Have you ever sat in the audience at a musical performance and wondered how those musicians manage to get through a performance without showing even a trace of stage fright? You imagine yourself in the same situation and you are terrified at the very thought of standing up in front of people singing or playing your instrument. What if you make a mistake? What if you lose your place, or simply draw a blank, faint, shake uncontrollably, or sound generally terrible in front of all your friends and family?
Stage fright is a pretty universal feeling. Sure there are some people who thrive on the attention of the spotlight, but most of us face this hurdle at some point in our performance lives, and for some of us it never really goes away. So, why do this performing thing that turns your insides to jelly and sets you up for the torment of humiliation? Well, there are few things in life that I know of that are as rewarding as playing music with other musicians for an audience of people who are there to listen and enjoy it. I have a core belief that fear should never be the thing that keeps you from doing what you want to do. So here are a few ideas that might help:
- You’re not alone. Don’t beat yourself up if you are afraid to perform or think that it’s an inappropriate feeling. Nearly every human being likes and needs affirmation for what we do and taking risks in that regard, in front of an audience, is scary.
- It’s just a mistake, and it’s just music. Let’s put this in perspective. If you play a wrong note or come in at the wrong time – nobody dies. There are people in the world doing much worse things than this, and no one even blinks.
- Preparation helps. Practicing is one of the few things that is within your control. The better prepared you are, the more secure you’ll feel, especially if you are temporarily out of body and have to go on automatic pilot.
- Other musicians, or your friends and family who ridicule you for being less than great in performance have some growing up to do. Remember, if anyone puts you down after you perform – it’s their problem, not yours.
- There is no substitute for just logging hours on stage. To a large degree, the fight or flight response to performing, and the uncomfortable symptoms that go along with it, are initially out of your control. You do your best and then you surrender. The more you do this the easier it gets. I promise.
- Always be ready to laugh at yourself. Laughter is a great antidote for feeling awkward (try to avoid hysteria however). Get your ego out of the way and allow yourself to be ridiculous in front of people. Everyone will feel more at ease if you can poke fun at yourself, then move on.
- Courage. It means being afraid and doing it anyway. Courage is a character trait that allows you to take the risks that make life more meaningful and satisfying. Safety is highly overrated. Remember the cowardly lion? “If I only had the nerve”
Stage fright: There is no magic word or potion that will take it away if it’s part of who you are. But you can work with it, you can turn it around, you can learn from your mistakes and your successes. Music is a path that lasts a lifetime and the gifts that you reap along the way are well worth the trouble. When you feel afraid and think it’s all too much, ask yourself: What if I couldn’t do this anymore? What if I couldn’t play music at all? Now that’s a depressing thought, right?