I remember times when I was younger and used to practice many, many hours a day (I wish I had the time to still do that now). I would feel like I can really play and then go and do a gig and none of what I practiced came out, or, even worse, I would feel I played very badly and wouldn’t understand how it is that after all those hours of hard work I still sucked. Well, here’s my theory:
There is a different part of your brain that gets developed when you play live verses when you’re practicing at home by yourself. It is important to do both, of course, but the reality is that while you should practice as much as possible—the true battlefield is the stage.
You are in your comfort zone, in every sense of the expression, when playing at home. If you don’t like the sound you can always tweak it, and if you make a mistake you can always try it again and no one but you will know. You are in a perfect world, and although that’s where you strive to be onstage, too, in many situations you encounter the exact opposite—and that’s where real life begins.
Here are a few typical obstacles you may deal with in a live situation:
The sound on stage sucks.
Your amp sounds different than it did at home, or on another stage, because every room is different.
The band doesn’t sound so great (endless possibilities here).
The lights are really bright and you can’t see anything.
There’s a really good-looking fan checking you out, which diverts your attention.
There’s a really not so good-looking fan vibing you which diverts your attention.
Now, after all that, you have one chance to play your heart out—to play all that stuff you’ve been practicing alone in your room for hours and hours—and its live or die up there.
And for that you need to develop the other part of your brain—the one that functions away from your comfort zone. You need to get used to jumping into any situation and still be able to deliver your craft no matter what the conditions. The more often you do it, the more relaxed you will be, the better you will become at getting your sound in a strange room, the better you will be at playing with a band no matter how good or bad it is, and the better you will be at staying focused and not blanking out under pressure.
Of course, if the conditions are really rough you probably won’t play as well as you would under better circumstances—and things are almost never perfect. But don’t worry. If you can get close enough to your goal then you will be good, so just play and enjoy playing—because that’s why we do this!