Tired of making mistakes and being nervous about playing guitar live? Here is some good news: although it may seem like mistakes during live playing come “out of nowhere”, realize that ALL guitar playing mistakes are merely a result of ineffective or insufficient practice. This is GOOD to know, because it means your live guitar playing skills are in your direct control to improve. That said, when you practice guitar for live playing, there are several things you MUST learn to do and think about to ensure that you are ready to perform well and have fun doing it.
Stop Setting Yourself Up For Failure
When practicing to play guitar live, the first thing you have to do is readjust your expectations. Most guitarists think that the goal is to make “zero” mistakes when playing live. This is the wrong mindset to have. If you expect 100% perfection during live playing, you will always feel like a failure if/when you make even a small mistake (which inevitably happens to anyone when playing live). Yes, even the very best guitar players make mistakes on stage (and most people in the audience can never tell – even those sitting in the front row). However, you obviously should NOT settle for sloppy guitar playing or stop caring about mistakes completely. The first extreme makes you overly anxious about your playing, and that anxiety CAUSES mistakes to happen. Conversely, not caring about mistakes entirely, ensures that your guitar playing will always be sloppy when playing live.
Before I tell you how to actually practice guitar for live playing, there are 3 goals/expectations you must keep in mind at all times to improve this area of your guitar playing fast.
Goal #1. Strive For Reliability – NOT Perfection
Many guitarists struggle with playing guitar live because their playing is unpredictable and unreliable. Sometimes they play very well, but other times their performance is a complete disaster. Your first goal needs to be to eliminate this inconsistency and learn to play at a reliable level, every time, without drastic fluctuations in performance. Fact is, being able to play guitar with 85-87% accuracy every single time you play live is WAY more impressive than playing with 99% accuracy one time, then with 72% the next time, 86% the next time and 68% the time after that. Striving for consistency/reliability in your guitar playing is important, because it allows you to work on the second goal…
Goal #2. Bridge the Gap
As a guitar player looking to improve your live playing, you have 2 different skill levels to keep track of: your ideal skill level and your live guitar playing skill level. Your ideal skill level is measured by you playing guitar in optimum conditions (in your bedroom, while sitting down, with no distractions, with perfect temperature in the room, etc.). Your live guitar playing skill level is measured by your abilities when you are in a less-than-optimum situation (on stage, with blinding lights in your face, lots of distractions, loud music, room/venue temperature too hot or too cold, playing while walking around, etc.). So your second goal when practicing for playing guitar live, is to bridge (minimize) the gap between these 2 levels. This does NOT mean that you aim to make zero mistakes (as I wrote above) – it means a never-ending pursuit to get your live playing skills as close as possible to your ideal skill level (more about HOW to do this below).
Realize that your live guitar playing will always lag “somewhat” behind your true maximum abilities in an ideal environment. That said, you can do A LOT to minimize the gap between the two and make them very close to each other. The image below is a good way to visualize what I explained above.