I think one of the most enjoyable parts of music is playing for an appreciative audience. Whether that is for a supportive spouse, a few friends, or some strangers at a coffee shop, playing for others beats sitting on the couch and playing alone. The music takes on a different quality when you are offering something up for other people to enjoy. I personally find that I am much more satisfied as a player when I am able to give something back to a listener as opposed to playing only by myself.
Venturing out to play music in public is a pretty daunting thing. Going from your living room couch where your only audience is your dog or cat, to a coffee shop or pub with strangers watching can be unnerving to some. Lets look at some things to keep in mind when taking the leap.
Always try to start in a friendly venue. Don’t go try to get a gig at the rough biker bar across town. I recommend open mics and things like song circles at music stores. At a song circle everyone goes around, picking a song and starting it, with everyone else joining in. So that means you are going to have to start a tune and sing it front of people. Some folks may be able to just jump straight to playing on stage, but others may not, so this is a good option.
I like open mics because they are often oriented towards the beginning performer. That means the audience is supportive, and you can go on stage worrying less about messing up. Participants usually play one to three tunes, depending on the size of the open mic. This can be a good time to work on stage banter as well. For me talking before and after the songs is more nerve wracking than actually playing them. That’s the fun part.
One thought I always try to keep in the front of my mind is that the audience is there to support me. They want the musician on stage to succeed, and they want to have a good time. It always pains me to see a musician go up on stage, and start of by saying, “Here is a song of mine, I hope I don’t mess it up”, or “I hope you like this next song of mine.” In my opinion statements like that put the audience in a negative or judging mindset before you have even started your piece. You don’t want them thinking anything except how they are going love and enjoy this piece of music you are about to play.
There are a few kind of mental pitfalls that can befall the performing musician, and its good to be mindful of them. They are especially prevalent in instrumental music.
One is the syndrome of perpetually speeding up, like a snowball tumbling down a mountainside. The performer comes on that phrase that they know gives them trouble, they get tense, speed up, and pretty soon are going faster and faster. Often times they are not aware this is going on. One way to avoid this is to be diligent about practicing with a metronome at home, making sure that you don’t speed up at tough passages. This will make it less likely that you will speed up during performance.
Another thing that can happen is the dreaded mental blank. You are playing along, sounding great, all of a sudden you forget where the tune goes next. Hopefully you can fumble through, or else you have to stop, crack a joke, and hope the audience understands. One way to avoid this is to always concentrate on what you are playing at the present. Don’t think about what you are going to play next, or what some members of the audience might think of your music. Just be in the moment.
I know when I started performing more I often stressed about what to say between tunes. Some audience interaction is required after all. A good place to start can be just to talk about the tune you are about to play. Since it can be a bit formulaic to start each time by saying “This next tune is about….” it can help to frame the story about a personal experience, or who you learned the tune from. I have found that good performers will take note of what works well during a gig, and recycle the same stories or jokes.
Hopefully you can use these tips to make the leap to playing on stage. Performing can be a very gratifying activity, and I always encourage folks to take the leap if its something they want to do.
About the Author
Anton Emery is the Community Manager of http://www.RhythmStrummer.com. This site offers easy guitar songs for adult learners in a fun & patient atmosphere, taught by teachers who care. Students learn songs & technique lessons across a variety of genres, including Folk, Country, and Classic Rock- all with NO advertising.