It happens. Quite frequently to some players. A broken string, either during a final rehearsal or during the performance itself. Yesterday, it happened to another player in the band. He broke his “A” string during the final rehearsal. He was not prepared. As I helped him out of this little jam, I thought about what it means to be prepared as a guitarist. There are a number of lessons I have learned about playing the guitar in public. These lessons seem to extend into other areas of my life.
Expect the expected
Strings break. Cables get lost or stolen. Batteries die. When I play guitar, I always expect the expected. And I prepare accordingly. I have backup tubes, picks, strings, guitar straps, cables. If the venue is really important, I will carry along backup guitars and amps.
Learn from experience
Whenever an incident happens, whether to me or to a fellow musician, I usually take a few moments to think about the implications for the future. Could an incident like this happen again? If so, what steps, if any, should I take? For example, when my friend broke his “A” string, I was able to provide him with a new one. However, the new string came from an electric guitar set. My friend was playing an acoustic guitar. Even though I am usually on an electric, I still play acoustic from time to time. I made a note to myself to add a couple of spare sets of acoustic guitar strings in the gig bag.
Ask for help
I tend to be a self-reliant person. Okay, a highly self-reliant person. But even a really well prepared player needs help from time to time. There was one event where I was short an instrument cable. This happened because a primary cable had failed a few weeks before and I had to go to my backup. I promptly ordered a replacement cable but the supplier was back ordered for several weeks. No problem. I have a great set of cables and I can run the risk of not having a backup set for a few weeks. Unfortunately, the backup cable failed during a rehearsal. Desperate, I asked a fellow player for a spare. And he helped me out.
Push anxiety away
It is a good thing to plan. It is a good thing to be ready for when things go wrong. It is a bad thing to worry about what might happen particularly when you are playing. There have been times, just prior to a performance, when I begin to fret — I know, I know, that was a particularly bad pun. Will I break a string? Will the instrument stay in tune? Will a cable fail? Will a tube go microphonic? One of the objectives of being prepared is to push the anxiety away. If I have rehearsed the material, if I have prepared for things that may go wrong, then I am ready. As ready as possible. To worry at that point is just wrong.
Take the unexpected in stride
Things beyond my immediate control will go wrong. I have played at events when a power failure has hit. Lights out. Amp out. I have played at events where another team member has not shown up and I have to cover their parts on my instrument — unrehearsed no less. Stuff happens and it is a choice to get upset about it or to learn from it. Far too often, I start with the former. I have learned that it is always better to focus on the latter. Tends to do a better job building character.
Who knew that playing a guitar could offer some important life lessons?