MemberJune 3, 2018 at 5:04 pm
Updating for May:
The May 1st open mic had more sour spots than I had planned for, but I knew that taking an entire month to iron them out would not be an effective use of time.
Something that has become apparent is that by committing to one open mic a month, I spend 4 weeks preparing for two songs regardless of their difficulty. At first I thought this restriction would ensure that there would be time to get any two songs down solid through deliberate practice. In reality, easy songs (like Dead Flowers) would be gotten down quickly in a week and hard songs (like Blackbird) would still not be performance ready after 4 weeks.
Another thing is that the primary goal of open mic is to harden up my performance nerves. Learning more technical material and expanding my catalog of songs can be done later when I have the strengthened capability to pull them off. Right now performance is paramount, and that will only improve through performing more times per month than once.
Knowing this, I changed up my practice and performance routines. Since there is absolutely nothing to lose at open mic, I decided to play every two weeks instead of every month to take advantage of repeated exposure to being onstage. I would not push myself into doing harder material trying to impress the audience (they never seemed impressed by hard stuff anyway). Taking a cue from my retreat practice, I’d let myself practice as many songs a month that I felt comfortable with instead of imposing a limit trying to focus more time on two of them.
I also bought a small PA system so I could get accustomed to how the microphone and guitar responded to my singing and playing in real time. It’s a terrible waste of time to practice for weeks and have it shot because of a trivial technical glitch that could have been avoided.
May 15th: Rocket Man (Elton John) and Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show)
I took a step back and chose two easy songs that I had very little difficulty with at the retreat and chose to emphasize getting their amplification right as I practiced them. Rocket Man revealed itself to be much more difficult to sing than I gave it credit for when every little detail was amplified, and I also found out that to sound right, my face had to be glued to the microphone the entire time. No wonder my voice was hit or miss at performances sometimes! Something as trivial as moving my head while performing would drop the sound, force the soundboard guy to try to correct it, and confuse and disorient both of us leading to me making a mistake.
Adjusting my guitar playing technique to the PA went much more smoothly than I had anticipated. Being more assertive with my left hand and keeping to tighter timing did a lot to quiet noisy strings.
There were definitely butterflies when I got onstage, but I felt a better sense of command over them because I had done something to mitigate the most significant problem not being able to work with the PA system. As soon as the the sound check was done and the first line of Rocket Man went off well I knew that practicing with the microphone had definitely paid off- in fact I pushed myself a little harder than I was planning because my fears of the house PA system turned out to be overblown.
Wagon Wheel came off amazingly- I had been hesitant to ever play it because it’s probably in the top 3 most played acoustic songs ever. However, the boost in confidence I had over the PA let me throw myself into the song much more fearlessly and the audience absolutely loved it.
May 29th: Let it Be (The Beatles), Where is My Mind (The Pixies)
For Let it Be I decided to give another shot at putting in a lead fill since it’s in the Key of C which if the best one for using open string fill techniques. I also added a lead fill to the end of Where is My Mind as an outro so it wouldn’t be a sudden change in the volume of the song.
Practicing the lead part of Let it Be was difficult until I realized that it was exactly double the tempo of the rest of the song, meaning that if I played the chords to every other beat of the metronome I could go into beat for beat timing when the solo started. Another thing I observed from other people doing lead fills was that they only added texture for small intervals- if it went on for more than one measure the song’s energy would drain out. I alleviated this be making sure there was at least one chord or double stop in each measure. This also addressed the fear that my confidence would wane if the song started sounding thin as I played it. By having a rock to grab onto in the form of a chord for every measure, the lead part felt less daunting.
I put much less practice pressure on Where is My Mind- because it’s an irreverent song I wanted it to have a natural feel when it was performed.
As luck would have it, the open mic host had an iPhone camera stand pointed at the stage that fit my phone model. I realized that I could record myself to scrutinize later on, specifically to see if getting the lead fills perfectly was as crucial to the songs as I thought.
There were two mistakes in Let it Be, but taking a nod from the Bulletproof course I let the camera do the work of being the critic and focus only on performing the song. When I watched the tape afterwards, neither mistake was noticeable or even significant- letting go and playing through looked much better from the outside than it felt on the inside. There were older people in the crowd who loved getting to hear the song, and that carried much more weight than fretting over a missed note did.
Where is my mind ended up being a huge crowd pleaser. The lead guitar part is very prominent during the last scene of Fight Club where most people know the song from, but it’s almost impossible to work in on one guitar- even Frank Black does not do the lead part when he plays it solo. Rearranging the song a little, I threw in a twist by adding it to the end of the song as an outro when people thought it had ended with the root chord. I could tell that the audience felt the spontaneity and loved it!