Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

Preparing for Stage Performance


Quite often people ask me about how long I have played guitar, how many hours a day I practice, and things of that nature.

I think the more important issue is “how” and “why” I practice. I’d like to convey to you a painful, but ultimately great – story from my past regarding practice and stage preparation.

Maybe this will resonate within you, and give you some ideas about what you need to be doing, practice wise.

I was 15 years old, and was a classical guitar student at the Bloomingdale House of Music in NYC.  Each year, they had an end of year recital.  I was an older advanced student, so other’s (and my) expectations of my playing were high.

I had been learning the Courante of Bach’s 3rd cello suite, and could play it pretty well – but only from reading the score.

So…I went out on stage thinking I knew it, and fell on my face.  Had to stop playing after 3 bars.

My mind went blank.

My stomach sank.

Lather, rinse, repeat.  I tried 2 more times, and fell on my face.

The piece just pooped out after 3 bars.  Oh God!!!!

Parents were holding their hands over their faces in horror.  It was the ultimate “knot in the stomach from humiliation” moment for everyone in the room. Horrible, thunderous silence.  Zero humor.

The director of the school came onstage and put his hands on my shoulders.

“Now everyone,” he said “what do we do when this happens?”  Oh great, now he was making an example of me.  Was this supposed to make me feel better?

I wanted to die.

I then played a piece I knew “Adelita” by Tarrega…and…shuffled off.

Afterwards, everyone was telling me “No, really you were good. Don’t feel bad, that has happened to us all, and can happen to anyone.”  Yeah right.  They tried to make me feel better.  It sucked – they knew it, and I did too.

This was the worst moment in my life up until that time….but little did I know the fantastic lesson contained therein.

Now, when I practice my arrangements, I repeat, repeat, over over over.  I vowed that this would never happen again.  And it hasn’t.

Sometimes at home  I STILL practice pieces I have played 10,000 times, and I wonder if I am crazy by doing them once more…and then I realize….being “bulletproof” for stage is more important to me than being “creative” on stage.  Creativity has a different place, for me.

I still practice “Superstition”, “Billie Jean” and all the songs I could play onstage years ago.  Just  to keep em in check.

And 2 nights ago  I played a 1000 seat theater after a plane ride, car rental, hotel check in and a frozen TV dinner as my meal.

I was exhausted, but the performance was solid, bulletproof and the people loved it.

What do you think served me and the audience on stage?

What served me was the ability to slam dunk 2 bulletproof  arrangements.  This only comes from repetition, repetition, repetition.

By doing this repetition, the fingers and music are auto pilot – in a sense.

This way you have mental resources to deal with everything else: communication with the audience, nerves, exhaustion, a weird crackle in a patch cable, lights shining in your face and so on.

Now….get to work!  🙂


Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

5 thoughts on “Preparing for Stage Performance

  1. Yeah. My hands failed me last night. I was playing dinner music at an assisted living facility. Everything was great until one frail-looking woman nearly slammed into me and my gear with her walker. My feet held their ground, but my fingers freaked out! Fortunately I don’t think anyone noticed, but I was surprised and disappointed that my motor-memory didn’t pull through.

  2. Slam Dunk! haha….like PAul Simon pulled on Kareem on SNL in ’76 🙂

    Question re: teacher’s saying : “”Now everyone,” he said “what do we do when this happens?”

    What is the answer?

    1) Play something else that you know and bail on the attempted piece; or

    2) Make sure it NEVER happens again (to the true best of your ability)
    i.e. repetition…repetition…

    3) something else altogether.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂 It was only by chance that I came across your blog and I’m really thankful to have seen this post. I kinda messed up with my playing yesterday. It was my first time to play fingerstyle in front of an audience. Thankfully they were not so many! My fingers were really shaking out of nervousness. Since then, I’ve been thinking of a way to solve this problem and i think that your advice could really help me a lot! Thanks! 🙂

    • Welcome to the ranks of being a performing musician. We all go through this. Believe it or not, if you perform enough this will go away – just KEEP AT IT!!!! – Happy Holidays! Adam

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s