How to Overcome First-Time Stage Fright for Guitarists

It’s finally time. You’ve bought a nice guitar, you’ve put in the hours of practice, and now you feel like you’re ready to take that first step.
You’re going to play for an audience for the first time!
Whether you’re playing in front of your friends and family in your living room or you’re playing in an amateur contest in front of a bar, you’re going to feel the same kind of anxiety inside of you.
Am I really good enough to play in front of people? Are they going to enjoy my music? What if I mess up and look like a fool!?

Questions

If these questions (and more) are buzzing in your head, know this: you are not alone! Trust me, I’ve been playing guitar professionally for over 10 years, and I still get butterflies in my stomach just before I go up on stage and strum out that first chord. I’ll never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach the first time I ever played in front of an actual audience. Here are some things that I want you to keep in mind before your first performance.

The Audience is Not Your Enemy

I know that it is super daunting to stand in front of people right before playing your guitar. It’s already unnerving when it’s from people you know and they’ve got a friendly, supportive smiles, but what about people who you don't know?

Good Music

Yes, everyone who went to see you IS expecting good music but at the end of the day, they just want to relax and have some fun! Apart from a few possible hecklers, they’re not there to ridicule you and shame you for coming on stage. In fact, most of them are probably a little envious of the fact that you’re up on stage and given the chance to show off your musical chops!

And yes, you do have the possibility of running into hecklers who just want to make themselves feel better by making other people feel small. But for me, that’s the test of a real musician – or any kind of performer, actually. If you’re able to roll with the punches and not stoop down to their level, then you know you’ve got what it takes to be a good musician.

You’re Going to Make Mistakes…and That’s Okay

Everyone makes a mistake on stage. Trust me, I know this! As a professional musician, I can’t even count the number of times I played the wrong note or strummed a chord out of tune. But that’s okay! I think of it this way:

A concert I play will have around 30,000 notes and I generally mess up and make around 3 mistakes. Am I going to throw away the effort of playing 99.99% of the notes perfectly just because I played 0.01% incorrectly? No! If anything, I feel proud of myself for playing 99.99% correctly, and I challenge myself to practice so that I hit the 0.01% correctly during my next concert.

As a first-time guitar player, you shouldn’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to perform a piece 100%. The more you dwell on mistakes, the better the probability that you will make another one.

The Spotlight is on YOU for a Reason

Almost everyone I’ve ever met in my life, whether they are able to play an instrument or not, has dreamt of being up on stage and performing for people. You, my friend, are about to achieve that! You are on the verge of achieving something that, not so long ago, you might have thought was only a dream. That is something to be proud of and enjoy. Don’t let a few moments fear and anxiety ruin that feeling for you.

JUST FEEL THE MUSIC

If you’ve ever watched any guitar legend play on stage, you might have noticed something in common: at one point or another in their set, they closed their eyes. When these musicians close their eyes, it means that they are forgetting the world around them and letting the music take them away.

For me, that’s the real magic of music: it takes us out of ourselves and lets us enjoy the notes as one community. Musicians are merely conduits from which is magic flows. When you’ve practiced your music enough, you will have enough muscle memory that your fingers, arms, and body will know what to do even if your eyes are closed.

This is YOUR moment! Let it wash over you and take you away.