Playing live is probably the most exciting part of being a guitarist. It is also the scariest. The combination of the adrenaline and anxiety makes the experience unforgettable. What would be even better is if it is unforgettable for the audience. Your confidence is one the most important pieces in making this happen. When you are confident on stage to the degree you are confident playing at home alone then any fear will not hinder your focus and performance. It will also be apparent to the audience that you "own the stage." When you are confident your mind will be clearer and you will perform better and have a lot more fun.
First lets look at the path we need to take to get to this point. Even if you are already playing live, there is always room to grow to make things better. If you have never played live, but are planning to then this will give you a road map to help navigate you to being a confident and unforgettable performer.
Here are 10 common experiences you may have or are going to go through.
If you are the fearful type then some of these sound a little uncomfortable. You might even be getting nervous just reading this. That is pretty normal, you are not alone. Any chance we get to play before an audience is going to help us grow. The more you do it the easier it will become. You may never stop getting nervous, but you can get to a place of confidence where you can control the negative emotions of fear and use them to help you rather than hinder you.
Fear is a part of life. It is not desirable, but it can be used for good. It is going to happen. There is no way you will live your life without experiencing fear. Money, relationships, jobs, death, etc. Fear will show up and try to steal your confidence and energy, so you might as well accept that it will happen and learn to control it for your benefit and ultimately to benefit others. If you feel fear it doesn't mean you are weak. It means you're alive and there are things that matter to you. If you cared about nothing and no one then you wouldn't fear anything.
There is a time for everything and maybe you are not at a level of playing where you are ready to get on stage. If this is the case then you should get the training you need to become a great guitar player. You should also put in the time and work hard. It will pay off. As you grow in your skills and knowledge you will grow in confidence. There is a debatable and circumstantial part to this. How do you know when you are good enough to play live? If you wait until you are perfect you will never play live. By doing the 10(very normal) things above you will grow in confidence and you will also grow in experience and knowledge about how to do things. Play with people who are better than you. You can do this in a band or just jamming on a regular basis. It will challenge you to get better. If it's in a band and they are close to your level you can still have fun without feeling like the weak link. If all you can do is power chords then get in a band where you can utilize that and keep working on other skills and techniques while you get the experience of playing in a band. You will grow quicker by playing with other musicians more frequently.
A big part of playing live that musicians overlook is practicing the live performance. Get familiar with
what it will be like playing live in your band practice space before you get on stage. Often bands practice set up in a circle facing each other. This is great for communication and working out the songs, but once you book your first show you should have already started practicing set up how you would be on stage. If you are not used to this then some undesirable things may happen on stage. You may walk out there confident, but you will quickly lose that when you are in a completely different setting. Eliminating as much of the unexpected beforehand will make it a lot easier to make quick decisions while performing.
Everything you can do within reason to be prepared will help with confidence. Even having a backup guitar in case you break a string or rehearsing a little extra. There is a practical part to helping you feel more confident, but the mental part is really where confidence is. I've seen people who were mediocre guitarists succeed solely on their confidence. I'm sure you have too. Was it wrong for them to succeed? Of course not. There was an opportunity and they took it when everyone else was too scared. Don't let fear or insecurities hold you back.
Ryan Duke is a musician, songwriter, and teaches guitar lessons in Seattle.
His music is a unique breed of avant-garde progressive metal. Download a free e-book for help to improve your guitar playing.
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