combatting nerves when performing in front of people

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John Tranter
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combatting nerves when performing in front of people

Post by John Tranter » Mon Aug 07, 2017 11:47 am

Could anyone out there give me some tips on playing classical guitar in front of people without total meltdown. I have been playing about 10 years, I cannot read notation and have to rely on tablature. I practice at home now I have retired for about 1 hour a day. I try to play short melodic pieces, Lagrima, Adelita etc. I play on a normal size Herald 44HL classical guitar, but I have small hands and struggle stretching my fingers. Do you think a smaller guitar might help and could anyone suggest a make and model that will not be too expensive. PS I am self taught and never really had guitar lessons.

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Re: combatting nerves when performing in front of people

Post by bear » Mon Aug 07, 2017 11:58 am

Look at the Cordoba line of guitars, they make smaller guitars at reasonable prices. The nerves, aside from meds like beta blockers (propranolol) or some of the anti anxiety meds the best thing to do is just play, Try not to play a piece, just noodle, scales, arpeggios, nonsense, whatever. There's no pressure and little chance of flubbing a note.
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Re: combatting nerves when performing in front of people

Post by Robin » Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:50 pm

Hi John,

I echo Bear's recommendation for the Cordoba guitars. When I was first considering switching to a smaller scale guitar, I purchased a Cordoba Dolce (7/8 size guitar). It cost just under $300 and is a decent instrument. Switching from a 650 scale guitar to a 630 (which is what the Dolce is) convinced me that a smaller guitar was a better fit for me. I still needed to work on the technical aspect of opening my left hand and developing more stretch but the small neck and fret distances helped me to make that next step forward in my playing. It is common now for people, even at the professional level, to play smaller guitars, appropriate to their body size. There is no need to struggle with a guitar that is too large and too difficult to play. It only leads to frustration and possible injuries.

Successful performances don't just happen. I think we often underestimate the amount of preparation and work that goes into learning the skill of performance.

I believe the first line of defense is having confidence in your technical ability. If you don't have a plan in place for progressive technical development, you will want to choose one. There are many, many approaches to this. If you do a search on this forum, you will find more information than you can digest! The second aspect of this, is to choose etudes and repertoire that are well within your technical ability to prepare for performance. There is a time and place for reaching for those difficulty pieces but not when you are learning how to perform. It is better to play a simple Sor etude with confidence and beauty than to hack your way through something that is difficult for you, knowing that it doesn't sound musical.

Initially, set performance goals that feel like they are lower pressure. Play in front of a mirror (this is harder than you might think!), record yourself so that you can get objective feedback of what you really sound like. When you listen, be kind to yourself. Make special note of what you really like (because there will be beautiful elements in your playing!) and then take note of what you don't like and think of ways to improve those areas. Next, play for your cat, your dog or a close friend in the comfort of your own home. Then, maybe play for a small group of friends in their home. Do that until you feel more comfortable. Once you can do that, maybe try a coffee shop where you are background music while people are talking, on their computers, etc. Another good way to get used to performing is to play in an ensemble or with a duet partner. Solo performance on a stage at the center of attention is difficult. Develop your performance skills from the bottom up, not the top down.

Learning to perform is a skill. The people you see on stage who make it look so easy have put in thousands of hours of practice, not just honing skill and repertoire but practicing performing. I like to compare learning to perform to learning how to ride a bike. At first you are wobbly, fall off the bike, skin your knees but you dust yourself off, put a bandaid on your knees and get back on and try to ride again. Eventually, you'll be able to ride and enjoy it.

Good luck!

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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: combatting nerves when performing in front of people

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Mon Aug 07, 2017 1:56 pm

A couple of extra thoughts to those above John. Aside from financial considerations, is there any reason you don't take at least a few lessons? A good teacher should be able to help with all of these things, much better than us lot, due to the direct observation they can make of how you are doing things.
Re the guitar specifically, well again a tutor would be in a position to advise, and may well save you unnecessary expenditure on different guitars, as it is possible its not so much the size of the guitar as its position in the budget range that makes it hard to play. Going to a guitar shop and trying out a few decent ones briefly would also be one way to check that out. As you are in Leicester there are a couple of guitar specialists within an hour or so of you and they would be able to make a number of potentially useful suggestions. I really would advise against just ordering something online and hoping its what you need.

Re nerves, to amplify the points above, the crucial things are i. playing things that are really easy for you, ii. doing it often and regularly. Its very like an inoculation.

If one is playing pieces like Lagrima, Adelita which are around grade 4-5, perform pieces about half that, e.g. grade 2, but having learnt them very thoroughly. Doing so helps make a positive start upon which to build, and then over time, as confidence and experience improve, gradually and sustainably increase the technical level of the pieces chosen. Also, if you have time to play two pieces, normally make the first one something really really simple, and then the second one can be more ambitious and have more chance of success, as you have had time to settle down, get used to the situation, the sound of the room, the fact that people are looking at you, etc etc.

It goes without saying that one can only have confidence in performing a piece that one knows inside out and can reliably perform easily at home. But how one learns in the first place, and then over time, practises a piece, also comes into play (pun intended). Simply playing a piece from end to end time and again is not a good way to practice! Isolate the tricky bits and do them repeatedly and analytically, maybe not bothering all the time with the easy bits. My most powerful technique is to rehearse the sections in reverse order - e.g. the last 4 bars, then the previous 4 etc, always ending on the first beat of the succeeding section, so the joins are smooth.

Also, just come to terms with the fact that pretty much everybody suffers from nerves (even youngsters, but they rarely show it), its normal and natural, and you are not the only one afflicted with this dis-ease.

If you really can only perform say once a year, I would simply stick with playing maybe a group of really really easy pieces, maybe by the same composer.

If you decide to think about lessons, get in touch with Yvonne Bloor, who should be able to help, or suggest alternatives.
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Re: combatting nerves when performing in front of people

Post by dory » Mon Aug 07, 2017 3:19 pm

I would second the recommendation of the córdoba Dolce. I played one while I was shopping for a guitar and the sound was very sweet. Despite the fact that I have small hands I ended up getting a full sized guitar. That may or may not have been the right decision. I am not sure.
As for performance anxiety it may make you feel better to know that almost everyone has it in the beginning, and for many many people it is extreme. I don't know what is about music that causes this fear factor, but I know it is very real. We can cut ourselves slack when learning most other things, but we seem to get stuck in fear or even terror when performing music. I first learned that Imhad severe performance anxiety when I tried to play Lágrima, the first performance-type piece that I felt good on, for some friends at a dinner party. I was actually surprised that Imcoukdn't do it. You see I hadn't tried before and did not know the anxiety was there. For a long time it felt like an alien was taking control of my hands when I tried to play. A malicious alien, of course. It has ebbed and flowed since then, but has hradually been getting better. I have actually been contemplating playing at a guitar open mic. What helps is our guitar club has a meeting every month where anyone who wants to-- including people who are terrified of playing in public can play something.

As for reading music, I think it is a skill worth learning and people can learn it late in life, although it is not as easy as when you are young. In my opinion once you get the trick of it it is easier than tab, although I admit that I learnec young. I have seen adults learn who do as well as me or better. A teacher can really help at this point. Really. Find someone kind and patient. They exist. A lot of people say it is a waste of money to pay a teacher. I say that they would change their mind as soon as they meet acgood teacher. As second best ( not to insult those who kindly volunteer their time at Delcamp-- but face to face and a clear view of the student's hands is best, take lessons here at Delcamp.i think if you are willing to play some beginning pieces-- just temporarily, you will find you can learn to read music in the process.i hope this helps. Many of us are in the same boat. You are not unusally and specially handicapped. Most of us go through it.

P.S. The one person I know with absolutely zero performance anxiety has autism. I have also known two or more musicians who do not have autism but have trouble relating to other people who lack performance anxiety.Maybe your anxiety indicates you are aware of, and sensitive to, the feelings of others. That might be a good thing, despite the inconvenience of wirking through your anxiety.

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