Why You Should Perform, Regardless of Skill Level

Fears about performing are really common. In this article and video, I explore the reasons why we have these feelings and what to do about them.

Ultimate Guitar

There's a good chance that if you're fairly new at playing the guitar, singing or both, that you're afraid to play songs in front of people; whether at an open mic night or even just in front of your friends. This comes from an irrational fear of rejection that you should squash immediately. That kind of social fear is left over from when we were a primitive species living in small tribes where you pretty much only knew people in your tribe and maybe some from neighboring tribes. If your ancestors got socially rejected in that setting, it could mean they wouldn't find a mate or they would get booted from their tribe all together. You on the other hand, have probably met more people in school last year or at your last job than your ancestors met throughout their entire lives living in these tribes. Unfortunately for us, our species spent the vast majority of its existence living this way and we haven't outgrown that fear yet. Let's face it, that kind of social fear is useless to us now, especially as it applies to playing music in front of an audience. If you play at an open mic night, fumble through a few songs or even completely bomb, chances are good that you aren't going to see any of those people ever again. If by some freak chance you ran into one of them a week later, they probably wouldn't remember you or they'd admire you for getting up there and trying. We're all human and we all have those fears, people know it takes guts just to get up there. Usually when I feel those butterflies in my stomach and I'm nervous about something social, whether it be talking to someone I don't know, saying something important to someone or playing on stage, I know that that's exactly the thing I should be doing. It's like telling someone you love them for the first time, you're putting yourself out there and you're not sure what kind of reaction you'll get. It's scary but it's necessary because it'll expand your comfort zone and help you grow as a person. So play in public, get up there at open mic night, sing a song at a karaoke bar or bust out the guitar (or ukulele) when you're hanging out with your friends. Afterwards, you'll be glad you did.

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39 comments sorted by best / new / date

    A fine read but your whole time said this article was about "why you should play live" when it was really about "Don't be afraid to play live"...
    True. Well, from my experience at least, playing live makes you more comfortable in your own, personal, performance. You have to see for yourself that audiences actually want to like you and your band and your music, and even if you're not perfect they won't crucify you. That doesn't give you a free pass to suck, obviously, but everyone should perform anywhere available, no matter what. At least until some make it big enough not to have to do open mic anymore.
    I don't think there's much difference between "Why you should play live" and "Why you shouldn't be afraid to play live". I would actually argue that the former is more fitting because I explain the benefit of personal growth towards the end of the piece, but both titles would work. Thanks for the feedback!
    Emperor's Child
    Some very good points but I will add that some people don't want to play live in the first place... and there's nothing wrong with that either!
    Played live once and it was the most frightening yet the best experience I have ever had when it comes to music.
    I've played live twice... I'm still haunted by my live performances but they were somehow still awesome in a weird way!
    keep it up, by time it gets easier.
    You learn to really love it, and then you can just be in the moment and enjoy the feeling you get from dropping into that "zone". Many of you probably know what I mean.
    I played live twice and I ****ing nailed the solos to Paranoid, Iron Man, N.I.B. and Wicked World. At least that's the way I remember it. One of the best experiences in my life. (yes, it was a Black Sabbath cover band) Our bassist nailed it as well. Our drummer broke his bass drum though. Still counts.
    i don't mind playing in front of people i don't know, it's just playing at school really pisses me off because there's so many thick idiots there. It's why i refused to let our band play at the school talent show.
    You'll be surprised by how much people might like your performance even if they don't listen to that genre. For my High School talent show me and my friends played Crystal Mountain by Death and everyone loved it, because we didn't just stand there. We weren't doing any guitar flips or anything but we moved around, got into it, and egged the crowd on.
    Do it like I do: play bass. Than you can be 99% sure that nobody can hear you. So it doesn't matter if you do mistakes (tough I have to say that I always want/try to play everything correctly and that I get mad if I don't).
    I have to disagree. At least if the bass is sloppy and not in synch with the drums, the song will sound bad. A couple of wrong notes aren't that bad but if you are playing wrong part, it will sound bad. Nobody knows who makes the mistakes but who cares? If it doesn't sound good, it's bad. I play the bass too and I want to be heard. Bass does have different roles in different songs and genres and if you just play sustained root notes, nobody will actually care about it. But bass can play a lot more complex and a lot cooler stuff than that.
    I agree and that's pretty much how I feel about drums too. I play drums in a cover band. We stick to playing bars and restaurants so I could just sit back and play a steady groove for every song but, I'd rather play out a bit and turn some heads. The bass is the same way man. For the record, I think Daniiga was talking about hanging back and playing root notes. It's the kind of thing you typically overlook when listening to a performance but you would notice if suddenly it was no longer there.
    Just remember musicians, when you are playing in public, you are ENTERTAINERS! Relax, laugh, and see what happens. And here a good rule: Never ever tell the audience you messed up. If you and your band mess up a ending, don't say 'sorry we messed that song up', say: 'and that was our impression of walruses mating (etc)'. Most people don't care about perfection, they are just trying to have a good time. So don't encourage negativity! And any musicians in the audience will appreciate your humor about your mistake.
    Very true. Especially if people are drinking, singing along, etc. Also I love how your username is Charliebeer and the person who responded to you is The_Dayman. So much win.
    Yeah...One of the difficult things to remember I'd say is realizing that even though you may notice every single little ****-up you make, most of the audience won't notice or won't care.
    Whenever I played in front of people and on the rare occasion had to sing (my God their poor ears) I would always freeze up a bit and stand still and think I was failing miserably, but in lighter settings people don't notice that stuff really. I had played the chords I don't know how many times, there was no reason I could not play them on stage.
    Ever since I tried I find that I'm actually way more comfortable playing to people onstage than talking to them. Then again, I'm pretty bad at social stuff. Butyeah, if you try you might even find a comfortzone on stage.
    I dont normally post comments but I have to agree with the author on this. A couple of friends and I got together and we cobbled together 3 songs which we did at a local open mike night. It was terrifying but we got through it and people at those things are generally 100% positive. We got through it and then we did it again the next month. 12 months later and we have played at a couple of cafes and we have a gig at a local winery next month. Seriously Nike was right - just do it!
    From my experience, most people don't notice huge mistakes, or really give a shit, I've yet to meet someone who is a major ******* to either me or any of my bands in person or any hecklers. Once you get an idea of that, then it just becomes easier to play, you feel more relaxed too.
    Yeah, I've never been heckled or anything during a gig, even when or the band made big mistakes. If something bad happens, it's usually when someone gets too into it (usually when they're drinking) and wants to hop on the mic or wants to chat during a song.
    I play live often being in a cover band (probably played at least 20 shows in the past year), and I always get nervous before a show. Every time. I think its good though, it makes me focus and dig in more. A beer or two also helps...
    My experience of playing live at Tafe really helped me to become aware of not just remembering what to play, but being prepared so that your performance has a good live sound when it comes to amp setup, tone etc. And learning how to get a good balance of sound especially when playing in a band.
    is this 100% plagiarized from the video below the article? lol
    I wrote the article first and sort of used it as a rough script for the video, I provided both because some people (like me) don't like to read I go into more detail about my experiences in the video and explain some things a bit differently too.
    Played 2 gigs and it was probably the best experiences of my life, my voice was alright but it wasnt the greatest but none the less it got me out of my fear of performing infront of strangers, now onto the big arena xD
    I'm curious how you know you are ready for an open mic performance.