Psychological aspects of performing

Halfers

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#1
Forgive the title. Not sure if it sounds too formal. @GCinCT posted a thread last night about a Concert he played and he mentioned the tension and nerves he felt prior to the gig and the release and excitement of playing giving way to looking forward to playing again. And when the next time comes, he'll probably go through the nerves and tension all over again.

It's certainly been the case for me whenever I've had to perform in front of people, whether that be acting in Plays (not for a very long time) Speaking in front of an audience or performing Music. On the musical front, I've only ever performed with other people. Generally I'm playing in public spaces, Pubs, Clubs, Beer Festivals etc. Audiences vary in numbers from 1 to 500( rarely that many and only if we're at an outdoor event).

I'm always very anxious the day of a performance. Irritable, distracted. Very often, if I can, I have a snooze in the afternoon, just to settle my mind a bit. The last hour before leaving for the event is usually my nadir, when I start having thoughts about just driving in the opposite direction. But I never do and by the time I've arrived at the venue and started setting up the gear, I'm as calm as you like. A few thoughts of 'come on let's get on with it before the start time, then we're off. Then it's riding the high of the event for a few hours afterwards and thinking what a fantastic experience it all is.

I'm conscious that my experiences are piddling compared to some on here who play, or have played professionally. Those that have played on their own (I can't imagine performing on my own, I need some Company up there on stage). How do those on the forum who play on their own deal with the experience? Naturally just laid back, or do you suffer the pre performance doubts and anxieties like most of us? Do you thrive on it, or just bear it until you know it's going to pass and allow the good stuff to happen?

What about those who have recorded or played on stage in front of hundreds or even thousands of people playing in their own band or with someone elses? Is it the same as playing in a backstreet Pub, but multiplied.. Do you 'get used to it' as a Professional? Is it easier or harder playing in front of people who have made a conscious decision to see you, or the band you are playing with? How about the pressure of dealing with all those ego maniac Rock Stars?

Interested to hear some experiences of how you deal with the emotions and mind stuff related to playing. I'm assuming not everyone has to resort to narcotics and strong booze ;) (probably best not go down that route).

Just to clarify, I'm not looking for methods of dealing with my own nerves and anxieties. I'm pretty comfortable with feeling uncomfortable in the lead up to a gig. I think it's probably all part of the experience.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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New Mexico, US
#2
I think it varies from person to person. I can remember in my teens and twenties typically being a bit nervous and stressed before a performance (and standing behind many a curtain 30 seconds before it opens....and suddenly having the urge to pee like a mutha' although I knew for a fact I had taken care of that business 10 minutes earlier).

Interestingly, there came a point where this just stopped, and my pre-gig nervousness just vanished; replaced by just the happiness of playing music in front of people (be it an audience of 10 or several hundred).

I think, for me, this partially came due to a shift in how I was holistically perceiving the gig: when I ceased thinking of it as " there are all these people out there ....here to see us; we gotta entertain 'em"

to

"yeah, baby, NOW we get to play this stuff in front of an audience and I am gonna enjoy every moment of the experience"

things shifted.

(a half-bottle of beer prior to curtain time doesn't hurt, either)
 

Halfers

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#3
I think it varies from person to person. I can remember in my teens and twenties typically being a bit nervous and stressed before a performance (and standing behind many a curtain 30 seconds before it opens....and suddenly having the urge to pee like a mutha' although I knew for a fact I had taken care of that business 10 minutes earlier).

Interestingly, there came a point where this just stopped, and my pre-gig nervousness just vanished; replaced by just the happiness of playing music in front of people (be it an audience of 10 or several hundred).

I think, for me, this partially came due to a shift in how I was holistically perceiving the gig: when I ceased thinking of it as " there are all these people out there ....here to see us; we gotta entertain 'em"

to

"yeah, baby, NOW we get to play this stuff in front of an audience and I am gonna enjoy every moment of the experience"

things shifted.

(a half-bottle of beer prior to curtain time doesn't hurt, either)
I remember seeing an interview with Bruce Springsteen. He was asked if he ever got nervous before a gig and he responded, along the lines of 'No, I never get nervous. I just get really excited'

I think there's an element of how an individual interprets their own emotions. Springsteen probably feels similar feelings but just interprets them as enthusiasm and excitement.

For, me there's an element of Group Culture, or whatever you want to call it, when playing in a group. On my own, waiting for a gig, I'm just little old me with my hang ups and anxieties, but when we get together as a Band, I have absolute confidence in my playing Partners and it becomes a different environment, a part of something bigger, if you like.
 

Nick Wyver

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#4
I'm going to be playing in front of a crowd of (mostly) smokers in the Druids Arms in Maidstone in a few hours. Mostly smokers because the stage is outside. Rain is forecast but it's reasonably well protected. I am not nervous about the prospect of playing or of being electrocuted.

I think I've been doing this for long enough (about 40 years) not to suffer from nerves but I'm not sure if I ever did much. I didn't start playing sax until I was 19 but, at school, I was the one who volunteered to do readings in assembly and I sang in the chorus of operettas that the school staged each year. A bit of a show off perhaps. :D

The size of the audience doesn't appear to make much difference. The type of music does. Classical type gigs (not that I do much of these nowadays) can be a bit nerve wracking when the audience are quiet and watching and listening to your every move.

Tonight will be a laugh. A bunch of like-minded nutters playing noisy blues/rock/funk. The few bits where I actually have to play the right notes (as opposed to making it all up) are pretty well fixed in my head. None of it is complicated which is just as well cos playing complicated stuff from memory I find hard. Too much brain involved in memory retrieval and not enough in playing it well. I play much better with dots in those situations.
 

jbtsax

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#5
I'd like to share an experience I had a few years back. I was asked by the director of my university alumni band to be a "guest soloist" on one of the concerts. The piece with concert band accompaniment he wanted me to play was "Ballade" by Alfred Reed, a work while not technically demanding, requires a great deal of musicianship with attention to intonation, tone quality, phrasing, etc. The band was made up of graduates like myself who became music educators or professional players including gifted musicians who make a living doing other things and just play for "fun".

To put it mildly, the position performing in front of one's peers, not to mention my teacher and mentor from years back was as stressful a challenge as I had ever encountered. The way I handled the stress is the point of my telling this story. Of course I practiced and prepared the piece to the very best of my ability. Then I did something I had never done before. That was I just "let go". I acknowledged the fact that I was no longer in charge of how the performance was going to turn out. I had done my part. In the language of well known 12 step programs I "turned the outcome over to a power greater than myself". When it came time to play I was totally relaxed and was able to focus entirely on the music---not on the audience or what my peer's might think of my performance. It was probably the best I had ever played in my life and was a magical experience. All I had to do was to "get myself out of the way" and let the music come through me.
 

Halfers

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#6
I'm going to be playing in front of a crowd of (mostly) smokers in the Druids Arms in Maidstone in a few hours. Mostly smokers because the stage is outside. Rain is forecast but it's reasonably well protected. I am not nervous about the prospect of playing or of being electrocuted.

I think I've been doing this for long enough (about 40 years) not to suffer from nerves but I'm not sure if I ever did much. I didn't start playing sax until I was 19 but, at school, I was the one who volunteered to do readings in assembly and I sang in the chorus of operettas that the school staged each year. A bit of a show off perhaps. :D

The size of the audience doesn't appear to make much difference. The type of music does. Classical type gigs (not that I do much of these nowadays) can be a bit nerve wracking when the audience are quiet and watching and listening to your every move.

Tonight will be a laugh. A bunch of like-minded nutters playing noisy blues/rock/funk. The few bits where I actually have to play the right notes (as opposed to making it all up) are pretty well fixed in my head. None of it is complicated which is just as well cos playing complicated stuff from memory I find hard. Too much brain involved in memory retrieval and not enough in playing it well. I play much better with dots in those situations.
Enjoy tonight's gig. Sounds like it's going to be a good one!
 

Halfers

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#7
I'd like to share an experience I had a few years back. I was asked by the director of my university alumni band to be a "guest soloist" on one of the concerts. The piece with concert band accompaniment he wanted me to play was "Ballade" by Alfred Reed, a work while not technically demanding, requires a great deal of musicianship with attention to intonation, tone quality, phrasing, etc. The band was made up of graduates like myself who became music educators or professional players including gifted musicians who make a living doing other things and just play for "fun".

To put it mildly, the position performing in front of one's peers, not to mention my teacher and mentor from years back was as stressful a challenge as I had ever encountered. The way I handled the stress is the point of my telling this story. Of course I practiced and prepared the piece to the very best of my ability. Then I did something I had never done before. That was I just "let go". I acknowledged the fact that I was no longer in charge of how the performance was going to turn out. I had done my part. In the language of well known 12 step programs I "turned the outcome over to a power greater than myself". When it came time to play I was totally relaxed and was able to focus entirely on the music---not on the audience or what my peer's might think of my performance. It was probably the best I had ever played in my life and was a magical experience. All I had to do was to "get myself out of the way" and let the music come through me.

I recognise that place. Where it all kind of just goes on without much apparent effort. Of course, you need all the practice beforehand to be able to get to that place, but that's what makes it all worthwhile.
 

Keep Blowing

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#8
Forgive the title. Not sure if it sounds too formal. @GCinCT posted a thread last night about a Concert he played and he mentioned the tension and nerves he felt prior to the gig and the release and excitement of playing giving way to looking forward to playing again. And when the next time comes, he'll probably go through the nerves and tension all over again.

It's certainly been the case for me whenever I've had to perform in front of people, whether that be acting in Plays (not for a very long time) Speaking in front of an audience or performing Music. On the musical front, I've only ever performed with other people. Generally I'm playing in public spaces, Pubs, Clubs, Beer Festivals etc. Audiences vary in numbers from 1 to 500( rarely that many and only if we're at an outdoor event).

I'm always very anxious the day of a performance. Irritable, distracted. Very often, if I can, I have a snooze in the afternoon, just to settle my mind a bit. The last hour before leaving for the event is usually my nadir, when I start having thoughts about just driving in the opposite direction. But I never do and by the time I've arrived at the venue and started setting up the gear, I'm as calm as you like. A few thoughts of 'come on let's get on with it before the start time, then we're off. Then it's riding the high of the event for a few hours afterwards and thinking what a fantastic experience it all is.

I'm conscious that my experiences are piddling compared to some on here who play, or have played professionally. Those that have played on their own (I can't imagine performing on my own, I need some Company up there on stage). How do those on the forum who play on their own deal with the experience? Naturally just laid back, or do you suffer the pre performance doubts and anxieties like most of us? Do you thrive on it, or just bear it until you know it's going to pass and allow the good stuff to happen?

What about those who have recorded or played on stage in front of hundreds or even thousands of people playing in their own band or with someone elses? Is it the same as playing in a backstreet Pub, but multiplied.. Do you 'get used to it' as a Professional? Is it easier or harder playing in front of people who have made a conscious decision to see you, or the band you are playing with? How about the pressure of dealing with all those ego maniac Rock Stars?

Interested to hear some experiences of how you deal with the emotions and mind stuff related to playing. I'm assuming not everyone has to resort to narcotics and strong booze ;) (probably best not go down that route).

Just to clarify, I'm not looking for methods of dealing with my own nerves and anxieties. I'm pretty comfortable with feeling uncomfortable in the lead up to a gig. I think it's probably all part of the experience.
One of the first times I played live, I was shaking so much I struggled to get the neck on the horn, I haven't played in front of an audience for over 30 year's, it will be an interesting experience if it happens again.
 

Halfers

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#9
One of the first times I played live, I was shaking so much I struggled to get the neck on the horn, I haven't played in front of an audience for over 30 year's, it will be an interesting experience if it happens again.
Nerves can certainly do some strange things. A bit of shaking might be useful for vibrato though :p
 

Wade Cornell

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#10
I can relate to jbtsax's post. I've been playing (previously singing) in front of audiences for 60 years. Initially there were nerves, but over time the audience was "just there". My job was to play my part and have the music sound as good as possible regardless of the venue or number in the audience. The only time I'm apprehensive is when there are musicians I'm playing with who I have enormous respect for and don't want to let them down. This may sound strange to some: 95% of my playing is without music. When I'm reading that makes me very apprehensive as I'm not "in the music"...I'm just playing what's written and not able to give it the emotional or creative emphasis that makes a difference. When playing without music the concentration is on what I'm hearing, not what I'm reading. The music can then flow.
 

Nick Wyver

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#11
When I'm reading that makes me very apprehensive as I'm not "in the music"...I'm just playing what's written and not able to give it the emotional or creative emphasis that makes a difference. When playing without music the concentration is on what I'm hearing, not what I'm reading. The music can then flow.
I don't have that sort of problem with reading. What makes me play badly/unmusically is having to play relatively complicated stuff from memory. Having the dots frees me considerably, allowing me to play much more musically.
 

Wade Cornell

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#12
I don't have that sort of problem with reading. What makes me play badly/unmusically is having to play relatively complicated stuff from memory. Having the dots frees me considerably, allowing me to play much more musically.
I can understand what you're saying, yet for me it's not about memorizing a specific tune. It's hearing and playing in the moment. I'm never trying to play a specific complicated passage from memory. It's about being in improvisation mode 95% of the time, whether playing backing or lead/solos. Means that I seldom play very technically, but can usually communicate with emotion and "tell stories". To each their own...was just relating my own personal thing.
 

Halfers

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#13
We don't use written music when we play. None of the Band are really music readers anyway, but the type of music we play isn't really associated with sheet music. Although I often see the Horn section of Covers bands using stands and sheet music.

Where I really struggle is with remembering lyrics. I can't take the stage without my lyric sheets with me, which I have on a cheapo tablet. I carry hard copies just in case there is a digital breakdown, but the idea of losing my lyrics fills me with dread!
 

ellinas

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Athens, Greece
#16
I never felt anxious since I was a kid. Maybe because I was performing since I was a kid and it came naturally. Having kids performing easy tunes can really help their confidence. And not only kids. Adults as well. Playing at a lower level than what you practice makes things a lot less stressful. After all the stress comes only by the fear to fail ... 99% of the time a wrong note will be there and no one will notice. People can also practice how to handle a wrong note or a “wrong” improvisational idea from the early stages ..... the biggest issue for me is that I don’t drink when i gig like I used to in my twenties .... drinking much water makes me always want to visit the WC .... hahaha .... especially right at the moment the gig starts ... or ..... is it the way my body shows I’m a bit nervous on stage ??? :)
 
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Wokingham, Berks, UK
#18
I always play a solo in the Windsor Community Orchestra's termly concert. I don't get nervous at all until about half way through the piece before me. The nerves then stay with me until I've played 4 or 5 bars. (I've posted a few on the videos thread).
Next concert 29th November. I'm playing Hero by Enrique Iglesias.
 
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Surrey, UK
#19
My mind occasionally starts to worry when I'm approaching a new solo part that I've yet to have instilled with full muscle memory, but a deep breathe and reminding myself to relax generally works. My other concern which rears it's head without warning is when the reed "blocks out" on those high piercing notes in that magnificent recognisable solo that everyone is waiting to hear. You've put all the expression, growling and dynamics into the lead up making the horn rise above the rest of the band and then nothing!!! - Argh!! (NB: Off-topic - my personal fix was to move to a slightly harder reed but I lost expression and flexibility on quieter pieces, so dropped back again. Therefore I am the victim of my own flaws). Oh the joys of public performances ;)
 

aldevis

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#20
I still feel some tension when facing an audience, after some 35 years of professional saxophonic hedonism.

But if there is an audience that really scares me: children.
They investigate you with their focussed brains and you know that the slightest blemish won't go unnoticed. And that includes haircuts.
 
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