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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: cant play for an audience


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mikeburns - Posted - 12/24/2019:  05:54:34


I hope I can describe my issue adequately here. I have played guitar and sang for over 50 years. I play in church, I play in 3 jam sessions per week, and have for many years. I have no fear of singing and playing guitar in front of people, and some even say that I am a crowd favorite, (more for my singing than playing). I have always wanted to play some breaks, but have never been good at lead guitar. The fiddle is my favorite instrument, so I bought a couple and set out to learn. In my home, I can play about 5 or 6 tunes fairly respectably. I go over them and over them until I feel completely positive that I can stand up at a jam and get through one. BUT, just as soon as I start to play in front of someone, I get flustered, miss notes, lose my place, etc, etc. I just turn to s&%?. I have never understood it. Many years ago I was lead and sometimes tenor singer in a bluegass band. We had no mandolin player, so I said I would learn. I bought a good mandolin and went to work. The same exact thing happened with the mandolin that now happens with the fiddle. I hate to admit it, but I feel that it is some kind of mental block. Although I think a small part of it may be from having trouble hearing myself in a crowd of other musicians, and from focusing on their timing instead of my own. I really really want so much to be able to do this, and don't want to give up. But I'm also tired of being frustrated over it, and from making a fool out of myself. I have absolutely no idea what to do, or how to proceed. I'm not focused on being an all star fiddler, just want to play a few tunes respectably, with my friends at the jams. This probably sounds stupid, but any help will be seriously appreciated.

Earworm - Posted - 12/24/2019:  06:29:08


quote:

Originally posted by mikeburns

Although I think a small part of it may be from having trouble hearing myself in a crowd of other musicians, and from focusing on their timing instead of my own. 






Hopefully your timing is the same?



Since you want to do it so much, I have a feeling you'll work it out. Sounds like it will take some time and effort, but so does everything. 

stumpkicker - Posted - 12/24/2019:  07:20:28


quote:

Originally posted by mikeburns

BUT, just as soon as I start to play in front of someone, I get flustered, miss notes, lose my place, etc, et






I had the same problem, I was fine playing the banjo in front of people but turned to jelly in fiddling in front of people. My big bugaboo was intonation. I was sure I sounded horrible even though people told me I was good. What helped me was playing with one particular musician. I played with him for months before I felt at ease playing fiddle with him. (Even though I had played banjo to his guitar for over a decade). Eventually We were able to expand the circle to include others. You might also look for "slow jams" which are usually quite forgiving.



Good Luck


Edited by - stumpkicker on 12/24/2019 07:20:56

mikeburns - Posted - 12/24/2019:  09:05:55


Thanks, that's encouraging

LukeF - Posted - 12/24/2019:  09:24:41


Hi Mike:

I think most of us have probably experienced the same when starting out. Have you heard about Pete Wernick's jam camps? I'm sure there is a camp near you. They teach you how to jam and show you how to do breaks using just one, two, or three notes from the chords that are playing. It doesn't have to be fancy with tons of notes. It is important to keep your timing with the other players, so if you hit one or two sour notes, it wouldn't matter that much. I highly recommend attending one of his camps. Here is the link to his website: letspick.org

tpquinn - Posted - 12/24/2019:  10:25:56


You have lots of company in this issue, Mike. I've also been fighting with it since April when I found a session to play in. Play fine at home and then totally off the rails when others are around.

If I'm a little shaky on a tune, I don't attempt to play it solo. Worry that my intonation is crappy is paralyzing, so I'm trying to accept (as I've been told) it's pretty decent and know the folk I'm playing with are very forgiving. And lastly trying to adopt the attitude of "damn the torpedoes", here we go!

It's certainly something I'll be working on for a while, but I've actually surprised myself by pulling it off on some tunes.

Good luck with it.

imapicker2 - Posted - 12/24/2019:  10:45:09


Hey Mike

I like the stumpkicker idea. Find the right rhythm guitar player and play fiddle lead with him until you are smooth and confident with a few tunes .

Take him to the jam and sit next to him and when your turn comes play your tune with him.

I think that it will all come around .

Old Scratch - Posted - 12/24/2019:  11:41:19


Also: stick to a few of your simplest tunes, and play them slow, until you're really confident with them - i.e., you've played them in public numerous times with no problems. Then speed them up, and add another simple tune or two. Rinse and repeat for a few years .....

ShadeTree - Posted - 12/24/2019:  11:49:02


"Dam the torpedoes" is spot on. Sometimes, one tries so hard to do well that they mess up. I have had this same problem, both with timing and nerves. In regards to timing, stay as far away from the banjo player as possible. If you can't hear the other instruments, listen to yourself and get into your own consistent rhythm. Pat your foot. When practicing for an upcoming audience, I make an effort to play the tunes away from my usual practice area. I'll play out in the garage, beside the house, on the patio, on the front porch (get strange looks), etc. That seems to help me. I try to maintain a positive attitude of "I can do this." Stay relaxed, whatever happens, and don't think too much. Just play....

sbhikes2 - Posted - 12/24/2019:  13:53:19


This is why jams are so helpful. You can get lots of practice flubbing up the start of tunes in front of everybody. It doesn't seem to cure it though. You just get used to it. Maybe it cures others, but not me.

captainhook - Posted - 12/24/2019:  14:37:17


I have almost always had that problem with tunes that I have learned at home by myself. Sometimes by the second or third time through I'm OK. Doesn't happen with tunes that I learn in jams, because I'm already used to playing them with others. That's where old time-style jams are especially helpful because you aren't usually soloing.

pete_fiddle - Posted - 12/24/2019:  14:38:40


i think "performance" is often humbling. But gets easier with time, if i put the music first.



Well it seemed that way to me last time i "performed".

buckhenry - Posted - 12/24/2019:  15:37:15


It seems to me you haven't gained enough playing experience to develop muscle memory. Playing at home is fine because you've given your self permission to mess up, but in front of an audience the pressure is on and you tell your self you better not mess up because you will look foolish, and mess up you do because you don't really know the music. knowing the music means to be able to hear the tune and visualize the notes and finger movements all in your head with out actually playing tune. And you would have played the tune many times to allow the muscle memory to take over at those places where the concentration has been lost thus giving you time to re-focus. You could actually focus on developing this skill of ''hearing the tune and visualizing the notes'', but you will acquire it the more you play for an audience and accept that you will mess up many more times to come.

carlb - Posted - 12/24/2019:  17:35:29


Even for tunes that I've played hundreds of times, when I get in front of an audience, my thoughts are "can I pull it off?".

farmerjones - Posted - 12/24/2019:  18:19:31


Mike if you've been playing and sing with guitar for that long, you've forgotten how long it takes to get a tune ready for public consumption.
If you've been playing fiddle for six monthes to a year be patient. Playing a fiddle is harder. Ask anybody that's tried. On the positive side, i know you've got the stage-fright thing sussed. Just get as comfortable with a fiddle as you are with a guitar.

P.S. Play a bunch of nursing home gigs. It's a double positive. They don't care how good you are. And you can accumulate mileage. I could bring a guitar, a banjer, a vocal mike, a piano or just a fiddle. It's all according to how much junk I want to carry. They love it all. And I love them.

Merry Christmas!

Woodcutter - Posted - 12/25/2019:  04:20:56


Mike --- most of us have had (or still have) experiences like you've described. Early on someone told me that if I didn't play in public until I deemed myself 'ready', that it would never happen. So I forced myself to do it --- and made pretty much every mistake possible --- sour notes, starting tunes too fast, sweating profusely, forgetting how to start the "B" part, etc. It was ugly. But d'ya know what? Not once did the world stop turning!



You'll find that the mistakes become fewer or less obvious over time, MIke. Hang in there. And MERRY CHRISTMAS

boxbow - Posted - 12/25/2019:  07:07:16


I'm not sure I understand if you're performing or playing out with friends or at church with your fiddle. I played out (rather badly) with a mandolin for several years before I dared to bring out the fiddle. It was still a train wreck. Time took care of a lot of that. It's been maybe a dozen years now.

The thing that gets me even today is the change of acoustics from my practice room to the jam venue. It's really helpful to have played a new tune with a rhythm player beforehand to have some familiar cues in the new acoustic environment. But that's just my screwed up hearing.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 12/25/2019:  08:05:15


I think the problem the initial post describes is the same problem faced by public speakers.
Reading a book on public speaking techniques will describe ways to manage and overcome the problem.

You say you have played guitar and sang for 50 years. How long have you played fiddle ? Your voice is your oldest musical instrument. Singing probably contributed to your development as a guitar player. When your voice and guitar playing aren't in "sync" you know you have a problem.

I think you should find a good rhythm guitar player to practice with. And when you perform, only have this guitar player accompany you. If the people playing rhythm have problems, it can be disastrous for the person playing "lead". In fact I have known a very exceptionally talented lady fiddler who precedes each tune with the declaration "If you don't know this tune, don't try to play it". Some think she is arrogant, but I don't. Playing a tune you are not familiar with would be like describing something you have never seen". Different rhythms, different chords, missed chords, etc., etc.. and all at the same tune.

When you first play fiddle in front of others, have a small audience you are familiar with and feel comfortable with. Nursing homes are very good for this. This audience is normally appreciative and not demanding. Wonderful place to build up your confidence and develop your skill. Laugh at your mistakes and enjoy yourself.

Old Scratch - Posted - 12/25/2019:  09:52:56


I play in nursing homes fairly often, but I would suggest they aren't for everybody .....

pete_fiddle - Posted - 12/25/2019:  11:20:01


One thing i would urge others not to do, is lean on a strong player, (guilty as charged, but not any more). It may seem like it helps at the time, but all a player is doing by this, is detracting from the strong players performance and fooling yourself that you are a better player than you are.

Better to try and learn to stand on your own, maybe fail, maybe not, and learn by ones own mistakes, and give it another go next time. In my experience a stronger player will join in and support you. Be sure to thank them at the end of the tune(s) if they do.

mackeagan - Posted - 12/25/2019:  14:52:06


I'll second what buckhenry and farmerjones said. 6 months is not all that long to be on fiddle. Play the tune till you can do 4 times through without a mistake, then go over it some more with the metronome (start painfully slow, like 70 beats per minute, 2 to the bar) and gradually speed up until you are in the 90 to 100 beats range. And, at your stage, I would advise not to even consider any bluegrass-type improvising, just play the straight tune with no frills. It gets better, but it still takes a bit of doing.

UsuallyPickin - Posted - 12/26/2019:  05:37:57


There is a ton of good advice above. Truth of the matter is a fiddle is far different from any fretted instrument you play. Add to that a bow is not a pick. At six months you are barely scratching the surface. Keep playing those tunes you play until you know them so well that the fingering and bowing is automatic. Add a tune and after awhile two to your learing list monthly. Be patient. I am entering my seventeenth year fiddling. I still have to work daily on intonation and bowing. Sometimes the music flows at other times tunes I have played for years feel like strangers to me. It's part of the package. Enjoy the process.

Jimbeaux - Posted - 12/26/2019:  06:29:01


A good soft start is to play in a park somewhere when the weather permits.

It's not a performance and you're not asking for money, but you are still playing where others can hear you and some might stop and listen. If you can do that without feeling nervous, it's a goid start. I've had good experience with this and it makes me feel like I could move on to busking.

farmerjones - Posted - 12/26/2019:  17:25:12


Confession time Jim;
I tried to play in a park that was a square city block in size. If there was a person on the opposite side, I'd stop. Eventually, I could sit on the tailgate of the truck, in the parking lot, while the DW shopped for groceries. It took some mental floss, I'll admit. I told myself, pride is my biggest enemy. Now after 38 years of marriage, my pride could be carried, in a thimble.

Fiddler - Posted - 12/26/2019:  18:53:40


Here's my experience - take it for what it is worth.



Playing for an audience is terrifying!! My mom forced me to take piano lessons as a kid. Since Dad was a physician and an officer in the Public Health Service, my siblings and I were EXPECTED to perform at any parties my folks hosted. I was always introduced as being the heir-apparent to Van Cliburn. (HA!!)  It was awful. I realized years later that every officer's kids suffered the same torture. This was a way to show off and, in many cases, a good performance by the kids meant that a promotion was very likely. These parties were liquor-drenched, smoke-filled bacchanalia that lasted into the early morning hours. I hated coming downstairs the next morning to see piles of cigarette butts in ash trays and several dozens of empty bottles of gin, bourbon, rum, and vodka scattered around. To this day I can't stand to be around cigarette smoke or parties with hard liquor. Too many bad memories - and unfortunately for me, playing music is tied in with this.



Also, along with the piano lessons were the obligatory recitals at the end of the school year. I dreaded those with a purple passion!! We had to play our piece from memory. I sucked at that. My last recital (and the end of my career) was televised on the local TV station. I screwed up royally! One of my pieces wa Fur Eloise. I crashed right in the middle. I stopped and started over - several times. It was not good!! I got a lot of sympathy and encouragement, but it was all hollow. So, I have lived with this performance anxiety for years!



So, here's how I have managed my performance anxiety as an adult - and this also extend to my professional presentations at conferences. 



1. Know the material. Know it thoroughly. A simple tune played well is much better than a complex tune played poorly!



2. Anticipate problems and questions, but don't dwell on it. If there is a complex passage, focus attention on it - the mechanics. But don't overthink it. Just make sure that the noting, intonation and timing are good. If necessary, simplify the passage. (See #1)



3. Nothing beats practice. Do it in short spurts. 3 hours of practice split up in 30 minute chunks over 6 days is more effective than spending 3 hours at one sitting! (The same principle applies to studying!)



4. Nothing beats practicing and playing in front of a friendly audience. Play for your family, friends. Play for "low stakes" gatherings. Get used to being the focus of attention. A friend of mine's daughter just graduated from Oberlin with a degree in cello performance. She said told me that they are encouraged to play as many of these low stakes gatherings as possible. This is just to get used to performing. In Dallas there's an open-mic classical music evening at a local coffee/brew house to give musician a low stakes opportunity. Isn't this cool??



5. When the performance time comes, take a deep breath. Relax. Know that you are doing something that very few people can do. Know that you are giving something of yourself that many will appreciate. Know that you are giving joy. 



6. Be yourself and play like yourself. Your mental image of your abilities and the actuality are likely very, very different. Do what you can to get those images to converge. It will improve your confidence.



7. Enjoy and savor the experience. Remember to breath and look at the audience. Smile.



 



You can stop here. What follows is a recent experience I had about overcoming performance anxiety. I know - I may be bragging a bit. Sorry!



Last month I was invited to participate in our Church's Hanging of the Greens celebration and play a couple of tunes on the program. I IMMEDIATELY stressed out! Many of members of church are professional musicians - classically trained in some instrument, including voice. Some play with major orchestras in the DFW area. Our music director leads an acclaimed professional a capella choir.  Folks who are not musicians are musically literate. So, I knew the audience would have high expectations! This was also my debut as a musician in the Church - few people knew that I played!



So, I followed the steps I outlined above. I chose 2 tunes that I was very comfortable with and that would complement the program - Midnight on the Water (DDad) and Snow Deer. My guitarist friend was also very comfortable with these tunes. I also knew that I was specifically asked to perform because I had something to offer that was fun, different and unique compared to the refined, classical music usually presented at these events. So starting in early November I played those two tunes about 30 minutes a day for 4 weeks. I tried recording myself several times with disastrous results that cratered my confidence. I quit doing that!



Even though we both had played those tunes a millions times before, neither of us had been the focus of an audience for many years. Neither of us were comfortable. When the time came in the program for me to go on stage, I took a deep breath and purposefully stepped onto the stage with my friend who played backup guitar. I made sure that we were situated so that we could hear each other. Because of the lights, I couldn't see anyone, but the first row of kids who had just finished their performance with the kids' choir. (I kept hearing the adage: "Never follow a kid or animal act." I was doomed!)



I was determined to have fun and remember the experience. Midnight on the Water was fantastic. The drones filled the sanctuary. Lots of applause when we finished. I picked up my other fiddle and introduced "Snow Deer." I started in and smiled. I barely made it through the first turn of the tune when the crowd started clapping along in time. Holy Cow!! They were WITH us. They were having fun! I was having fun! We we wer having fun!



When we finished, the roar was deafening. I was somewhat embarrassed, but I accepted the accolades graciously.



Would I do it again? Yes! - if asked. Will I stress out? Yes! I know I will. However, I know that I can deal with it.



(Thank you for reading.)



 

Fiddler - Posted - 12/26/2019:  19:20:34


Another little story ....



When I started to play fiddle, I was terrible!! Determined, but terrible. And, on top of that I was both too proud and too poor to take lessons. So, I "taught" myself. 



Whenever I went home to visit my parents, I would go to the "parlor" and scratch away. I was horrible!! Well, one afternoon after I squawked away for an hour or so, Dad came in and without saying a word, snapped a clothes pin on my bridge, turned around and walked out. I stood there stunned - then started laughing when I realized what had happended.



At dinner, Dad and I talked. The clothespin was a commonly used mute. It was effective. I was then "invited" to go practice in the pasture and "serenade" the cows and chickens. So, I went to barn or chicken house or sat by the creek and squawked away. The family story goes that ever since then, the cows quit givin', the chickens quit layin' and the fish quit bitin'.

Peghead - Posted - 12/27/2019:  15:19:38


Being observed definitely changes the playing experience. Maybe it's a quantum world after all. I'm amazed how much I have to over practice something before I can play it out. I could be humming the tune all day then get in front of people and not even be able to remember it. It's just a practice /confidence thing. The fiddle is more synced in with your mental state than most other instruments, the jitters get magnified and then it can go south quickly. It doesn't happen that much now but I do remember having that happen. It's a touchy lead instrument and you need to be self contained.


Edited by - Peghead on 12/27/2019 15:23:55

rosinhead - Posted - 12/28/2019:  08:10:40


The fiddle is a tough cookie. You could possibly use the dog years analogy compared to fretted string instruments. The progress you make on a guitar in six months of practicing daily may take you 18 months (or more) on fiddle. Just a lot more variables at play and most of them involving the bow. Using a pick or fingerpicking does take time to master, but if you compare that to mastering the bow you have a vastly different time frame. Once you get to where you don't have to think about what you are doing then the mental block will start to vanish. If you have to consciously think about the notes, intonation, bowing, and rhythm you are going to be hard-pressed to play well in front of an audience. The fiddle doesn't like to be played timidly either...it is like it smells fear.  My thoughts are that with practice and gaining muscle memory you will be fine.  It's just too early in the journey and you have some hurdles to overcome.


Edited by - rosinhead on 12/28/2019 08:25:12

bsed - Posted - 12/28/2019:  09:37:49


I usually am very comfortable playing with a band, even playing lead on a song. However in recent years it has become painfully obvious that if I am at a microphone unaccompanied (like at an open mic), I play like sh!t. Doesn't matter if I've played the tune for decades.



So how to explain this?



I have 2 potential culprits: 



     1. To some extent I suffer from stage fright. The bow, I surmise, is the biggest exposer of this problem,                  because anything short of the smoothest possible bow stroke reveals your sound to be that of a shaky old man. (I'm not an old man, for the record.)



     2. I figure at least one of the things happening to me is that I am receiving a big shot of adrenaline. That's the "fight or flight" hormone. My body would be responding the same way as if I walked into a bar and tried to walk out with the girl of the meanest, baddest biker in there. And that response (tension) shows up in my bowing. 



So I have some ideas to work on this with. Like playing slower, play stuff you know well, maybe combine some singing (which doesn't bother me at all to do) with my playing.

TuneWeaver - Posted - 12/28/2019:  16:34:08


quote:

Originally posted by bsed

I usually am very comfortable playing with a band, even playing lead on a song. However in recent years it has become painfully obvious that if I am at a microphone unaccompanied (like at an open mic), I play like sh!t. Doesn't matter if I've played the tune for decades.



So how to explain this?



I have 2 potential culprits: 



     1. To some extent I suffer from stage fright. The bow, I surmise, is the biggest exposer of this problem,                  because anything short of the smoothest possible bow stroke reveals your sound to be that of a shaky old man. (I'm not an old man, for the record.)



     2. I figure at least one of the things happening to me is that I am receiving a big shot of adrenaline. That's the "fight or flight" hormone. My body would be responding the same way as if I walked into a bar and tried to walk out with the girl of the meanest, baddest biker in there. And that response (tension) shows up in my bowing. 



So I have some ideas to work on this with. Like playing slower, play stuff you know well, maybe combine some singing (which doesn't bother me at all to do) with my playing.






Bruce, try playing with your eyes closed like I do and pretend that the audience members are all in their underwear...That doesn't work for me... but maybe it will for you!!smiley

farmerjones - Posted - 12/28/2019:  18:35:20


Two more things that came to kind while the thread is still alive:
Don't think one has to be Mark O'Connor. Just don't over extend yourself when playing out. It's been said here already, knowing your material has to be second nature.

Also, i've got two modes. Learning a tune or a technique. (practice mode) Then there's rehearsal mode. Where i try to get everything as actual as the gig. Floorplan, same mike, same amp, same pre-amp, same cables, similar chair, if it applies. Set list if it applies. Know how long each tune is, to have enough content, for the time contracted. Know how long it takes to set up, and tare down. The fewer surprizes the less stress. Cuz, there's always gonna be unknown and/or unplanned things. Then one can practice rolling with the changes, gracefully.

bsed - Posted - 12/29/2019:  15:23:04


quote:

Originally posted by TuneWeaver

quote:

Originally posted by bsed

I usually am very comfortable playing with a band, even playing lead on a song. However in recent years it has become painfully obvious that if I am at a microphone unaccompanied (like at an open mic), I play like sh!t. Doesn't matter if I've played the tune for decades.



So how to explain this?



I have 2 potential culprits: 



     1. To some extent I suffer from stage fright. The bow, I surmise, is the biggest exposer of this problem,                  because anything short of the smoothest possible bow stroke reveals your sound to be that of a shaky old man. (I'm not an old man, for the record.)



     2. I figure at least one of the things happening to me is that I am receiving a big shot of adrenaline. That's the "fight or flight" hormone. My body would be responding the same way as if I walked into a bar and tried to walk out with the girl of the meanest, baddest biker in there. And that response (tension) shows up in my bowing. 



So I have some ideas to work on this with. Like playing slower, play stuff you know well, maybe combine some singing (which doesn't bother me at all to do) with my playing.






Bruce, try playing with your eyes closed like I do and pretend that the audience members are all in their underwear...That doesn't work for me... but maybe it will for you!!smiley






Closing your eyes is actually a good suggestion. I do it a lot. It's good for closing out distractions and focusing your concentration.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 12/30/2019:  07:36:45


One thing that has not been mentioned so far is the benefits of attending fiddler association meetings. When I lived in Michigan, there were 2 very large fiddler associations. Attending the meetings can provide social and educational benefits for a fiddler. You learn new things and have the opportunity to play with others. Aside from playing onstage, fiddlers gather in small 2-4 people mini jams. Make friends, learn, and improve.

Not much talking at meetings. Members and guests are there to play music.

jayaw - Posted - 01/02/2020:  18:22:05


I am super new to the fiddle (was given one for Christmas just recently), but, like the OP and many others here, I’ve played fretted instruments for years. Which is to say, I’m certainly no expert, but... I might suggest (in addition to the advice already given) that you try playing along with a recording of the tune (like on YouTube or something). Sounds simple, but I find that it really tests 1.) how well I know the tune, without missing or flubbing passages or sections 2.) my ability to play smoothly at performance or near-performance tempo, and 3.) my listening and rhythm-keeping while playing along with others. It might seem “fake” (and certainly less fun than playing with “real humans”), but I find paradoxically that the artificial nature of it – especially the fact that I can’t control the situation and am playing with “people” who aren’t going to adjust, slow down, or restart for me – very much like the pressure of playing live among and in front of folks.

chas5131 - Posted - 05/06/2020:  19:12:11


I would rather address a joint session of congress than play a musical instrument in front of people.
It goes back to my childhood. Will spare you the details.
I once played Shortenin' Bread from the balcony of my place. I was having a great day. Saw the neighbor with a musical degree. I like him. I continued and he applauded.
That was the high spot of my musical "career". :)

farmerjones - Posted - 05/06/2020:  20:31:42


I wonder how the OP ended up? He hasn't been here since Jan. 11th.

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