Practicing Guitar -Repurposing Bad Gigs

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Sometimes we all end up on a gig that is less then ideal. The rehearsal space may be bad, nobody may be listening or the club may have poor sound. That’s just to name a few.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that can’t be learned or practiced. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to practice new things in a performing environment. Often, musicians will shut down in these situations and become grumpy, depressed or demotivated.

When that happens you miss out on some valuable research time. In this blog I want to talk about some of the practice opportunities in these less then desirable situations. Infact, they may even become desirable.

What If you’re on a gig and the musicians are less experienced then you? This is a great opportunity to get good at your communicating skills. You can practice your cuing skills. A good bandleader can keep everybody together. Don’t just sit in the back and let it all go up in flames. Keep your eyes up and telegraph each section. The bridge coming up? Look around a bar before and try to catch everyone’s eyes. Get everyone on the same page.

Counting Bars

How may bars are in a song? How many bars are in each section? Can you make a mental map of all the bars in the song and remember when you’re not playing? This is a great concentration exercise. It’s also helpful to keep your mind from thinking about how miserable the situation could be. But, it’s not miserable because you’re using it to your advantage.


Have you tried playing around with the dynamics in each section? Lay back on the verse in a way you haven’t. Lean forward on a bridge in a way you haven’t.

Picking Technique

Playing everything with a pick? Why not try the same part fingerstyle or with a thumb pick? How about hybrid picking? This is a prime situation for working in new techniques. What better way then to build on something you already know? 

You can try a different pick attack for a more aggressive or mellow sound. You can change the position of the pick relative to the neck or bridge and see how that affects the tone and transients.

Open Tunings

What about playing the song in an open tuning? Listen to how each tuning changes the timbre of the instrument. Try using different Voicing’s. Playing all Root 6 Voicing’s? Why not try al Root 5 Voicing’s? What about Root 4 Voicing’s? You get the idea.

Melody Lines

If you have parts where you play clear melody lines why not try to harmonize them? Maybe 3rds? 4th’s? Octaves?

New Gear

We all get new gear and need to learn how to use it. To fully understand new gear you must use it in real world situations. Take this time to get cozy with your new toys. Twist all the knobs.

Ofcourse, you need to learn to do this without being disruptive. The point is to not be disrespectful. You should still be doing your best and being considerate no matter what gig you’re on. You can however “pack” a lunch of personal points to work on.


How good are you at riding your volume knob ? Or using a volume pedal? Spend the time trying to get better control of these skills.


Learning theory? Use the time to solve theory problems in your head. While playing a note, think about the scale position of the note in the key. Example: If you’re playing a B note and the band is applying a G major chord, what scale interval are you playing? It’s a Major 3rd. There are so many exercises you can create.

Crappy Sound

You can use this time to try different settings on your amp. Fiddle with the dials. Try to find a way to make the experience better. Don’t just put the horse blinders on. The more you know your gear the better.


Are you comfortable with singing the notes before you play them? This is a great way to make use of the time. If you can make it work on these gigs you will feel more comfortable in higher pressure situations. Sing along with every note you play. Sing very rhythm you play. Nobody will hear you so don’t get all weird and self-conscious. You’ll quickly start to notice how connected you are to the music. 

Heightened Awareness

Pay attention to what’s going on. Where did someone make a mistake and what was it? You should not be doing this for purposes of calling out other musicians. This lands in the keep it to yourself category, unless asked. No need to be a know it all or hurt peoples feelings. The point of the exercise is simply to be super aware of everything that’s going on.

Did someone cut a bar short? Did someone play a bad note? Was it a half step below or above? Be in the arrangement at all times, but make sure you’re rock solid on you own. Know all the nooks and crannies.


Do you sing or are you learning to sing harmonies? You can sing along to yourself and find harmonies. Nobody has to hear you and probably wont with the volume in the room. Tip: Wear an earplug so you can hear your own voice.


Can you play a song with a capo on a different fret? Why not try. Placing a capo on different fret gives you access to special combinations not available otherwise. Example: Putting a capo on Fret 3 allows thou t play a G chord in an E shape. Putting a capo on Fret 5 allows you to play a G chord in a D shape. Try them all. 

Counting Rhythms

Often we play things but don’t think about what the rhythms are. Try thinking about every rhythm you play. Is it an eighth note followed by a quarter? Sixteenth note followed by a dotted 8th rest? Justify everything. See the rhythms in your head. This is also a great focus and concentration exercise and steers you away from depression island.

You see, there are no bad gigs. Sure, some are more desirable then others. Still, you can make good use of all the time you have to grow. On your next brunch gig, turn lemons into lemonade and add vodka.

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Guitarist Mark Marshall located at 51 Macdougal St #264 , New York, NY . Reviewed by 11 customers rated: 4.9 / 5
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