Well, there’s only really one real sure fire way of blowing your nerves out of the water, and that’s to get lots of performance in. Do it over and over and over again. Normalising it, normalising the activity of getting up in front of others and laying your soul bare (or so it feels like sometimes!) to those that will listen. The more you do of something (generally) the easier it becomes and the more natural it becomes too.
Do you remember when you first learnt to drive a car, or ride a bicycle, or any other new skill in fact? It was really exciting right?! New possibilities, new movements, new ways of doing things. All very positive. Sure it probably felt a little clunky and more than a little bit awkward at times too, but you knew it was all adding up to the experience of learning to drive (or whatever skill you’ve imagined here!). And then soon enough you’re driving without really thinking about it – well, you’re obviously thinking otherwise it would be a rather dangerous activity, but you know what I mean. It just becomes “situation normal”. Something you can do every day with ease.
Well, the same is true for performance. The more you can get yourself out there, get yourself “match fit”, and used to playing in front of others instead of to the cat or the blank wall then the more normal it will feel. The more it will begin to feel like you’re driving the car instead of it driving you.
So what happens in the meantime whilst you’re clocking up the driving hours?
There are a number of things you can do to help manage and work with your nerves….. Here are my top five tips of the moment*:
(1) Realise that you absolutely, 100% choice about the way you feel about a situation.
No one makes you feel nervous, excited, happy, sad, joyous or poo-your-pants scared. These reactions are all learnt by us in our formative (and sometimes not so formative) years, and are adapted as strategies that we then run unconsciously, without even thinking about it. By drawing your attention to that fact, and to the unconscious strategies you might be running – by raising your awareness of how your mind and body are operating, to follow on from a recent blog post on here – you can begin to change how you react to certain situations.
(2) Think of that nervous, slightly fluttery tummy feeling as “excitement” rather than nerves.
Because you love to play guitar, right?! Or you probably wouldn’t be reading this, or care about getting out there and playing for or with others? So give this a go. Next time you’re about to step up and you get that kind of jittery feeling tell yourself that you’re just very excited – excited to be playing your guitar, excited to get to play it for others, excited to share the awesomeness that you’ve been working on and excited to cut loose and get some more experience under the belt! Yeah!
(3) Get back down into your body!
Yep, that sounds weird doesn’t it?! What I mean to say is that, when we’re very nervous we tend to get all up inside our own heads. Thinking of all sorts of different scenarios. What ifs. Can Is. And so on. This takes us away from (a) being aware of what our body is doing, how we’re holding it and (b) reduces our body’s availability to play, to move as freely as possible to make the music and translate our movements into music. I know for sure that when I relax my torso my tone actually changes, it’s like my body allows the guitar to resonate with a greater ease, so getting out of my head and into my body is very important.
(4) Focus your attention on something in your music. For me I find it really helps to really hone my concentration in on two things – the tone quality I’m creating and my sense of musicality. If my conscious brain is actively tasked with these two things it finds it very difficult to have any other kinds of thoughts, let alone those potentially destructive negative thoughts.
(5) Think into the future and how fantastic you’ll feel five minutes after your performance. Yes, there is work to be done, but imagine how you’re going to feel immediately after you’ve finished! Regardless of the outcome, and any lessons to be learnt or improvements to be made or otherwise, I’ll bet you’ll feel fantastic. And you’ll have another live lesson, another experience from which to learn.
*bearing in mind that I’m totally open to learning new things, and more than happy for these to get replaced by more effective methods. These are what work for me currently.