In one of my very first blog posts, over 4 years ago, I talked about my commitment to performing more often.
Since then, I have performed as an instrumental soloist fairly regularly at 3 different open mics; I have performed at an adjudicated festival 3 times; and I have played at a street festival at least three times. And while I can’t claim to be an expert I have gained some insight into combating stage-fright and getting the best possible musical performance.
The first, and most obvious, one is “practice, practice, practice.” I won’t spend a lot of time on this, except to say that, among other things, you should do your best to mimic “show conditions” when preparing for public performance.
The second, which took me a while to figure out even though it should be obvious, is “get plenty of rest”. It is no co-incidence that car accidents rise dramatically when we lose an hour of sleep to daylight savings time and drop dramatically when we get that hour of sleep back. We function better when we’ve had a good night’s sleep.
The third, and for me this was the real revelation, is “ignore the audience.” I have always been told that you need to engage your audience, and this is true, but you don’t need to pay attention to them. For a while, I believed that engaging your audience meant making eye contact – which almost always resulted in mistakes of one form or another.
I started paying attention to performers that I liked and noticed that most don’t look at the audience much, if at all, when performing. Many actually close their eyes or spend much of their time looking at their instrument – and yet, as an audience member, I was engaged! These performers did not draw me in by interacting with me… They drew me in by interacting with the music that they were playing!
This revelation has had a profound influence on my performances and preparation.
For me, this has meant that I have had to start working on playing standing up. For the instrumental music that I like to play, I have found that I can more effectively use my body language to reflect the music that I am playing while standing up. The irony of this is that, from a technical standpoint, I can’t play as well while standing, but I’m convinced that, overall, it yields a better performance.
Now I wish I could say that I have suddenly become a standout performer, or even that I no longer battle stage-fright – neither is true. But I do believe that I have taken a major step on the way to becoming a better musician!