Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Keeping a Gig Log

I keep a gig log, and up until recent years it's been pretty extensive. Why? Because I want to get better, that's why.

A gig log is simple to start, easy to maintain, and one of the most beneficial things I've ever done.

It doesn't have to be fancy either, just a spiral notebook will do...

While in college I maintained a pretty strict practice routine (i.e. Everyday!) and tried to "log" as many hours as I could. Some days that was 1...some it was 9 or 10...the average was 3-5 hours. This was on top of schoolwork and gig practice. This isn't bragging by the way, it's just what I did.

When you get into a long practice routine, it's easy to get distracted by...well, by pretty much anything. The answer? ORGANISATION!!! An unorganised practice time is almost as good as not practicing at all. The problem is, how to organise it. I won't get into all the details of that today, just one aspect...

The Gig Log

The problem I ran into when I played gigs were the mistakes...pretty obvious answer. It wasn't actually the mistakes themselves, but the process of rectifying those mistakes and using them as a learning opportunity instead of an opportunity to beat up on myself.

The only bad mistake is the one you don't learn from

I would play the gig, pack up, think about all of the mistakes I made on the way home, go to sleep, wake up, grab a cup-o-joe, sit down to practice...and I had forgotten 99% of the areas I needed to work on. One day I had a stroke of genius...I incorporated an ancient technique known as handwriting and decided to log all of the mistakes I was making. Pretty ingenius, right? I'm just sad I wasted so much time before I thought about the most obvious answer.

I used a simple spiral notebook and kept it in my practice room. As I was playing a gig I would mentally note the mistakes I was making and as soon as I got home from the gig, I would write them down. I eventually took it as far as bringing the log book to gigs with me and jotting quick notes on my breaks about what went wrong during the last set. It takes all of 5 minutes to do this. It doesn't have to be a super detailed definition of what went wrong, how angry the bass player was, what feelings you felt at that particular moment, how the bandleader yelled at you afterwards, how you ran to the bathroom crying and threw up in the toilet from the disgrace of messing up the intro fill to "Brick House"...

A couple of words will suffice.

Example: Groove for "Rosanna", Doubles around the kit, jazz waltz ride pattern, etc.

The next day I would wake up, grab a cup-o-joe (This is an addiction in my life...I'll never give it up!), and read through my notes from the evening before. I would then take 2-3 minutes to prioritise my practice time, starting with the most pressing issue (the one I would use the soonest, the one I sucked the worst at, or the one that would take the longest) I would list them in order of importance, decide how much total practice time I had, and then decide how long I would spend on each item. Once the time limit for that item was up, I moved on to the next one. If I had extra time at the end of my practice session, I would go back to the item that I didn't spend enough time on and work some more. Whatever was not mastered that day was revisited the next day.

This is one of the simplest things I've ever done, and absolutely one of the most beneficial. I was identifying my weak gig areas, which are different than your weak practice areas, and I was methodically working through them.

The great part of this was that the next time I played with that group, I had noticeably improved. It wasn't an improvement that focused around a showy fill or some other self indulgence...it was measured improvement in a practical area that would serve the music for the better. Mission accomplished.

So instead of beating yourself up as you try to drift off to sleep after yet another miserable failure, go to your practice room, grab a pen and jot the problems down...and then rest easy that tomorrow is another day, the band will forgive you, and you have a plan for how that mistake will never happen again.


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