Does the thought of playing your guitar in public give you the willies? Stage fright is a common experience among musicians. Your hands begin to sweat, your face gets flush and your stomach feels those tiny little butterflies tickling your insides.
But, as a musician, you might as well face the music and realize that sooner or later someone is going to ask you to play something for them. It may be for just one person you know, or perhaps several 100 people you don’t know. Whatever the situation, you can almost guarantee it will happen someday.
But before you begin to panic, let’s see if we can analyze the reason why musicians experience stage fright in the first place. I was curious to see if this word was in the dictionary so, I decided to look it up. Here is what I found:
Stage fright – “extreme nervousness felt by an inexperienced speaker or performer before an audience.”
That’s a pretty good definition if it weren’t for the fact that even the most experienced people experience performance anxiety sometimes. However, it does seem to take the edge off when you are exposed to being in front of an audience on a regular basis. It is the inconsistency, or irregularity of being in front of an audience that is often a factor in causing someone to experience irrational fear.
Being unprepared is another factor that can create a feeling of nervousness when performing in front of an audience. One of the hardest things to do is to perform something on the spur of the moment. You’re handed a guitar and asked to play something when you haven’t even had a chance to warm up your chops first!
Trying to play a piece of music on the spot can be a very challenging endeavor. Your mind races through everything you thought you knew and had memorized only to draw a blank. You stumble around on the guitar and begin to feel embarrassed because everyone is waiting to see what you can do. The tension begins to mount because you can’t seem to produce anything worthwhile. Eventually everyone loses interest and begins talking about something else. This kind of situation is a real drag and can lead to discouragement. But if it happens (or has happened) to you, don’t give up. It’s an important part of the learning process! You must perservere in order to “break on through to the other side.”
Playing in front of other guitarists that are better, or perceived to be better than you are, can be a cause for stage fright also. If you ever take part in a “Master” class, or a guitar workshop, you will most likely be required to perform in front of your peers. In a Master class the guitar student is usually asked to perform on stage for the Master guitarist and the other students taking the class. After the performance, the guitar students are invited to critic you. If you did well, you might be selected, along with several of the other students, to perform in a public concert at the end of the program. Talk about pressure!
Here are some ideas to help you deal with performance anxiety:
- Take advantage of every opportunity you can to play your guitar in front of an audience. Whether it’s your family, your guitar instructor, your friends, whoever- just do it!
- Memorize something that is easy to play so that you can use it for those spur of the moment situations. This will give you the chance to warm up your chops and also help to take the edge off any stage fright you may experience. After you get through the first piece, you will probably find it easier to play more stuff you know.
- Acknowledge your own strengths as well as weaknesses.
- If you are taking guitar lessons, ask your teacher to evaluate your progress from time to time.
- Have someone critic a piece of music or song that you can play fairly well and take to heart their advice.
- Work to improve your technique. Make an effort to change bad habits and reinforce good ones.
- Record yourself. Don’t accept what doesn’t sound good.
- Do your best and don’t compare yourself with others.
- Finally, be thankful that you have a love for music and a desire to learn. That’s why you decided to play the guitar in the first place!
So, enjoy the process of growth and discovery. The outcome will take care of itself quite naturally. Just let it happen. As you do, you may be surprised to find that performing can actually be a very beautiful experience!