Stage Fright was the title of an Alfred Hitchcock film, an Italian horror movie, classic Chuck Jones Merrie Melodies cartoon and a track from The Band, but for many players — especially beginners — it’s a very real concern. The symptoms can range from a sight case of butterflies in the stomach to sweating, twitching, vomiting and other nastiness.
The good news is that are many non-pharmacological ways to suppress and combat stage fright. Here’s a checklist of 10 artist-proven techniques that can help cure a case of the spotlight jitters:
• Own the Room: Spend time before the show walking the entire room you’ll be playing. Look in the corners, visit the soundboard and the bar, even stand on stage and gaze out to where the audience is or will be. The more familiar you are with your environment, the more relaxed you’ll feel.
• Chill Before You Kill: If at all possible, don’t rush to the gig right before your set time. Get there early and relax. Let the traffic, the load-in and other hassles fade from memory a bit. Have a drink or a bite, take a seat if possible and settle in. If you’re coming straight from your day gig, this might not be possible, but it is ideal.
• Be Prepared: Practice what you’ll be playing. If you’re worried about screwing up, you’re not going to be relaxed on stage. This is terribly basic, but a real problem for new musicians who aren’t secure about the night’s material. Also, make sure your rig is in good shape. Nothing compounds stage fright more than having your signal go down or an effects box fail.
• Visualize: Before the show, and even while on stage if possible, visualize happy people in the audience loving what you do. Visualize your band turning in a historic set. Visualize yourself sailing through that challenging solo and improvising like a hero. The more you visualize, the more likely it will come true. Remember, you have every right to be on that stage even if you aren’t Duane or Jimi.
• Breathe: Proper breathing is important. When you’re nervous, you subconsciously hold your breath. I’ve literally seen a nervous performer drop on stage because he weren’t breathing. If you feel yourself getting tense, concentrate on taking deep, relaxed breathes from the belly. And find a point — whether it’s behind your nose, in you chest cavity or in your belly — to focus on the slow, steady, even in-and-out flow of air. That focus will help your anxiety disappear. This does work!
• Stay Hydrated: Having appropriate hydration helps balance the body, which in turns reduces the tendency toward panic among many other benefits. It’s a simple rule: if you feel better physically, you’ll feel better mentally.
• Exercise: Working out aerobically, even for a few hours each week, can help keep your heart rate and blood pressure low, which makes it much easier to cope with anxiety when it arises. Life is busy and demanding, but be sure to make time to take good care of yourself. Feeling good is part of sounding good on your instrument.
• Talk, Talk, Talk: Don’t put yourself in a vacuum. If you’ve gotten to the gig early, walk around the room and talk to people, even if it’s just the bartender and club staff. That helps you take the temperature of listeners before you get on stage, which allows you to prepare for the set. Being open to conversations also helps creates a friendly environment for your music and a good reputation for your band — which contributes to a more relaxing performing experience.
• Repeat: Take the stage as often as possible. Nothing better prepares you for playing out than playing out. And the more often you take the stage the more it becomes a second home.
• Smile: Go ahead. Try it right now Smiling actually does make you feel better about everything and helps relieve stress. As the Dalai Lama says, “Smile if you want a smile from another face.” And what’s better than playing for a room full of smiling faces?