Thursday, May 14, 2009

Overcoming stage fright

I've come across several students who have an obvious ability and love of playing music.  Their technique and timing was good and they practiced often.  Like so many others they ran into trouble as soon as somebody else noticed their playing.  It mattered little who the person was.  A stranger or family member would trigger the same crippling respone.  Stage Fright.  Music that would flow freely would suddenly be hobbled by a hyper sensitive ego more worried about messing up than becoming musical.

I know this state well.  For years my playing would suffer from a nervous ego.  It would happen just as quickly picking with friends as it would in a live performance situation.  But why?  Where does this anxiety come from?  ("Tell me about your fahzer...") Clearly that answer is subjective and each person brings their own baggage, but if I might boil it down a bit I'd say that most folks want to feel special.  They want to feel like what they are doing is great and they don't want to mess up and that fear becomes the focus of the performance instead of the music.

An oversimplification?  Perhaps.  I'm sure there are several books on the subject but whatever the reasons stage fright can quickly wreck your playing.  Its not to hard to  overcome it if you're motivated enough.  If you find you're having trouble with stage fright/performance anxiety try this...

  • Realize most people want you to do well.
Most folks are on your side.  They want to hear you play well.  They're probably not going to point and laugh (children are another story) and ridicule you if you mess up.  If somebody listening is secretly hoping you screw up congratulate yourself.  You've probably got to a really high level (or higher than them at least) and they're just jealous.

  • Even more folks DON'T CARE either way
A real turning point for me occurred when I realized most people aren't listening anyway.  I mean really, how many shows have you been to where folks are not even paying attention.  Even a quiet sit down type show.  Look around at folks.  What must be going on in all those heads.  I bet at least 1/4 are thinking about going to the bathroom.  Another 1/4 is hungry, another 1/4 is worried about how they look or they're thinking about a boy or girl.  That leaves 1/4 who may actually be hanging on every note.  Doubt it though.  Most folks aren't paying that close of attention.  

  • Perform more often
The best way to get over stage fright is to get on the stage.  You won't learn to swim if you don't get in the water.  Play for people and do it often.  Play for family or friends but do it every day.  Will you mess up?  Probably.  But remember that you are no different than anybody else.  Every performer is nervous at some point.  The pros get out there on stage and they're willing to mess up.  I've seen all of the best players mess up.  NOBODY'S perfect.  Don't let that stop you from playing your music as good as you can. 

  • "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice."
Practice, Practice, Practice.  Then practice some more.  (See previous posts on how to practice or take a lesson and I'll show you how.)   If you hope to play well in front of other people your fingers must have the movements absolutely memorized.  By the time you've decided to play in front of people its a good idea to have the muscle memory stone cold solid.  There's another old saying that kind of sums it up.  "Amateurs practice till they get it right once.  Professionals practice till they can't get it wrong."  You probably don't want to be a pro but keep this bit of wisdom in mind the next time you get mad at yourself for making a mistake.  

  • If all else fails slam a few shots of whiskey
This seems to work for my wife.

I hope it helps... 


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