Advice for Live Performances

Hi Bachido, I need some advice for live performances.

Specifically, I decided to be a contestant in my school’s talent show on the 28th of this month (April), and as the time of performance approaches, I’ve been getting a little anxious as I’ve never really playing in front of other people before, so I was hoping you guys could give me some general tips on playing in front of an audience as well as more technical things.

So I know four defined songs at the moment, Sakura Sakura, Yasaburo Bushi, Kuroishi Yosare Bushi, and the simplified version of Ringo Bushi (I am working on the advanced version and could easily have it ready by the end of the month). I was wondering if this is a decent repertoire of songs and how I should play them (Order, Length, etc.) depending on the amount of time I will have for the performance (sorry but I don’t yet know this). Alternatively, I would consider myself to have a decent freestyle piece or two, but I wonder if that would be bad practice to just try and jam out recklessly instead of playing an actual song.

Next, I have been practicing daily and can play most of my songs as close to perfect as possible for me, however I’m worried about messing up on stage and if you guys have any tips for keeping your cool and focus on stage.

On a more technical level, my school says that they will let me use any extra equipment needed for the performance, so what things would I need? So far I know I would like a chair to sit in, and I’m assuming that a mic to pick up the shamisen as well. Are there any other things I should consider requesting?

Thank you for taking your time to look at this and hopefully share your experiences if you have any. Sorry for the lack of organization in the post, and thank you again.

Hey Tino!
I’m actually in the exact same spot as you are, as I’ve got a performance for an event at my school too in May. I’ve played at it before too, so I’ll try and tell you what works for me when I do stuff like that.
Here goes! Sorry for the wall of text. :stuck_out_tongue:

So, given your level of playing, I think those songs are a really good showcase of the instrument. Assuming that’s currently your full repertoire, and since you can play those well as you’ve said, I’d go for all of them if you have the time.
In that concert at my own school one of the songs I’m playing is Yasaburo Bushi with a singer, and as an outro I blended in a bit of Ringo Bushi. I’ve noticed it can be kind of difficult to easily blend Ringo Bushi into the beginning of Yasaburo Bushi because of the ni no ito and san no ito “chord” on the 2, but it’s not too hard to nicely blend the end of Yasaburo Bushi into Ringo Bushi.
I like to finish out Yasaburo Bushi and on the ni no ito slide from 1 to 5 and play the section that starts like that and lead it back into how Ringo Bushi normally starts and play it out from there. If this doesn’t make sense please lemme know, because I explained that sort of weirdly. Not really sure how else to put it but if you’d like I can try. :stuck_out_tongue:

As for the rest of your repertoire, you might be able to use the end of Sakura Sakura to blend right into the beginning of Kuroishi Yosare Bushi since Sakura ends on an open string across all three and Kuroishi Yosare Bushi starts with the same thing. If you’d like to play those in a blended set, I personally think that sounds nice. Whatever you prefer, of course!

So, about the freestyle. That’s sort of along the lines of a Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi kyokubiki (which is pretty much “trick playing,” if you weren’t already aware, it’s pretty much fancy-flying-fingers using Jonkara phrases in an improvisational version of the piece. It’s basically whatever your own Jonkara Shin Bushi is, and you can improvise how-ever).

Note: This section only applies if you want to play Tsugaru-style improv. I know next to nothing about Nagauta/Jiuta or if there’s freestyle in those genres, so you might know more about that than me.
So, if you play or are working on your own Jonkara Bushi, I’d say go right for the freestyle, because you have a feel for how that sort of thing should sound. If you play any of the Godai Tsugaru, really, you might be able to improvise around their base structures.
I’d suggest though that if you don’t know those or Rokudan yet (as Rokudan has a lot of quintessential, usable phrases in the Godai Minyo, especially Jonkara Bushi), spend some time with those and see if you can really get the feel for it. Listen to other players and maybe use Kevin’s Jonkara Bushi article here on Bachido for structure help. I would say though that it has taken me multiple months to get my Jonkara Bushi to a point where I like the way it sounds, so you might not have the time before this performance to hammer a version out. The reason it’s like this is because although it’s technically improvisational (and can be freestyled) it takes study and practice to know how to fit it all together into the actual song. It’s not just random notes, there’s a bit of an art to it. If you feel that however you’d like to improvise is ready, though, and sounds good (even if it’s not the traditional Tsugaru sort) go for it! It’s your music, and whatever you make of it.

Lastly, yep, chairs are nice (Seiza gets painful haha) and I like to position the microphone so it’s a little bit out from the dou. One time I wasn’t careful with how far out it was and I accidentally hit it a couple times, so make sure it won’t interfere with your bachi technique! Other than that, that’s probably all you need the school to supply. Unless you do want to sit seiza, in which case, maybe they have a zabuton? :stuck_out_tongue:

And as for playing in front of an audience, and this is the most important thing here, HAVE FUN! Unless you’re a fixture at school events most people where you go probably haven’t even heard of a shamisen, so rather than feel nervous, just try to get a kick out of their reactions and enjoy what you’re playing. Those people in that audience are your friends, and they don’t want you to feel nervous. Just put on a smile, get out there, and do your best.

Sorry for the giant wall of text, again, I just have a bunch of ideas. Hope it helps! Good luck! Lemme know if you have questions.

I don’t play shamisen, so I can be a bit generic… or obvious. Tino, I think you can play the piece in which you feel ready, and your teacher says it’s ready and presentable

Good luck and congratulations performing at the show. Reiterating what Ian said, one of the biggest things to remember is the audience is there to enjoy your performance and have a good time. So if you’re having a good time, odds are they will too. I can think of a couple things that might help put your mind at ease. Try practicing in front of friends, family, and teachers/faculty beforehand to get used to having an audience. And if you do ask for feedback ask about presence, not performance. What kind of faces are you making or do you look like you’re having a good time. Not are you hitting the notes just right. You can also record yourself and watch it back. Practicing in front of a mirror is also really helpful.

It might be too late, but finding another performer to hold a backbeat or simple melody to accompany you might make you more comfortable. It can help reduce the anxiety of being the center of attention. It also gives you some wiggle room to play around with if you are off on something allowing you to snap back with a beat or melody and make it sound more natural. Don’t perform to prerecorded music though.

Make sure the chair doesn’t have arms and that the mic stand has a boom arm on it to easily reach the shamisen. I’d recommend a second mic if you want to talk so you don’t have to lean over or adjust the other mic. Do you need a music stand or will you bring your own? Being able to do a tech rehearsal would be huge to let you get used to the setup and what to expect from the theater PA.

If you want to add some time, talk to the audience about the songs and the shamisen. They’ve probably never seen one before and most likely don’t know the songs which makes it even easier if you do happen to mess up because the audience has no clue. When practicing with my taiko group, we focus on appearance as much as much as the rhythms. Even if you “mess up”, 90% of the time the audience wont know unless you let them by making a face.

And it can’t be said enough: HAVE FUN! If you’re enjoying yourself, so will the audience. You’re an entertainer and they look forward to being entertained so it’s a win-win.

Reminder: there’s a high chance that you’re the only one who knows what these songs “should” sound like. If you slip up, use that to your advantage, and do it again. Use pauses and missed notes as intentional improvisation.

Please, send us some material of the performance!