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terrible performance anxiety!

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gforce
(@gforce)
New Member
Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 1
Topic starter  

Hello,

I am not really a beginner player-- I would say that I am an intermediate player. However-- I would like to start playing with other people, and eventually I want to play and sing live--but the trouble is, I am so intimidated by other players that my mind goes blank and it renders my fingers useless. Recently, I went to play with a guy who heard that I could sing, and who was looking for another female singer. He knew I also played guitar some so he said to bring it along, which I did because lately I've been practicing alot and feeling pretty confident about my playing-- within the confines of my own home. The first song he wanted to play ( a cover) I knew really well so that went all right. I suggested another song by the same artist because he wanted to play some more uptempo country. Anyway, I had practiced this song all day, and I felt great about it. As soon as I went to play it for him, my playing fell to pieces after the first measure. I messed up the fingering, forgot the next chord, forgot the words, everything. I kept saying I was really tired, which was true, ( my 3 year old kept me up) but I suffer like this while well rested, so I was just making excuses.
Once we were on to his songs, I just couldn't keep up with his rhthym and my mind just shut down, so I just stuck to singing.
I feel really dissapointed because I have been working so hard at improving my playing. I don't want to be just a singer! I love playing guitar and singing.
I know your not therapists, but any help at all would be really appreciated. Last night I kept thinking I should sell my guitar, or just keep the playing for myself. I have a big voice and I really want to play and sing with people and in front of people, but it's never going to happen if my mind goes blank and my fingers freeze!

Thankyou,

Gforce

Gforce.


   
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Ande
 Ande
(@ande)
Prominent Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 652
 

Welcome to the forum Gforce. I hope you like it here, it's been a BIG help to me.

Some thoughts about your scenario:

It is perfectly normal. Happens to a LOT of folks, and you can get over it with time. I'm a lot less nervous than I was once about playing in public, but one thing that's still true: I have to know a song twice as well to play it in public as I do to play it in my house.

Thing two- Other players can relate. You can tell them, and the fact that they know and understand will take some pressure off. IF this guy is looking for somebody, tell him straight- I think I can do this, and I really want to, but I'm new to playing in public, and sometimes my head goes blank from the nerves. If he's anybody worth working with, he'll say, yeah, I know what you mean. Take your time and don't worry about it. And it will get easier.

Thing three- playing and singing is good. Also hard. Keep at it- it's worth it. But know that two play and sing a song, oyu need to know it better, and practice it more, than you do to just play it, or just sing it. Add the nerves factor,and you probably have to practice the songs you'll be doing out a LOT more than you need to in order to do them at home...

But it's ALL do-able. And worth it.

BEst,
Ande


   
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Alan Green
(@alangreen)
Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5342
 

ok, what are we really looking at?
Hello,

I am not really a beginner player-- I would say that I am an intermediate player. However-- I would like to start playing with other people, and eventually I want to play and sing live--but the trouble is, I am so intimidated by other players that my mind goes blank and it renders my fingers useless.

What I'd say is that everybody brings skills to the group. Just because you can't shred like Herman Li doesn't mean that the guy who shows off his chops is contributing any more than you are. Everybody has to start somewhere when they're playing with others and even if you don't get into the band on that first audition it's excellent experience for you.

The first song he wanted to play ( a cover) I knew really well so that went all right. I suggested another song by the same artist because he wanted to play some more uptempo country. Anyway, I had practiced this song all day, and I felt great about it. As soon as I went to play it for him, my playing fell to pieces after the first measure. I messed up the fingering, forgot the next chord, forgot the words, everything.

So the first one went well then. Stop worrying about the negatives - we've all fallen apart in the middle of a song somewhere. Don't make excuses, just accept that you stuffed up, say sorry if you really feel you have to, and get on with the next song.
Once we were on to his songs, I just couldn't keep up with his rhthym and my mind just shut down, so I just stuck to singing.

So, you tried out some of his regular material and you struggled in a group situation to play along with music you'd never played before. You are no different to all of us; we'd all struggle to deliver a top flight performance in that situation - see below.
I know your not therapists, but any help at all would be really appreciated. Last night I kept thinking I should sell my guitar, or just keep the playing for myself.

Don't be silly. You have a desire to get out there and perform with and for other people; it's just a case of finding the right opening. If these guys you played with ask you back - great. If they don't, you have still clocked up some experience.

Example:

Eight days ago, one of the teachers at the Music School where I work on Saturday mornings asked me if I was interested in working with her Big Band. They formed in October. The first gig is in five weeks' time. Three days ago I turned up to rehearsal and got handed a pack of 65 Big Band songs to work on. We played through eight or nine tunes which I'd never played before. There are four more rehearsals before that first concert.

I didn't deliver a world class performance - Dbm7b9 isn't a chord that just rolls off the fingers - and most guitar work stays within the range of 4 sharps to 3 flats, so music in 5 and 6 flats was always going to be dodgy; but I gave it as decent a shot as I could. Next rehearsal's on the 24th and I won't have the tunes nailed by then; in fact it's unlikely I'll have them nailed by that first gig.

So, when do you play with your guys again? If it doesn't happen, go looking for the next one; or stick an ad in the local guitar/ newspaper shop advertising for someone to jam/ rehearse/ perform with.

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


   
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Moonrider
(@moonrider)
Noble Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 1305
 

I am so intimidated by other players that my mind goes blank and it renders my fingers useless.

To quote my dear departed mother-in-law, "Lemme tell y'all a story . . ."

I've got a friend who is an absolute MONSTER on the guitar. He's got technique, and speed and a great melodic ear. I feel he's a much better player than I am. I love getting together with him for a jam, because I will *always* learn something new.

The thing is, he'll almost always motion for me to take the lead breaks in a tune, when I'm hoping to get a treat and listen to him play. I finally asked him why one day, and was stunned to hear him say: "Dude! You're a MONSTER! Every time we get together I learn new stuff, 'cuz you're WAY better than I am!"

There's always going to be people that play better than you, and there's always going to people that don't play as well as you.

There will NEVER be someone else that can play LIKE you. That's your secret weapon.

Playing guitar and never playing for others is like studying medicine and never working in a clinic.

Moondawgs on Reverbnation


   
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Apache
(@apache)
Reputable Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 301
 

Just wanted to say that I'm exactly the same, if any friends or if my parents ask to hear me play I usually screw up on the most basic stuff I can play in my sleep.

I used to get nervous when competing with the horses, but the more I did the less nervous I got, until I qualified for the British Championships, and was a complete wreck, barely sleeping for 2 weeks beforehand, but on the day bizarrely I was fine, think it was because I'd stressed so much i'd nothing left, so actually managed to enjoy the day...

So I'm hoping the more times I play in front of other people the easier it will get, I also remind myself that these people (probably out of politeness or pity!) have asked to hear me play, so they (in theory!) do want to hear me...


   
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TRGuitar
(@trguitar)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3709
 

I think it happens to all of us at times. The last time I felt nervous playing in front of someone was when we were getting our band going and a couple guys that I had gone to school with and hadn't seen in years came over to hear us. They were friends of our drummer. He had really built us up and I hadn't seen these guys since high school so....... I was a little stiff, didn't play my best leads. They thought we were amazing. I'm like, I can do better ..... They were like ... you don't need to! Normally I'm a little cocky, too much for my own good but back in the day I would have the same thing happen. Freeze up, not remember how to play anything. I think it fades with time.

"Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
-- The Webb Wilder Credo --


   
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Bish
 Bish
(@bish)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3636
 

Everything said above is spot on.

I've been in bands for over 30 years and there are still some days that don't go as planned.

I've even been tempted to give it all up and sell all my stuff (see the Swap Meet thread) but the desire to play, improve and succeed has overcome the downer mentallity I put myself into. We are all our own worst critic and don't give ourselves any breaks, that we really truly deserve. In the end, it just makes us push harder and we do get better.

You'll bounce back stronger than ever.

Keep at it. 8)

Bish

"I play live as playing dead is harder than it sounds!"


   
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NoteBoat
(@noteboat)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 4921
 

Self perceptions are interesting. And somehow, rarely accurate.

I've had plenty of experiences like Moonrider over the years. I guess the grass is always greener - we're always seeing other people as 'better' in what they have, what they can do, etc. But while we're busy envying what they have, they're busy doing the same thing right back.

I've met only a couple of people over the years who had such a strong self image that they saw themselves and their abilities as the best thing since sliced bread. And just like the rest of us, their self perception was clearly in error! :)

Just remember a couple of things:

1. Whatever problem you're having, it's over in a hurry. Since you're the one obsessing over it, it seems like a big deal to you... but to everybody else, it's just a minor glitch that they might not even notice.

2. We don't play (most of us, anyway) because we want to show off our technique. We just want to make music. Sometimes in performance we become our own worst enemies... because we start to THINK about what we're doing! Thinking time is for planning and practicing; performing is about being in the moment and reacting to whatever happens. Music is a language - just like with English, the right word doesn't always come to mind right away. That doesn't need to stop you from getting your idea across - and it's only going to stop you if you let it. Played the wrong chord? That's ok. It's the chord that's out there right now. Make it work as well as you can - don't try to 'fix' it.

I spent the first many years of my performing experience dealing with the same issues. Sometimes I still do. But I discovered something along the way: when you stress over WHAT or HOW, you're dealing with technical issues. You're in a place where you're thinking about stuff that's just the details, not the meat. The moment you let go and just DO, you become a musician. And it doesn't matter if that's just two notes or three chords or whatever... you're letting it out. Could you have done more/better? Probably. So what. You did. You made music happen. That's what it's all about.

None of us is ever at our best, technically speaking. Or at least, not for as long as we'd like. Don't ever let that stop you!

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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katreich
(@katreich)
Prominent Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 686
 

"The moment you let go and just DO, you become a musician. And it doesn't matter if that's just two notes or three chords or whatever... you're letting it out. Could you have done more/better? Probably. So what. You did. You made music happen. That's what it's all about."

Wow Tom, you nailed it! This may be added to my signature!

Falling in love is like learning to play the guitar; first you learn to follow the rules, then you learn to play with your heart.

www.soundclick.com/kathyreichert


   
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Jim BoDean
(@jim-bodean)
Eminent Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 21
 

My last gig was playing a few songs for a Valentine's Dinner at the local church. Several of my high school students attend there, and I became a hero of sorts two years ago when I played. This year they asked me again, so I prepared half a dozen songs with plans to do maybe three or four. When I got there the pastor's husband was there with his guitar. I knew he played but had never heard him. He did awesome versions of Me & Julio, Here Comes the Sun, & Annie's Song. He incorporated a lot more melody than I do. Anyway, I tried to just focus on my own abilities and do my best.

When my turn came I tried to lighten the mood by asking, "Whose idea was it to have me follow Pastor? Certainly not mine." I played John Hiatt's " Through Your Hands," Keith Whitley/Allison Kraus' "When You Say Nothing At All," and Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" with no problem. Then I went to play Steve Earle's "Pilgrim." I've been playing this song for over a year in various performances and had been practicing diligently. I play a faster version with harmonica added. I started blowing the harp and strumming when I suddenly realized I was playing the wrong song -- "All I Want Is You" by Barry Louis Polisar. It's in the same key and sort of the same tempo I play "Pilgrim" in. I could have just played "All I Want," but I'd already introduced it as a Steve Earle song. I got to the part where the words begin and just stopped. "I'm playing the wrong song!" I sheepishly announced. Somebody said, "It sounded pretty good." That helped. Then I couldn't think of what I did wrong. I had to stop and start humming the words to myself to find the right rhythm. Finally I got it and started. It got a good laugh. I felt pretty stupid, but I was probably the only one making a big deal out of it.

Moral to the story -- look for a way to gracefully (or even awkwardly) move on.


   
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RustedStrings
(@rustedstrings)
Active Member
Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 15
 

I suffer from the same problem. I become so nervous I feel like I could have a stroke or siezure. Sweaty, trembling hands, blank mind, dry mouth, shaky voice. I have nearly dropped my guitar I'm so nervous and that's in front of very small, intimate "crowds" (if you can call 5 people a crowd)....I can't imagine what a larger audience would do to me. I am not comfortable being the center of attention so....It's pretty awful. Gets me with everything from public speaking to music.

Reading these stories helps though, just knowing I'm not alone and it seems fairly common....Hopefully something we can all overcome.


   
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almann1979
(@almann1979)
Noble Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1281
 

I was exactly the same, so nervous i felt like i couldnt even look at the audience. Now, i look forward to gigging massively, and the bigger the crowd the better. I think the only reason for the change in my attitude is that i have done a lot of gigs, it took along time but now it just doesn't bother me at all, I just got used to it.

If i can get used to it, and I am quite a shy quiet person by nature, then anybody can :D

"I like to play that guitar. I have to stare at it while I'm playing it because I'm not very good at playing it."
Noel Gallagher (who took the words right out of my mouth)


   
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NoteBoat
(@noteboat)
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Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 4921
 

Bigger crowds (at least for me) tend to be much, much easier. 10,000 people is just a sea, and when I've had the chance to play for crowds that big, they're even a distant sea - the stage is always higher up, and often much deeper (for the monitors), and there's sometimes a security alley right in the front, so you can be 30 feet from the nearest spectator, and sometimes quite a bit more. The people pretty much melt into each other.

Play for just one or two folks, and they're often so close you can touch them. You can definitely see every reaction, and that tends to make you hyper-sensitive to what you're doing that isn't going like you'd planned. The absolute worst pro gigs I've done from a stage fright standpoint were in hotel lounges on off nights, with as few as one patron. And if you're in that situation it gets worse with the second set - you almost feel like you're interrupting. The only consolation is knowing that if trouble starts, the band outnumbers everybody else.

Even those situations do get easier with experience. Unfortunately, I could never figure out how to get the experience without living through the experiences :)

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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Chris C
(@chris-c)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 3454
 

Wow, what a wonderful row of replies. It's a real pleasure to read some of the threads here. :D

Hi Gforce,

My take on your situation is that - as others have said above - it's completely normal. In my experience, the cure for it is simply to do more of it. That way you lose the nerves associated with unfamiliarity and move into a more comfortable zone. The exact same problems occur with recording, and I've seen dozens of post with people glumly asking why they fall apart when they press the button and the red light comes on. I now regularly record bits of practice - which is useful in itself - and when it comes time to attempt to record a 'keeper' track it just feels a normal thing to do rather than a pressure situation.

But having said that, it's more about lowering the feeling from "nerves" to something more like "anticipation". It's not really about becoming completely blase or over-cocky. Even seasoned professional actors have said that they still get a little bit of "the butterflies" before going on. In fact I've seen it quoted that if they don't get that feeling then it's a sign that they're going flat and need to get the fizz back!

Good luck with the next time. And the next, and the next and...

Chris


   
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NEZTOK
(@neztok)
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Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 152
 

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