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June 06, 2011

Performance Anxiety and Feeling Inadequate

Have you ever had stage fright? Do often feel like you suck at playing? Worried you might screw up your solo or in the intro to the next song? I can relate. I remember when I was starting out playing live - I played so terrible in front of people, because I was terrified. Then when I was practicing at home, I played much, much better. This happens to a lot of musicians, so you are not alone.

Performance Anxiety is the fear of public failure when performing. It affects the physical and cognitive processes involved when performing - in this case, we are talking about music. Naturally, this can happen with other types of performances too - speaking, sports, sex, etc.

One thing that can help with performance anxiety is being very well prepared. Make sure you have done your home work well.

As for myself, what happened was that I played more and more gigs, going from playing utter crap to half-decent performances, and eventually, I developed a certain amount of confidence, that helped me relax and perform better. I honestly don't know why the guys I played with didn't kick me out of the band initially... because I was the worst in the band.

Perhaps they let me stay because our band members were all great friends, and we enjoyed practicing and writing our own music together. I learned so much during the 1-2 years playing with this local band, all of whom were better musicians than me, and also more experienced in performing live. It's possible I wouldn't be where I am today, if I hadn't had the luck to get in with them.

So what can you do on your own? Well, I have a hearty recommendation for you. The book Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within, written by master jazz pianist Kenny Werner, puts forth the idea that mastery of music is available to everyone. With the right attitude and hard work, you can achieve that mastery yourself.

It is a very good book, that makes you really take a look at yourself. We all need to read this book, if you are a musician, whether you play guitar, piano, vocals, whatever. I think we are all trying to break through creative frustration or a personal plateau. So many musicians feel inadequate, especially when we look at our heroes perform. It happens to me too now and then, I listen to Scott Henderson and feel like throwing my guitar away.

The book Effortless Mastery contains exercises that are focused on removing these fears of being inadequate. Kenny Werner states that negative programming becomes an obstacle to growing as a musician unless it is reversed. In other words, positive programming must be imposed on yourself, the musician.

As we grow as musicians, there are many obstacles to overcome. One of the biggest one is the fear of not being good enough. The mental processes that Kenny describes in this book ring so true for myself. I have learned the hard way through trial and error, and it did take a long time. I wish I had this book when I was starting out playing. It would have helped me understand better what was going on.

Pick this book up if you care about becoming a master on your instrument - it is really a great read and toolbox. The exercises will help you grow and develop, if you follow through with it.

One suggestion you can do right away is to focus on a song or a section of a song or solo, and really practice it in and out until you know it so well that you have no problem playing it in any situation. That is a very important and fundamental exercise that most people do not follow through with. If you are sloppy when learning, your performance will be sloppy too.

When I practice and learn new things, I spend enough time on it that I can play it slow, fast, in different time signatures, swing/straight, etc. I learn it inside out, in other words. I don't stop practicing it until I have it down completely. Why? Because otherwise I'm wasting my time and I'm not developing and learning new things that will stay in my vocabulary.

There are no shortcuts to Mastery - only focused and disciplined work. The more you practice with a real focus, the more you will enjoy practicing and the better musician you will become. I promise you that.

Here is a link to Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. Read it, do the exercises, and grow as a musician. You can do it.

By Robert Renman - www.dolphinstreet.com


Posted by Robert Renman on June 06, 2011

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