On Stage And In The Zone

By Chris Ball

This series of articles will provide you with advice on how to get the most out your music performance on stage.

PART 1: Being prepared

The most elite athletes in the world can demonstrate amazing ability when they shift into 'the zone', and one thing that enables this, which all elite athletes have in common, is their tremendous work-ethic and intense training regime.

As a musician, if you apply a similar intensity and comprehensiveness to your musical training, it is very likely you will get a much better result on stage than if you are unprepared or have trained haphazardly.

There are several areas of training I want to cover in this article. Study and implement them all and you will will be taking great steps towards feeling confident in your musical preparation and achieving better results when stepping on stage.

  1. Solo practice

Your individual practice should reflect both the skills and repertoire required for you to perform the material you have been allocated for live performance.

Thus you should spend time practicing in both these areas of your musicianship to give you the best chance of delivering a great performance during band rehearsal and on stage.

To develop the right skills and be able to play a song more easily, isolate one of the more challenging areas of the song and start to derive exercises from it, with a focus on isolating as few techniques as possible and using repetition to build proficiency. For example, if there is a section of the song featuring a sweep-picked arpeggio, then try to create an exercise which is similar and uses the technique of sweep-picking. Drill the exercise for a few mins, then return to the original part of the song and do the same. For better results, I even recommend exaggerating the difficulty of the exercise, so that the original part of the song actually seems easier by comparison. In both cases, it is critical that each repetition is correct, or at least an improvement over the last, otherwise bad habits and technique will be developed. Slowing down can make this process easier.

Make sure you take note of each of these exercises and make it a habit to practice them on a regular basis until they become a natural part of your playing. With persistent use of this approach, the song will become much easier to play from start to finish, due to improved skills in areas that are relevant to the song.

To build your repertoire and learn each song more effectively, deconstruct each song into short sections and practice them individually. When you can play each section individually, begin to rotate between each section of the song in random order. It is essential that you resist the temptation to always practice the song from start to finish, as if you do this you will develop a dependence to always play one section before the other. This can mean if you forget a small section of the song, you may get lost finding the next section and the whole performance can fall apart. If you have practiced each section in random order, you will not have that same dependence and will be able to recover moving into each section more easily. In addition, you will still need to practice each section in the correct order so you remember and replicate this order during the performance. The bottom-line is: Do both!

  1. Band rehearsal

Maximise each opportunity in order to grow as a band. In the busy 21st century world we live in, band rehearsal time is extremely precious, so make sure you have all individually learned all of your parts thoroughly before you get together as a group. If you try learning a song or even part of a song during rehearsal, not only will this irritate your band mates who will have to wait for you or assist you, it is also a waste of time for everyone. Thus, if you are individually unprepared, it will be disappointing for everyone, as the opportunities for everyone to meet together for several hours at once are limited as well as costly in terms of time, money and energy. This means when they do occur, all band members will probably feel they should be taking full advantage of the opportunity and moving the band forward in it's level of ability. This cannot happen until each member has achieved a good level of proficiency with their own part of each song. Make sure there is good communication prior to each rehearsal and any issues that are the responsibility of an individual are resolved prior to rehearsing not during rehearsal. Rehearsals should never be taken for granted and it should be clear to all band members that all individual parts must be ready before rehearsal takes place.

During rehearsal, don't feel compelled to always practice each song in it's entirety. In fact, it is better to focus on the problem areas of each song and repeat those sections as many times as possible to efficiently overcome the challenging parts of songs, without spending excessive time on the parts which no longer need attention and have become very easy for the band to perform.

  1. Visualisation

Visualisation is a very powerful technique used by many peak performers, including elite athletes and can be extremely helpful in preparing you for an otherwise daunting situation, like being on stage. Find a quiet place to sit and close your eyes and imagine playing through an entire song on stage and in front of people. Create such detail and vividness in your mind's eye that it's almost as if you are already there performing the song. If you practice this regularly and with many songs, you will begin to feel a greater sense of familiarity, confidence and ease when you perform them. Visualisation should be practiced in addition to physically practicing the songs, as it will help you know the song on an even deeper level and will do wonders to your live performance.

Visualisation is an extremely powerful tool and could be a significant factor in your improvement as a performing musician if you take the time to implement it on a regular basis. The good news is, there are many opportunities to do this, as you don't even need your instrument, nor do you need to bother anyone by doing it. The next time you are on a train, bus, plane or waiting for an appointment, give it a try!

Chris Ball is a professional guitarist, singer, composer and guitar instructor. He actively records and tours as solo artist and as founding member of hard rock band Black Fuel, and resides in the South-East suburbs of Melbourne. Check out Chris' guitar lessons here: www.frankstonguitarlessons.com.au