Tips for handling nerves please

Tips for handling nerves please

Well, I went to another session the other night. Nothing for 20+ years and then twice this year so far! - I’m on a roll !!

Thing is, I can’t remember ever going to a session on my own before. Net result of this being that when I was called upon to play (its that sort of session) I had the jitters. I started off with something steady and managed to get away with it.

Second time around it was’nt so easy. It actually got that bad that it started to affect my breathing - pretty dire stuff for a whistle player. I still managed to stick with it and got through OK, though not at my best.

On subsequent occasions, things got better and I got over it.

Question is, has this ever happened to you? - how do you deal with it? - I think the answer is to keep throwing yourself into the lions den - but does it get easier? I am desperate not to let something as stupid as this stop me from being at my best. To my mind there is no point in playing at all if I can’t achieve my "normal" standard in public.

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It gets easier the more you get out and play in front of people. You are there to have fun, and don’t have to play a note to do so. It you get antsy, just sit back, have a listen, and join back in when you catch your breath.

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It’s good to not do things on your own. An accomplice at home to play a few tunes with is brilliant because it gets you into the way of thinking of having to listen to others. I know it’s sh*ite advice but it’s true: no-one is listening for your mistakes. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has apologised to me for "mistakes"(and vice versa), to my complete bemusement. You’ll get picked up for bad taste, hogging the proceedings,breaching the local protocol (such as sitting in the seat of a regular) or showing up with a bodhran, but not for your mistakes, I promise.

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There is no substitute for mileage. Get together with your friends for kitchen sessions at each other’s houses. It’s worked wonders for my friends and I. There actually is a lot to learn about playing with others. One of the most important things is that you need to know your tunes so well that you don’t even have to pay attention to your own playing, but can instead listen to what the other players are doing (provided they’re better, more experiences players, mind you). Everything sounds different when others join in, so you have to get used to it. The only way to improve at playing with others is to play with others, and it is best to start out doing that in the comfort of your friends’ company, than in the stress of a "real"(tm) session. Did I mention mileage? ;-)

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"no-one is listening for your mistakes"

Exactly that. In fact, they’re listening for the best you do. If you play through it, it’ll go right by. Just start the tune strong and simple, and let them help you get through it. Once someone picks it up, you can lean on them a little. Keep it simple, keep to tunes you know and tunes you think someone there will know - don’t dive into three obscure hornpipes from Breathnach’s collections or something, because odds are nobody will know them and you’ll be playing them on your own, which is definitely not good for the nerves.

But remember, they’re not looking for you to screw up. They want you to play something awesome, and they’ll do their best to hear that as long as you give them something to work with.

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The more you do it, the easier it is. When i was little and I mean little, like 6, 7, 8 little i had no problem going up in front of hundreds of people. I did that for years. Then i stopped and when i went back up there for the first time in 2 or maybe even 3 years, I couldnt hold my violin straight i was shaking so much. All this to tell you that you shouldnt stop just because you get nervous. A few minutes before you go on, take some deep breaths (this ALWAYS helps) and dont think about it too much. Dont stand that and go oh my gosh, what if i make a mistake, what if i cant remember my songs. Because the odds are that if you do that, you will mess up or forget your songs. Think about how happy you’ll be when you get through a song without messing up, if you have to, play the song in your head so that way your sure that you remember them. And its always easier when you have a guitarist or a pianist accompanying you so that way if you do forget, you can let them play until you catch up again. So just remember that as the old saying goes, practice really does make perfect.

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Really good comment, browndog. I would add that playing with others, whether or not they are "better" helps you learn to listen to what others are playing. And its fun. I would also add that a little red wine enhances the experience for me. (And when this happens in my home, I don’t have to worry about driving home). -:)

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"Think about how happy you’ll be when you get through a song without messing up"

No. Think about the tune. Be in the tune. Be the tune. Don’t think about rewards or punishments or social standing or your parking meter or anything but the tune that you’re playing. Or, to put it better, put your mind on the tune that you’re playing, to the exclusion of everything else.

Thinking about what it’ll be when you’re done is a distraction from what it is now. Success, failure, getting ravaged by the flute player in the corner, whatever it is you’re after, it’ll all happen if it happens, but not while you’re playing the tune.

"practice really does make perfect"

While you’re at it, forget about practice and forget about perfect. There is no perfect, there is only right (which can have lots of imperfection), and you should do your practice at home.

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I don’t have this problem with sessions, but I do when I have to solo (on trumpet or flute) in church or other public venues. I don’t know about the restrictions on medical advice here, but I use propranolol (generic inderal) - this is a beta-blocker. Works great for me. You could use something like this until you get comfortable.

Pat

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"Think about the tune. Be in the tune. Be the tune. Don’t think about rewards or punishments or social standing or your parking meter or anything but the tune that you’re playing. Or, to put it better, put your mind on the tune that you’re playing, to the exclusion of everything else. "

What wonderful advice about how to make music - regardless of nerves problems.

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Yeah, it is good, isn’t it? Wish I could pull it off… :)

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A few years ago my advice regarding nerves would have been different but in recent times I’ve changed instrument and often found myself back in a position where I’m often out of my comfort zone.

All I’d add to the advice above would be the following;

1. Pass the offer of leading a tune up until your warmed up.

2. Play something well known and well within your ability and keep it simple.

3. A little nervous tension is a good thing provided you use it to focus, sorting steps 1 & 2 above will help.

4. Play through mistakes don’t drop the timing, advice I was given years ago that I think holds true. "Nobody remembers your bum notes but interrupted timing drops like a bomb" and also prevents others coming to your rescue ; < )

5. If you’ve got a crap seat or are being put off by something, stand and or move to a better spot for your tune, remember your not glued to the seat your in.

6. Remember, just before you play, that playing a tune is way better than sitting in the big seat at the dentist.

It’s often fear of fear rather than any real rational issue. Get the basics sorted out get comfortable and Bob’s your uncle, you’ve given yourself the conditions that assist rather than hinder.

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The advice by plunk111 to take drugs is probably the most offensive and crass thing I have read on this site, and that’s saying something. :(

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PS if you search for ‘nervous’, or ‘nerves’ you will find loads of helpful comments. This is not an unusual situation, as any normal person will testify.

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The one thing that really helped me (used to get so nervous that my mouth would dry up to the extent that lips stuck to gums - not great for a whistle player!!) was starting to play FOR people. I started out with those in my life that I felt comfortable with, husband, friends etc and asked them just to sit and listen while I played a few tunes. It was sometimes just one person as an audience but it got me slowly used to being the centre of attention while playing. I have now got to the stage where if I am playing in public I still fell the adrenalin flowing but it´s not the debilitating handicap that it used to be. Good, this didn´t happen overnight but I was determined not to let my own mindset get in the way of playing the music I love and so kept at it, with my pseudo- audiences slowly growing. Events like birthday parties were always used as an opportunity.The worst thing you could do is give into your nervousness and let it eventually stop you from doing things like taking the lead.

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Bizarre how the mind compartmentalises - this is a familiar problem here, too.

I have no problem standing up in front of numerous hundreds of students and colleagues when leading assemblies, running conferences, chairing debates, even with fairly high-profile guests etc. - but put a musical instrument in my hand… different thing entirely.

The few times I have performed in front of students, it was nerve-wracking. Perhaps the significant point is in that word - ‘performed’. It’s knowing that that is what (you think) it is which makes the difference. Raises the stakes.

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practice till you cant play it wrong,then listen to yourself playing and enjoy what you are hearing.

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Look at some notoriously nervous players, and some very good players can really get the jitters before going on stage, and observe coping strategies. Tommy Peoples for example can instantly create a bubble he withdraws in to when playing. Nothing else exists except the tune he’s playing.



Eliminating all distractions and relaxing into the music of the moment is probably the way to go. Breathe, relax and go with the tune. Don’t think about the people listening or what they may think, don’t over-concentrate or think too many phrases ahead.

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Interesting stuff here folks, thanks.

I think I just have to break myself in again to be honest. More public playing for me then !

The evening I had actually went quite well in the end and afterwards I received some nice comments from other members of the group. Mind, they could well have detected my nerves and were being polite.

I think that’s actually what caused the problem in the first place, because I care so much about wanting an audience to enjoy what I am doing. Silly - yup - but there you have it. Deep down, its because I love this music so much and want to share the pleasure of it. You just can’t do that when nerves prevent you from being your best.

Its nice to know from the responses that we all seem to go through this from time to time. Its also good to note that you all have positive outcomes. Nobody saying "yea, I gave up cos’ I could’nt cope with it"

I feel better already !!

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…because I care so much about wanting an audience to enjoy what I´m doing.

There´s one thing that I´ve over time learned since starting to play and that´s to play because I myself love the music and love to play it. Playing with the aim of pleasing others is destined to fail as you´ll always have people who either don´like the type of music, don´t like the sound of the instrument and on whom the most brilliant of playing would be wasted. Even at a session, where one is in "good company" there may be people who don´t like your style of playing.I´m not talking about wrecking sessions here, but just want to illustrate that it´s a taste matter. Your love and enthusiam will get picked up by those able to tune into it. Main thing is, you manage to have a good time doing something you enjoy.
Just don´t turn it into a religion and think you´ve got a mission to convert the world into trad. fans.

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I sort of hinted at that when I said :

‘Don’t think about the people listening or what they may think ’

Be true to yourself and your music and make sure you’re happy enough with what you’re playing. Thats’ really all that matters.

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Stage fright is just something you learn to ignore if you get it. I’ve always been a nervous performer and I was far from the worst when I was in music school.

Don’t focus on the feelings of fear. Find something else to pay attention to (like perhaps the music) and let the stage fright run its course. If you get in the habit of putting it to the back of your mind, you will eventually condition yourself to be less afraid in that particular situation.

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I was always prone to stage fright, and still lose a little accuracy in front of an audience. But I found that this tendency diminished when I got into my fourties and fifties. So be patient, jittery youngsters, and you will eventually get over it all. ;-)

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Some of us jittery youngsters are already IN our forties and fifties ;-)

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Al, I was a jittery youngster of 40 something when I started playing and a complete nervous wreck if people were listening. Had I not embarked on a self-therapy programme I probably wouldn´t have been stagefright cured until I was 60 but then would have had to cope with all the old-age jitters and shakes which would have just begun to set in. And there ain´t no cure for them!!

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As the queen of nerves, I will add: find a group of folks who love you even when you screw up. And sometimes that takes months-to-years.

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Gam, if you find the comments about drugs offensive then you don’t understand how propanolol works. It is a prescription drug used to treat high blood pressure. One of the beneficial side effects of this beta blocker is that is reduces stage fright and tremors. It is commonly prescribed to public speakers to reduce this anxiety. For them this is a real medical condition, but many are ashamed to admit it. This shouldn’t be the case as it allows them to live their life without the stigma of suffering from the paralyzing fear.

People also take tylenol for headaches… I find that no less distasteful.

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I live on a busy street, my back porch faces an alley. I would sit on the back porch and play my concertina waiting for someone to pass. i couldn’t look at them, if they spoke I froze. In a matter of weeks, or maybe months I could smile at them and not screw up too badly.
Then I moved to the front porch, foot traffic, auto traffic and a stop light at the corner. I got thumbs up, applause and even a few who drove around the block to hear it again. I did these things daily for probably two years.

In my case, it was simply facing the fears. When I moved on to performance, i started out at convalescent hospitals, a captive audience grateful for the distraction.

Sessions can occasionally be tough, but it isn’t the music, it is the culture of that particular session, its competitiveness is how I might say it, not a warm friendly session like in Fairfax.

(Hi Jigisup, got my old ID back)

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Chris Hasty — you’re as bad as he is.

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Forget the therapueticals!
Inbibe three or four pints of Stella with a very very large chaser, a coupla lines of charlie and a hot spliff. That’ll sort you out! And if it doesn’t, do the above with extra LSD-25.
Stage fright no more!

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"Forget the therapueticals!
Inbibe three or four pints of Stella with a very very large chaser, a coupla lines of charlie and a hot spliff. That’ll sort you out! And if it doesn’t, do the above with extra LSD-25.
Stage fright no more!" yaalhouse

And as you sit there grooving on the spiritual meanings of the patterns on your instrument you may even get round to playing it, at some point, maybe.

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"And as you sit there grooving on the spiritual meanings of the patterns on your instrument you may even get round to playing it, at some point, maybe. "

Right enough - but you’ll have no stage fright. Just a psychosis resembling paranoid schizophrenia. You can then start a thread on tips for curing that.

A good while back, I used to play for a dance troupe, and the Highland piper always struck me as being solid as a rock. I asked him once how he managed to hold his nerves when playing in front of an audience. "Hold me nerves?", he responded, "man, I’m just about shi**ing mesel’".

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I’ve always seemed to function in those situations always had far more to worry about than what other people think, I’m usually too wrapped up in what I’m doing to pay much attention to what’s going on outside the immediacy tune.

My nerviness kicks in whenever I have a tune and it’s the people I’m playing with that make me so rather than the listener. I couldn’t give a monkeys what other people think provided the people I’m playing with have enjoyed it. Be it a gig or a tune in a kitchen, I’m going to do my damnedest to ensure that it’s not me that drops the ball or try to recover gracefully if I do. Being sober helps a lot in that.

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"of the tune"

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This is a silly little trick, but I quite like to pretend my instrument is like the ‘holo-flute’ from Futurama. That is, shut everything out and pretend that what you’re playing is conjuring up fantastic images, maybe related to the tune name. Sounds daft, but it’s a bit of fun and good for focusing!

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"Chris Hasty — you’re as bad as he is. "

Gam, I’m sorry you feel that way. Actually I’m just a medical professional who realizes and understands that there are people in this world who suffer from very real and treatable psychological conditions. Conditions that, if left untreated, prevent them from participating in events they may enjoy. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen extreme examples of cases such as this, which are very similar to post traumatic stress disorder (or shell shock if you prefer) and their friends and family shrug off their condition and that person lives their live feeling incomplete. Shameful if you ask me.

I’m not suggesting that ormepipes take propanolol, I never have. I just pointed out that the drug has a very real use to treat a very real disease when prescribed by a provider. It’s a much better option than self-medicating with alcohol, a poor treatment option for those with anxiety.

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Chris- just to clarify, you wouldn’t recommend medication for ordinary first-session jitters, would you? I assume you’re talking about something a little more pathological, am I right?

"It’s a much better option than self-medicating with alcohol, a poor treatment option for those with anxiety."

Not to dispute this, but more in the spirit of exploring this idea, I would point out that most people who are anxious at a particular moment are not people with anxiety - just as most people who are sad at a particular moment are not people with depression.
If someone is anxious about playing at their first session, or their first session in twenty years, it’s quite a different thing to someone who has crippling stage fright every time they appear in public to play or speak. I think the former person is not a very good candidate for your beta blockers, but the latter might be, and the former might actually be helped by a beer before playing, which the latter definitely would not be.
What do you think?

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unionpiper - hey yourself! Good thing I checked back in to read this thread….:) Like your porch story - wonder when I’ll move from the back porch to the front porch with my shyness…LOL I always freeze up when I lead a set in a session….trying to learn to focus on the music instead of a that other stuff in my head…..

Ballyloughin! Still not sure what else it goes with though….

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There’s been a lot of good advice offered here, but yhaalhouse is unfortunately just a hairy old hippie playing to his image.
Don’t do it, y, just play it straight ! You know you can do it !

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Thanks again - especially nice to hear from some of you that I have not "met" on here before.

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the cure for jitters is to know what you are doing, and know that you know what you are doing… doubt creeps in an bang yer nervous. someone who doesn’t doubt themselves, can sound just horrible, and have no idea what they are doing, and sound relaxed and the whole time they are having a ball.

in this music… that is simply not tolerated is it? so you’ve got to know that you know what you are doing… then you won’t be nervous…. see> ? simple right ;-)

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ah, infact I can talk to myself now, as this thread is getting long in the tooth.

I recently had one of these extremely confident young fiddlers next to me, who I could tell, was very certain of his own skills, he was having a grand time of course, and as he loud, and very relaxed, and he very assertively hacked out truncated, and poorly controlled, versions of the tunes, I was pretty certain he spent much time listening to the music because he reperatoire was pretty large… but despite following all of those learning rules he drove us nuts… oh well. he was relaxed, he did have a great time, and he knew a lot of tunes… a win for him I suppose. For me I wished he could just settle down, and maybe not know so much…. a little humility goes a long ways… we can tolerate a few jitters now and again.