Tackling Stage Fright

Getting Over Stage Fright, the Natural Classical Guitar and Barry Green material).

First of all, it’s important to understand what is the cause of stage
fright. It’s similar to any other fright: if we know we are not able to
control something, we get fright. Just to give you an easy example:
you are happily driving your car, you know how to do the various
things, in a word, you can control your car. But, suddenly, the road is
icy, slippery, you want to turn left but the steer doesn’t work, your car
goes straight. You start getting some fright, so you want to stop it but
because of the ice the brakes have no effect; you get more and more
fright because now you know you can’t control what’s going on and
eventually you and your car end up against the rail of that curve.

The same thing happens when playing an instrument.
The more you know you can’t control the technical aspects of what you are doing,
the more you are going to worry about it. In fact, we tend to get more
nervous about difficult things, because most of times we are not sure
we can control them.

First of all, it’s necessary to solve the problems concerned with the
physical side of playing. So here, for each of these universal fears,
there are causes and cures explained, together with practical

How to use the natural body balances and movements to get to master
difficult things, have a flowing sense and in control, how to prevent

But don’t just read it, do it!


a. Hearing
b. Listening


Causes and cures: tips to practice fast passages, how to learn a piece
to play by heart, which words create a mental state of tension,
while others help to create ease and flexibility, so you know which
ones to use when talking, teaching, even thinking about playing. How
to use your imagination for help with this and to create your musical


Causes and cures: I personally think that this is the most difficult
fear to overcome, because even when you have got rid of the technical
problems that made you insecure, still there is the fear of other
people’s judgement. This applies to many aspects of life, but it’s
especially true of playing an instrument, it’s the identification of one’s
personal worth with the “goodness” of playing.

I personally think that another way to help reduce stage fright is to try
to eliminate this attitude of fierce criticism, so prevalent especially
among music students and no-longer-students. The more you criticize,
the more you are bound to be nervous when your turn to play comes,
especially in front of “friends” or people you know, because you are
aware of what they would think of your performance and, what’s
worst, of you as a person.

So, why not try and stop criticizing other players for every tiny mistake or other things?

I adopted this attitude, “OK, that’s the way he/she plays, it’s their choice,

it’s not my job to judge other people’s playing, it doesn’t make me a better player

so what’s the point of criticizing?”

By the way, I’ve found it useful not only for music, but for other situations,

it makes me more tolerant of other people’s faults and less worried about their judgement.




Playing and practicing is more a matter of mental attitude, not a
mechanical thing, it’s about what we mean to do with it. Here is some
general advice about how to practice (see why practicing itself can be
a major cause of stage fright), prepare for performances. So change
your attitude and you change the results. Read quotes from the
famous violin player Fritz Kreisler, who was famed for not practicing
much, see what he says about relying on muscular exercise only and
about practicing before a performance.

Other things you can do:

When I was working on this, I did all sorts of musical things, which
could, in one way or another, be helpful in improving my playing: I
started playing with all styles of players, in pub sessions, churches,
learned to play by ear (and more…, you’ll see later on), just to regain
that genuine feeling of doing it for pleasure, without worries.

We get used to think that if we make a mistake it’s a tremendous
crime, so we focus our attention only on not making any error,
forgetting the musical communication. Of course, it’s nice not to make
mistakes, but if that becomes your only concern, oh, what a boring

One learns from mistakes, so, something else you could do to
overcome stage fright, is find situations to play where you are
allowed to make mistakes because people are not there to judge
you but they are only willing to receive and enjoy your music.

When speaking with my students or other players who say they get
nervous, I advise them to go and play at their church during a
function, or play at an elderly people’s home or play for little children,
easy things to make them enjoy it, have fun, tell them a story. Even if
you make some mistakes, so, what’s going to happen? They’d never
notice it but they would love you for the gift of music that you can
give them, they’d ask you for more music and this will help you to
build confidence in yourself, in your ability to play and to communicate
and you’ll be able to play more and more demanding pieces.

Then you can go home and practice the passages that need
improvement. And if you can play by heart, without reading the music,
much better, so you can look at people right in their eyes, “talk” to
them with music, smile. Start with something simple and enjoy it.

If you still need some practice in performing your piece in front of an
audience before a big event, the final touch, for many the scariest
thing you can do is some busking. Yes, go and play in the streets,
there you have an audience, the situation is challenging, it may be
noisy, people coming and going, a lot of distractions, you may have to
cope with the idea of “what will they think of me?” (but who cares
what they think?), but if you can cope with this, then performing in
any other situation will seem easier.

To conclude, you can do something about stage fright, improve your
playing and enjoy yourself when you play, feel the emotion of making
and giving music to your listeners, cause emotions in your listeners.

Start giving your music to everyone, see the nice comments you might
receive…and people dancing to your music…and you’ll feel much more confident and able.

I found these books I mentioned very useful and if you have any
doubts about how to solve some problems and so far you haven’t
found answers, I warmly recommend them to you!

If you want some more help and tips, I do teach guitar and bass. This
is the way I teach and I see that my pupils have a nice tone from the
very beginning, enjoy themselves much more, learn more quickly.

Playing is not just doing all the right notes, as Kató Havas says:

“It is important to realize that our responsibility as musicians lies just
in this – in the lifting up emotionally and aesthetically of all our
listeners, regardless of whether they are examiners, auditioners, or
members of an audience. If all our energies were channelled into
giving people, through the medium of music, a deeper understanding
of their own potential as part of the wonderful mysteries that the
universe contains, we would not only do justice to ourselves as
musicians, but stage fright would be banished from the face of this
earth forever.”

You can never prepare too much. You need as much
knowledge at your disposal as possible. When the time
comes, nerves will be in the distance. Extra work gives you a
backlog of possibility to feed off of, knowing no stone has
been left unturned.

Don’t practice mistakes.

Learn first, then practice what you have learned.

Spend a great deal of time listening to a piece before
attempting to play it.

Practice away from your instrument.

Use the STOP method:
Stop-take a break.
Proceed- get back to work.

Practice slowly.

Internalize by singing what you want to learn.

Don’t over think, just play.

Focus on the music. Not what others think.

Focus on what you have accomplished and what you can do.

Enjoy your anxieties.

Play with an uncluttered mind.

When you desire to have a good performance, visualize it
and you will believe it to be.

A solid, focused warm up routine.

Don’t panic-focus on one thing at a time.

Remind yourself of what brought you to this moment.

Believe in yourself.

To perform fearlessly, don’t be worried about how your music
is received.

Only concern yourself with being honest and convincing.




Reduce your fear and anxiety associated with public speaking or performing.

Lessen your anticipatory anxiety, prior to public speaking and performing events.

Reduce avoidance of public speaking and performing opportunities.

Learn ways to calm your physical symptoms and empower your mind set
when facing this challenge.

Increase feelings of confidence and ease when speaking or performing and
create the possibility of coming to enjoy the experience!

1.) Breathing Patterns.

2.) Visualize The Audience Clapping At The End.

3.) Practice Out Loud And Within Your Mind.

4.) Video Tape Your Self, And Work On Things You Need To Work On.

5.) Use Positive Affirmations.

6.) Possible Use Body Language Gestures Or NLP (Neuro-linguistic
Programming) Communication Techniques.

7.) Tell Yourself Your A Brilliant Player,

8.) Imagine That! You Were In The Audience Watching, And Thinking “I Wish
I Could Do That”, Then Realize Your Amazing! – I’m (whatever age), this is
what I do!


What follows is a thumb-nail sketch of ideas and suggestions.

Aims at presenting an overall approach to the art of playing music with
minimum effort if not effortlessly.

Here are 10 ‘principles’ which
appear in the following order:

Let Nature Support Your Playing
Increase Mind/Body Awareness
Develop Natural Concentration
Cultivate Dynamic Relaxation
Apply the Play-Relax Technique
Refine Your Guitar Skills
Learn from the Masters
Use the Mind Over Fingers Approach
Share Your Enjoyment of Music
Evolve from the Instrument to the Self

An Overview

“The best guitarists make playing look easy. In fact, it is easy for
them”. But how could it be possible for the average guitar player to
reach that distant goal of effortless playing? Simply, by allowing
nature play her part. The cooperation between nature and guitarist
can yield excellent results. Delving into each of the above ten
principles, we observe the following:

1. Let Nature Support Your Playing

The imperative ‘do less, accomplish more’ is the main theme of the
first chapter of this book. I hold the view that the ‘principle of
minimum effort’ is the root idea of successful guitar playing; and in
order to reinforce this view, I marshal some philosophical ideas from
the East, such as Yoga, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism. We learn that
nature loves economy and minimal effort.

Therefore, we should let nature to do her work every time we take the guitar

and start playing a piece of music. Example: An intelligent woodsman

splits a log easier by allowing the natural force of gravity to help him bring down the axe.

Similarly, the intelligent guitarist finds it easier to press down the strings with his/her

left-hand if he/she allows the natural weight of his/her arm to provide much of the pressure.

2. Increase Mind/Body Awareness

In this chapter we find ourselves in deeper water. We may have a very
good guitar teacher, excellent instruction books, and a large collection
of fine recorded guitar pieces. But the value of all these things is
limited if we are not aware of what takes place in our mind, our body,
and in the music we are playing. Here I’ll use the act of eating of an
apple with the playing of the guitar: “To get the full value from eating
an apple, your full attention needs to be on the apple; to get the most
enjoyment from playing the guitar, your full attention needs to be on
the guitar”. This can only be done if we settle our mind and relax our
body. ‘Settling the mind’ means ‘emptying it’. A completely ‘empty’
mind with no disturbing thoughts is like a tranquil lake with no ripples
on its surface. Conclusion: Having a settled mind and a relaxed body
enables us to play the guitar with minimum effort and to become
aware of the subtleties of the music we are playing (tone production,
color, dynamics, articulation, etc.).

3. Develop Natural Concentration

This chapter stresses the importance of natural concentration, which
enables us to focus our attention on one aspect of guitar playing at a
given moment (a melodic line, a rest stroke, a shift of the left-hand,
etc.). Good concentration translates into good playing. The technique
of natural concentration can be derived from the practical teachings of

4. Cultivate Dynamic Relaxation

Here the discussion is on the question of balance. The author makes
the point that, when we play the guitar in complete accord with the
principle of minimum effort, we find ourselves in a balanced state of
mind and body. Aldous Huxley has called this balanced state ‘dynamic
relaxation’. Its main characteristic is the balance of opposite
tendencies (activity and rest, tension and relaxation) in both mind and
body. The author recognizes the prima facie paradox of this state, but
at the same time he believes that it is possible for activity to be
combined with relaxation. In this state of dynamic relaxation
(balancing the opposites) we feel completely relaxed, even when
playing demanding pieces of music. Again, the author touches upon
the philosophies of the East, which he analyzes with some examples.

5. Apply the Play-Relax Technique

The ‘play-relax’ technique is based on an ancient idea that, if we want
to achieve a specific result, we must master its opposite. The
followers of Taoism say “empty and be full.” Leo Brouwer, the Cuban
guitarist-composer, recommended the same approach to his students.
There is no doubt that the proper guitar playing demands proper
relaxation. But what is ‘proper relaxation?’ The author says it is “the
balanced alternation between playing and not playing.” A good
guitarist knows how to take full advantage of the opportunity to relax
his/her hands and fingers “between the notes and the playing
movements.” When a balanced alternation between playing and not
playing is reached, guitar playing becomes almost effortless.

6. Refine Your Guitar Skills

I now speak of the importance of perfecting our guitar playing
technique. In my view, we cannot enjoy the benefits of dynamic
relaxation if we pay no attention to details, both musical and technical.

Lack of emphasis on details, such as good tone, effortless flow of
fingers, damping of unwanted notes, shaping melodic lines, etc.,
makes guitar playing less satisfactory and less enjoyable. The beauty
resides in the details (see the colorful structure of a butterfly wing, the
fine veins of an oak leaf, etc.). And while I take the trouble to enter
into the subject of details, I also deal with tone color, articulation,
natural fingering, making left-hand connections, etc.

7. Learn from the Masters

Undoubtedly, imitating good players is one of the most natural ways of
learning to play the guitar. The child learns the mother tongue by
imitating the mother. Similarly, the guitar student learns directly from
the teacher by imitating him/her. Having a fine teacher and using
him/her as a model, the student avoids the common mistakes that
most self-taught students make. A good teacher is able to make
maximum use of the student’s artistic potential. Examining the
imitative learning process, I do not neglect to mention how the
masters learned their craft. There are other natural ways of learning,
such as regular, goal-directed practice, breaking down technical
problems, intelligent repetition, memorization techniques, slow
practice, the use of metronome, and other techniques from which we
get the most benefit in an enjoyable way.

8. Use the Mind Over Fingers Approach

Here we find the common opinion (it was also expresses by F. Sor)
that good and effortless guitar playing requires skill, not sheer
strength. Many guitarists believe that by making their fingers strong
through endless repetition of exercises and musical pieces, they will
eventually play the guitar well. But, according to the author, this is
not necessarily so. [Note: Yet Morales states that Barrios, in order to
master a new piece of music, he played it consecutively 100 times
without error!] The author suggests that the best approach to
‘sharpen’ more effectively our guitar playing technique is through
‘mental picturing’ and ‘mental hearing’. The key is: ‘visualize and let it
happen’. This interesting approach is analyzed in some detail in this

9. Share Your Enjoyment of Music

“It is natural to share your enjoyment of the guitar with others. It is
unnatural to be afraid and keep your talent to yourself.” This,
certainly, makes good sense. However, common sense also tells us
that the guitarist should not play for others if he/she is not thoroughly
prepared. The salient point I make is this: When we are playing for
others, the extra enjoyment we (and the others) draw comes from “a
special kind of energy exchange” between the player and the
audience; and when that occurs, the guitarist and the audience
“become perfectly synchronized with the rhythm and feeling of the
music.” I suggest various steps we can take in order to overcome the
fear of playing for others.

10. Evolve from the Guitar to the Self

Finally, we learn that the guitar is something more than just a musical
instrument; it is an excellent means of self-development. When we study it
intelligently, it can help us learn to concentrate better, to memorize more
easily, to improve mind-body coordination, to perform well while remaining
relaxed, to get along well with others, and to harmonize ourselves with our
environment. I believe that, in the final analysis, guitar playing is a subtle
discipline that helps us to reach not only our full mental, physical, and
spiritual potential, but also to become happier human beings.

Getting Over Stage Fright by Janet Esposito

The Natural Classical Guitar by Lee F. Ryan

The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green

If you have time…

My latest work:

Contact me if you’re interested in private music instruction in person or via Skype


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