Playing Live: What To Do With The Little Voices In Your Head

We all have experienced some level of nervousness when playing live at some time or another. Here are things to think about before your next gig.

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Whether you play for tens of thousands of people every night as part of a world tour, or 20 people at a backyard barbeque, most of the mental anxieties musicians experience while playing live are the same. In almost every case the negative little voice in your head is centered around fear (fear of rejection, self doubt, etc.). We all have experienced some level of fear or nervousness when playing live at some time or another. You may have felt a fear of failure, fear of making mistakes, fear of what the audience will think of you, your music or your band. Have you ever asked yourself questions like:
  • What if I make mistakes?
  • Am I even good enough to be playing on a stage?
  • What if the crowd doesn't like the band, the music, or me?
  • Is this show going to be a disaster? Here are some things to think about before your next gig (they definitely work if you use them, especially if you put them all together in your thoughts). 01. Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself to perform at a very high level. The time to experience pressure is while practicing at home or in rehearsals with your band. The gig is not the time to be putting additional stress/pressure on yourself. Yes you need to concentrate on what you are doing, but have fun. If you won't allow yourself to have fun during a live concert, when will you allow yourself to ever actually enjoy music? 02. As a professional musician, the pressure to consistently perform on a world class level is higher on me now than ever before. I perform better by focusing on having fun and living my dream than worrying about making a mistake. I look at it this way, if I play 30,000 notes a night and I play 3 notes imperfectly, that means I have played 99.99% of all notes correctly. It would be pointless for me to concern myself about the 0.01% of mistakes while on the stage. If I need to practice something later to make sure I don't make the same errors in the next concert, then I will deal with that tomorrow while practicing, not on the stage. You probably play at least a few thousand notes a gig too (maybe a lot more). Of course most of us strive for perfection, but don't beat yourself up over a few mistakes. Be happy and give yourself the credit you deserve for playing 97%, 98%, 99%, or 99.999999% of the notes correctly. Don't let your desire to be perfect cripple you when the reality is that none of us can ever be perfect all of the time. If you were taking an exam at a major university and you answered 99% of the questions correctly you would feel pretty good about yourself right?! Congratulations, you just earned the grade of an A! Be happy with that while you are on the stage. You can go back home and practice the other 1% later. 03. Remember this, when you are on stage performing (for 20 people or 20,000) everyone in the audience envies you. Almost everyone there wishes they could be the one up on the stage with all of the talent that you have. Even if they don't like your music, they at least envy your position up there on the stage. So the next time you are on stage and feel nervous, remind yourself that the people in the crowd are in the crowd, only you (and your fellow musicians) are the ones on the stage... living the dream at that moment. Think back to when you began playing guitar. Remember thinking how cool it must be to be up on a stage playing in front of people who have come to see and hear you? Remember how much you desired that when you began. When you walk out on the stage, remind yourself how far you have come as a player. You are now able to do something you always wanted to be doing. The size of the concerts you play are not important really. What IS important is what you have already achieved. You are performing on stage, most people only dream about that, but now you will have actually done it! Feel good about that, don't ruin the excitement and pleasure of that experience by fear of making a mistake or two. 04. In the end, its all about the music. It's not about you or me really. As musicians we are the real instruments from which music flows. The instruments we play are merely extensions of our beings. When you play for others, you are a giver. When was the last time you ever felt nervous or afraid of doing something nice for someone else? If you hold the door open for a little old lady do you feel nervous or afraid? When you donate money to a charity, do you experience fear or self doubt about that? When you give your time to someone who needs help, do you feel nervous about that? Playing music should be no different. Don't think of yourself as an Olympic competitor that must perform perfectly to win a gold medal. Don't think you have disappointed the entire human race if you make a mistake or if the crowd doesn't like your concert. If think of your performance as giving to others you won't feel nervous or afraid, stage fright will melt away. When you perform, you add value to people's experience when they hear you. Some may like it and some may not, it's their choice or preference and even if you play perfectly, not everyone will love what you are doing. That comes with the territory. But you will have given of yourself either way. You came to share what you do with the audience. Feel good about that because when you feel good, the chances of making mistakes in a performance diminish. If you don't get anything else out of this article, at least remember this: The best antidote for stage fright is to change the mindset from impressing others to giving to others. Copyright 2007 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Tom Hess's instructional website and world tour dates
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      earlearl
      That's not bad advice, thanks. And you're advice about giving was right it's very true, thanks again for the advive. Earlearl
      punkguitarist55
      I was nervous when I walked onto the stage, but it wasn't as bad once I started playing, and saw people enjoying the music. Also.... I'm trying to conquer my stage fright. I will try to remember this stuff next time I am onstage. Thanks
      demea
      I'm always worried that the rest of the band is going to remember their parts.
      Johnothan_k
      Yeah i always shit my dacks at the thought of playing on stage but when i actually got up and did it, i loved it and kinda felt whole after it. I think now i'm a happier and more socially comfortable person just from playing my first few gigs. and yeah its Very similar to sex lol i never would have made that connection though...
      shammyshamsham
      i got better advice than all of that, do one gig, then do another, then do another, and another, until when u get up on stage it feels like home. stage fright is a fear just like any other, and as soon as u realise that it's 99% paranoia it goes away.
      Dnalrafcmb3
      rage6945 wrote: daos_soad wrote: haha how about you just smoke a blunt then play that always seems to work =] and then be too stoned to play ive tried it, doesnt work not in a live situation at least
      Uhh?? Slash?? His trademark photo is like a cig in his mouth with a guitar. He always does it, but I guess he's good enough to. Oh well...
      Nightfyre
      Obelisk wrote: _3Lm0_ wrote: Pretty good. Applicable to sex as well. Nice. Well done article. Makes me want to play shows really bad.
      so you can have sex onstage? kinky good article
      Cobain_Is_King
      Dnalrafcmb3 wrote: rage6945 wrote: daos_soad wrote: haha how about you just smoke a blunt then play that always seems to work =] and then be too stoned to play ive tried it, doesnt work not in a live situation at least Uhh?? Slash?? His trademark photo is like a cig in his mouth with a guitar. He always does it, but I guess he's good enough to. Oh well...
      He wasn't talking about just a cigarette.
      Spiritweaver
      Haha I tanked my first gig a couple days ago, wish I'd read this earlier. It seems to be very true.
      AngryGoldfish
      Fantastic article. I don't even think I need to try it because it makes perfect, logical sense! You put it very poignantly and starkly, really gets your mouth froaming for music! Well done.
      recklessftw
      Great article I think, it really helps. I found the same thing when I playing at my cousins wedding mass... Just me and my guitar. I thought this: I know my stuff, I know I am ready and most of the people wish they were me. I was still nervous because I am just a beginner when it comes to being on stage but that really helped me out. Also, really getting to know your stuff will help if the ol brain stutters a bit! Good article, I'm going to read the others from him as well.
      Tigri
      yeah cool article thx... what i experienced... i play better(or for me it seems like i play better) when im totally drunk or at least a bit
      spiderfizz
      who cares about missing notes. most of the time the audience doesnt even notice it. even if you do f*ck up, if you are a good performer, all is forgiven
      TheZookeeper
      utookmyname wrote: think about all the pussy you get after the show. thats what i do.
      Yeah, it's all about the music, until it's all about the pussy.
      zora350
      "Dont put unnecessary pressure on yourself to perform at a very high level. The time to experience pressure is while practicing at home or in rehearsals...Yes you need to concentrate on what you are doing, but have fun."
      _3Lm0_ wrote: Pretty good. Applicable to sex as well.
      oh so true.
      JackMonty
      Good article indeed. In my younger days I also took a stab at using my guitar to try my hand at stand up comedy (ala Stephen Lynch, but not nearly as good OR funny). That experience alone helped me get over any nerves I might now experience before playing. And there's always a little bit of nerves before playing, no matter how many times I've done it. The bottom line here is any chance you can get to speak/perform publicly gives you more confidence each time you do it. The other thing my failed attempt at comedy taught me: how to face rejection. It's very humbling when you can't make 150 drunk people laugh..... Peace and keep on playing - live music is the best!
      Tiznow
      Wow...lucky I stumbled upon this article....thanks man this should help
      MasmaI
      For once, Tom Hess actually wrote a good article. I feel better about singing in front of a bunch of people i don't know now.
      2nite2nite12
      Rocker Extreme wrote: Good article, but also try geting laid before the show, it improves confidence. Just make sure the chick isn't at the show, then it ruins the confidence.
      i lol'd
      Rocker Extreme
      Good article, but also try geting laid before the show, it improves confidence. Just make sure the chick isn't at the show, then it ruins the confidence.
      ColinElmhurstEX
      daniel c b wrote: very good, i was thinking of printing this and putting in my guitar case
      GOOD IDEA! good article too
      metaldier
      _3Lm0_ wrote: Pretty good. Applicable to sex as well.
      So that's what you were telling me about. And yes, good article.
      TheReFiller
      Great information! I will certainly be looking at this again when I play live sometime in the future.
      HooliganOnE
      C_majzer : Dnalrafcmb3 wrote: rage6945 wrote: daos_soad wrote: haha how about you just smoke a blunt then play that always seems to work =] and then be too stoned to play ive tried it, doesnt work not in a live situation at least Uhh?? Slash?? His trademark photo is like a cig in his mouth with a guitar. He always does it, but I guess he's good enough to. Oh well... dude, a blunt gets you high, a cig jus gives you a rush-a buzz-of-a-sort... playing while high is pretty different than playing with a dull-rush from a cigarette.
      Or just step it up to a class A, I find that usually quells any nerves or doubts
      silent caution
      this was kinda good, but for me alittle thing like wearing a hat and covering my face alittle but gave me the mental edge i was looking for to play good on stage
      SL!!!
      Pyro128 wrote: this gives me warm fuzzies inside... no clue how to spell 'fuzzies', good article
      haha, me too.
      Johnljones7443
      Nice article. Reminds me a lot of Kenny Werners book, Effortless Mastery. Which is something anyone who's interested in learning more about achieving this state of mind should have.
      C_majzer
      Dnalrafcmb3 wrote: rage6945 wrote: daos_soad wrote: haha how about you just smoke a blunt then play that always seems to work =] and then be too stoned to play ive tried it, doesnt work not in a live situation at least Uhh?? Slash?? His trademark photo is like a cig in his mouth with a guitar. He always does it, but I guess he's good enough to. Oh well...
      dude, a blunt gets you high, a cig jus gives you a rush-a buzz-of-a-sort... playing while high is pretty different than playing with a dull-rush from a cigarette.