For a lot of musicians there is a disconnect between practice and performance. To some it’s as if they’re 2 different players. If you’re feeling this way you’re not alone. There are a lot of factors that make performing and practicing different. The most obvious is the adrenalin you get when playing live. It feels like you’re moving at the sped of light.
There are no consequences when practicing at home. You make a mistake it’s no big deal. People aren’t watching you or judging you. What a drag it would be if they were!! This doesn’t always prepare you for the stage though.
Often less experienced musicians get onstage and can’t control their thoughts or remember things they prepared at home. In your bedroom you’ll have 10 riffs to try, but when you reach the stage you remember 4 at best.
Imagine you have a bucket with holes in it. You need to transport water from the stream to your camp site that’s half a mile away. By the time you get back to camp there is 4 cups of water left instead of a gallon. This can be the experience onstage until you gain the power to control the moment.
So how do we control the moment?
Concentration is the biggest key to solving this issue. First off it will calm your nerves. Nervousness is evil to all things memory. Staying calm and focused is the objective. Often when onstage there is a lot to be stimulated by. Lights, smells, sounds, thousands of screaming fans (aka your parents and 20 of your close friends)… Much more stimulation and distractions then what you’re used to on a daily basis.
Meditation can help you gain control over your mind and improve concentration. It doesn’t mean you have to be a zen master (although it wont hurt). It just means that if you practice some meditation basics, it can help you tame your over stimulated brain onstage.
If you’re interested in some exercises for meditation please feel free to contact me.
The most obvious step is playing every note like you mean it. Yes, there are times when we have to try and figure out new techniques. A bit of your practice needs to be dedicated to the observation of what your doing without passion. Once you’ve observed enough to get a grip you need to move into “stage emulation” mode.
It’s time to pretend you’re onstage and have one chance to get it right. This means you should not be playing a random loop for 20 minutes. Play a solo or passage like you would a song. No longer!! Stop when you finish your song, take a bow and move on. OK you don’t really have to take a bow. (You can if you want but make sure to take your top hat off.)
Don’t repeat the song until later. You don’t do the same song twice a row in a set do you? No!! (in-case you were thinking yes, NOOOOOOO!!)
You get one shot onstage. When you reach the “stage emulation” period of the session group a couple of songs in your library. Play each song once in order like a set. Record them as a performance and take a break when finished. Come back, listen and repeat. Do this everyday. Perhaps even change the room you’re performing in.
Straight Up Now Tell Me
Do you stand or sit when onstage? Use the same position as you do while performing.
Do you move onstage? Well then move at home. Get into it!! Play every note as if Pete Seeger is coming with an axe to cut the power cable to your amp (yes it’s a real story including Bob Dylan worth checking out). Don’t be both Clark Kent and Superman. Always be Superman. Minus the leotard (ahem, I mean super hero outfit).
Most musicians play more aggressively onstage compared to at home. So then… don’t wimp out. Guitarists, ever notice after you perform your fingers are sore from one set? Yet you can practice 3x that length at home with no soreness? That’s a clear sign you’re not playing with the same intensity.
You need to get into the mindset that you desperately need to play well. Performances are survival. Part of your home practice routine should be getting into survival mode.
The more you create a “live” environment at home, the better your going to be able to control the real live setting. This is essentially why they have space shuttle emulations for astronauts. They create problems astronauts have to solve so if the real problem ever happens, they not only know what the protocol is but how it feels to go through it.
Everybody has said I wish I could play like I do at home. That’s because you spend so much time at home playing and so little onstage. You comfort level is with a different considerable more laid back setting. Not to mention a more repetitious one.
Chain of Command
The more your mind has adjusted to this wild ride of performing onstage it can focus on the important bits like EXPRESSION.
Back in Line Private!!
The only way to stop your fingers from doing all the talking is through concentration.
In practice you should always be playing along in your mind, not just letting your fingers do the movement. You should see everything in your minds eye at all times!! You mind tells your fingers what to do, not the other way around.
Mind = Military General
Fingers = Military Private
This frustrated me for many years. I always felt like I played things I didn’t want to play. I bailed on what I hoped to play. That’s because when the lights come on there is that rush… You immediately get pushed out of the plane. Your first response is to enter panic mode. Panic mode screws everything up.
By concentrating, and playing things in your minds eye you can avoid that panic. You really only get into trouble when you play your instrument like it’s an involuntary response. After all it’s supposed to an expression of what you’re feeling and thinking. Not a physical habit.
This is all easier said then done and will take time. Go and put yourself in uncomfortable playing situations. Give it your all. Don’t just kind of play. Think of every note as meaning something. Because someday it will.
Feel free to contact me for any questions regarding Stage Fright or Performance Anxiety