Performing A Song
an outline by Joel Mabus
Choosing the right song
What is your purpose?
Are you showcasing your talent? Your voice? Your instrument? Your
Are you trying to make a point? Is there a message to be made? Are
you looking for a reaction from the listeners? Laughter, tears, reflection, spirituality, political action?
What should be the mood?
Are you breaking the ice? Following another act? Composing a set?
Are you looking for a song to contrast with what preceded or to build
Arranging the song
Find the right key
Can you hit all the highs AND lows?
2. Are you comfortable playing your instrument in
When you are singing louder can you still hit all the low notes?
Choose the right tempo – try it faster or slower before you decide
Mood -- Is your style appropriate to the mood you wish to create?
Rehearsing the song
Memorize! Try writing out the lyrics in your own hand. Rehearse with
the music turned face down. Memorize the first word of each verse.
Try it out exactly as you will perform it – full volume, start to
finish. Standing? On a Stool? In front of microphones?
Practice in the face of distractions too – your mind will be tempted
to wander on stage, be ready for that. Can you remember all the lyrics while
the TV is on?
Preparing to Perform
Before the show, do a sound check if possible.
If not, at least stand on the stage and see how it feels. Can you see
all the seats in the room? Will they see you?
Are you tuned? Are you sure? Are you REALLY sure?
Capo? Picks? Strap? Cord? Anything else?
Be ready to step lively and don’t let the stage or lights throw you
for a loop.
Approach the mike(s) and be sure that they are in the proper placement.
If you are plugging in do it now. Do all this quickly
and with the smallest amount of fuss possible.
POSSESS the performance space. For this moment in time this is YOUR place. Make it your
Don’t leave your wallet backstage!
Introducing the song
Have something good to say – being wry or self-effacing is ok, but
don’t denigrate yourself or your song.
Sensitive – humorous – angry?
How do YOU want to be perceived? This is your chance to speak as a real
human being – don’t come off as a phoney.
Be creative – you don’t have to say “Here’s a song about…”
Be brief! A smile and a
howdy say a lot.
Beginning the song
To count or not to count…what’s the point? Is there another way to
do the same thing?
Starting with a bang, or sneaking into it – either way be purposeful.
If Things GO WRONG
Keep your cool – if you go with the flow, so will everybody else.
Remember YOU are driving the bus now!
Most people are not listening as critically as you are. A wrong word,
omitted lyric, or strange chord may only become a major problem if you call
attention to it.
Don’t stop and start over. With
very few exceptions, this is the worst thing you can do.
If things go kerflooey, just head for a quick ending and get on with
Finishing the song
A strong finish is always good. Strength comes in many ways, however. Loud is only one path. Let
‘em know it’s done. Use your body language too. Don’t fall into a
After the song is over
Don’t address the audience while they are clapping. They cannot hear
what you say. They can read your
lips as you say “thank you” but they will miss the witty saying or the
names of the band members. Wait
for it to subside. On the other hand, during the applause, you can give a
quick aside to the band, stage crew, or sound crew in the wings.
If another song is next, be ready for it with either another
introduction or a cold start.
If an exit is next, do so quickly and efficiently. Ideally you will
leave the stage before the applause dies down. In a small club or coffeehouse
this may not be possible. Just try to be graceful and gracious.
D. Encore? Who wants more? They
© Joel Mabus 2001