Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

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


How To Create a Great “Set List” For Musical Performance

I’m often asked the question “do you use a set list when you play concerts?” This brings up the question of how to put a set together for a good show. I use a loose set idea with a game plan which I will describe.

But first…has the following every happened to you.?

The Dilemma

  • You go to see a band, their first tune sounds great, but as the set goes on it all the songs start sounding the same.
  • You go to see a singer-songwriter who has written all originals.  She’s cute, her guitar skills are not quite up to par, and other than a smile, the music has nothing you can sing when you get home.
  • You hear a rapper and the beat is loud, energy is good.  But, after 3 songs it all blurs together.
  • You hear a jazz band, and they solo endlessly.
  • You hear a solo guitarist, and after 10 minutes it all sounds the same.  (whether it’s percussive, new age, classical or whatever)

Get the idea?

It’s not the style that’s problematic – it’s that musicians can very easily fall into the trap of all material sounding the same – without realizing it.

The problem is twofold…

  1. You need good material.
  2. You need to use variety in, tone, tempo, dynamics and groove in your set.

The Solution – Melody and  Contrast

You’ll first need to choose the “what” (good songs), then you’ll need to present it all in the proper proportions, and sequence (making the set list).


First off, you need good melodies that are memorable whether they are your original songs or covers. The basic theme of whatever you play should be singable, like:

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, “Billie Jean”, “Yesterday”, “Isn’t She Lovely”, Your Own Song(s) Here.

Cool percussive stuff is not melody.  The endless stream of consciousness lyrics from rappers and songwriters is not melody (no matter how heart wrenchingly profound it may seem).  Different guitar tunings and/or fret locations may be fun for the performer – but do not necessarily make melody for the listener.

Whatever you play should have “a theme” that your mother could sing back after hearing it once.


I plan my sets knowing that I want contrasting “musical colors” to break things up and provide satisfaction for the listener.

These are personal to me…yours can and should be different.

I use the following – (take note of the variety):

  • funk grooves
  • jazz swing grooves
  • Brazilian grooves
  • a blistering boiling fast song – to raise excitement
  • something bluesy with bending strings
  • a few ballads for a dose of “pretty”
  • a percussive / beatbox song – i.e. getting different sounds from the guitar & visual contrast
  • some midrange easygoing material for middle of set

That covers the “what” I’ll play.

Now – set planning.  Don’t try to do it from first to last song…plan in order of “important moments” in the set, and let the order take shape from both ends to the middle!

  1. First I plan the last song. I always end the set with a BANG !  (Which of your songs could do this for you?)
  2. Next, I plan the first song. I start the set groovy get the peoples heads bobbing, it helps them (and me) relax.
  3. For the first 3 or 4 songs, I entertain!
  4. Set middle is the “journey” – ups & downs are OK.  Mid-intensity material OK.
  5. Have at least one pretty ballad midway – to let the set breathe.

Any one “type”  of song for a whole set is way too much – whether it’s a ballad, funk, uptempo.  Too much is too much!

Maybe you are starting to think about your own set…thoughts like… “I need more ballads”  or “I need an uptempo” or “wow, all my stuff is similar”  – and that’s good, for you to start this process.

Now your practice sessions can be used to choose and “round out” your repertoire so you can provide more variety for a set.

Rock on, practice hard, and let me know how your journey goes!



As Above, So Below…on the Guitar

One of the joys of my musical journey is to discover something musically and see that it also applies to all of life.

(Really guitar and “life”  are no different – since it’s our brains looking outward and seeing the contents of our own thought!)

I have been doing a lot of slow, deliberate practice on fingerstyle guitar pieces like “Thriller” and “Aqualeros do Brasil”  and “Fly Me To The Moon”  simply because I want the groove to be deeper and want the perfect sparkling and coordinated “mix” of melody, bass and accompaniment.

It never fails; once I put my mind on the role and job of my right hand thumb, I see that it has been pulled by the influence of the other right hand fingers, and is not as solid as I thought it was!

Once I slow my playing down (yes, my teachers were right about the benefits of slow practice)  and the thumb becomes the most important part of my focus, the whole piece of music falls right into line; perfect groove, perfect balance, and comfortable to play.

It made me ponder…when we set the basics in our life straight, and keep them on track, the small details always work out. On the contrary – if we seek to fix details without attention to the basics being right, we’re not really fixing anything…we’re just “busy”.

As above, so below.

Don’t believe me, check it for yourself!


How to Train Your Brain!

A lot of people seem to think that since I am a touring “pro” guitarist with recordings and DVDs that I am “the expert” and that’s the end.  Not the case!  The truth is that I love studying, learning and practicing.

For example – over the last 2 weeks I’ve read  5 books on marketing, ad copyrighting and web technology  – and  I plan to re-read them because the info was so good.

Oh Goodness, Heavens Gracious!  Did Adam the guitar player just admit this?

Yes!  All this stuff other than playing guitar is also important for me to keep up on. They all serve my music, touring and career!

Discovering and realizing new things – musical and otherwise – is the fun part of the journey.  See what I am saying?

Here’s some great advice that I’d like to pass on from Brian Tracy – and this helps me keep my mind fresh in the way I have described…

Read 30 minutes in your field each morning.  This is called “The Golden Hour”  when the mind is clear, receptive and the day’s “tone” is set.   After a year – that’s a lot of reading.  Just think how much you’d learn.

The more you read and learn, the more you want to read and learn.  Like a muscle, the mind gets stronger when it’s used and weaker when it’s not.

Adam’s Advice:

Don’t check your email first thing in the morning.  That’s right! – wait.  That’s a “reactive”  activity as opposed to an active one.

If you are spending senseless time on video games, news sites, entertainment, and sites like Facebook,  fiddling with your “smart” phone – just say NO and set that time aside and read 30 minutes every morning.

Watch what happens to your life in a month.

Rock on!