I was once surprised to meet a ukulele player who told me he’d never learned a song all the way through. This state of affairs rendered him unable to perform in public, a condition he liked very much. But these days I find it equally strange to discover people who believe that just learning all the words and chords to a song is enough to make it ready for performance.
When you’re sitting in the audience at an open-mic it’s pretty easy to see which players took the extra time and thought energy to make their performance into something special.
The magic of a performance lies in the extra things that you put into the arrangement and presentation. It’s true of any type of artistry. The real beauty of an exceptional piece comes through not so much in the broad expression of the work but more so in the choices of nuance and detail.
And you can do this no matter what skill level you’re at. An advanced player may develop a chord-melody solo or an intricate picking pattern to set their performance apart. Someone with only basic instrumental skills will have to use whatever is at their disposal. For example try being more playful with simple chords (e.g. adapt the basic C, F, G7 chords by adding or subtracting notes for extra melody elements) or use dynamics (by getting louder and softer in appropriate places) or enhance the song with changes in rhythm, different vocal qualities and physical expressions. Another route is to come up with a thought provoking introduction that gives the song context (or sets up the joke, if it’s a comedy song.)
There’s always more that can be done. Every painter knows that a painting is never completely finished. There’s always room for a touch-up here or a change there. Nevertheless there eventually comes a point when the artist has to say Stop and decides the work is ready to be shown.
In other words, when you’ve been working on a song and you think it’s close to being gig-ready take a step back and think about going further and deeper into it. Is there more you can do with it before putting it on display?
Your favourite entertainers have gone through this process for you so I’m sure your audiences will appreciate it if you do the same for them.
© Ralph Shaw 2017