Stage Fright? Nerves?

I consider myself a relatively experienced guitar picker who is constantly playing and practicing. Yet put a camera in my face and I am toast. Story time: so my roommates sister came in town from China and out of the blue they ask me to play something and she puts her phone right in my face, so naturally all of my years of practicing scales, technique, etc…just goes out the window. My fingers felt like a million pounds, and did quite possibly the worst Yngwie impression ever. I hate this feeling. I hate it. I started to wonder why this happened? I play jazz improv once a week with a pretty well known jazz guitarist and never feel this way with him. I practice for hours everyday and have experience playing with people! What is the deal? Sorry I am just venting but it made me feel extremely down on my abilities. Also if you ever see a random vid of some dude poorly ripping through harmonic minor scales on the internet, please dont say anything :joy:

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I’m a very nervous flyer. From the day before the flight, through the long sleepless night the morning of and from security to check-in to boarding, I’m a wreck. Right up until the cabin doors are closed. There’s no turning back at that point and I’m 100% calm and relaxed. It’s about the same with every live show I’ve ever played, but to a lesser degree. I’ve toured the US a few times and have a couple hundred shows under my belt, and to be honest, I think I only actually enjoyed 3 of them. But once those sticks click before the first song, it all goes away. What else are you going to do? Not fly? Not play the show?

As for getting over being nervous… The best advice I can give, and I don’t know how to go about recreating it, but have the worst possible experience on stage once. Like truly horrible. Chances are, it’ll never get that bad again. If you’re well practiced and well rehearsed, know that you did all you could. Don’t leave it anyone else’s hands. As for my “worst possible experience”? I’m glad you asked…

It was December 8, 2004. Our tour played the middle room of a 3-tiered venue with the Headbangers Ball tour in the big room. And with that big room came all of the good stage hands and techs, leaving us with a few randoms that probably just agreed to work so they could get in for free. Our “monitor guy” had never done monitors before, nor any other live sound gig, and after reading our input sheet, gave us the opposite of what we needed. Instead of vocals, guitar, and kick and NO BASS, we got NOTHING BUT BASS and it was so loud when we started that you couldn’t hear anything but that BASS. It was the worst sound I’d ever heard. After that first song ended, that poor dude had 4 people from Brooklyn going apeshit on him but I never had another bad show the rest of my career.

I remember that quite vividly, but not nearly as much as I remember what happened shortly after we finished. I was walking through the crowd while the headliner of our tour was playing and noticed that everyone was glued to their phones and walking away with their heads down. I went outside and there were a few hundred people in disbelief. My singer walked passed and whispered “Dimebag is dead” and at first, I figured it was the usual. We all know it wasn’t. We were supposed to play that same club a few days later but obviously that didn’t happen. We did end up playing it early the next year and as intense as it was being on that stage, talking to the survivors was that and then some.

All that is to say is get your ass on stage and give it your all. You’ll be fine. Hell, maybe what you went through in your post was your “worst possible experience.”

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That’s not stage fright or nerves. That’s a frickin’ ambush.

There is a huge difference between being ready and prepared for a performance and being in the middle of something else (even if that something else is staring at the wall) and told “DANCE MONKEY WHILE I FILM IT!!”

Stuff like that pisses me off. It has no bearing on your ability. None.

Even when you’re prepared - live performance will highlight weak spots you never knew existed. Rip something off unannounced that you’re going to be content with?

If it happens - it’s a a fortunate accident.


If it makes you feel better, the first 30 minutes I went in the studio to film the Metronomic Rock seminar I basically forgot how to play guitar, how to hold a pick, etc. :slight_smile:

After a bit, I found by footing and muscle memory took over. I had practiced those things quite a lot, so there was actually a higher chance of playing them (mostly) correctly.

In my understanding, the most effective “cures” are:

  1. more exposure to the scary thing (camera / stage / private concert etc.)
  2. making the things you want to play as automatic as possible. When something is automated, you have a better chance to execute it even if you are feeling terrible

Bonus one, that works for me: try to distract yourself by focusing intensely on tapping your foot / moving your head with the beat of what you are playing.


What I notice about myself when I try this, there’s no nerves or anxiety (i.e. I don’t feel uncomfortable)…but it’s as if my “suck” meter, which is typically set to about 5, gets turned up to 11

I don’t film myself often, but the more I do it, the suck meter gradually comes down a little. I went through a period in the early 2010’s where I had tons of time on my hands and my main hobby was at-home-audio-recording. I recall a similar feeling during that experience. The more I did it, the better I got.

I’d only put time into fixing this if it’s really hindering something that you want to address. The only time I’d really film myself playing is if I’m sharing something here, and I don’t really care too much about not showing my best efforts (well, I care a little lol). Now, if I were awesome, which I’m not, and wanted to branch out and become an “instagram guitarist” where I’d need to be filming myself often in efforts of making others feel like $h!+ about themselves…I’d have to put some time into tackling red light syndrome. I’ve got bigger fish to fry though.

Yes, good point.

I’ve tried to cultivate an internal attitude of “Forget everybody else. This is me right now.” (emphasis on try). As long as I feel I’ve prepared myself given whatever constraints there are - you get my best effort.

I’m not always successful and have freak-out moments like anyone else.

You’re never totally prepared. It never goes exactly as planned. When you think you are or it will…Trouble will be along shortly.

If I know I’ve mailed it in, that’s on me. Sometimes you get away with it…but you still screwed up and know you did. No one has to tell you. If it turns out my best effort isn’t good enough, somebody have the guts to tell me why. I’ll try to fix it. Usually, its a misunderstanding or improperly set expectation.

The above is a 100% internal discussion (battle) with myself. Don’t be the idiot and verbalize it.

All anyone can do is their best given the situation. If you’ve done that within any manner of reason - you owe no one an apology. Learn and move on.

A long favored quote of mine comes from Big John in the movie Days of Thunder:

“If you wanna turn yourselves into a greasy spot on a country road somewhere, go right ahead. I don’t give a s**t and I don’t think anybody else does, regardless what they say to your face.”

Nobody cares about you more than you. WAY less than 5 minutes after you think you screwed the pooch, they’re on to the next thing. Because, just like you…they care more about themselves and you just aren’t that important.

/set rant: off


Maybe a more positive spin on the same (or similar) idea:

Audiences are usually not scrutinizing your playing looking for tiny mistakes. They are more interested in the bigger picture, the overall experience.

We as performers can tend to forget this and overfocus on the tiniest thing that didn’t go our way. The “best” performers are probably better able to switch that off, and quickly focus on playing the next thing.

Another (semi-related) bit of advice I got that I liked: expect that you will make mistakes, and tell yourself it’s ok! They are a normal part of a live performance.

@murphy_5150 did you listen back / watch the video your friend made? Often, we are very poor judges of our own performance. If you take some distance and listen / watch a few days later, you may find that it was better than expected.

On a related note: don’t delete your takes before doing the same process (e.g. auditing them the day after)

I think it’s a hyper foucus on what you’re playing that messes it up. You try too hard to control your movements that are already automatic, memory is the same, if you just recall some memories then they stay as they were, but if you really try to remember something and do it with a constant scrutiny, making sure everything is correct, you actually go into edit mode, and can warp your memories.

Same thing happens with the red light syndrome, instead of just flowing you become so self conscious that you go into that editing mode, thats great for practice, but bad for preformance.

I find the same if someone is watching me do math, I freeze up and can barely do the most basic things out of fear of looking incompetent.

I need some of that Yngwie Malmsteen confidence to play well, or some beer. Either one.

Yeah…it doesn’t sound so ‘down’ in my head. :slight_smile:

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I have no advice on this really, but I used to throw up before going on stage. Literally worried myself sick about every possible thing that could go wrong. The irony here is that thinking like this, almost ensured things went “wrong”. Or “wrong” in my head anyway. Nobody else noticed or cared.

I’ve not been on a stage in about ten years now. I’d like to do it again though, if I can get a band together, as I think I’d be less likely to get myself into that state nowadays!

Thank you everyone for all of the tips and advice. This is certainly a special/group among the world of guitarists. Such a helpful/positive community in what can be a very unhelpful/negative world of trying to perfect our crafts.


It’s possibly worth working on one or two things to the level that you can play without thinking at all times under any conditions.

I had a bit of a realisation the other day that I’ve never really taken anything to that level of competence on any instrument and always spend too much time thinking about what I’m doing. Which is also no doubt why I feel like I physically can’t play guitar and sing at the same time.

Just another thing to keep an eye out for, WSS mentioned hyper focusing earlier - note when clips of the great players we all admire are posted on here how many times they might make a minor fluff that would cause you to just stop playing and they just power through it.

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Saw this the other day n I think it’s got good commentary, I’m one of those that will stand still unless I force myself to move. I’ve done it a fair ammount, but not been on stage in over two years. I think being fully confident in what you’re playing is a massive help, In my time in college and uni preforming I was regularly forced to preform stuff I only just learned, and it acually upset me a lot as I knew I could do better and felt like I was being messed with constantly to go out unprepared, but it certainly was a lesson in just going out and trying to get over stage fright.

I think unless you like eyes on you, you’ll always have to force it. Reminds me of this interview with Mike Tramp, about Vito.

Idk if this is totally true, but I think it might be, Vito comes across to me as quite shy and needed that push. Even Eddie Van Halen needed David Lee Roth to force them to do bigger shows. With out David idk if we’d even have Van Halen.

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I was exactly the same way. I’d rather play well than “look good” and that doesn’t really work if you want to be a “professional” guitarist. It’s different if it’s your own band, but I know tons of incredible players who were swapped out just because didn’t “perform” at the necessary level. I’m talking specifically about stage presence, not clothing style or what have you. I’d be up there playing my ass off, I’m feeling the music, you could see it my eyes, but those were hidden under my Cousin It length hair.

I got quite a few offers to tryout for decent sized bands back in the early 2ks and I’m glad they all required a relocation because I’d have been kicked out of all of them for not “giving it to the crowd”. I’m a small dude and in addition to the above, my guitar was kind of heavy and I’d probably have fallen over lol I think playing shows with earlier Dillinger Escape Plan was a big factor in how I conducted myself on stage. They were absolutely amazing and insane up there but it sounded like complete ass.

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The more gigs I play, the more I just try to have fun. That is so much more important to the show IMHO than playing perfectly. Also, if you are having fun, the higher chance the audience will support what you are doing. That’s my experience at least.

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I agree with @tommo. The more you’re put into a situation, the more comfortable you are with it. The best thing that ever happened to my stage performance was going on tour. By the end of the first week of getting on stage and playing the same set it just becomes automatic and you can start to think more about stage performance than what your hands are doing.

Same with the studio. I’ve been recording myself ever since my dad got me a four track TASCAM cassette deck (showing my age there!) when I was a teenager so I literally never get red light syndrome now (I still hate tracking though, never stops being tedious).

The one situation I get nervous in is playing by myself for a small audience. Like if I had to do a guitar clinic I’d probably feel nerves. That’s more stressful to me than playing on stage in front of a few hundred people.

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