watching your hands on the guitar or looking at the floor – the audience are more likely to ‘connect’ with you if you look at them. Try looking at the back of the room above people’s heads instead of the floor, if you really can’t eye-ball anyone; it can give the impression you are looking at people even if you are not (sneaky!).

2. Talking between songs. Try and say something between songs, even if it’s just a wee ‘hello’, or an introduction to the song. Although you might say nothing because you’re nervous, it can come across to the audience as just a bit rude (even more so if it’s a gig they’ve paid to get into…). You’ve got to be pretty amazing, and have a particular brand of ethereal noise-scape music (see Sigur Ros) to really get away with saying nothing at all. Some music needs less talking than others, but speaking once or twice during the set won’t do any harm. On the flip-side, don’t go on too long explaining the deep meaning of the song to the audience, let them work some of it out for themselves, and you dont want to eat into your playing time, or even more importantly, the next person’s perfomance time! ditto with faffing – see below.

3. Not faffing. This can be tricky at open mics if the guy/girl before has been hammering the strings and knocked them all out of tune, or if the house capo has gone walk-about, or the strap’s not the right length for you, or you cant find your set list etc etc … but try to spend a minimum amount of time faffing before/between songs – no-one wants to see it, and people in an audience loose attention very quickly, and once you’ve lost them, it’s hard work getting them back!


Be wary of excessive alcohol consumption to control nerves – you might think you sound great, but the chances are, your ability to play has gone downhill a bit!!

After the performance:

Try and think about what you did well, so you can consolidate it next time; and what you didnt do well, so you can do it different next time. You could ask a friend in the audience – “did i look up much?”. Sometimes you feel like you’ve been making eye contact but in reality you have only peeked up once or twice. Ask if your friend could understand what you said in between songs. I, for one, just mumble at top speed when i’m nervous.

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