Top tips for guitar players on overcoming stage fright


17 COMMENTS

It’s normal to get nervous before you play your guitar in front of people, be it a crowd of three or 300. In fact, a bit of nerves will probably even make you perform better. But too much stage fright can have the opposite effect, and stop you being best the guitar player you can be. Here, then, we look at why stage fright can be so, well, frightening, and give you some cool tips fighting, conquering and overcoming your nerves before you rock the stage!

OK, admit it. When did you last you suffer from stage fright?

If you’re a guitarist – or indeed, any kind of music maker – who’s ever played live, chances are you’ve experienced pre-show jitters as you wait around for showtime before taking those long steps up to the stage.

It’s a strange, unnerving experience with cold feet, clammy palms, weak knees, a racing heart, frayed nerves and that sinking feeling that everything you put so much work into learning has been wiped from your mind.

Now how did that tricky transition from the bridge to the chorus go? Drawing a blank when you’re expected to deliver is never pleasant, but the stage has to be one of the worst places for a brain-freeze.

Why we get scared before a show

Stage fright sucks.

Once your confidence heads south, even a long, thorough soundcheck may not help you get your groove back. Rehearsals prepare you for gigs, but they still can’t simulate that moment when the drummer starts counting off in front of a crowd.

The moment of truth: this one is probably twice as scary because there are two drummers counting the band in.

The moment of truth: this one is probably twice as scary because there are two drummers counting the band in.

It’s especially dispiriting when the band sounds terrible in that empty, cavernous hall during a soundcheck. Or when you’re worried about fussing with your new pedal’s unfamiliar controls, concerned about your restrung guitar’s tuning, or fretting over that new song you still haven’t fully mastered (a failing you’d never admit to your band mates).

And then there’s that pesky in-ear system that sometimes sounds so puny and leaves you feeling like you’re playing in a vacuum. Or that wireless harness that lets you down in the worst possible moments.

And to make matters worse, your new girlfriend, guitar teacher and music police-minded classmates just texted to let you know that they’re on their way and will be watching your every move.

Even the pros get nervous

There are many things that can give you the fear shortly before a concert kicks off.

And even if that sense of all-out panic starts to evaporate after the first song, stage fright is a specter that can linger.

It’s not just amateur musicians who struggle with that particular demon; even professionals are not entirely free of it. Even in the classical world, we’ve heard that drink and drugs are commonplace, with players in symphonic orchestras routinely reaching for beta-blockers or alcohol to deaden their dread before big concerts.

In the worst case, this fear of failure can be pathological, which is why the American Psychiatric Association has recognized music performance anxiety as a type of disorder.

Here’s what Mike Scott, guitarist with pop behemoth Justin Timberlake, has to say on pre-gig nerves:

 

What can we do to beat stage fright?

Something needs to be done about this; fortunately there are things we can do to ease the anxiety and keep the panic at bay.

We can start by looking at stage fright as an asset and embracing it for that boost of nervous energy it can give us. If we believe we’re too strong to let it torment us, a healthy helping of angst can be an excellent sparring partner because it challenges us to give it our best.

But you have to face the enemy and take the fight to the fright.

If you take it lying down, fear will kick your ass. But if you take the initiative, you can let your opponent’s momentum propel your performance and music to another level.

So let’s start with the fundamentals: attitude and equipment!

Have a guitar and amp sound you can rely on

First, you want to avoid taking the stage with any doubts about your sound not being up to scratch or that the balance of the various instruments’ levels isn’t quite right.

If you can’t hear yourself properly, you won’t be able to perform to the best of your abilities. On the flipside, if all the audience can hear is a blaring 4×12 cab, even the best of your abilities will go unappreciated. Trust us on that one.

For me, peace of mind starts with the certainty that I’ve got a good guitar sound.

It might not't completely remove stage fright, but knowing that you've got a good guitar sound in the bag is one more thing to feel confident about when you hit the stage. It's one less thing that can go wrong, after all...

It might not’t completely remove stage fright, but knowing that you’ve got a good guitar sound in the bag is one more thing to feel confident about when you hit the stage. It’s one less thing that can go wrong, after all…

The conviction that my trusty backline will deliver the tonal goods in ways that I know and love defuses a lot of my pre-gig jitters. It’s not hard to tell which amp is the right amp – quite simply, it’s the one you feel most comfortable using!

Keep your guitar fit for the stage

If you want to rock solidly, you’ll need some rock-solid wood and wire.

Make sure your guitar is set up well and change strings at least a day before (read how to do an awesome job of that here) the gig so you’ll have plenty of time to stretch out all the residual elasticity. Personally, I like to put a new set of strings through one band rehearsal and lots of wild bending before I play a show with them.

They may not sound quite as bright and fresh, but I find the tuning stability comforting.

During soundcheck

Don’t settle for anything less than a good monitor signal during the soundcheck.

Whatever you source may be – an in-ear monitor or floor wedge – make sure at least one primary harmony instrument (a second guitar, keyboards or the like), a timekeeping component (snare, hi-hat), and the bass are always audible in your monitor.

Without these references to guide you, you’ll be flying blind and may find it hard to stay on course, harmonically and rhythmically.

By the way, we’ve done another blog that’ll help get you through the soundcheck process as smoothly as possible – read that here.

Practice makes perfect

Practice the difficult parts in your set more often than things you can do in your sleep.

The more you practice your parts at home or in the rehearsal room, the less you'll have to think about them on stage, and the more you can focus on the important parts of your performance. In short, it's another thing not to have to worry about!

The more you practice your parts at home or in the rehearsal room, the less you’ll have to think about them on stage, and the more you can focus on the important parts of your performance. In short, it’s another thing not to have to worry about!

Of course, it’s a lot more fun to play songs and parts that come naturally or that you’ve thoroughly mastered. However, every additional minute you’ve spent practicing a tricky part will pay dividends when it’s crunch time on stage.

Always play like you’re rocking the stage

Here’s a tip that the great Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi first gave nearly 400 years ago: how you train is how you will fight.

If you want to vanquish the foe that is fear, you have to perform practical exercises that condition your responses in concert situations.

This is best done by replicating the gig scenario in your rehearsal room.

If the space is large enough, set up your equipment exactly as you intend to do later on stage. This should accustom you to the setting and sound.

If your rehearsal room can accommodate a couple of people, invite them over for a condensed concert so you can practice in front of an audience.

Take it from me; a private little concert like this is perfect for exorcising the demons of dread.

But make sure you invite people who can be expected to listen with an open mind and trusted to keep their critique constructive.

Goodbye stage fright!

Do all these things, and I’m confident that you’ll soon temper, if not tame, your music performance anxiety.

And one last recommendation: it always helps to talk about it, so don’t be afraid to share your worst, weirdest or wildest experience with stage fright.

We’re looking forward to your stories about cold feet, clammy hands and a knotty stomach!

 

First published: May 13 2016. Most recent update: December 22 2016.

And if you liked this post, try these too:

Leave a comment

Guitar Graph on May 11, 2017 Reply

Even though you’re a good guitar player performing on stage is a different thing. You always get butterflies in your stomach. But after striking your first chord and you find the audience enjoying then you’re good to go.

GuitarReviewed.com on March 15, 2017 Reply

I remember when i had my first performance, i was so nervous in front of the crowd. With the tips you have given in your post, i know next time i will be very courageous. Thanks

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on March 31, 2017 Reply

    The more you do it, the easier it will be 🙂 Good luck!

Tom S on December 27, 2016 Reply

A quick tip on Stage-gitters: Since I am usually most nervous at the very beginning of the gig, we always put an “easy song” as the first song of the night. Something that is nearly impossible to mess up. Additionally, a song that has a strong rythem helps the entire band concentrate on the beat and coming together. For example, Ain’t no rest for the wicked by Cage the Elephant is what we frequently use as our first song.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on January 5, 2017 Reply

    This is a super-practical and useful idea Tom, and actually one we’ve used too. Kicking off a set with Livewire by AC/DC was always a great way to get warmed up without worrying about fluffing anything in the all-important first minute, especially for the bass player 😉 Plus something like that can actually help you build tension and momentum in your set, and get that rhythm going, so it works in a few ways!

Brian B. on October 29, 2016 Reply

One key point never mentioned in your article, that I find is vital…. learn how to breathe. Seriously.

We all do it constantly just to stay alive, but actually doing therapeutic deep abdominal and chest breathing is something you definitely need to practice like meditation, before your gig… Just as you spend time practicing scales, chords, rhythmic timing, and technique, and it may help defuse the counterproductive stage jitters enormously.

Two different guitar teachers I’ve had, recommended the same book, which offers useful exercises on deep breathing and meditation: “Effortless Mastery”, by Kenny Werner. Great read, and useful philosophies and approach to practice and performance.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on November 4, 2016 Reply

    You’re right Brian, and that’s a great point – breathing is a key thing we should have mentioned here! Get your breathing in check and focusing on the other stuff also becomes that much easier. We’re putting that book on our Christmas list this year 🙂

Scott deuel on May 14, 2016 Reply

One sure cure of stage fright….imagine everyone in the audience wiping their ass!
Works for me..

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on May 17, 2016 Reply

    Ha ha, we’ve heard about imagining the audience naked, but is is one step further 😉 Still, whatever works for you Scott 😉

Cole C. on May 14, 2016 Reply

Great read. You guys are the only manufacturer I know that also has a blog. I’ve been eyeing a few Grandmeister 36’s for a couple months, and your blog with real advice makes me want to support your brand that much more.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on May 17, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for the kind words Cole. We’re guitar players too at the end of the day, and we just want to use our site to help out other guitarists as much as we can 🙂 We’re happy you’re getting something good out of it, and we hope you love the GM36 when you try it!

Richard on May 13, 2016 Reply

Great, thanks!! Bizarrely there’s a technique (be careful with this) where if you’re nervous try and make a mistake and you don’t. I’ve tried this and it works! Reverse psychology….

Nerves are nothing to be afraid of.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on May 17, 2016 Reply

    Hmm, interesting technique Richard – we might have to try this one 🙂 But we could look daft if it doesn’T work for us 😉

Huey T. on May 13, 2016 Reply

Hi Guys,

great and funny stuff, indeed, but what is stage fright, when you are married? 🙂 but you’re right, when the first song is finished, stage fright goes! It’s like a fart – you know long before that it is uncomfortable, and when it’s finally over, you’re happy 🙂

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on May 13, 2016 Reply

    We don’t know how to answer that Huey… but you’re right 😉

Ben Tee on May 13, 2016 Reply

Cheers for another great blog guys, I learn so much from this site! My first gig was the worst for nerves, but it’s like Mike Scott says, after the first song it goes away and you don’t think about it anymore. The next gig is a little bit easier, and the next one too, and nowawadays I just get like a nervous energy before I go onstage. I find that if I don’t get nervous at all before, I probably won’t play as well as if I do!

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on May 13, 2016 Reply

    Glad you’re enjoying the blog Ben, and that it’s useful for you! It’s funny, but we know what you mean about playing worse if you don’t actually get nervous before a show – always a bad sign 😉 Anyone else experienced this? Maybe it’s because if you’re not so bothered, you get less of an adrenalin kick and put less into it, or something… Would love to know if there’s a more scientific explanation for this 🙂