How to stop being nervous when you play in front of people

Scroll to see the tabs

How to loose all your skills in a second

Being nervous when you play in front of other people will either make you more intensely present when you play or it will sabotage your playing to some degree. Some people loose a lot of their skills when they go on stage or even when a single person is listening to what they play. I used to drop down to 25 % of my skill capacity when ever I played in front of an audience. If your nervousness is limited to what you might feel as an added intensity in your body, then this emotion can actually help you  be more alert  and intensely present in the music and the situation.

But too much of it and you're suddenly reduced to a complete beginner again. When this happens, anything you try to play above novice level, you will fail at. You become self conscious and your brain forgets even the simplest of chord progressions and licks. And the more mistakes you make the more mistakes you tend to make. A couple of minutes of this and all you can think about is getting out of that situation.

Animals are the perfect audience

In this article and the next I'm going to give you some  tools that you can use to go beyond nervousness and maintain all your skills in any situation. I used to be terribly nervous when I went on stage, in fact, the only situations in which I played at full capacity was when I was alone. Any audience, even just one person, brought my skill level down radically.

But the funny thing is that if the audience was my dog, nothing happened. I could even play in front of several animals without becoming the least nervous. Why was that? I know it must seem like a stupid question because most of us recognize the fact that animals don't make us nervous.  But why? They are living beings with eyes and ears right? They hear  what we hear and see what we see. Then why haven't they got the power to make us nervous when we perform?

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one"

Elbert Hubbard

Because  animals do not judge us. They do not validate us. They accept us just the way we are, no matter what we do. Or they don't! But if they don't accept us and try to bite, bark or scare us away in any way, we know that it has absolutely nothing to do with us. The reason why they want to get rid of us is because they are afraid of us (or see us as food) So being "rejected" by a dog doesn't make us sad. Because the rejection has nothing to do with us as such, but everything to do with the dog.

The same goes for small kids. If a 3 year old kid tells you that he hates your guitar playing, we go "Oh he doesn't know better anyway" and we go on playing like nothing happened. We know that the kids evaluation of our guitar playing has very little to do with us but everything to do with the kid and what mood he's in. So we don't take it in.

But the same thing actually goes  for adults as well, only in this case we use their opinion as an excuse to make ourselves feel bad. Any opinion that people have is still just their opinion. And if you think you did a great job, then why be nervous about what other adults say anymore than you would if it where a dog or a child? The reason is, of course, that a child or a dog isn't linked to your survival. They cannot protect you the same way that other adults can in the wilderness, so you don't take them as seriously.

Neoclassical Economy Picking  Lick

Notice that the sequence you play on the B-string can be repeated over and over again. And you can move it even further up or down the neck. Just change the direction of your position shifts.

Human beings are wimps

But good lord, if an adult person in the audience should  even think such a thought, we're sometimes ready to roll over and die right then and there. We don't even need an adult person to actually say something about our playing, it's enough for us to have thoughts about what they might think,  in order for us to go into the mental emotional  cramp that  we call nervousness. And the reason is simple: Human beings are wimps. We don't have fur, claws, amazing eye sight or hearing.

"Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person"

Dr. David M. Burns

We can't run very fast so without each  other we die. Or so our brain thinks. We humans are born to exist and  survive in groups. For hundreds of thousands of years the group we where in where our only means of survival. And even though we have evolved and built for ourselves a world that is very different from the demanding wilderness of the past,  our brain still thinks we will die if nobody likes us. The key us to not see playing guitar as a means of getting other peoples recognition. Or at least to limit the desire to impress people to the degree to which it doesn't create trouble for you.

Impress us or die

So when we are about to get on stage and our mind and body starts reacting it's simply because our brain believes that, if you play badly enough, people will reject you and you'll be all alone and you will die of starvation or you will be eaten by wild animals, unable to protect yourself. This is why this fear can be so limiting to us. It's because on an instinctive level we believe that failing to perform well enough will kill us! 

But then why do some people not become nervous? Why is it that some people are about to implode when they even think the thought of performing in front of others, while other people feel excited about the same thing? There are several reasons and if we know these reasons we can begin to adopt the mental behaviors of those who don't get nervous. In my next article I'll give you some very effective and easy ways to get rid of your nervousness if it impairs your ability to do what you love to do.