My hands used to shake from nerves when I played in front of people when I was much younger. I was told of a prescription medication that a lot of concert violinists take before performing to keep their hands from shaking. Do any of you now the name of it? I seem to remember it was in a class of medication called “beta blockers.” BTW, this is not a drug people use to get high and it’s not a drug with a potential for addiction as far as I know. It’s supposed to be quite safe to use but you do need a prescription for it. Most guitarists who have that problem ( tremors or shaking hands) just drink alcohol to calm their nerves but even though you don’t need a prescription for it and can buy it practically anywhere, alcohol has destroyed a lot of careers and even lead to the deaths of famous musicians.
Tremors or hands that shake from anxiety can decimate your playing technique. They can make you sound like practically a beginner. As you refine your technique. the more confident you become in your playing technique, the less likely it is that your hands will continue to shake when it’s time to play for an audience.
Back when I had the problem, there was no internet, so no I never had the opportunity to consider something like that. I’m asking abut this subject because although I was much younger when this used to happen to me, I remember how badly it affected my playing technique and if I can spare some younger guitarists what I went through regarding that problem, that would be great!
My hands stopped shaking when I finally reached a level of technique that made me so confident, I no longer feared that the audience might think I wasn’t very good. I wasn’t a bad player at the time I had that problem, but my technique was much less developed then, and of course the shaking in my hands made me sound like I had much less ability than I did! It was embarrassing to sound like I’d only been playing 6 months when I’d really been playing several years.
do my hands shake from stage fright? Absolutely, yes! And from talking to other musicians, I can tell you that, while they not might have the shaking hands thing, they all have some form of strage fright. They might not make that impression though. I also had people telling me that they envy me for being so calm and not having stage fright, even though I totally had it.
For me, it’s not the same for every gig. Some shows might be worse, because it’s a pretty big gig, or because I know that there is someone in the audience that I want to impress. There might also be gigs, when I don’t experience any problems, maybe because it’s a program that I have already played a lot, or maybe there’s almost noone in the audience (yeah, that happens;-), or who knows why.
I never took any medication, and frankly, I don’t believe that’s the right way. Rather, I think stage fright is normal. It sucks, when that means that your hands are shaky, but it’s normal. So at some point I stopped hoping for it to go away, but to live with it somehow. As you said yourself, when you feel secure, it tends not be so bad, so I always try to be “on top of my game”. Doesn’t always work, but hey…
Anyway, don’t feel bad if it should ever happen to you again!
Yes, that applied to me too! In fact, if I was just in my house and I had a girl over who wanted to see me play guitar, my hands would shake because it felt so important to me to impress her. She may have been the entire audience, but if it was a girl I really wanted to like me, that could give me more “stage fright” than playing for a bunch of people, none of whom I had any emotional investment in impressing aside from the normal desire to put on a good performance.
I don’t know how long you’ve been playing, but I remember back when this was a big problem for me, one day I was reading an edition of Guitar For The Practicing Musician, back when Steve Morse had a column in it entitled “Open Ears.” That month’s column was specifically about stage fright. I wish I had it in front of me right now, but that was back in the 80s so although I might have that issue somewhere in my home, I don’t know exactly where it is. I have a HUGE collection of guitar magazines from the 80s and 90s. Guitar For The Practicing Musician (before they changed it to simply “Guitar”) was my favorite of the various guitar magazines and Steve Morse was maybe their best columnist.
The line I specifically remember from that month’s column was “nervousness (or maybe anxiety?) is just nature’s way of giving us extra energy for exciting situations.” I thought that was brilliant! The challenge then, is channeling that “extra energy” into something useful instead of allowing it to become something that makes you sound like a beginner guitarist.
I don’t know how to explain how to do that, and although I’ve become better at doing it, I still feel stage fright sometimes. I just don’t feel it nearly as intensely as I used to, and if it makes my hands shake at all now, it’s far, far less than the amount my hands used to shake. They used to shake enough that it would be visible to anyone within probably 15 feet of me.
Interestingly, about the only thing I seem to remember that I could do when my hands were shaking a lot and still sound reasonably good was play relatively simple pentatonic, blues based licks that required a minimum of picking technique. One of my early influences for both rhythm and lead playing was Tony Iommi. I learned a lot of his lead guitar licks and I could play sort of in that style even if I had a lot of stage fright.
I did an internet search under medication for violinists and found the name of the medication I was trying to remember; it’s name is propranolol. I remembered it was used by violinists who had stage fright that made their hands shake. The medication apparently helps reduce these hand tremors. I have never tried them myself. The first time I ever heard of them I thought to myself: “I sure could have used something like that a few years ago” but I didn’t still need it. It might be good to have on hand if I had a very important audition for something but these days I’m more likely to have someone audition from than to audition for someone unless it was a very high profile gig like being then new Metallica or Megadeth lead guitarist.
I’d definitely want to try it to make sure I don’t have any adverse reaction to it rather than wait for an actual audition to try it for the first time. I think that would probably be reasonable advice for anyone considering taking it.
I thought about why it seems that it’s mainly used by classical musicians and the most likely answer I can think of is that unlike rock or jazz musicians, they don’t play in bars where people drink and smoke. I suspect rock guitarists more commonly use alcohol or marijuana for stage fright. I don’t suggest either one of those. Having never taken propranolol, I can’t endorse its use, but I can let people know it exists and if someone who has particularly bad stage fright wants to try it, he can talk to his doctor about it.
I’ve taken propranolol for tremors related to stage fright, and I can attest to its effectiveness. While it does not affect anxiety, it does a remarkable job suppressing the shakes. That said, I think it’s a good idea to work on treating and overcoming the underlying anxiety.
propranolol… and I’m sure with it’s (overuse?) use in the classical world, you will find plenty of information to ask your doctor about. (And I’m someone that’s taken it, but not for stage fright per se.)
Many of us in the world of musical arts have suffered severe anxiety at one time or another. I encourage people to stay away from the “benzos” (“minor” tranquilizer class prescription drugs like Ativan, Xanax, Valium), for how they affect memory, and alcohol for how it affects the brain. Central nervous system depressants… Not exactly great for the technical aspects of the musical mind.
Meditation, visualization, exercise, discussion with a psychiatrist about possibilities… Just please don’t beat yourself up about it. Lots of famous people out there with crippling stage fright.
You have to get used to performing. How often do you play in front of people? You get good at playing in front of people by playing in front of people.
Don’t take drugs n stuff… Try to find a weekly jam night somewhere and play a song or 2. Go there every week and see if you get more comfortable playing in front of the people.
My first live show was at a bar in front of about 50 people. I was nervous. After a while I got used to that amount of people.
I went on tour with Rob and was playing to around 800 a night. I was pretty damn nervous, but still played well. I had to man. The European metal crowd would bow their head in disgrace if I didn’t. My rep was on the line. lol.
Then comes the first metal festival… 10,000 people. I’m scared shitless. Rob hands me a pair of his sunglasses. I stood there, close to the monitor, nervous, and made sure I didn’t miss one note with dark shades on.
Next show was a club… all of a sudden, I’m not nervous anymore for the club dates. “500 to 800 people? This ain’t s*** man!” (compared to the 10,000)
After that first year of touring I don’t have stage freight anymore. Experience makes it go away. That’s my advice on it man.
Get good at what you are going to play, get good at performing in front of people by doing it regular.
Now, this is a whole other thing though. You gotta try to find your crowd or you won’t get a positive response from people. I don’t go to Bar Jam Nights anymore because I don’t want to play Classic Rock. I can’t go in there playing Metal, it will be a bad response. I don’t go to a country bar because they get upset if you play something as heavy as Billy Idol. So, finding your crowd, that’s a whole other element to it. So if you HAVE to play somewhere for the experience, you have to cater to the people there a little. Jazz at Jazz spots, Country in Country spots, Classic Rock is usually the Jam Night repertoire. Go there a few times and see what the house band is playing. Those are songs they can back you on. Pick a few and go home and learn them.
I starting bringing my own backing tracks like Yngwie and MAB does.
10,000 people. That’s impressive! Do you think the sunglasses helped? I would probably want to wear sunglasses playing in front that many people too! What year was that? Were you playing songs that you wrote?
Rob Rock, the singer of Impellitteri. He is big in Germany. It was at Owener Rocknacht Metal Festival. 2001. It was kinda like Wacken Open Air. Yeah, the glasses helped. Yes, we were playing our own songs off of Rob’s Rage Of Creation album, a couple Impellitteri songs, and a couple songs off of MARS Project Driver (MacAlpine, Aldrich, Rock, Sarzo), and there were a few other side project songs that Rob sang on.
Unless you can sing well, I wouldn’t play guitar acapella, you need a band or backing tracks. Find a house band where you can learn a song or 2 and step in with them for a song.
I still think that’s the coolest thing ever, btw. I have a bunch of Rob’s solo albums and they get regular blasting when my band is on tour.
We just did our first Euro-fest a couple months ago. About 2,000 people. Loads of fun, made a lot of new friends, sold a ridiculous number of records for a band of our stature. We’ll be back for a 3-week tour next year.
I don’t really get stage or camera fright. I’ve been playing piano at recitals and festivals and shit since I was in single digits so by the time I was playing metal in bars and clubs I was already numb to all that, so I am also in the “experience before drugs” camp. My guitar playing is atrocious but we’re not playing very technical stuff so there’s a certain amount of wiggle room to work with, hehe.
I thought it was cool too man, I had my foot in the door to do music full time and I threw it all away. Wasted 15 years of my life. If you are established and at least eating, don’t ever give up on playing. I’m happier broke playing music than I was making 60k a year, pissing life away.
Yeah, the stage freight goes away once you are used to being on stage. Gotta have the experience. Just remember tone is more important than technical. A lot of stuff I write isn’t hard to play. I’m after a sound.
As bear man Hank makes a great point, I’ll add that my mentioning of prescription drugs at all is for that percentage of folks for which there may be a clinical need not fixable by other means. For some it’s crippling, even when very experienced, and very prepared. Talk to a doctor but beware of over-prescription. Hank’s got the better advice.
My hands don’t shake but I do get the pre show jitters. I tend to have a hard time playing in the pocket until I settle down. I play too fast for the bpm of the song. After a couple/few songs the jitters are gone and I’m usually fine after that.
The first time I played infront of an audience (around 100 people) my muscles tightened so hard that my whole body started shaking, not just hands. Can’t even imagine how people feel when they play infront of thousands. I think the best way to get rid of stage fright is the most obvious one just play more infront of an audince. Also there are plenty of other ways: prescr.drugs/booze/amphetamine etc. although rock history has a lot of examples of drug usage and the problems it caused so if you are going to do it do it responsibly.