Overcoming Stage Fright

24th May

Learning by doing

overcoming-stage-frightOne of the best ways to educate yourself in the complex art and skills of guitar playing is without a doubt to play with other musicians or perform in front of an audience.

When you interact with others, you learn to listen, adapt and improvise. You also get a better feel for rhythm and tempo, volume adjustments and playing for the song rather than to “impress” with your skills. The single most important guitar lesson is perhaps this: To understand the art of standing back – when not to play or what not to play :-)

Sure, you can accomplish quite a lot of these things while you play with others in your basement or garage, or in front of a few selected friends. However, there’s even more to gain from bringing your act to a live stage – either alone with your guitar or with a band or group.

Causes of stage fright

“Hang on just a second! Just the thought of performing gives me the shivers,” I can almost hear some of you shouting – and rightfully so. The thought of stepping up to the platform and delivering a speech, playing to a group of people, doing an audition or being on a live stage can be enough to send even the bravest amongst us for cover.

Is public speaking natural for an individual? Heck not – I dare say that fear of public speaking or entertaining is far more natural. Deep down, most of us (perhaps all of us) are flock animals. Only a select few amongst us is comfortable to take the spotlight like it’s second nature.

This fear of performing has basically two sides to it – the external and the internal. The external is the situation itself – the lack of control; the unfamiliar setting and the pressure to deliver the goods to a group of people you don’t know, the feeling of being measured and tested.

The internal is the set of physical, emotional and cognitive (though) processes which seems to give you the jitters – literally.

The belly of the beast?

First, Let’s look at the situation objectively. Is an audience there to  stare you down, laugh at your efforts, criticize your guitar playing, frown upon any bum notes, smile at your week guitar sound and talk about your “obvious beginner guitar skills”? Of course not! They are there to have a good time.

And you know what. Here’s a little “secret” which is also explained in one of the videos below. The audience wants to help you; they want you to succeed! Why is that? Simply because total failure is embarrassing to watch… So just go in there and play your guitar loud and proud! Apart from the occasional ignorant village idiot (there’s at least one in every crowd), people really want the best – for you as well as themselves.

And that punk who always seems to find some negative thing to say about your performance? Just smile or ignore him. He’s just an envious and jealous figure really not worthy of your energy.

Practice makes perfect

The more prepared you are, the better things usually works out. This goes with everything: From having spares of everything (strings, picks, effects, guitars, leads, fuses etc.) almost down to an extra guitar amp – to having a well rehearsed set under your skin.

It is vital to acknowledge that your not there to be impressive or to show off. If you do, then you forget to focusing on the two things that matters, 1. the task (your songs), and 2. the audience.

Stick to your game plan!

When you’re only focusing on the task at hand, which is to play the guitar just like you have down to a T, then everything else seems to fall into place almost like magic.

So again, forget about doing impressive new stuff or showing off your deadly guitar tapping skills while doing back flips. Your there to play electric guitar, remember? When you take care of the songs and lean on the things you have prepared, then things usually clicks into place.

What if everything bombs?

Another wise saying from the video below is to put things in perspective. It’s just music, you know. If things go wrong, then so what? Just smile, be cool about it and walk on.

As long as you care for doing your best and try to be there for the audience, then people will forgive even the most crazy mistakes. And you know what? Most people don’t realize it if you play something wrong anyhow.

Did you miss a beat, forget a verse, sing the wrong text, forget to come in a the right moment, even fall of the stage..? Don’t worry! One in a hundred (usually other musicians) will notice something wrong is going on. And here’s the best part: Those who notice, has been there themselves – they will definitely not make a scene about it.

The stress reactions – utilizing the energy

Many inexperienced performers has no clue as to what goes on in their body when they are about to perform. The jitters, shaking legs, sweating, needing to go to the bathroom, nausea, thundering heart… It’s all natural and designed to be!

In a nutshell, this is our evolution which has given us the fight or flight response. And here’s another kicker. We don’t perform better in spite of these seemingly weird things which goes on inside of us. Oh no, we perform better because of it!

This is an enormous pool of energy which is there to help you. Just acknowledge that these reactions are healthy, natural and beneficial. Then take the energy and run with it!  This is perhaps the best stage fright tips I can give you: To trust in this positive energy.

Make sure you watch the video down below about singing and breathing. It shows the importance of controlling your “nerves” and stage fright with the help of proper breathing technique. Good stuff!

Look – don’t look!

Another thing that a beginner live musician or other performer might be tempted to do, is to try (or want) to look at individuals in the audience. Some times an inexperienced performer may even be scared when he/she finds that you really don’t see them but they can see you, because of the stage light.

In either case, you forget that you need to to embrace the whole audience as an entity. By all means, dedicate or deliver your song to someone special but always perform it to everyone in the room!

If you can’t see the audience then just concentrate on your task – on playing the guitar and on the song. If you see anyone in the audience, just defocus (one of the videos below explains how). You can also move your eyes slowly all over the room, or look to the back of the room as if you want to draw everyone closer to the stage.

Don’t worry – be happy!

By working on your performance and taking in the various stage fright tips found on this page and the videos below, you should be one your way to overcoming stage fright even if it may seem as likely as winning the Oscar right now.

Remember, all performers have performance anxiety or stage fright to some extent. In essence, it’s all natural, all manageable and all good. After all, since we can’t get rid of stage fright all together, why not go with the flow and benefit from it? :-)

To wrap things up for you, here are a couple of good, to-the-point videos about dealing with stage fright and the fear of public speaking.

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Guitar Sustain

24th January

Electric Guitar Sustain – How and Why?

guitar sustainProperly executed and controlled guitar feedback/sustain is perhaps one of the most sought after skills in lead guitar playing.

When you first begin to learn electric guitar, this may not be the first thing which comes to mind. However, it will likely become something you’d want to master after a while.

A very common question goes something like this: “How does so and so guitar player (insert name here) manage to hold his tone like for ever? I would like to learn this.”

There are several factors that may come in to play and a number of ways to achieve guitar sustain in electric guitars, so why not let us look at them one by one?

Sustain in the guitar

Some guitars – usually the better ones – often times have more sustain to begin with. A quality guitar which has been played in will vibrate more freely and thus is easier to work with as far as guitar sustain goes.

It is also widely considered that a good guitar (well built, quality woods) with set neck has better sustain than a non set neck instrument.

Pick-ups, guitar strings and string height

It does not help having a good guitar if you’re using old and dead strings, or a guitar which haven’t been properly set up. A good guitar set-up is one of the important factors for achieving controlled guitar feedback (sustain).

You will need strings that are relatively new and clean, and you will have a hard time with “rubber band” (very light) strings and a very low action. Raise the action and use heavier strings, and you’re better off :-)

Also if the pick-ups are too close or too far from the strings, you may have problems. Some players prefer pickups with a higher output. In any case you need to have the distance set close to the strings, but never ever too close (this will dampen the sound)!

Guitar amp feedback

When we’re talking about electric guitar feedback, we usually talk about an interaction between the guitar player, the guitar and the guitar amp.

The player makes the string vibrate, and the pick-up sends the signal to the amp. The amp “sends” the signal back to the guitar – reinforces the vibration – and you get this desired feedback loop. It is more complicated than this, but I think you get the picture.

Anyhow, to get the loop working you will usually need a good tube/valve amplifier and quite a bit of volume. When you position yourself closer to said amp and begin to move the guitar at various angles, you will find the angle and distance that works best. But remember – you will need volume, so a small amp cranked way up (giving a healthy doze of tube distortion) may be just what the feedback doctor ordered :-)

Vibrate those strings!

To keep the strings vibrating and feeding the sound back, you’ll want to have a good clean way of playing your guitar and have the art of string vibrato down to a T.

Another way to accomplish this is to use a finger slide of brass, steel, glass or ceramics. The heavier ones give more sound.


Something which may help you to some extent is a compressor pedal (other places also called sustain pedal).

In layman’s terms, compressors “squash” the signal and then gradually release the sound. As this release effect raises the envelope of the decaying note over time, the sound lasts a bit longer.

Guitar sustainer effect

The first to reproduce a commercial sustainer effect device for live use was the trusty E-bow. This was a hand held device which could be used on one string at the time. By placing it over the pick-up, you can get the string to vibrate, giving “infinite sustain guitar”.

Anyone who remembers “Love Hurts” by the band Nazareth? Anyhow, they guitar player used the E-bow for the solo in that hit song. There’s also a video below demonstrating the electronic device.

Fernandes is a brand that makes something similar. However the Fernandes guitar sustainer system works on all strings, not just one. Here, the neck pick-up works as the driver – setting the strings to vibrate.

This neat system comes installed in many of the Fernandes guitars. They also have kits that can be installed in other guitar makes and models. I use this myself (as well as an E-bow) and it’s way cool.

You’ll also find a video down below showing one of these great guitars in action.

Fat fingers?

Groove Tubes has a product the call Fat Fingers. This is a small device that clamps on to the neck of your guitar (or bass). It is said to increase the sustain by adding physical mass to the headstock of the instrument.

I haven’t tested this device myself, but I intend to try it. It’s discreet, fast to take on and off, leaves no marks and is not expensive … so why not?

Other means to an end

The classic British band 10CC, used a device many years ago called the Gizmo or Gizmotron. This mechanical effect was used on some of of their many hit songs.  You’ll find a video of one of them below: “I’m Not in Love”.

Here’s a piece of information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gizmo:
“The actual device, a small box which was attached to the bridge of the guitar, consisted of six small motor-driven wheels with serrated edges to match the size of each string. The continuous bowing action was activated by pressing one or all of keys located on the top of the unit. Pressing a key would allow the wheel to descend against a motor driven shaft and bow the corresponding string (…).”

Finally, other players have from time to time used other tools such as electric power drills (!) held close to the strings to produce that infinite guitar sustain effect in live settings.

Guitar feedback

The sustain effect we have discussed here is sometimes also referred to as guitar feedback.

However, feedback to me is more of an uncontrolled side effect, similar to when your acoustic guitars suddenly comes too close to a sound source or your vocal mike makes this high pitched squeal when you get too close to a PA speaker cabinet.

This type of feedback is never anything you want. Guitar sustain on the other hand can be a powerful tool in a the hands of a budding lead guitar player.

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How To Sound Like…

10th January

How To Play Like Your Favorite Guitarist

how-to-sound-likeOne of the most frequent guitar related questions we get goes something like this: “How do I sound like (insert name here)?”; or “how do I get my equipment to sound like (again insert name here)”?

Although it is very understandable wanting to learn how to play blues guitar like B.B King or Eric Clapton, rock out like Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen, or how to sound like the amazing Steve Vai or Brian May – just to mention a few of the many great electric guitar players ot there – this is a very hard thing to do. Subsequently these are questions which are really hard to give a satisfactory answer to.

When you start out wanting to learn electric guitar – emulating and mimicking other players and artists in your field is a great idea. I would go as far as saying that studying other great guitar players in detail is one of the best ways there is to learn.

In our quest to follow the path of other master guitarists, it is only natural that we also attempts to get a sound that is at least somewhat similar to what he or she has.

Let’s face it, if you want to learn how to play guitar like (country guitar great) Brent Mason or the late great “the Humbler” Danny Gatton, then you probably don’t want to play with a death metal set-up, or use anything else than a Fender Telecaster as your starting point.

However, this urge to get the exact tone as your role model, is another thing all together.

Observing guitar greats up front

Through the years I have had the chance to watch quite a number of amazing guitar players performing live – not only on their usual equipment, but others as well.

And you know what? They always sound like themselves no matter what they plug in to or play on. This should really be some food for thought…

I can vividly remember seeing greats like Slash or David Lindley playing on run-of-the-mill borrowed equipment in smaller venues. They sounded just like they were supposed to – 100% themselves.

Here’s a quote from guitar great Steve Morse (during an interview with musicradar.com:

“I’ve seen this time and time again, and I’m sure you have, too: You get two guitar players, give them the same guitar, same amp, same setup, you can even give ‘em the same pick [laughs]…and they’ll sound totally different. Equipment has very little to do with it; it’s all about the player and his feel and approach to music. It’s just like acting: two actors can read the same words from the same script, and you’ll get two completely different performances.”

There’s also a great comment – I think it is on the Gibson guitar site – from this guy who once had the chance to watch LA Guns with Tracii Guns (real name Tracy Ulrich) on lead guitar. He was playing a Les Paul through a regular combo amp. Also, Brian May of Queen fame and another great player from the Alice Cooper band at the time did stints on the exact same rig and guitar used by Tracii.

The other players reportedly sounded nothing at all like Tracii. Brian May sounded like he always does (no surprise there)!

Does all this tell you something? At least it was an eye opener for me when I realized how much of the sound is in the heart, soul, mind and hands of the player.

Getting in the same ball park – sound wise

Like I said previously, there’s absolutely nothing wrong about attempting to get a sound similar to what other players are getting.

In order to get a guitar tone closer to what you’re aiming fore, you will probably need to play a guitar kind of similar to what that other person does. Then you’d want kind of a similar guitar amp type with the majority of guitar effects that this other player uses.

By doing a search online, you will probably manage to dig up information about most of the equipment used by a particular artist. You should eventually be able to find more information on how to sound like that guy from your favorite band.

Just don’t forget that you still probably will have only one small piece of the puzzle.

Another thing to spend some time reflecting upon is this: Why try to become someone else? Why being a lesser copy of Carlos Santana, Jimmy Hendrix or Duke Robbilard? After all it is so more rewarding (and a heck of a lot easier) to be yourself, would you not agree?

If you intend to get anywhere with you playing (aside from being a cover artist or perhaps a session player) – having a unique style, just being you and becoming as good as you can get, will likely get you the furthest.

So what do you think? As always, I’d love to get your opinion and feedback on this issue. Do feel free to contact me or post your comment below!

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