You know, a lot of people get stage fright when they first get up on stage; even if they have played a thousand gigs before. You start to want to hide; to put up a barrier in front of your heart and keep everyone out. This wanting to hide, to turn away, is something people do (you are not alone). It is an ego defense. Just relax, breathe into the space around you, and let it go. Be gentle with your self, and OPEN UP. We all feel vulnerable sometimes. It is okay to open your heart, even when the spotlight is on you. Just open up and go with it. Everything is okay.
When you do relax, let go of that feeling of wanting to hide, and open your heart you play with more compassion. And other people also feel more comfortable lowering their guard (taking the armor off their heart) and opening up to your music. It makes for a better atmosphere, better energy flow, and better interaction between the band and the crowd. Have the courage to stand there and bare all. Have you ever heard of the technique of public speaking that suggests picturing everyone (including yourself) as sitting there naked? It is like that feeling. Because the truth is, we all are naked. We all have a heart, and our feelings are universal. We all have them. We all have the ability to feel great strength, great joy, and great sadness. Instead of wanting to hide, learn to embrace the feeling. Do not just say, oh if I can just play my parts and get through this I will be okay. Learn to get down to the ground feeling of we are all human, and play every note with the utmost compassion and open heart.
Two people can play the exact same solo correctly: one with an open heart; and the other with the feeling of just wanting to get it over with and hide. They both might even sound exactly the same. But looking more deeply, people’s feelings will be much more stirred by the one playing with an open heart. It will be that much more meaningful. And isn’t that something that music is all about?
Even if you do get up on stage, and that feeling of vulnerability is overwhelming and you just cannot shake it; well one thing you can do is start to focus on your breathing. Feel the out-breath dissolve into all this space around you; and start to surround that feeling with a lot of space. Remember, being timid is part of the human experience. We have all felt that way before. So instead of trying to hide from it, embrace the feeling and keep moving. Some of these feelings and experiences that you normally might try to hide from, are really the juicy parts of life. If you just get rid of them, then you are actually robbing yourself of some of your treasure. Get rid of them and you may suddenly feel empty, and your playing will be practically lifeless. Embrace them, feel them through, learn to let go of the little feeling of self that just wants to hide, and realize that it is okay to play with all your heart (wide open) and you will find yourself playing at the peak of your ability (and maybe even better…)
Again, learn to be gentle with your self. If you are thinking too much and saying oh darn me, I always do this, I’m such a (insert harsh noun); then you will just be a walking battleground, and not the kind of person that people want to open up to. Let’s face it, a big part of the listening experience in a live setting is not only opening up to the music, it is also feeling comfortable opening up to the people playing the music. Everyone wants their favorite musicians to be awesome people, because on some level we have opened up to their music and let it in our heart. Let’s not take it lightly. That is a huge accomplishment: to play music that people actually open their heart to and love. Even just hearing one person say that they love my music makes me very happy.
Maybe you are just saying, “That is all well and good, but how do I get over my stage fright?” Well, if subtle techniques of learning to work with yourself and your environment do not work for you, then honestly you are probably not paying enough attention to detail (the devil is in the details). However, another thing to do is just to put your self in front of everyone and do it anyway. Just do it! And that is not to say that you will ever fully get over that feeling you get when you first get on stage, but learning to face it and deal with it (and even make friends with it and use it), will help you to grow as a person and as a musician. Learn to be more curious about life, and excited when you get on stage. Instead of entering a room and saying, oh no there are all these people; be curious about it all. I personally get excited when I get on stage. I have always loved getting in front of people and entertaining. In school, when I had to get up and read a report or something, I would make it entertaining. I would get people laughing, even mocking the whole seriousness of the situation.
Learn to lighten up. That is really the best advice for getting over stage fright. Let go of all those feelings of self that are making the situation into such a big deal. Let it go, let it go, let it go. Lighten up and have fun!