What’s The Secret To Becoming an Amazing Street Performer?


I’m often asked what the secret is to becoming an amazing street performer. The answer isn’t as simple as you’d think. It’s not about playing the music; it’s about how you play the music.

I’m sure you’ve heard a street performer play the same song a thousand times. But each time you hear it, something is different. There’s a range of emotion in every note, every chord and every progression. The way I see it, we can all play the same thing over and over again, but at some point we stop listening and start just hearing it.

So what’s the secret? Well, when I start playing a new piece of music, I don’t just learn the notes…I learn everything there is to know about that piece of music. I feel out how the notes are supposed to connect with one another, how they should change depending on how they were played before and how they fit into the larger piece.

By learning all these things, I’m able to feel out any changes in tempo or tone that might be necessary for each individual performance. That’s what makes a great street performer: not just knowing how to play your instrument, but knowing how your instrument works in conjunction with others around you.

I’ve played guitar on the streets of San Francisco for over a year now, and I’ve learned a lot.

It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who has been playing music for years. I asked him how he got so good at his instrument. He replied that it was partly because he spent so much time in isolation practicing by himself. His reply made me think about my own experiences.

I realized that becoming an amazing street performer is not unlike the journey of my friend who became an amazing musician.

Here are some of the key similarities:

The two main skills you have to develop are your performance and your ability to attract a crowd.

I wanted to know the answer to a simple question: What makes someone an amazing street performer?

So I spent three months hanging out with street performers. I watched them do their thing, asked them questions, and took notes on what they said. I also observed people’s reactions to the music and did some research into the psychology of how we process music and why we tip musicians.

What I learned is that great street musicians have a flexibility about their performance that allows them to adapt to their audience, environment and even themselves over the course of the day. They are able to “read” their audiences and react in real-time based on factors like mood, crowd size and weather.

However, this ability doesn’t come automatically. It requires practice, persistence, and plenty of failure along the way.

Great street musicians are willing to fail in public for months before gaining any traction. Most people aren’t willing to go through this much discomfort — but these few who are will reap the rewards: fame, fortune (or at least tips), incredible feedback from strangers on a daily basis, and high quality play time with other street performers while you wait for your next gig or busking spot.

Alex the Juggler has been entertaining the visitors of Edinburgh with his juggling acts for the last three weeks. As a street performer he is used to the attention and has a few tips for those who want to know more about street performing.

Street performing is a tough job, but it can be rewarding if you are good at what you do. Alex loves his job because he enjoys performing and meeting new people. However, it’s not all easy and fun; there is also some hard work involved!

1) Be prepared to work hard.

2) Be original: think outside the box and make your performance unique.

3) Be confident in your ability: believe in yourself – if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will either.

4) Keep track of what works well so that you can do it again next time!

5) Don’t give up when things get tough – keep trying until you succeed!

I’ve watched with great amusement (and sometimes amazement) as a street performer called The Piano Man has been performing practically every weekend at Union Square in New York City. Always dressed to the nines in a suit and tie, this guy plays piano like a pro, usually wearing a pair of headphones, which I assume are playing a track of the music he’s performing.

I finally got around to taking video of him last Saturday and have included it below:

The only thing I can’t figure out is how he’s doing it. There’s no way he could be hearing the music from the headphones, so I’m assuming he must be reading some sort of sheet music — but if you look at the video closely, there are no notes for him to follow on the keyboard. He’s literally just banging away at his keyboard without any guidance whatsoever.

And yet his fingers seem to know exactly where to go, hitting notes that even the best pianists would struggle to find without sight or sound cues… his hands seem almost magical!

As storytelling and music performance have become more useful to me, I’ve begun to wonder whether there is a skill that could be described as “professional busking.” It’s a strange phrase, but I think it describes an important concept.

I am not a trained musician. When I started playing guitar in college, I was terrible. But I loved music and had the advantage of being able to take my time learning; I wasn’t trying to make a living as a musician. So I started just busking—playing in public for tips—and quickly found that my ability improved dramatically. Here are three reasons why:

You get immediate feedback on what works and what doesn’t. There are few better teachers than an audience that has paid to see you perform, and nothing motivates you like having people listen in real time as you play.

You gain confidence from positive feedback and fans. Busking brings strangers into your life who love what you do; you meet them, talk to them, learn about them, and grow as a performer and person by interacting with them.

You learn discipline from learning how to practice effectively. Musicians who busk need to operate efficiently; they can’t spend hours practicing

When I was in college, I would go to the subway in San Francisco and play music. One of my favorite spots was the Ferry Building. It’s a beautiful place where you can see the Bay Bridge off to your right and look down Market Street to the skyscrapers of downtown.It’s also a popular tourist destination so people are more likely to stop and watch/listen.

I would stand at the very edge of the platform, just as you step out from inside. This way, people would see me immediately when stepping onto the platform—perfect for catching their attention!

I would set up my guitar case on the ground with a sign that said “Tips appreciated” and start playing. Most of the time I would play some easy pop songs like “Stairway to Heaven” or “American Pie” and then throw in some more challenging originals.

If I made more than $20, it was considered a good day (but less than half of all days). The vast majority of days saw me make less than $10.

Sometimes things would just not click. Some days my guitar sounded dull and lifeless, no matter how hard I tried to make it sound better. Or I couldn’t hit some note or chord right.


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