Steps to Getting Over the Fear of Performing Music in Public

OK, you’ve been jamming at home in your bedroom for a while now, having some fun, feeling pretty good, and it’s about a “no-brainer” to improvise, at least, with your blues scales. That’s Wonderful! You have arrived! Mission accomplished.

But now… The band at cousin Abigale’s wedding wants you to sit in! Your whole family knows you’ve been practicing, and maybe even a select few have been lucky enough to hear you jam a bit in private.

Oh! The Shock! The Horror! The Terror! The Humiliation! The Embarrassment! (need I go on?) How can you bare your very soul to the masses?! Quick! Throw your instrument in the trash! Hide it (and you!) under the bed! Deny that you’ve ever even held one in your now sweaty hands!

Relax. Breath deep. You know that you can improvise just fine. A bit (or even a lot) of stagefright is very normal for first timers. Getting over it comes in stages (of course! Ha!).

Stage 1:
Fear. “They’re all gonna laugh at me!” “What if I stink?” “What if I make a mistake?” “Is my fly open?” “My slip showing?” “A piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe?” These considerations are all very natural (even if we know they’re a bit irrational). Just accept it. It’s simply part of your first steps. But hey, you’re just starting out. How dare they think anything but positive thoughts towards your efforts?! Just who do they think they are anyways?! And who appointed them your judge and jury?! Go ahead, get a little mad about the situation. It will lead you right to…

Stage 2:
Get Irreverent. Pretend you don’t care. The whole audience is just a bunch of ignorant slobs who probably wouldn’t know a wrong note if it flew off then end of your instrument and bonked them in the head anyways! (again, not that there even is such a thing as a wrong note in improvising). It has helped some (including this author), to imagine that the whole audience is sitting on the toilet! (I’ll leave the visuals up to you).

Now, you could probably stop right there in your stagefright therapy. Many have. There’s not much room for fear when it encounters things like humor and anger. Especially anger. The rock n roll world is full of intense, aloof, and mysterious angry-at-the-world folks. And many times audiences worship these types, I think, mainly because “it” (meaning anger or even any kind of intensity at all!) is something most folks don’t get to express in a normal day (or life!) themselves. Which brings us to…

Stage 3:
They need us. Yes, some fears are real. And just maybe your audience is too ignorant to “get it” (and, maybe not). But ultimately, music is a service to the listener and us musicians are the providers of this service… servants, if you will. It is also my personal belief that there is more to music than merely sound, and listeners receive more than we may yet know how to measure. With it rides all kinds of feelings and sensations, hopes and dreams (of the listener and performer), even healing, and God knows what else. It is our responsibility and honor to be a conduit for any of these things. Assimilation of this “sacred” stage makes your stagefright journey complete.