As a performing musician (or more importantly, as an audience member) there is nothing more frustrating than watching an artist onstage bumbling noisily with their guitar in the hopes of getting it in tune. Worse yet, there comes the moment when — sensing the growing tension — the performer mumbles something like “close enough” and proceeds to play the next song with a blatantly out-of-tune guitar, leaving us in the audience to think, “maybe now is a good time to use the bathroom.”
So what to do to make this a silent and seamless process?
There are countless stompbox tuning pedals that allow for quick, easy, and silent tuning. Yet time-and-time again, many artists either don’t pack one (“Naw, I don’t use effects”) or are ultimately unprepared (“Do you have an extra patch cable? Also, do you think the bodega next door sells batteries?”).
Here is a simple checklist to keep things in tune:
1. Tuning pedal (preferably one that mutes the signal)
2. Power: 9-volt battery, DC power supply, 1spot, whatever.
3. (2) ¼" instrument cables: one from your guitar to the tuner, another from the tuner output to amp, DI, etc.
4. Did I already say a tuning pedal?
Nobody — especially those that paid cover and are buying overpriced drinks from the bar — wants to watch and hear you tune your guitar. If you are the front person, practice tuning your guitar quickly and silently. This will not only help your own focus and performance, but it will keep the connection between your music and your audience throughout the entire set.
Tune. Tune before you take the stage. Tune before the first song. Tune after each song. Just tune.
Sometimes under the bright lights and stress of performing we get nervous about how long it is taking. It could be from the classic I-was-tuning-my-3rd-string-but-turning-the-peg-for-the-2nd, or you foolishly thought it was a great idea to place the DADGAD song in the middle of the set.
What to do? DON’T PANIC. Stay with your audience: tell an anecdote about making the last record or the story of how your bass player’s obsession with ‘authentic’ burritos led to getting arrested on the Santa Monica pier. Whatever. Talk about something. Just don’t apologize for the time it is taking to tune your guitar. Nobody notices or cares until you draw attention to it.
If you are a supporting musician then you have no excuse. Stop cracking jokes with the drummer in between songs and check your instrument’s tuning (I’ve definitely been guilty of this far too many times).
As a performer you’ve spent countless hours preparing for your performance: choosing the songs, crafting the setlist, sending out e-mail blasts and social reminders, etc. Sometimes the little moments between songs can be the difference between a thoroughly captivating performance and one that comes off as amateurish or unprepared.
Preparing for these moments is the extra step that will hold your audience’s attention and leave the focus on the true star of the show: your music!
So make a plan and a promise to always be in tune. Your audience thanks you.
Now, see you on stage!