Food For thought

Every month Justin San­der­coe of justin­gui­tar.com lends GT his in­sight as one of the world’s most suc­cess­ful gui­tar teach­ers. This month: shak­ing off the nerves.

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO - Get more info and links to re­lated lessons on all Justin’s GT ar­ti­cles at www.justin­gui­tar.com/gt­mag

When we’re about to go on stage the adren­a­line surges and many peo­ple no­tice sweaty palms, ‘but­ter­flies’ in the stom­ach, the need to go for a wee, shak­ing hands and even nau­sea. Al­though not great things to be feel­ing, th­ese are nor­mal re­ac­tions to stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. How­ever, I have been able to change how I per­ceive th­ese things and, in­stead of think­ing about them as show­ing that I am ‘ner­vous’, they are some­thing I feel when ‘ex­cited’ by the thing I’m about to do.

The first time I played a na­tional live TV show I was feel­ing pretty peaky - big stars ev­ery­where, and I had to take a solo. I had but­ter­flies, clammy hands and buck­ets of adren­a­line surg­ing round my body. I men­tioned to one of the other band mem­bers that I needed a pee and he replied, “Me too, most peo­ple get that be­fore a big show.”

And once I had a se­vere panic at­tack mid tour. I was ter­ri­fied of going on, for no rea­son that I can think of. So I sought out a CBT ther­a­pist who worked magic over three ses­sions. Cog­ni­tive Be­havioural Ther­apy works by re-pro­gram­ming your brain, and we made the squeez­ing of my right hand thumb and first fin­ger to­gether (how I hold a pick) a trig­ger for good feel­ings re­lated to per­form­ing. It re­ally worked and I rec­om­mend look­ing into it if you have anx­i­ety prob­lems.

I’m a big be­liever in the ‘Six Ps’ too: Prior Prepa­ra­tion Pre­vents Piss Poor Per­for­mance. Be­ing pre­pared is top of the list to pre­vent anx­i­ety. But even the great­est artists make mis­takes: I’ve seen Neil Young start with a wrong har­mon­ica and have to be­gin again. Mis­takes hap­pen and it’s no big deal – just don’t ad­mit the mis­take; give the bassist a dirty look, or blame your gear.

I stud­ied clas­si­cal gui­tar at The Tas­ma­nian Con­ser­va­to­rium of Mu­sic and the ex­ams we had to perform were ter­ri­fy­ing. We’d walk into a big con­cert hall, set up and perform our reper­toire for four ex­am­in­ers who would keep blank ex­pres­sions and of­fer no feed­back at all. In my first exam my hands were shak­ing and I played aw­fully. I knew I had to bet­ter pre­pare my­self for the exam, and not just the mu­sic. So I set up my liv­ing room as the hall and would sit out­side and imag­ine that I was about to do the exam. I was able to get my­self into a ner­vous state just think­ing about it. Then I’d calm my­self down by us­ing slow breaths and the old trick of imag­in­ing my­self blow­ing all the ner­vous en­ergy into a red bal­loon and watch­ing it float away. The goal should be to let the mu­sic flow in a re­laxed way; if you keep wor­ry­ing about that dif­fi­cult sec­tion com­ing up, not only are you more likely to mess it up, you’ll also be more likely to mess up the bit be­fore it too.

Be aware of your heart­beat, too - es­pe­cially for solo gigs. It’s the body’s built-in metronome and you rely on it to judge tempo when you start a song. But if your heart is beat­ing fast you are likely to start the song too fast, and if it’s a tech­ni­cally dif­fi­cult song you’re going to face some chal­lenges.

If you’re find­ing it very dif­fi­cult to deal with then get help from a ther­a­pist; it can trans­form your per­form­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. And don’t be afraid to dis­cuss it with other mu­si­cians, as shar­ing th­ese feel­ing and re­al­is­ing that you are not alone can of­fer a lot of com­fort in it­self. Good luck and best wishes.

Justin has some great ad­vice on per­for­mance anx­i­ety is­sues

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