This last weekend I played a show with a band from Nashville with over 50 songs in the set. I had about a week to get all of the songs worked up, and I had to really hone my technique to be ready. Here’s how I did it:
1. Listen and chart.
Fortunately all of the songs I was working on had charts, which allowed me to spend my time listening and taking notes on the chart itself. I took notes of any sounds, particularly challenging riffs, and general things I’d need to work on with the set. By having everything written out, it helped me focus on stage 2.
2. Play through with just a piano.
With the simplest instrument possible, I played through the entire set. For this show I had two keyboards, and I put the bottom on piano and the top on brass. By not worrying about the sounds, I’m able to focus my attention on the actual riffs themselves and build my chops.
3. Design patches.
Each one of the songs had a specific set of sounds I needed to program, and after my initial play through I started programming. To help speed things up, I constantly referred to my notes which allowed me to use the same parts on various patches (i.e. the same horn part on different songs). If you’re not great at patch design, I recommend getting help. My website www.patchfoundry.com is a great place to start.
4. Work on just the hardest songs.
I tackle the hardest songs in a separate practice time, since around 80% of my time will usually be spent on just 20% of the songs. If you’re struggling, I recommend using an app that changes the tempo of your music like Anytune to help you nail those hard sections.
5. Play again, straight through.
This should simulate how you’ll be playing live, and will help you find any last minute problems that you might not have noticed. If you can, record yourself. You’ll be amazed at the mistakes you’ll catch.