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One of the biggest problems for performers is anxiety. I'd like to hear if anyone has had this issue and how they dealt with it. Folks who don't get particularly nervous, why do you think you don't? Those who have overcome it, how did you do it?

I've changed this post (3/8/09). This discussion became about me, which is not exactly what I intended. I do appreciate all the great comments from everyone and there is excellent information from the brain trust of the community.

I am in hopes that this will be a general discussion regarding performance anxiety in which everyone will free to offer their experience good and bad - when you realized you had mastered your anxiety, when you totally fell apart and what that was about, etc. I hope this will be a place where anyone might feel comfortable asking a question and be a resource for performers.

Tags: anxiety, fright, performance, performing, stage

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I belong to a group here on the community called Peninsula Fingerstyle. Some of our members are semi-pro who regularly gig and some are returnees to the guitar and some are new to performance. We meet informally once a month at one of the members homes and just introduce, meet and greet, check out each others cool guitars, and play tunes in song circle fashion totally voluntary. There is no stress whatsoever and no distractions and we have a lot of good feedback from folks who came in maybe not sure they would play something and then did. Sharing your music with like minded folks in what amounts to a couple hours of hanging with a few friends is maybe just enough and just right for a lot us. A nice plus is learning and sharing tips, humor, and talking about it feels to play what you love and love what you play.
Mike Nepper wrote:
"A nice plus is learning and sharing tips, humor, and talking about it feels to play what you love and love what you play."

I love this, Mike. I think this captures the spirit very well. :D
I appreciate these perspectives. Some are OK with their anxiety jamming - some are not; some are OK in group performances - some are not; some are OK performing solo - some are not. I wonder what the difference in the psychology is. Some of my thoughts are: Some folks are just born more anxiety prone. Some folks don't believe in themselves. Some folks don't believe anyone is interested in their musical taste. Some know that people will be gracious publicly, but privately are judging their performance. Some enjoy the spotlight, others not. Some think they are entertaining and never think they are not or don't care. Some have something to communicate, feel they usually can and have a need to do it. Some feel they have a gift and have a responsibility to share it. Some know how to manage their anxiety; others do not or not well.

In my own case, I have no difficulty in group situations - I can solo, jam, play rhythm, etc. with complete comfort and freedom. I played a house party solo for coworkers a few years back and was somewhat anxious, but not intolerably so. I played in a solo contest a few years ago and was terrible because of anxiety - felt sorry for the judges who had to listen to it - and my hands hurt for days because I had such a death grip on the guitar.

Generally I think solo performance is generally more anxiety provoking. Anxiety is common - the sheer volume of responses to this discussion is evidence. I recall being in a master class with Pete Huttlinger a few years ago with 4 or 5 other guys. We each played a solo tune. Each player was competent. All but one was visibly nervous despite Pete being his usual humorous and gracious. The one that was not visibly nervous (although he said he was nervous) was the more accomplished player of the bunch.

Do we accept what we can do as far as performance and keep on appreciating our music at whatever level?

What are your thoughts on the psychology and conditions behind being anxious (or not) while performing?
One thing that helps is simply PRACTICE. If you can get a regular gig, even a non-paying gig where you're regularly performing in front of people, after a while your level of self-consciousness, which is what performance anxiety is all about, will start to diminish. I play every Sunday morning at a coffee house near my home in NE Portland, Oregon, and this has helped me quite a bit. -JD
There are folks who just plain don't get nervous and others who overcome nervous feelings...or better yet manage to convert the nervousness into useful energy.

Generally speaking, my wife and I enjoy playing for large crowds. For her, she's just naturally relaxed, for me, I've just done it so many times, I just know it's going to be well.

I believe it is helpful if you anticipate being excited before a performance, and look forward to having an exciting experience.

A very important aspect is preparation. At a show a few months ago, where we played for a significant audience, they were having problems with the direct box. There were time constraints and we tried different cords, even guitars before they were able to replace the direct box...which gave me some anxiety despite being prepared. However, once we began and the audience responded, my nervousness was gone.

One helpful tip though, begin with something you know very well, because after the succes of the first songs...things tend to loosen up.
I have been a professional stage actor and a member of Actors Equity for over 45 years. The anxiety of doing live stage performances for 8 shows a week never goes away...thank God. The anxiety brings an energy and edge to each performance and actors (good actors) would be lost without it. Keep in mind our performance on stage is usually caught by critics and ends up in the ticket sales depend on good notices.

The anxiety can be controlled and channelled into making your much performance better. Over the years the number one way to control performance anxiety, whether acting, singing in musicals, or playing the guitar is to rehearse. Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. Once you have the lines, or the song down, rehease everything else. Actors rehease movement, entrances and exits, costumes, props. Players can rehearse entrances, setting up, eye contact with the audience, going from one song to the next etc. The move you rehease the more "natural" you seem to the audience.

Work, and rehearsal WILL control your anxiety so you can chanel that anxious energy into a sparkling performance. Of course you must also breathe properly and keep fit. No pill can subsitute for work and practice.
P>S> Don't try to type too fast.
In my working career I had to give speeches in front of large and small crowds. For me it was not too hard to go to local open mic nights and play. My feeling is I am playing for free so there is not a real expectation of perfection and for the most part the audiences are other players waiting their turn. As a result they are pulling for you. If you remember that, you should be fine. Also pick a face you know if possible and play to them if you feel nrevous. You will loosen up after the first song and applause. Speaking of first songs I always do a real common three chord standard to start off. No confusion, no worry about lyrics or forgetting a chord. I am up there to have fun not show off and because of this I have never met a microphone I didn't like. Just get up there and do it. The world needs more people up there playing and having a good time and giving others a good time.
You have to learn to play through your mistakes and not lose the mood or flow of what you are doing. If you are aiming for perfection you are setting yourself up for failure. Playing with other people is easier because they help keep things flowing when you goof. The mood or the message of a song is the important thing--not if all the notes are played exactly as XXXX did it. Set up a microphone and pretend to play to an audience. With some folks it's the fear of the microphone, not the audience. Believe in what you play. If you don't , who will? At some point the fear turns into "Wow, this is really fun!!" Believe me, I have been there and now I love performing. I think there is some sort of channeling that happens especially when the audience is with you. If they are just getting drunk and not listening then I play for me and do the best job I can and consider it practice. Sue Coulter
excellent analysis and advise Sue...........
Having looked thro' the discussion so far, it's full of great advice and good stage sense. If your a constant 'Angst Performer', try to perform with a friendly co-performer as a duo, always choose to start with a song you know well and could play blindfolded, and one no matter how old hat it may be, is known and involves the audience whether it be in stomping accompaniment or chorus participation, follow it with a lower tempo similar number, and then your on a roll to introduce your own less known stuff, but watch the audience, focussing on a few who've shown appreciation, so that when you see them start to distract, you know that's the time to take a break, but end the spot on a high with another old faithful that you and they know well, but remember any song introducing has to be done briefly, clearly, and not mumbled, if it's worth singing or saying, it has to be heard. At least let them hear what you had to sing or play, and remember Bill Keith says in his Banjo DVD, a mistake is only a mistake if the audience declares it as such. Go for it! Remember most in the audience cannot play, sing or even attempt to do what you are doing, if you can't relax just do it well, the appreciation at the end will encourage you. A few bum notes never hurt anyone, and it is your variation/arrangement that you are playing.
This fascinates me.
I have a very varied nervousness level. At some performances I am fine while at others my hand shakes with nervousness and, being a fingerpicker who plays tune, counter melody and bass line with most of the songs I perform, is something of a nuisance. I occasionally get away with anchoring the heel of my hand to the guitar around the bass end of the bridge saddle but this is far from satisfactory.
I do find that preparation is everything. Claiming the ground, being at the venue early really helps but I have found no consistent solution.


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