Preparing for a Big Gig

Since I have a pretty cool show to do tonight that has required a moderate amount of preparation and promises to be one of the bigger concerts I’ve ever played, I thought it would be an appropriate time to do a little post on gig preparation.

I think maybe a lot of my students are really ‘too young’ to be nervous, and by that I mean you haven’t gotten to a point in your lives yet where it occurs to you that performing music is a thing that can ‘go wrong’- i.e. seem so important any wrong note is an unmitigated disaster. It’s fun to play- or it’s just another thing you have to do in a long line of things they make you march through in grade school (man, I hope no one feels that way!).

More power to you! Keep the fun mentality. I can’t count the number of times I’ve allowed what I heard to be a poor performance affect my mood and rule my next few days.

And then there’s performance anxiety. Far more than just nerves, facing down anxiety on stage can cause you to freeze up, forget what you’ve learned, and dread every second on stage. I’ve been there- it’s not pretty.

So if you do experience an excess of nerves or severe anxiety? Buck up, little camper! You CAN fix it.

Nerves are not inherently a bad thing. Being nervous means you have an excess of adrenaline helping you out at that point in time. And all adrenaline does is heighten your senses and give you strength to overcome whatever’s in front of you. Like the tiny woman who can lift a car to save a trapped man after an accident, or a sprinter at the Olympics who’s run the best race of her life, a little adrenaline on stage can make your performance that much stronger. You just need to know how to use it.

It would take a long time to get into all the ways you harness you nerves here, and many people have said it better than I can. Here’s a good start: http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/how-to-make-performance-anxiety-an-asset-instead-of-a-liability/

In the practice room, we tend to zone out. It’s boring, repetitive, and there are distractions both mental and in our surroundings. It’s always Friday afternoon in your brain and you’ve clocked out. But as I’ve touched on before, if you utilize deep practice, you’re actually practicing performance. 

It’s true! You can practice performance. And you should. Being on stage comes naturally to a very few people, and I would wager that many of those people had to work at it a little bit as well. In the more than 15 years of stage experience I’ve had, it only gets more natural as time goes by. When I sit down and really learn a part, finding the connections between notes and phrases, and really hearing what I’m playing so that my technique is left to my motor functions, I’m practicing how I will perform it. And if I can’t perform it, why am I practicing it?

What if, you shout, terrified, you HAVEN’T PRACTICED? At all? Not even a eeny little bit?

Well, my first thought, is why the heck not?

But my practical advice to you is: Fake it.

Fake the confidence you need to put on a good performance. Come on stage, empty your water valve, give a big grin to the audience, and proceed to pour your heart and soul into whatever you’re playing whether you know it or not. Leave that overanalyzing, over-worrying, OCD little Left Brain out of this. Right Brain’s in charge and it’s time to rock.

Now, it’d probably be better if you’d practiced. But have you ever heard the saying, “it’s 10% what you say and 90% how you say it” that people pick up on when you speak? That’s a phrase that’s so immersed in the popular parlance I can’t find a source for it. Never mind that, it’s true. We pick up on confidence and control. We like people who make us think they know what they’re doing, regardless if they actually do or not.

I would say about 75% of the compliments I get after a show contain some variant of the phrase “Wow! You sure looked like you were having fun up there!” (60% of those same comments still come from folks whose cognitive functions have all but ceased because OMG A GIRL IS PLAYING TROMBONE and I seriously hope to whatever higher deity you believe in that your generation is the last of those idiots because I am not an anomaly, people, look it up). What does that really mean? Honestly, I think it’s a little bit of jealousy, a little bit of awe, and a lot of the shared joy of giving and experiencing live music. People don’t go to a show to judge how bad it is. We want to be entertained.

So go entertain. Practice first, but practice with the intention of pure, unadulterated performance.

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