How to Overcome Stage Fright

On stage. looking toward the audience.Some musicians are lucky enough to never experience much stage fright, while others might experience painful amounts of it at some point or another in their playing careers. For those of you who have issues with nervousness, self consciousness and fear while playing for others, and if these feelings adversely affect your playing in these situations (if you’re feeling these things, you can bet they’re hurting your ability to play), then this article is for you. There are strategies for eliminating these feelings and becoming comfortable playing for people.

Like anything else related to improving as a musician, performing without stage fright is something that needs to be practiced. Simply reading the recommendations in this article isn’t enough. What you need to do is take these ideas, think about them a lot while practicing at home, and then seek out opportunities to perform for people and experiment with putting these ideas into action.

Stage fright comes from the fear of looking foolish or incompetent to other people. Or, on the other hand, the desire to impress people. Either way, you’re being concerned with how you are appearing to other people rather than being absorbed by the music you are playing. The more you can mentally immerse yourself in the music, the better your experience of performing will be. So, with that in mind, here are some ways you can go about doing that.

1. Intensely feel the emotion of the music you are playing. Think about what the song is trying to express. Is if feelings of joy? Sadness? Aggression? What kind of story is the music telling? Once you’ve become aware of that, practice playing the song and really make sure you are feeling whatever it is the song is trying to get across. In fact, you should try and feel exaggerated emotions. Try and feel them so strongly that thoughts about how you are appearing to other people, or thoughts of possibly making mistakes, or any other kind of self conscious thinking doesn’t enter your mind.

You should try and do this even if you are practicing a song that doesn’t particularly move you. In this case, you can still think about what the song is trying to get across even if it isn’t getting across to you. Then force yourself to feel what the song is attempting to express. This is also a good exercise for times when you have to go out and play a song that you don’t like, which every musician has to do now and then.

2. Record yourself. The closest thing to giving a performance when by yourself is to make a recording. When recording, you are sill performing. Your audience just exists in the future when the recording is listened to instead of being right in front of you at that moment. So, hit record, try playing the song though from beginning to end and see if you can keep your cool and maintain your focus.

3. Be aware of your emotional state before a performance. Stage fright is a particularly cruel affliction, because it works as a feedback loop once it starts. It usually goes like this: you’re feeling nervous before your perform, which causes a release of adrenaline into your bloodstream. You go up to start playing, and that adrenaline makes your thinking unfocused and it gives you that clammy, shaky feeling in your hands. This causes you to make a mistake while playing, which then makes you more nervous and causes a release of more adrenaline. This causes another, possibly worse mistake, which makes you more nervous, and so on.

Therefore, it’s important to remain as calm as possible before a performance so that you can cut off this process of before it starts. Go someplace that makes you feel calm during the lead up to the performance. This might be a quiet place where you can be alone, or a busy, noisy place filled with people. It depends on what works for you. Don’t think about the performance at all. At this point you’ve practiced and prepared all you can, and thinking about the upcoming performance will only cause you to fixate on in and become nervous. Regulate your breathing, and make sure you are taking deep, slow breaths. If you are with people, try and cultivate a relaxed, happy atmosphere.

4. Perform as much as possible. It all comes down to practice. The way to practice is to seek out as many opportunities to perform as you can. Before and during these performances, implement these strategies and see how well they hold up while you are actually playing for people. Assess what happened, make changes and try again.

Performance opportunities could be taking your instrument with you when you hang out with friends and playing a few songs for them. Or, gather your family (or whoever you live with) for a quick run through of what you’re working on. If you want to take a step up, go out to an open mic. If your music teacher has recitals, make sure you participate in them. Basically any way of getting in front of people to play what you’ve been working on will do the trick.

By controlling your emotions, shifting your mindset away from yourself and toward the music you’re playing, and practicing maintaining these mindsets while in the act of performing for people, before too long you’ll come to feel comfortable and enjoy playing for people in a way that you didn’t before. Not only will performing become something that is pleasant to do, but your playing will benefit as well. All good music comes from a mindset that is not self conscious and free of anxiety or fear.

Photo credit: marfis75 / Foter / CC BY-SA

Andy Lemaire

Andy Lemaire

Andy Lemaire is a guitar instructor and working musician in Greensboro, NC. He stays busy running a bustling teaching studio and gigging with numerous bands. You can find him on Facebook and Google+.
Andy Lemaire
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