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  1. #1

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    After many years performing live, I still sometimes deal with nervousness as a hindrance to playing.

    As a solo performer doing chord-melody in a small lounge, I find that my playing before an audience is worse than when I play alone at home. It is an obstacle that shouldn't occur, yet does, and I would like to hear from other players on ways to overcome this.

    To clarify, it is not that I am seriously nervous, I've been on a stage a lot and feel comfortable performing, but still my playing is worse on stage and that doesn't make sense.

    Some of the problem is the sound difference in a given room, as you never know what volume you will require on a given night -- a full-house of people requires higher volume on the amp, and also the acoustics change. For me, once my sound deviates from that which I had been practicing on, it takes something out of my playing. Once I start to struggle a bit, mistakes can happen, and there is the risk of a train crash once this happens. It seems the creative state of mind is fragile, and once affected it can be hard to get back.

    How do you prevent stage nervousness from affecting your playing?

    And, how do you deal with playing well when your "sound" isn't there?

    I wonder if there is some psychology at play here, and if so I need to start addressing this.

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  3. #2

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    Effortless mastery by kenny werner. Helps

  4. #3

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    Professionals can both smile and think, "this sounds like sh@t" at the same time.


    Seriously though, nothing you wrote is unique to you, it's just the way humans are. If it becomes an issue, I have heard (in the classical guitar world) folks will take beta blockers, but I've never tried them myself.




    PS, we generally judge time in relation to our heartbeat. Think about what happens when you perform live, your adrenaline starts to pump and your heart rate speeds up. The result is what feels like a comfortable tempo might be a little faster than you play it at home. So.... Before starting the performance, internally hear the song in your head at the desired tempo (that's what many classical players are doing when they pause before starting a piece). So, when you play live, especially in that style, take the tunes just a little slower, nobody will know the difference, and likely you'll be playing at the desired tempo anyway.

    good luck

  5. #4
    destinytot Guest
    Don't 'time-travel' - stay in the moment and give it all you've got. Deal with the consequences later. Good luck!
    Last edited by destinytot; 11-19-2015 at 05:33 AM. Reason: spelling

  6. #5
    Great advice from all of you!

    I will read that Werner book.

    Trying to play at a slower tempo seems like a great idea. I do tend to speed up, that is probably why my fingers lose accuracy at times.

    In the past I used a looper, and copious chorus, delays and reverbs as a crutch -- I'm playing live without a net now, with just a little reverb on the amp. I do this because it ultimately sounds better and it's my fingers than bring the best tone from the instrument, not technology. Too many effects loses something in the tone.

    I will certainly employ the method of pausing to feel the tempo before I play.

    Classical players are serious when they approach the instrument, and that is a mindset I have admired and tried to adopt myself.

    I find musicians on other instruments -- keys or horns -- can't understand why guitarists are always fretting (no pun intended) over the "sound," but it is a serious aspect of guitar that sometimes can make or break you.

  7. #6

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    I think that a lot of it does come from the difference in sound/tone and volume from the shed to the gig. And the guitar played clean solo or in a tame jazz combo is a different animal than a guitar loaded and drenched with FXs in a rock or blues band. In that context as long as you're in tune, play in time and know the material it's hard to sound bad (or good for that matter). I'm a decent jazz guitar player but I would be terrified of a solo gig in a large venue like a theater where all eyes and ears were on me. I think that I'd drop through like a hot rock through soft cheese.
    Guitarists are notorious tone freaks. That's one reason why so many own lots of guitars. Horn players in general often tend to own just one instrument. And no amps. They just put on the mouthpiece and blow. Sax players can amass a serious collection of mouthpieces though. Most of my playing these days is in the shed but if I'm going to play out I'll practice at a louder volume than I normally would to prepare for it. And the OP is right. The creative state of mind is extremely fragile.

  8. #7

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    Last night I was watching a fascinating series of videos of an interview with Frank Sinatra and Larry King. Sinatra said that he was always nervous and nearly trembling before going out on stage. Will the voice be there? Once on stage it lasted about five seconds or so and then resolved.

    True story. I used to play in bands in high school. But in my freshman year in college was my first experience playing solo before a large crowd of University students on a big stage with fancy lighting. The setting was a cool autumn night with the stage in a spot at the bottom of soft sloping hill, so kind of like an amphitheater thing outdoors with about three hundred people or more. There were a several "acts" on the card, so I was limited to a couple of songs. I was playing Steve Howe's The Clap and Mood for a Day on an amplified classical guitar. Solo.

    I was nervous before I took the stage, but once on stage I was aware of several things. I couldn't really see the audience beyond the first row or two due to the glare of the spotlights, but I could feel their presence. My mouth was bone dry. In the very cool night air my fingers felt like numb thick sausages. It was bad.

    After a brief introduction made difficult by the dry mouth thing, I played The Clap first which went off pretty well and got applause. Should have made me feel better, but my nervous system was already fried. Midway through Mood for a Day something happened to me that had occurred once before when I was delivering a climactic soliloquy in the last act on stage in a play my senior year - my mind went blank! I was literally in the middle of the tune and suddenly lost my way in that I could not think of where I was in song. Talk about panic! I had lost the focus and the flow, because I had been thinking in the back of my mind about how my mouth was dry, my fingers felt thick and stiff...

    I winged it. What else could I do to recover? I wrapped up the tune as best I could - I honestly was just playing something that at least was not out of tune or totally off the charts. Warm applause followed as I slunk off the stage, just desperate for my heart rate to get back to normal and to drink some water. My friends told me that unless you knew the last song cold, no one noticed. But I have never forgotten that experience, which left me preferring to perform in a group situation rather than solo for some time. Safety in numbers.

    And I agree with the comment about the volume issue. When you are not used to loud volume, it is a bit of a shock at first, especially when your nervous system is on high alert status.
    Last edited by targuit; 11-19-2015 at 10:49 AM.

  9. #8

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    What works for me are a couple of thoughts. First is to put my energy and focus into Expressing what I think is the sentiment of the song, as opposed to trying to Impress the audience. Second is knowing that there are no wrong notes, the "bad" ones lead to the "good" ones. Third is always having a fall back can't miss tune as the first tune of every set, the kind of tune that is easy easy easy to play. Fourth is understanding that the audience already thinks you are awesome at guitar and they aren't there to judge you, they really want to love what you're doing and see and feel you loving what you're doing. Fifth is to play a "bad" note right from the start on purpose and see if the jazz police raid the place and confiscate your guitar. Sixth is to be gentle to yourself and laugh at your mistakes, forgive yourself your foibles as you would your best friend or partner. Seventh is to remind myself that in the big big big picture none of this matters, it's all just lagniappe.

  10. #9

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    I look at it as the audience rarely knows what's happening anyway. In today's world these club/restaurant/bar gigs aren't exactly the Blackhawk or the Five Spot in 1956 or Minton's in the 40s. I've seen some rough stuff get huge applause from a drooling audience. It's not like the patrons are chatting between sets saying things like "Yeah this guy's ok but I saw Dexter last night at the Royal Roost and he was really burnin' ". Half or more of the people at these clubs never heard of Charlie Parker until the Clint Eastwood movie. I'm not saying treat the audience with disrespect but I personally don't care what they think. And as eddy b said the audience is there to like you. But I mostly just play for myself and my fellow band members. If I'm happy and the band's happy the crowd will be to. Now if I was the featured solo artist at Carnegie Hall that would be different. But I'm not ready for that.

  11. #10
    I'm glad for all the advice.

    (mrcee I responded your PM, did you get it?)

    I have crashed and burned hard, earlier in my career a few times. Once, in a fancy big restaurant I begged the owner to let me open for a big jazz act. He let me, but when I got on stage I really, really sucked -- everything went wrong and I couldn't play. I distinctly heard a voice in the audience say "this sucks." I stopped playing halfway through and went to the bathroom. It took me 20 minutes to get the courage to emerge and exit the place past the audience with my guitar in hand. Paying dues I guess.

    I'm off to my gig now, in a new venue and with some new tunes, I'll tell you guys how it went.

  12. #11
    Great advice eddyb and mrcee. thanks.

  13. #12

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    i've heard that coffee doesn't help, 24 hours or so beforehand.

  14. #13

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    nickel

    No I didn't receive the PM. I was having trouble sending them myself until I realized that there's a little "submit message" box (about 2" below the area where you put your msg and to the right) that I needed to click before clicking "send new message" in the upper left. Maybe that's what happened. Try again. I look forward to the message.

    Good luck on the gig.

  15. #14

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    Nickel --

    I had a bout of performance anxiety about fifteen years ago. At that time I had been playing for about 25 years, so it came as a surprise!

    This piece by Hal Galper about handling performance energy during his time with the Adderly Brothers Band pointed me in the right direction. I hope it does the same for you.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Sherry
    Nickel --

    I had a bout of performance anxiety about fifteen years ago. At that time I had been playing for about 25 years, so it came as a surprise!

    This piece by Hal Galper about handling performance energy during his time with the Adderly Brothers Band pointed me in the right direction. I hope it does the same for you.
    The Hal Galper piece is great. Thanks. Pianists make some great educators. Barry Harris obviously and of course. Also Mike Longo.

  17. #16
    Back from the gig. The nervousness was a complete non-issue the moment I started playing.

  18. #17
    It helped I think to slow the tunes down, as suggested here.

    I'm drained and pushed my improvisations far.

    I need to find new things to do on ATTYA, but tonight I took that tune into some crazy places -- started it slow, then speeded it up with a walking bass line, then turned it into a bossa nova -- but I need to find new lines to bring into it.

    But the owner was happy, and I got paid, so that is that.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by nickel
    It helped I think to slow the tunes down, as suggested here.

    I'm drained and pushed my improvisations far.

    I need to find new things to do on ATTYA, but tonight I took that tune into some crazy places -- started it slow, then speeded it up with a walking bass line, then turned it into a bossa nova -- but I need to find new lines to bring into it.
    But the owner was happy, and I got paid, so that is that.
    AATYA is considered by many to be overplayed but I don't think all of the juice has been wrung out of it. I love it with a bossa feel. And it's such an important number in the jazz canon which makes it good especially for audiences that might not be super familiar with jazz. I try to play it at different tempos. That seems to suggest different melodic approaches.

  20. #19
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by mrcee
    AATYA is considered by many to be overplayed but I don't think all of the juice has been wrung out of it. I love it with a bossa feel.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by fumblefingers
    i've heard that coffee doesn't help, 24 hours or so beforehand.
    Lol, I usually drink coffee on the gig.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by destinytot
    Barbara Streisand is a fantastic singer even if I wouldn't sit around the house listening to her but that's a great version of the tune. She's definitely getting some fresh juice out of it. Thanks

  23. #22

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    Here's a few ideas.

    Practice at home using a lot of different sounds, so you get used to playing with inconsistent sounds.

    Or

    Practice and perform with an in-ear monitor, so your primary aural reference stays consistent.

    That's all I've got.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave70
    Lol, I usually drink coffee on the gig.
    yeah, it helps with concentration.


    i have used these as well:

    1. make sure that your performance is essentially flawless. (no small task)

    2. walk through any new venue to become familiar beforehand.

    3. have a friend try to distract or annoy you during a rehearsed performance. i know this one sounds silly, but i have used it successfully. when i did, sure enough i screwed up the fist couple of "takes" because i was indeed distracted. after a few tries i could totally shut them out and focus on what i was doing, while they acted up 2 feet in front of me. i felt unshakable then.

    you never know what you will face. noise, unruly audience, bad HVAC, indigestion, some other discomfort, etc, etc.

  25. #24

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    Dial it down - make things as simple as possible to find the lane you can happily & compentenly play at & then build from there.

    My first regular gig backing a singer was a disaster - really unhappy with all aspects of my playing & seriously thought about jacking it all in.

    Went back to listen to some of Pass / Fitzgerald duo albums & what struck me was the absolutely simplicity of what he was doing (some of the time!) - nothing flash - really working the guitar as a servant of the song and the singer.

    Tried that approach & it really gave me a good platform from which to develop by taking the self generated pressure off to sound good - whatever that means.

    I'll never be Joe Pass - but that's cool - I'll play to the best of my ability, keep working at it & make sure I enjoy it.

  26. #25

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    I don't think that everyone would agree with this strategy but especially for restaurant type gigs where the audience isn't necessarily really there to focus on the music, and it's more background music than anything else, I as a solo guitar player, might tend to ease into it. It isn't like "Hey everybody this is the Joe Blow Show!!" Engage in some foreplay so to speak. Or like easy relaxed small talk with a person or people you've just met. I'm not going to address them in stentorian tones with my philosophy of life and my deepest feelings. A situation like this is not like a rodeo where you bust out of the gate smokin' waving your cowboy hat. I might start out playing a little softer than normal and freely (without shameless noodling) over a tune that lends itself to a rubato feel. Maybe using a lot of 1/2 and whole notes. To warm myself and the listeners up. I've seen pianists Ahmad Jamal and Mal Waldron, at gigs, do a standard where the first 20% is fairly abstract and they might not even play anything like a literal reading of the head until the middle of the song. And this is at a first class club gig where the crowd has come to see Them.