Sess ion Shenanigans
The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and personal fulfilment. This month: N is for nerves (AKA stage fright, performance anxiety, the pearlies)...
The truth is that every performer, no matter how gig-hardened or how gifted, can experience nervous tension at some time and to some degree. To be quite candid, it’s often a necessary prerequisite to be ‘on the edge’ in order to achieve musical inspiration rather than the alternative of ambling cautiously through the job in hand.
In my experience, the peculiar feature of performance anxiety is that it can happen at any time and quite often under the most unexpected circumstances.
Speaking personally, it seems to be an angst-free task to walk out to the middle of a packed 10,000-seat arena armed with only two singers, an acoustic guitar and a wireless transmitter. In fact, I write this prior to the finale of this year’s Strictly tour in the knowledge that panic has yet to ensue. Perhaps I should temper these remarks with caution until the last mellifluous overtones of Cadd2 in Falling Slowly have died away tonight. But here’s hoping.
On the other hand, put me in front of a few family, friends or guitar freaks in a small jazz club and there’s an even chance that I’ll be the proud owner of a highly collectable set of vintage sweaty palms prior to going onstage. And, of course, there are numerous symptoms of stage fright. Clammy mitts are a mere bagatelle compared to amnesia, paralysis, rigours and a nightmarish feeling akin to an out-of-body-experience, to name but too many. I’m becoming anxious even as I write. So best not get into diarrhoea, projectile vomiting, boils, or frogs.
Now, clearly I’m no psychotherapist, so I’ll leave the theoretical and academic analysis of this phenomenon to the Jung ones among you. And, according to Professor Richard at least, Jung Ones shouldn’t be afraid (sorry, it’s been a long tour).
We digress. As it happens, I have spent considerable time deliberating on practical steps to help mitigate this affliction. What follows is a condensed version of the ‘anti-nerves strategy’ that works for me. Since I appear to be a relatively standard GL model straight off the human production line, I am assuming that some of this stuff will assist you too. My principle thought here is that the goal that we seek to attain when playing to an audience (assuming that anyone has turned up to check you out) is to become lost – or at the very least immersed – ‘in the moment.’ If you’re a performer in any field, you will doubtless have experienced that blissful state where the rest of the world simply melts away. You find yourself effortlessly connected to the music and nothing else. You feel elevated to an altogether higher plane, where conscious thought itself is suspended. At the risk of inviting the sound of a D7th with a raised eyebrow from my long-suffering readers, we are talking of a spiritual experience here. Performance anxiety simply does not exist as a concept in this state. And that, quite frankly, is where the magic happens.
Today’s big news is that the attainment of this state of perfect equanimity can be achieved by adhering to the following rules. I am inured to the possibility of derision when I outline these steps quite simply because they work. And that’s an end to it. 1. Try to ensure that you are wellrested before a gig. 2. Avoid alcohol. 3. Yes. I said avoid alcohol. 4. Avoid all other recreational substances. 5. Allow yourself abundant travelling time and arrive unfashionably early. This will allow you to prepare both physically and mentally in a relaxed fashion. 6. Don’t rush. Set up slowly and very carefully. 7. Ensure that you are in total control of your material. If you intend to play from memory then it is vital that you have the music branded onto your brain. If you are reading music on the job make certain that all the technical challenges of the material have been completely mastered. Nothing is more calculated to induce fear than a nagging uncertainty that you could screw up on the night. 8. Eat sensibly not just before the gig. A communal beer and a balti an hour before showtime is as effective a chemical cosh as anything known to man. 9. Ensure that you’re comfortable during the gig. It’s amazing how sitting on a wobbly stool or wearing cool but unusually tight- fitting trousers can affect proceedings (in any number of ways). 10. Possibly – and most importantly, try to avoid your wife telling you that she is leaving you for your best friend on the day of the gig.
Try steps 1-10 today. Don’t delay! This offer is only available while nerves last.
the attainment of perfect equanimity can be achieved by adhering to the following rules