You are in your practise room. Everything sounds immaculate. Hands and feet are comfortable, you feel you can play anything you want. You are on fire!
Just then your mate comes in and says he wants to film you and suddenly everything comes down like a deck of cards. Hands are not flying effortlessly, you start feeling stressed and your playing goes well under the level you usually perform. What’s happening?
Say hi to the phobia of public critique. We all have it.
We continue our series of articles about the ‘enemies’ of the drummer. This month, Dan Peranic takes a look at performer’s fear – and what can be done to combat stage fright and how to increase confidence.
Doing it in public!
You can be the most confident player in your rehearsal room but that environment won’t prepare you for the wow-factor of a real, live and breathing audience. The thought of performing in front of people that don’t know you can be quite nerve-wracking. Those people have their expectations and they’ll walk away with the opinion of what they saw that night.
On the other hand, it can be just as scary to perform in front of people that DO know you. Just being aware that there are friends and family in the audience, even if you cannot see them, can sometimes add to those extra on-stage nerves.
On asking drummer (and teacher here at Elephant Drums) Will Connor about this he says “it’s far more intimidating to play in front of a quiet room of 2 or 3 friends than it is to be be on a big stage in front of 2 or 3 thousand people”. This could be partly to do with the energy buzz and adrenaline rush created by a large group of people. In a small room you are psychologically bound to be far more self-conscious.
So, whatever the size of the stage and regardless of who is in the audience, anxiety and nerves can creep in to ruin your performance. Indeed, it may be the presence just one friend with a video camera in your practise room that ’causes’ you to lose all your confidence.
Fighting the fear
One of the key obstacles to people expressing themselves, says Sir Ken Robinson in his book “Elements,” is that we worry too much about what other people will think. We fear they will judge us negatively. What’s more, sometimes they do. Robinson mentions that Elvis Presley was not allowed into his school’s glee club because they thought he was ruining their sound. So he gave up on music… oh wait, no he didn’t… he actually went on to have a bit of success.
The story above is a great example of the importance of following through with performing in a way that you believe in. With drums, you’ve got to remember there is no one universally correct ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. The way you play is unique. Some people will love it, some people will criticise it. You might criticise yourself for not being good enough. But there is a difference between knowing your weaknesses and having a phobia of perfoming.
Confidence in performing will come from practising doing it. Set aside the insecurities about any weaknesses in your playing and try not to visibly whince at any mistakes. 9 out of 10 mistakes will go unnoticed if you don’t draw attention to them.
It takes time until you begin controlling that stress/panic and pumping adrenaline. That’s why it’s important to realise that playing drums is not just about the physical; hands, feet and notes. You have to practise mentally and spiritually in order to achieve the highest level.
Tips for overcoming stage fright:
- Practise in front of a mirror – get used to the idea that someone else is watching you!
- Ask a friend to come and film you playing – it’s amazing how much more self-conscious you’ll become. Watch the video back (it might make you cringe seeing yourself perform). Don’t become too self-obsessed by doing this – try to focus on your playing.
- When backstage before a gig, get warmed up with some simple sticking exercises. Make sure you have got your drums set up how you want them.
- Spend a few minutes doing some breathing exercises. Breathe deeply and consistently – this can lower your heart rate and control nerves.
- Play as many gigs you can, don’t let anything stress you out. Be prepared for the worst case scenario
- Try playing with your eyes closed – it will enhance your awareness of the music around you – to help you ‘feel’ it. It will also make the audience disappear!
A little bit of ‘nervous energy’ is a positive thing. Without any ‘buzz’ from performing you might lose the magic spark. It’s good to be slightly on the edge… So don’t try to cure stage fright entirely – or you might run the risk of losing the passion for performing…!
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