Carl Verheyen's Session Strategies

February 12, 2014

Here’s How Electric Players Can Prepare a Solo Acoustic Set

EXPERIENCED GUITARISTS know that the acoustic guitar is a completely different animal than the electric. The notes may be in the same place, but the similarities end there. Although not quite as different as the electric bass and its upright counterpart, the approach to acoustic guitar is a study in itself. So if you play a lot of electric, you’re likely fooling yourself if you think you can just grab your flat-top and dash right off to hit the road for a series of solo-acoustic concerts.

Hey, I’ll admit it straight off: I play so much electric that my acoustic chops run down after a typical hiatus of a month or two. Although the acoustic comes out in the studio on a regular basis, an entire live solo acoustic performance is a real workout requiring strength and stamina. I like to book solo acoustic gigs between regular band tours in an effort to keep my acoustic chops up.

 It’s one thing to play acoustic occasionally during band tours, and another thing entirely to keep your chops up to perform solo-acoustic concerts.

I don’t make it easy for myself. For one thing, it’s always a challenge to come up with new solo material. In addition, I don’t use extremely light strings on my acoustics as some players do. That’s a sound and style of playing all its own. I prefer to use a .011-.052 set of phosphor bronze strings for a bigger sound and more volume. I’m not bending a lot of notes— I’m going for resonance and clarity of tone. But with bigger strings comes a need for stronger fingers, and a long phase of playing mostly electrics strung with much lighter strings doesn’t exactly beef up finger strength.

The ramping up of acoustic technique takes time, and, over the years, I’ve come up with a surefire way to get in shape for solo acoustic concerts. Here’s how I do it:

Two weeks out in front of the concert, I set up a chart for myself. Down the left-hand side column, I write the set list (shown here as “Song #1, Song #2, etc.), which is usually about 20 songs including encore material. Across the top row, I write the days of the week left until the day before the first show. This simple chart containing the set list and remaining rehearsal days is all I need to organize my practice time.

 Here’s a peek at my acoustic-prep chart.
Every day, I play each song, run down the list, and check off the appropriate box only when I’ve performed the song as close to perfection as possible. For a 90-minute concert, it may require three hours in the early days to get the songs up to speed. As the days go by, I’m able to skip the repeated sections of various tunes because they’re coming together easier than other sections. For instance, with a piece that has an AABA form, I might only play the A and B sections, and then move on to the next song. As a result, practice time shortens as I approach the end of week two, and the beginning of the tour.

Two weeks is about the right amount of time for me to prep for a solo acoustic tour, but you may be able to shorten that time depending on your set list, or the length of your hiatus from acoustic time. You should also try this method with any performance-related practice schedule. It really works!

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