Quite often people ask me about how long I have played guitar, how many hours a day I practice, and things of that nature.
I think the more important issue is “how” and “why” I practice. I’d like to convey to you a painful, but ultimately great – story from my past regarding practice and stage preparation.
Maybe this will resonate within you, and give you some ideas about what you need to be doing, practice wise.
I was 15 years old, and was a classical guitar student at the Bloomingdale House of Music in NYC. Each year, they had an end of year recital. I was an older advanced student, so other’s (and my) expectations of my playing were high.
I had been learning the Courante of Bach’s 3rd cello suite, and could play it pretty well – but only from reading the score.
So…I went out on stage thinking I knew it, and fell on my face. Had to stop playing after 3 bars.
My mind went blank.
My stomach sank.
Lather, rinse, repeat. I tried 2 more times, and fell on my face.
The piece just pooped out after 3 bars. Oh God!!!!
Parents were holding their hands over their faces in horror. It was the ultimate “knot in the stomach from humiliation” moment for everyone in the room. Horrible, thunderous silence. Zero humor.
The director of the school came onstage and put his hands on my shoulders.
“Now everyone,” he said “what do we do when this happens?” Oh great, now he was making an example of me. Was this supposed to make me feel better?
I wanted to die.
I then played a piece I knew “Adelita” by Tarrega…and…shuffled off.
Afterwards, everyone was telling me “No, really you were good. Don’t feel bad, that has happened to us all, and can happen to anyone.” Yeah right. They tried to make me feel better. It sucked – they knew it, and I did too.
This was the worst moment in my life up until that time….but little did I know the fantastic lesson contained therein.
Now, when I practice my arrangements, I repeat, repeat, over over over. I vowed that this would never happen again. And it hasn’t.
Sometimes at home I STILL practice pieces I have played 10,000 times, and I wonder if I am crazy by doing them once more…and then I realize….being “bulletproof” for stage is more important to me than being “creative” on stage. Creativity has a different place, for me.
I still practice “Superstition”, “Billie Jean” and all the songs I could play onstage years ago. Just to keep em in check.
And 2 nights ago I played a 1000 seat theater after a plane ride, car rental, hotel check in and a frozen TV dinner as my meal.
I was exhausted, but the performance was solid, bulletproof and the people loved it.
What do you think served me and the audience on stage?
What served me was the ability to slam dunk 2 bulletproof arrangements. This only comes from repetition, repetition, repetition.
By doing this repetition, the fingers and music are auto pilot – in a sense.
This way you have mental resources to deal with everything else: communication with the audience, nerves, exhaustion, a weird crackle in a patch cable, lights shining in your face and so on.
Now….get to work! 🙂