I'm a bit of a lurker but the posts on improvisation got me thinking and I hope some of you find
these thoughts of interest.
The importance of being a good performer when playing in front of an audience is often forgotten in
more experimental music. While I don't think there is much to be learned by the song and dance
routine of pop lip syncers - I do think that being aware of one's role as a performer is very
Its important to share your excitement about creating music with your audience. Equipment
malfunctions, computer crashes, weird sound glitches - all these things that do unfortunately
happen in a live setting can be part of making good music. You just have to have the right mindset
as an improvisor and performer to make them work. When you are in your studio - you can just stop
and restart, taking 30 minutes or more to solve the bug. When performing you have to find a way to
make these things part of the performance if at all possible.
There's the old jazz axiom - play a wrong note - well then play it wrong another 3 times to make it
seem like you did it on purpose and make it the right note. I use this all the time.
A bass player friend of mine told me about something Charlie Haden told him. Feeling bad and just
can't play in tune on a particular day? Just use it. Play fully out of tune and make that what you are
exploring. The same could be about gear malfunctions. Gear making bizarre sounds - go with it -
make your improv about exploring what the heck is coming out of your gear.
Another big thing is not to tell people that these are mistakes. If you do then you think of them as
mistakes and consider it a bad performance. You just need to think of them as challenges adding to
the excitement of live improv and part of the process. Often the weird mishaps are the most exciting
interesting part of an improv. For me I always love the challenge of man - how am I gonna get out of
this and make it musical.
For instance I was struck by some bizarre momentary impulse while performing at BEMF with Rick
Walker to use a Bob Marley loop. (My sister's husband is a huge fan and was at the show.) It
completely stuck out and sounded just awkward and weird to me. In the past I would have just
yanked it out and hoped that people forgot about it. Now instead I kept it there and did everything I
could to make it work. Rick started singing along and it was a great surreal moment. If it had been in
a studio I would have just yanked it out and edited out this "mistake" later.
I also think that no matter how you feel after a show it important to leave self reflection and criticism
till after the show and you have hopefully had a chance to listen to your performance again later. So
often I listen after a show that I think just was awful and quite like it given a weeks space. I think it is
healthy as a musician to always be striving to something better and being dissatisfied is not a bad
thing. You can always learn from listening to past performances.
The issue arises when at a show you let the audience know you are not happy with a set. Instead of
sharing the wonders of making music it becomes about your ego and you take away from listeners
ability to enjoy your music. Self reflection later as to how the next performance can be better is great
- but make sure you realize you are performing for an audience and as such be gracious to them for
having taken the time to listen to your music.
These are all performance issues and can change bad improv into good improv. Also I highly
recommend reading the book Effortless Mastery - http://www.amazon.com/Effortless-Mastery-
While I don't agree with all the book says it makes some great points about how to practice being in
the zone for performing.