February 11, 2014 by Don Russo
A student recently asked me how to get over stage fright. This is something that all musicians wrestle with at some point in their careers. I’ve played in front of people many times, and there are still occasions where I get a bit nervous. Usually, it’s settings like weddings and such that rattle me a bit. Of course, I’m sure if I were thrown onto a talent show with millions watching, I would get some nerves. So, how does one get over this stage fright effect that happens to us all? Here are a few practical pieces of advice that I have gathered through the years:
If you want to get over stage fright, play on the stage more. I know that doesn’t seem very enlightening, but that is the quickest solution. There is truly something to be said about facing your fears. You will never get over it until you do. So, put yourself into situations where you will have to play in front of people. The showcases we have at Freeway Music are a great first step to helping students become more confident. The crowd is very forgiving and supportive. Also, playing with a group of students can help students feel more comfortable. Students don’t feel isolated in front of a crowd, and they have some other students to help “cover up” their mistakes. This leads me into the second point.
I would say that nearly 100% of all students do not perform their piece or song as well in front of the crowd as they do the 100 times they practiced it prior. You simply cannot replicate that situation. I still make mistakes at my gigs all the time. It’s just that they are less noticeable because I’ve become a “Professional Mistake Cover-Upper.” The trick is to not let mistakes get into your head and snowball your performance. A mistake can easily dismantle an entire performance. It’s a vicious cycle. Instead of thinking of a mistake in a negative light, think of it in a positive light. My guitar teacher, Robert Newton, put it best when he said, “If you get a lemon, squeeze it and make lemonade. Every Mistake is an opportunity for genius.” Miles Davis said. “Have no fear…there are no wrong notes.” You have to learn to roll with mistakes as they happen, not allow them to get in your head, and nail the rest of your performance. How many times have you seen an Olympic athlete fall in a routine, get up, nail the rest of the performance, and win a medal? It happens all the time.
Though you can’t simulate a real life situation of being on stage, being prepared is of the utmost importance. It’s similar to a flight simulator, a fire drill, or military training. Those people are training for when the day actually comes, so they can be ready. The better you train and prepare, the easier the actual day will be. Make sure that you have your piece down cold. Play your song(s) in front of family, friends, acquaintances, and anyone who will listen. Record yourself with a camera, but don’t allow yourself to stop. Then, watch it to see how you do. Practice singing in front of a microphone, standing up, using pedals, or any other dynamic that will be involved. Rehearse in the place you are actually going to play. Get used to how you will sound that day. There are so many ways to prepare yourself for the actual day you have to get on stage. Imagine getting on stage for the first time not having prepared all of these things. Not only would you be naturally scared, but you wouldn’t be fully prepared, or able to react properly. Then, you would probably make more mistakes and the atmosphere would make it easier for those mistakes to get in your head. You’d be amazed at how being prepared and able to react will auto-pilot you through a performance at times.
It’s time to put yourself in a situation where you have to be on stage. This will force you to get prepared. You will more than likely make mistakes, but don’t let them get into your head. The more you perform, the easier it becomes. Then, one day you also may become a “Professional Mistake Cover-Upper” like me…haha! Everyone can beat stage fright! Good Luck!