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)...

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO - Mitch Dal­ton is one of Lon­don’s most sought-af­ter mu­si­cians. His lat­est al­bum, Mitch Dal­ton & The Stu­dio Kings is out now. For more info go to: www.mitch­dal­ton.co.uk

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

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