4 simple ways to become super confident

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How someone with no skills can take away the prize

When I was in high school I participated in a guitar contest. I was, by far, the most skilled guitarist in that school so I was pretty confident that I would win. But my anxiousness caused me to perform at a very low level while another guy with half my skills went completely berserk on stage. He didn't care that he couldn't play very well, he just did everything he could to sound and look like the greatest guitarist in the world. And I had to admit that he pulled it off.

He performed every move in the book and won the heart of the judges. Even though I wasn't able to grasp the full extend of that  lesson at the time - I did realize that he possessed what I lacked: A focus on having fun and a complete lack of desire to be significant. (Because he knew that he wasn't! He knew that he couldn't show the audience anything flashy on the guitar so he wasn't burdened by the need to do so)

Lars Ulrich didn't care

A couple of years ago I went to a Metallica concert in Copenhagen. The drummer of that band, Lars Ulrich, is from Denmark and he was very happy to be back in his home country. So during the first song they played, he stood up and saluted the audience several times - and when you're a drummer that has quite an influence on what you are playing. Because he was so focused on connecting with the audience, his work on the drums sounded like it came from a drunk newbie.

But he was having fun! And he didn't care about the mistakes he made at all. When you are ready to let communicating with the audience screw up your playing, you are on your way to eliminating stage fear. Why? Because you can't focus on having fun and be anxious about what people think at the same time.

Are you staring silently at the fretboard?

And there's another lesson in here as well: If you want to play Rock'n Roll you must let yourself loose and get a little crazy. Accountants and scientists are allowed to stare silently at the tools they use to do what they do, but guitarists, no. You have to accept mistakes all the time. And when you do, they wont be mistakes but an integrated part of the whole.

The first way to become super confident

Now I promised you some strategies that you can use to eliminate the fear of playing in front of others. Here's the first and most effective one. It's based  on the concept of "systematic desensitization" It requires that you put yourself in a situation where you do what you don't like to do: You find a street corner and start playing for people walking by. You might want to team up with a singer or another guitarist to make the process a little less scary. Practice at least 4 songs that you can play by heart. Then decide to spend several hours if not an entire day performing in front of the often completely indifferent crowd that walks by.

And don't expect to feel significant. Expect people to not  give a hoot and then force yourself to stand there performing for several hours. If you're in school you can perform in the hallway, if you live in a big city you can perform in the subway. If you stand there long enough you can completely eliminate your fear, because you teach your brain that you don't die from performing and that even though people seem to reject what you are playing (All though a few might actually like it) you are perfectly fine afterwards.

Alternate Picking Arpeggios Sequence

I came up with this sequence when I was messing around with different arpeggio shapes. Pure alternate picking all the way.

The Kurt Cobain method

A second way to kick the fear habit is to consciously and deliberately play wrong stuff when you're on stage. Fool around with it and tease the other guys that you're playing with. Make funny faces when you play. Listen to a guy like Yngwie Malmsteen who makes a lot of mistakes when he plays - And see that he doesn't care. Consciously take on a more "flamboyant" and provocative attitude when you play and say over and over again in your head "I don't give a damn how many mistakes I make as long as  I'm having fun" It's not making mistakes that hold you back, it's the fear of making them that's the problem.

Consciously decide what attitude you want to have when you get on stage or even when you play in front of your sister. And then choose to be the fun guy instead of the cramped up perfectionist in the corner. Start by striking the wrong chord if you're the one who begins the first song. Then say "ups" - smile and continue.

The B.B. King Method

Another effective strategy is to limit yourself to playing very very simple stuff. Deliberately remove your chances of impressing anyone by playing stuff in your solos that you really know and can control under any circumstances. Decide in advance to not impress anyone, and I promise you, you'll end up with the opposite result. When you deliberately remove the pressure to perform brilliantly, by making it a discipline in itself to do the opposite, you free yourself from the need for significance and you'll find yourself playing much more confidently than usual.

"Anxiety is the rust of life, destroying its brightness and weakening its power. A childlike and abiding trust in Providence is its best preventive and remedy"

Tyron Edwards

Visualize total failure

Here's my last piece of advice on this subject: Practice playing while imagining a very tough crowd in front of you. Imagine 10.000 people in the audience and they are not impressed with what you do or who you  are. If you give this exercise a minute or two you will be able to feel some amount of anxiety just by imagining the situation. Then smile and stay in that feeling. Play and have fun while you keep imagining the unhappy crowd.

Teach your brain that you are the source of whether you feel good or not, not the crowd. Teach it that  you can feel great playing in  front of people even though they don't like what they see and hear. Because the crowd isn't real but imagined the feeling of nervousness doesn't get so bad that you can't overrule it with your smile and your good mood. Therefore it's a perfect tool for putting yourself in the situation that you're afraid of, without loosing the ability to control your emotional state.

If you do this for 5 minutes every day, you'll be ready for the "play-in-front-of-others-for-an-entire-day-exercise" What ever you do, start where you can. Do as  much as you feel you can, but most importantly: Act on it. Do something, anything! Take the next step towards having more fun and less pain when you play in front of other people - today.