“Fixing a Hole – or – How To Prep Songs For Performance”
Years ago I was at a “musicians and spouses” party” and the spouses were all joking about listening to the musician’s practice, and one of them said something like “and then you hear them practicing the same song they always practice, and sure enough, here comes the same mistake in the exact same spot”, and then everyone laughed. And it was at least in part nervous laughter on the parts of the musicians, because if they were being honest with themselves, they knew that they had many tunes that they knew “most of the way” toward being ready to perform, but never got them ALL of the way there.
If you see your “inner self” pointing a finger at the “outer one” right about now, you are not alone. Almost any level of musician has tunes that they would like to be able to perform, but for various reasons have never perfected. This is a guideline on how to finally do that with any song you choose, and will work every time if you use it – here goes:
As I have said before talking about learning and practice, your brain doesn’t know the difference between a mistake and what your conscious mind knows is ACTUALLY correct – it spits out whatever you have programmed into it, right or wrong. And this includes the little “oops, I forgot” areas in a tune that you have MOST of the way perfected, but not quite. So you attack these little problem areas just the same way that you learned all the rest of the tune:
Identify and isolate the problem areas – even write them all down 😉
SLOWLY Practice each section separately
SLOWLY Practice playing the transitions between the two areas
Section by section, integrate all together to develop the mental flow needed
Lastly, SLOWLY integrate everything into one tune.
I want to emphasize the word SLOWLY a couple of hundred more times until it gets into your consciousness as to WHY that’s so important: the reason why these “drop outs” in the flow of a tune even exist is because you went too quickly at one point and let a mistake be learned and not corrected.
To change a mistake like this, the brain REQUIRES a certain number of correct successive repetitions to replace the old programming. I have heard varying numbers on what this number is and I would estimate it to be in the neighborhood of 21 repetitions, but what I usually tell my students is that you will FEEL your anxiety levels lessen when you’ve reached this point, and when you have, throw in a few more repetitions for good measure.
I spend a lot of my time with private students practicing things with them, and just like a weight training coach, I tell them how many more reps I want and will make them start over after they make mistakes, and will almost always lower the tempo when that happens. You shouldn’t feel anxious when you are doing these reps, if you do, slow down. Take deep breaths if it’s hard for you to go that slow until you relax, and tell the voice in your head that says that you should be able to do it faster etc to shut up, and that you WILL play it faster later, just not NOW.
Now, here’s the major secret on how to do this: SET DEADLINES for when these tasks need to be finished.
There is an old saying that I remember from I think a grade school teacher that I’ve never forgotten: “The task increases to fill the amount of time allotted to complete it.” What this means is that if there is no deadline, it NEVER gets done.
How do you set a deadline for having songs ready for performance? Well, very simply: “Book” a “gig”.
What does that look like? Well, it could look lots of different ways depending on your performance level, so how about one or more of these?:
Schedule a jam session with musician friends where these songs will be included.
Have a party with your spouse, family, and friends where you have announced that where you play them (gotta do the announcement or it’s not a deadline).
Sit in at a jam session and call those tunes, assuming they are standards that others would know, or bring charts if you think that they are “readable”.
Book a gig at a club and add these tunes to the set that you rehearse.
Tell a friend or family member that you are committing to finishing learning some music, and ask them if they would help you by being an audience at a set time – and keep that date.
All of this stuff might sound too simplistic to work, or it might be totally intimidating, but I can tell you that it completely works because I have done it all of my life – I have many sayings that I live by, and this one I encourage you to consider using yourself:
“Deadlines Are Your Friend”
If you think about it, you have deadlines all day, everyday, and musical one’s are only intimidating because they involve a very personal aspect of us that can sometimes trigger fears about how good or talented we are or are not. And so I will leave you with another of my sayings that I have used to get myself through life:
“Comparison is the mortal enemy of creativity.”
No one has ever increased the amount of talent that they have by worrying about it, and since so many great musicians say that mostly all that they have ever done was just consistently WORK HARD, then who are you to say that they are wrong and not follow suit?
As you practice, try to not think about results or destinations and just PUT IN THE TIME AND DO THE WORK. And as much as you do on this, you will be guaranteed to be that much better than you were if you didn’t – so fire up those metronomes and get to it 😉
For more things to help you expand your playing, take a look at the wealth of knowledge here: