HomeForumsGuitar InstructorsBeating gig nerves and hands seizing up

This topic contains 9 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  superblonde 2 weeks, 6 days ago.

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  • #21999


    Hey All

    I have a question for Will Flaherty – how can I overcome pre-gig nerves and in particular make sure my hands are nice and loose. This has been a real problem for me  for a long time and I really struggle when at Band practice or rehearsing on my own its not an issue. I have tried various warm up routines but not fond anything that really works and I just feel like I have lost control and my fingers stiffen up and coordination between fret and pick hand just goes. Normally about 3 songs into the set things settle down…I want to be able to play freely but there’s a mental block there I am finding really hard to break through. Any advise greatly accepted…..Thanks

  • #22072


    Exposure therapy.

    The issue is psychological and not physical an only thing you can do is get out there and face it. Even some seasoned performers have the same issue. Some even vomit before hitting the stage.

    If it helps any, keep in mind that your audience is there to see you succeed, not to fail. They are out there rooting for you.

    Byron Dickens

  • #22082


    There’s good nervous and then there’s bad nervous. Hands seizing is bad nervous. You gotta have the mentality that you’re a pimp and just strut out there ready to roll. When you’re practicing beforehand, it’s just you and the guitar, there’s nobody else around, there’s no gig in 15 minutes, just you and the guitar, get in the zone. Then when it’s time, get out there and have fun! Worrying too much or something is a no no that can put you into that bad nervous. It’s all mentality, gotta put yourself in s certain state of mind where you pump yourself up. Dink around with the band mates before going on to kind of loosen up and stuff. Being a nervous nelly is a roadblock everyone has to overcome, some just naturally do it faster than others though because of how their normal mentality is. Think about how cocky some of those old rockers used to be though, that’s the kinda mentality where nothing brings them down or get them into that bad nervous state.

    Bring hair metal back!

  • #22132


    I have a solution for you.
    I get this bad. I bet it is more common than it is ever talked about. Which is, it is rarely talked about. I have also seen my fellow guitarist completely blow a solo and give up on it during a live performance, because of nerves (stress causing memory loss). One time I was playing a song in the amateur band and suddenly I couldn’t form an open Am chord for no apparent reason (maybe because a new group of people came into the audience and took me by surprise, so, say hello to anxiety). I have been doing many open mic nites recently, solo (up to 3x per week, even doing 2 different bars on the same tuesday nite). I’ve seen other performers (usually younger and maybe just starting out) give up on songs midway through. Being incredibly well prepared and warmed up helps but it is definitely totally psychological. Freezing up at a open mic, even where everyone is friendly and supportive, is kind of worse because typically the set is only 3 songs, just enough time to get the jitters somewhat under control only to then get booted off the stage for the next person on the list. I totally agree with bdickens: exposure therapy. I think most of the typical advice is myth, the “just psych yourself up and get out there” does not really work, altho there is a cliche in public speaking “just imagine the audience naked and then you wont have nerves” which I dont think works either, yet it is parroted in plenty of old public speaking books/workshops/etc. I dont have fear of public speaking, just bringing it up as a comparison to stage jitters and nonsensical advice.

    Whatever you do, don’t use substances to get over it. That bad advice is all over and it’s just dumb: “meh, just have a drink or two first, to loosen up”. Nope. R.I.P. Chris Cornell recently and so many others. I bet most of the players in the 70s, 80s, 90s were just so blown out of their minds with self-medication that it did not matter, it wasn’t cockiness or confidence that got them thru. Many of them are dead, too, and the rest will swear that they should have been dead many times yet somehow survived. Duff McKagan apparently does not even remember his entire solo tour because he was so drunk every day (his autobiography has like 3 pages covering that entire year+). Other performers from 60s, 70s, admit that they were high as a kite every single time on stage, at least, they assumed they were because they don’t remember much. What benefit is such personal success if they don’t even remember it?

    The typical good athletic advice is, quoting from a race training site I was just reading:

    Train harder than the actual event will be.
    There is a great advantage in training under unfavorable conditions. It is better because the difference comes as a tremendous relief in a race.

    The solution that I have found to work for me is straightforward. Do busking solo. When I do some busking before a live performance (the same day or a couple days before), the difference is astounding. First, busking removes a ton of pressure from having to get the song right. You can re-start a song or play it many times, the ‘audience’ doesnt really care. Second, it is a feeling that is harder than no other. Having 4 skate punks up in your face while you are playing somewhere is the strangest psychological pressure which might ever be experienced (and then having them walk away then walk back over like they’re going to beat you up and steal your guitar, yet actually instead they compliment your playing and singing and offer up some smoke, is also quite amazing). It’s totally different than a stage where everyone is physically removed. If you can play songs without messing up when there’s jaw dropping girls walking by, then you can play for anyone without messing up. Unfortunately, at first I found that I couldnt busk out of fear (also something rarely talked about). I had to work up to it in smaller steps and now finally it’s not a big deal. It’s like a dress rehearsal x 1000. I bet busking is the definitive solution for this problem. Doug had a great inspirational video lesson on obstacles and goals, where he specifically mentioned fear, I loved that video, it was absolutely spot on.

    There is one consolation. I try to record every live performance I do. On a particularly mediocre open mic a couple weeks ago, it felt like my hands were trembling, they probably were, and also while listening to myself play, I seemed to be hearing that I was messing up big time, like completely blowing the chords and being off beat, just absolute garbage playing. Not good when playing solo at an open mic and singing, nowhere to hide behind the band, and messing up the vocals would be even worse because it’s so noticable. A few days later I watched the recording and video. It wasnt excellent playing but it wasn’t that bad and definitely passable for an open mic nite. That nite because of nerves, I fell into a total disconnect between my psychological perception of my performance, and my actual performance. So thats the consolation, that sometimes it seems really bad when actually it’s not bad at all. Although sometimes it’s worse, like one time I played Enter Sandman with the amateur band, I had to start the song off myself as lead guitar obviously, and I totally messed up the beginning riff for several measures until I got things under control. That was much lamer than it should have been.

    So like bdickens suggested I definitely believe exposure therapy is the solution. Busking solo is a perfect and easy way to get exposure. It doesnt depend on getting every band member’s schedule lined up and a set can last as long as you want. I used to be deathly afraid of karaoke. There’s no way I would do it (except maybe that once with a huge group of drunk friends). Now after so much practice on vocals, and singing while playing in an amateur band, and busking with vocals and doing singing solo open mics, finally to me, karaoke is no big deal at all, there’s no anxiety at all, when singing songs I know how to sing. The crowd at a bar is a mild audience for the nerves, compared to being out there in broad daylight with families walking by while playing on the street.

    The only other thing that remotely comes close to also being a solution, is to practice so much that literally one hand can be making a sandwich while the other hand is playing. I dont think most amateurs ever get there because from what I can tell from other musicians I see, very few people have the discipline to practice the same song x3 in a row, three times a day, every day for six+ months, which apparently is what it takes, doing it that way. Even then, it’s better to practice harder than the actual gig, for example, practice at a tempo 20% faster than normal, etc. Like the athlete advice says, train under more difficult circumstances. Then playing the song at normal tempo will seem easy. I did this +20% tempo thing for learning a couple specific songs and it worked for me on those with the amateur band, I didnt mess up from nerves, I felt much more comfortable playing at the song tempo (which to me felt so much slower in comparison).

    One more horror story from amateur band. The previous lead guitarist (who I never met), supposedly had so much anxiety that he could only play while sitting behind the amps and the PA stands, to be totally out of sight of the audience. The amateur band of course didnt do anything to help him with his problem other than give him cheese ball mental tricks like “just pretend they aren’t there” (how ridiculous and lame is that ‘advice’). When I heard those stories it bummed me out, because that’s why he left the band, he couldn’t take the pressure, and the band didn’t help like they should and could have. A messed up situation, if he was never able to continue in music because of that.

    I'm an intermediate student of Metal Method. I play seitannic heavy metal. All Kale Seitan! The glutens will be eaten with relish!
    And on the Seventh Day, Mustaine said: ∇ ⨯ E = - ∂B / ∂t ; and there was Thrash; and it had a ♭3; and it was good.

  • #22138


    Exposure therapy definitely. My advice is probably more for an egomaniac haha.. which I can be some.. well.. a lot of the times.  😀 But nevertheless, it’s pretty much all psychological, just can’t let the psychological effect the physical.

    Bring hair metal back!

  • #22141


    The only other thing that remotely comes close to also being a solution, is to practice so much that literally one hand can be making a sandwich while the other hand is playing. I dont think most amateurs ever get there because from what I can tell from other musicians I see, very few people have the discipline to practice the same song x3 in a row, three times a day, every day for six+ months, which apparently is what it takes, doing it that way.

    Really great to see you posting again, Superblonde!

    I just had my very first “performance” of a song in front of a view people. It was a very simple birthday song for my son. Four chords with simple strumming (albeit several different patters within the song). Much easier than a typical MM exercise. The “audience” was just my son and some relatives. Not being used to having others singing along I screwed up the first verse. The rest went smoother. The third verse was even fun for me.

    I guess what helped me a lot was the fact that I had practiced the song extensively. Normally I am totally guilty of just practicing riffs and parts of songs. This time I tried to do better. I made my own Guitar Pro file and practiced paying along from start to end for at least 50 times over a couple of days. In the end I could rely on my subconscious mind to some extent which helped a lot during my “performance”. If I continue to practice the song I might even get to the point of doing it totally subconsciously.

    From an objective point of view this may be a small achievement. To me it means a lot. It encourages me to finally follow one of Doug’s tips and build a song repertoire. However, it certainly is time-consuming…

    I like the idea of +20% speed and will try it.

  • #22143


    When first learning a song, it seems good to spend tons of time on it (multiple hours) repeating it like 50x per day. But only for a few days. After that it seems best to practice just 3x in a row then move to something else. Especially when practicing triggers that “ahhh grrr how does this part go again” response because that is where big memory gains are built (supposedly from recent research). After the initial 1-2 week of learning, it seems to be diminishing returns to practice it more than 3x all the way thru. Better to play 2x-3x then move on, maybe much later in the day go back and repeat it again 2x-3x, and do this every day for long periods of time (many months). My setlist has a bunch of songs now, I have been able to play for 30 mins nonstop at open mics when there’s no one else on the list, which is great practice. (I’m still too far away from being able to accept the paid gig offers I get, like a local art gallery, because they would need like 3-4 hr setlists or maybe at a minimum, 2 full hrs).

    For the songs that I have purposely learned this way (which takes discipline…), I really do remember them better and more ‘automatically play’ them, which helps a lot in nervous situations, compared to other songs I’ve learned lazier ways.

    Watch Adele botch her huge tribute song at the Grammy’s and recover and later talk about stage fright. One thing that can relieve nerves also, is knowing how to handle a screw up if it does happen..

    By the way. I am pretty sure there have been research papers on this. If you mess up and purposely stop and tell the audience and start again, the audience ends up with better perception. This was also a specific point made my some very experienced music judges at a local competition. Ive heard public speaking advice say the same thing, and venture capital startup competitions have said it too. The technique might not seem applicable to a rock band. It matches common sense though, if an artist messes up and says “whoa, whoa, hold it, lets start again”, it really feels more pro, even though they messed up, even feels more pro than if they hadn’t messed up at all.

    Adele honors George Michael On 2017 Grammys

    its hard to find the high quality video.. probably gets taken down due to copyright..

    Adele tells Ellen she cried all day after ’embarrassing’ Grammy performance

    Superstar singer Adele said she cried all day after her performance at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. During Monday night’s broadcast, a microphone fell onto the piano strings, causing odd noises on stage and throwing off Adele off key.

    Maybe I am just twisted but it makes me feel better to watch pro artist fail videos sometimes. Just to remind myself that its not just me.

    Guns N Roses FAIL compilation | RockStar FAIL

    DJ Ashba has had some spectacularly bad fails in GnR. Kirk Hammet has some funny ones too.

    I'm an intermediate student of Metal Method. I play seitannic heavy metal. All Kale Seitan! The glutens will be eaten with relish!
    And on the Seventh Day, Mustaine said: ∇ ⨯ E = - ∂B / ∂t ; and there was Thrash; and it had a ♭3; and it was good.

  • #22150


    Typically just making a joke out of something bad that happens works out well haha.

    Bring hair metal back!

  • #22159


    Yeah. It takes pressure off. It would be cool to hear Will’s opinion too if he is around.
    There is also another band-aid solution. Dress up as an alternate personality. It worked for Buckethead I guess, the most extreme, he is still anonymous to everyone even today. John5 has a stage persona maybe for this too, I dunno if it is just for show, he wears a ton of makeup on his solo tours. Many pro guitarists seem to do this, adopt some kind of costume as alter ego (not just for performance entertainment). Bowie did an alter ego big time (and later claimed he was going schitzo in daily life because his stage personality seemed to be overwhelming his normal personality). Somehow I guess the alter ego thing side steps a lot of the anxiety. But it doesnt sound like it really fixes the underlying problem. More like a crutch. Some fashion can instill confidence. I always feel cooler when wearing boots. I dont think wearing cubicle clothes like a polo shirt and khaki slacks and brown business shoes would really create a rocker mood for me on stage and those would make me feel even more awkward (kinda irrelevant because I’ve since burned all of my such squaresville clothes). Stepping into some kind of costume seems like it creates more of a feeling of ease.

    I'm an intermediate student of Metal Method. I play seitannic heavy metal. All Kale Seitan! The glutens will be eaten with relish!
    And on the Seventh Day, Mustaine said: ∇ ⨯ E = - ∂B / ∂t ; and there was Thrash; and it had a ♭3; and it was good.

  • #22751


    Check out this 2016 documentary! https://vimeo.com/ondemand/composed

    Composed invites you into the world of professional classical music, for an exploration of the many causes of and solutions for performance anxiety. This feature documentary brings together dozens of professionals from prestigious orchestras, symphonies, and music schools to discuss their personal journeys, and consider how best to achieve excellence in the face of enormous pressure. Composed finally confirms what so many of us have always secretly wondered – no, it’s not just you who has experienced the physical and mental agonies of performance anxiety, and yes, there are many ways to overcome the symptoms and deliver peak auditions and performances.

    Composed Extras – “Small Muscle Athletes”
    Professor Benjamin Kamins of the Shepherd School of Music compares preparing his students to the preparation Olympic athletes go through.

    This is a short clip from the documentary feature, Composed.


    The Cast of Composed

    Eric Arbiter Houston Symphony, Dr. Robert Attaran Yale University, Leon Bosch Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Dr. Charles Brantigan Cardiology, Nathan Cole Los Angeles Philharmonic, Melissa Coppola University of Michigan, Mike Cunningham Mind Trainer, Matthew Decker Seattle Symphony, Brent Edmondson Lancaster Symphony, Christoph Eschenbach National Symphony, JoAnn Falletta Buffalo Philharmonic, Alison Gordon Mind Calm/Mind Detox Coach, Barry Green Author The Inner Game of Music, Elizabeth Hainen Philadelphia Orchestra, Thomas Hooten Los Angeles Philharmonic, Eugene Izotov San Francisco Symphony, Max Michael Jacob Freelance Musician New York, Dr. Noa Kageyama The Juilliard School, Benjamin Kamins Shepherd School of Music, Gerald Klickstein Author The Musician’s Way, Rachael Lander Freelance Musician London, Jared Lantzy Hawai’i Symphony, Nate Martin Freelance Musician Maine, Kenneth Mirkin New York Philharmonic, Jennifer Montone Philadelphia Orchestra, Julie Jaffee Nagel Ph.D Author Melodies of the Mind, Louis Nagel University of Michigan, Peter Otto Cleveland Orchestra, Nicholas Pallesen Board Certified Hypnotist, Cindy Sadler Mezzo-Soprano Soloist, William Short Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin Detroit Symphony, Peter Slowik Oberlin Conservatory of Music, David Stewart Bergen Philharmonic, Brant Taylor Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Bill VerMeulen Houston Symphony, Robert Walters Cleveland Orchestra, Aaron Williamon Royal College of Music

    The Cast of Composed Continued

    Alan Baer New York Philharmonic, Costanza Casullo Freelance Musician London, Alison Chorn Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Germán Clavijo London Symphony, Emi Ferguson Flute Soloist, Tim Genis Boston Symphony, Anne Janson Vermont Symphony, Rob Knopper Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Maxine Kwok-Adams London Symphony, Daire MacMághnuis Freelance Musician Dublin, Giorgi Mikadze Jazz/Contemporary Pianist, Jeff Nelsen Jacobs School of Music, Diane Nichols The Juilliard School (formerly), Nicole Crespo O’Donoghue Freelance Musician London, Ruth Phillips Performance Coach, Paule Préfontaine Bergen/Ottawa Violinist, Douglas Rosenthal Kennedy Center Opera House/Washington National Opera Orchestra, Mimi Stillman Flute Soloist, Charlotte Tomlinson Performance Coach, Time for Three String Trio, Jim Wilt Los Angeles Philharmonic

    I'm an intermediate student of Metal Method. I play seitannic heavy metal. All Kale Seitan! The glutens will be eaten with relish!
    And on the Seventh Day, Mustaine said: ∇ ⨯ E = - ∂B / ∂t ; and there was Thrash; and it had a ♭3; and it was good.

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