As published on Discmakers Echoes Blog.
We all know practice makes perfect, but sometimes perfect isn’t enough to calm performance jitters, cool sweaty palms, and relax the nerves. So whether you’re heading out to perform for some big festival crowds, going solo for the first time, or just want to get a grip on your performance, here are a few tips to take on – before you step on stage.
1. Have your music memorized
This one’s easy. The more you have it memorized, the more you can trust yourself to go into automatic pilot even if you’re nervous as hell. Don’t rely on charts, iPads, cues, whatnot. Have the music down cold.
2. Start at the middle
To build your confidence in your memorization skills, when practicing, start playing from the middle of a song, at a random bar. I’m not talking the top of the chorus, I’m talking about the second bar into the third line of the second verse. Practice this way, and you can trust yourself to pick up the song at ANY point along the way. This is a great technique to use if you’re a band as well.
3. Start small
Start practicing your set in front of small groups of people… friends, family, neighbors. Invite people to your rehearsal space and start getting used to being watched while you do what you love. You can even make this a fan experience and get super real with them. “Hey folks, you know, I get nervous as hell before a show. To help keep my nerves under control, I’m going to start practicing my sets in front of small groups of my best fans, and you’re invited!” You can make it a contest – whoever tweets your show the most, or the fastest, or whatever, gets to come.
4. Stay sober
Do not drink before you play. Common understanding among musicians is that alcohol helps calm your nerves, but it takes away from your concentration. Even with just a little alcohol, those autopilot neurons are not firing as fast as they could be, causing you to struggle for lyrics and creating even more nervousness – not to mention you often sound like crap. The experience you have may feel more relaxed, but once your performance starts to suffer, the experience of your listeners goes south.
5. Watch videos
Check out videos of performers on stage exuding confidence, and imagine yourself doing the same. Some people call this visualization, creating a future image of yourself, putting it out there in the universe, and then living into it. Also, watch videos of yourself and make sure to note what you did really well, and the parts of your performance that you would like to improve. Do this with caution, and with a objective hat on to avoid getting too emotional about what you don’t like about your performance. Remember, we are our own worst critics, so don’t be a critic, look for the things you want to embellish and the things about your performance that you can change.
6. Let go
Once you know the notes, the lyrics, and the chord changes, let yourself perform. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the creativity, enjoy the audience. Being present, not demanding perfection of yourself, and appreciating the nuances of your performance will make it special and give you a lot of freedom onstage. Be present to these things while you are practicing, so that enjoying the moment doesn’t feel forced when you are actually onstage. In fact, enjoying the moment in general is never a bad thing in life!