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Tips for Overcoming Stage Fright

Sunday, July 10, 2011
I was in a backyard on a warm, summer night in Nashville in an impromptu circle of guitarists and songwriters.  We were going around the circle, as these things customarily do, and I remember being incredibly nervous as it came closer and closer to my turn.  It was to the point that it was difficult to even remember the song I wanted to play.

Stage fright is a common experience for many guitarists - from the beginner playing at the family get together to the professional about to go out on stage. I’ve heard it said that the fear of standing up in front of people is seconded only to the fear of death for most people.

In my own experience with players we seem to all experience this to some degree in certain situations.  But for others it can be a debilitating and frustrating experience that can kill the joy of playing guitar and making music.Stage Fright

Here are some simple tips I use to help overcome stage fright.

1) Get Familiar with the Playing Experience.  Put yourself in performing situations - no matter how small or insignificant - as much as you can.  For me, much of the “panic” that comes in these moments finds traction because it is an unfamiliar situation.  I find that if I can play in that situation more than once the stage fright seems to diminish with the more familiar I get with the experience.  You may be completely frozen to play at your local jam session but try to come right back again the next week and chances are you’ll find it will go much better for you.

2) Warm Up in the Same Place as the Performance.  If possible, it helps me a great deal to get to the event very early and get a few moments on the stage, or wherever you will be playing, to get my guitar out and play a while.  Just getting used to the feel and sound of the room takes a lot of these stress-inducing unknowns out of the equation.  And the more time I get to be in the playing environment the more my nerves calm down.  Leaving plenty of time to hang out before the gig acclimating to the environment seems to help.

3) Know Your Material Completely.  Short-term memory is the first thing to go out the window when you’re nervous.   Make sure you can play the song effortlessly.  Be well practiced on the song you want to perform.  You want to know the song so well you could play it in your sleep because in the heat of battle of performing your brain is going to have enough to deal with trying to manage the situation.  You don’t want to have to rely on it to remember some tricky ending of the song that you worked out minutes before you perform.

Remember, this is just guitar playing and you don’t need to be perfect.  At the Guitar Gathering conference a few weeks ago Musicians Hall of Fame guitarist Will McFarlane said “Its just guitar playing, its not like I’m a doctor and if I mess up some guy never walks again.”

Stage fright is a common experience that we all face.  Use these simple tips to help you get back to enjoying making music and if there are any special tricks you use to help fight the fright, please share in the comments!
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