How to Apply Your Practice Routine to Real-Life Playing


If you have ever played on a stage or in front of an audience, you are aware of how different it is compared to regular bedroom practice. Playing your guitar or any instrument at home or during beginner guitar lessons, is much easier and relaxing without the stares of strangers! In this article we will give you some practice tips on how to better prepare for the stage.

Play Your Scales from Known Songs

This is common advice, and boring, but it is essential. And while it is fun to spice up your practice, you need to keep it bland at times. Especially if you want to learn to shred and sweep pick you will need to obsessively play your guitar scales and work on muscle memory with repetition. It can’t all be fun, and pain will be involved.

But you can approach your music scales and modes in a way that is more suitable for public playing. When you first learn a scale, find a popular song that uses it and then start breaking that song down. Watch how the melody moves around the scale, pay attention to any times that we have notes that are not usually in the scale. If you learn your scale in song form, you can get a better idea of the vibe or emotion that scale provides.

If you can’t find a song, just ask! Google, Reddit, and other social media will always help you find the scale and song you need. And if you find there is some argument over the song, investigate why. Music is ambiguous and there are many ways to find the right answer, a song that’s hard to break down is a great challenge. You can always use a scale finder to help with this.

Play Your Chord Progressions

The most important advice here is to learn as many songs as possible. Every single practice, try out new songs. You don’t even have to completely learn them, just look at their scales used and chords. Try pulling up a guitar chord chart to learn new chords! When you hear a song on the radio, write it down and later try to learn it on your guitar. Play every song of every genre you can.

As you do this you will see patterns and chord progressions repeatedly. If you have ever seen a musician get up on stage and just suddenly start playing with strangers, that is because they likely know their chord progressions. There are literally about 10-20 chord progressions that are used all the time in popular music. Once you know them you will have quite the repertoire. A chord finder can be your best friend.

And as you learn more songs you will soon be able to use those same chord progressions to write your own tunes. Practice playing other people’s work enough and it will be easy to create your own. Just remember to know as many popular songs as possible, as the audience usually likes to hear something familiar. (When playing a new composition it is best to squeeze it in between known songs, don’t tell the audience it’s new!)

Learn your Rhythms

We are trying to get the point across that you need to learn as many songs as possible, because versatility is essential on stage. You never know what people may want to hear and it is best to be prepared. You can get started quickly with beginner guitar songs. So don’t just play your scales and chords, learn as many strumming patterns and rhythms as possible.

Every genre has its set of drum grooves and bass lines, once you know them and common chord progressions, you are on your way to music mastery. Play every style of music you can, whether you like it or not! Try taking these new strums and picking methods and applying them to different chord progressions. Again this is a great way to start writing your own music.

As you study your scales, chord progressions, and rhythms be sure to develop your ear training. Make sure you are not always looking at sheet music or tablature, challenge yourself to break a song down as much as possible just by listening.

Start with a Small Audience

So you have been breaking your songs down and studying their inner workings. That’s great, and if you are doing it daily, you are likely advancing in your skills. But practicing alone is not good practice if you want to perform for the public. You need to start by finding an audience. And while family is nice, they are probably going to be way too kind and not provide any useful critique.

An online audience is also not the best gauge of your abilities as the Internet is simply flooded with guitarists playing covers and originals. You need to find a coffeeshop, camp, library, senior home, or even the right corner of the street (be sure to check busking laws and if you are allowed to play music). It is essential to get a feel for what it’s like to play all this material with eyeballs looking only at YOU!

Before playing for any small audience, it is important to be prepared. Look back on all the songs you have learned and pick the appropriate ones. Daycares and senior homes are not going to want to hear you shred through Van Halen’s “Eruption!” A kid’s song or jazz standard will be more appropriate. Play what your audience wants, not what you like. You may even have to know and play songs you hate!

Practice More Than You Think

While this is all great advice, it is still not preparing you to completely play on stage. Playing on stage or in front of people alone is frightening as hell, even seasoned performers deal with stage fright. Many older artists stop performing as they simply get tired of the stress, it really is tough.

The only way to prepare for that is to practice. Once again, the only way to prepare for stage fright is lots and lots of practice!! Have a list of appropriate songs that are prepared and even practice extra songs in case you need more or something changes. Pay attention to the mood of your audience to know what to play.

A great performer can do all this effortlessly, but this is only because they practiced more than you. Remember that playing on stage requires the same amount of work as your scales and chords, so it will take a few times to get it right. And even with preparation you will have to deal with failure and the occasional annoying audience. It’s not a decision to take lightly if you aren’t ready for some let downs.

The key is to practice your guitar as much as possible and stay in the range of what you know. You can play just 10 easy guitar songs or be a master shredder if you are comfortable with the audience. If you have put the time into your studying and practice, people will think you are a great musician. If you take the time to practice your audience engagement they will also think you are a great performer!

By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer