How to kill “The Fear” (of performing) – Part 2 – Performance Tactics

I recognise Part 1 may seem to reiterate some of the fears about performing. In many ways the fundamentals are the concrete slab beneath your performance. For me, it’s about getting your mind in order before deploying performance tactics.

This part furthers the little things that help me on the day before the gig and during execution. Again, this isn’t professional advice, but I hope it may prompt some thought to help leave “The Fear” at home.

Preparation

The five P’s (poor preparation leads to…) always apply. However, if you don’t perform frequently, you can be caught off guard by unexpected things that impact your gig. So:

  1. Orientate yourself at the venue before the gig. If possible, play the piece/s at the venue in advance and make note of the good and the bad to prepare for.
  2. Plenty of exercise. Cardio. I used to go for a long bike ride the day before a gig. Burn as much nervous energy as you can. This helped me a lot after bad performance anxiety in high school.
  3. At home the night before, eliminate problems like sheet music falling off the stand, possibility of poor lighting. Tape single sheets of music together, bring a lamp if it might be dark, consider wind when playing outside (bring sticky tape or pegs).
  4. Your gig bag. Keep a few extra essentials in there like duct tape, tissues, spare leads etc.
  5. What are you wearing? Always wear comfortable and familiar clothing and shoes to associate the performance more with your comforts of practice. If a uniform is mandatory, practice in it and make it comfy on the inside if necessary with other clothes.
  6. Warm up – see below section.
  7. Arrive to a gig early. There will always be that one time you are late and you regret it in a big way. Only let it be once – learn from it. Planning to arrive two hours early where set up or load in is required lets you get everything in order. Running around last minute before performing does you no good.
  8. Before playing, have some down time. Be alone if you need to. Nothing worse than talking to other musicians that are nervous wrecks. Distance yourself from any negative or worried people.

Warm up before performing

The verdict is unclear on this one. Some suggest not to play the piece you are going to perform when warming up (e.g. making minor errors may add to the fear before a performance). If this worries you, and it’s a big performance, do a dry run with family present and try it out (in advance mind you – days before the gig). It may be enough for you to warm up with a different piece before performing. For singers, definitely warm up your vocal range to prevent vocal damage.

When I’m under time pressure now with a new piece, I may not be fully prepared for a performance. I may warm up using on the bits I struggle with and be prepared to keep going if I make mistakes during the actual performance. This is something that gets better in time for musicians like myself not dedicated to a life of classical music perfection.

Your Set List

My high school music teacher George Scicluna always told me to start strong. Choose a piece that you can perform very well, will be popular with the audience, and that will give you resounding confidence for the rest of the set. Remain genre or venue appropriate with your song choice. It doesn’t need to be a banger or a technical masterpiece. Sometimes it’s good to start with an easy piece on the set list, using it as a warm up if you’re short on time before the gig.

Enjoy the performance

Absolute number one priority is to have a bloody great time. Take your time with pieces, don’t rush through them. Make the audience hang on moments of silence in songs. Smile. Display the emotion of the music in your body language. Allowing these emotions to fill you will channel the adrenaline into positive performing. And you will not be thinking so much about the fear…