4 Guitar Performance Tips for Overcoming Nerves & Anxiety

When I took public speaking in college, I found out that some surveys report that public speaking ranks as one of the biggest fears for people, even above death, heights, spiders, and flying. For many, this statistic also translates into a fear of performing on stage in front of a large group of people or just playing your guitar for a group of friends.

I started playing piano when I was six. I remember in second grade I entered into a talent show at my school for piano. I played a piece for the judge and I ended up doing so well that I got asked to perform it for a special music piece for the church affiliated with the school. Yikes! My response to the invitation was absolutely, “NO WAY! Are you crazy?! In front of all those people?”

This story just goes to say that a lot of people have a talent and gift for guitar but hesitate to share their gift because of fear and anxiety. However, performing guitar doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it might seem and can actually be really fun. Here are few guitar performance tips:

Preparation & Practice

Most nervousness and anxiety will come from a lack of preparation. When you are prepared, you are more confident. For example, think about taking a test in school. Were you most confident about taking the test when you had studied very well for it or not studied at all? Chances are you felt more confident when you were studied up.

I’ve found that I’m less nervous playing for a group of 1500 people for a concert or an event than when someone at a party wants me to pull out my guitar and play some pop songs. This is because I’m usually well-prepared for the event with 1500 people than when someone wants me to spontaneously play at a party (this is why it’s good to prepare a repertoire of “go-to” songs for these moments!).

Visualize the Performance

After you’ve done a lot of preparation, visualize the performance. Close your eyes and think about entering onto the stage or sitting before the group of people you’re going to perform for. Think through the details of the performance.

This might seem a little weird, but I’ve found it’s helpful because, if I’ve thought through it before time and acknowledged any of the details that I might face, there is a less of a chance of being surprised and thrown off by these details when it comes time to actually perform.

Breathe In and Out

So you’ve prepared, visualized your performance, and now your about to go on for your performance in 30 minutes. Hopefully, by now, you feel confident because you’ve prepared well and you feel confident because you’ve visualized how the performance will go and what you can expect. Now, the key is to be relaxed. Easier said then done when your nerves are racing!

Sometimes when we’re nervous we forget to breathe or our breathing will become really shallow. This is really counterproductive to our performance. Before your performance, practice some deep-breathing exercises. Take a long, deep breath in through your nose and let it fill your diaphragm down by your stomach. Your ribs should feel like they’re expanding. Hold this air for just a couple seconds and let it out through your mouth really slowly. Do this for a few minutes. Most people find this has a relaxing effect on you.

Another really great thing to do in combination with your breathing exercises is to do some neck stretches and stretch your back. Whenever I get nervous I carry a lot of tension in my neck and my shoulders. This tension is also counterproductive.

Don’t Expect Perfection

I would say in your preparation to definitely aim to play the best you possibly can, but the truth is, you really only get good at performing by doing it a lot and often. Even if you hit a couple sour notes (or completely botch it), you’ve still gained a lot just by walking through the experience of performing. Even the best performing musicians aren’t perfect and still make mistakes.

I think we’re also afraid of messing up because people will think less of us. We have a fear or rejection. However, let’s just be honest. Not everyone is going to dig your playing or necessarily like your music. Just think, there are a lot of musicians out there you hear on the radio that you don’t really care for, yet that doesn’t stop them from making records. We don’t play music to have people like us. We play because that’s what we love doing, and by doing it, we’re doing what we’re created to do. All to say, go out there and have fun most of all!

If you’re a performing guitar player, what are some tips that you would give to a new performer?

About Brett McQueen

Brett McQueen is a musician, songwriter, and the founder and editor of Guitar Friendly and Ukulele Tricks. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @GuitarFriendly.