Ask Damian Erskine: I Can’t Hear Myself!

Q: I would love to know what you do when you can’t hear yourself on stage or at rehearsals and when you can’t change it.

A: That’s just a tough situation, really. It does happen fairly frequently, though. Honestly, that’s when knowing your fretboard and having a strong relationship with your instrument comes in handy, as well as knowing the tune! It happens on the smallest and biggest of stages (in fact, with the big venues and set-ups, there’s way more to go wrong!)

I once blew up a head at the beginning of a tour and did two weeks with no stage volume before getting a replacement. Nothing for me but whatever the monitors could handle and the reflection of the sound coming out of the mains. Not ideal, but it’s also the beauty of performing live. It’s visceral and impromptu. No matter how rehearsed you are individually or as a group, one of the skills you develop as a pro is the ability to handle adversity on stage and still play your butt off (so nobody’s the wiser).

Things to keep in mind:

1) Try to make sure not to play too hard! Our first instinct may be to play as hard as we can in an attempt to hear ourselves just even a little bit better. You’ll tire yourself out, probably not hear yourself any better and possibly injure or wear on your hands.

2) Pay extra close attention to the form of the song and what notes you’re playing on your fretboard. If you can’t hear them, make sure they’re right intellectually. It can sometimes help to sing the lines you’re playing in your head (or out loud).

3) Listen as hard as possible to the rest of the band and forget about your sound. Just play normally but make sure you’re really locking in with what you can hear.

Basically, don’t stress about it. The more you’re thinking about what’s going wrong in the moment, the less you’re focused on the music you’re playing right now. Just relax, don’t tense up and try and sink into the groove of it all. Chances are it’ll sound great!

(And during a break, make sure the sound man fixes the issue!!)

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Check out more Ask Damian Erskine columns

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. Chris

    Another solution would be headphones if your setup allows for it. I use an AVIOM system that allows me to adjust the different instruments individually, so that I get the mix that I want: Drums, Piano, Bass, and minimal guitar.