Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

7 Tips for Dealing With Stage Fright and Nerves


Greets from the road!

I’d like to address an issue many guitarists and other musicians face, and that’s the issue of stage fright and nervousness.

This came up with friends last night as we were hanging after my gig. So, even though I am a touring pro, I still get nervous sometimes.

Here’s some advice based on my real life experience playing solo concerts.

Tip #1: Practice Enough

If you have driven your music deep down into your subconscious mind, your hands will know where to go – even when your brain doesn’t.

You’ll feel less scared.

A momentary slip up can usually be recovered quickly if you have practiced enough repetition of a piece of music.  Knowing this will ease your nerves.

You may feel distracted by the audiences eyes on you, lights in your face, or a new sound on stage than what you are used to.

By practicing enough, you’ll have a certain level of “auto pilot” that you can rely on.

Tip #2: Warm Up Before You Perform

Always warm up before going on stage!  For me, it’s all about the warm up – just like athletes do before a game.

Keep in mind, there is a fine line between “warming up”  and “burning out” your chops before stepping out on stage.

Go easy back stage…get your chops warm and ready – but don’t play the gig 5 times before you get in front of the audience.

Your last 15-20 minutes backstage should be “full on” stage playing.

Tip #3: Leave Enough Time Before the Gig

Plan soundcheck, arrival and eating around your warmup time, not the gig time!  I eat 3 hours before my gigs, to allow 1 hour soundcheck, then 1 hour warmup time.

Get there early enough so you are not scrambling!

And – step AWAY from your iPhones & computer crap at this time.

Tip #4: Staying Present & Your Self Talk

When we are scared of the stage we’re usually scared of

1) not being perfect
2) others judging us
3) screwing up a hard passage

When I slip up and make a mistake – I simply tell myself “come back”  and I also forgive myself, gently.

Know that “beating yourself up”  is TOTALLY unproductive – and it’s a habit formed offstage!

LET GO of the habit of “beating yourself up”.  Just drop it.

START being kind to yourself – NOW.

Onstage and off –  practice saying:

“I like myself!”
“I am the best!”
“I am freakin’ awesome!”
“I’m gonna kick butt today!”
“They love me!”

If saying this makes you uncomfortable, thats good!  That means you a driving new information into the subconscious.  Keep saying these.  It’s not inflating ego – it’s building self esteem!

(You should hear what I say in my hotel rooms to myself!)

This adds up over time, and in the moment on stage that you slip, you’ll then say out of habit – “It’s ok, I’m awesome!”  and get on with playing rather than digging yourself a hole of self loathing.

Good self esteem helps you perform better, and helps you realize your audience it there to appreciate you, not judge you.

The result?  Less nerves and fear, more joy and confidence.

Tip #5 – Dealing With Mistakes

Mistakes happen – but please understand their size in the total picture. They are often way smaller than you think.

Like a little hole in your tooth where food sticks, your tongue finds it yet it feels a HUGE as the Grand Canyon.

No one knows about it except you!

Roll past mistakes and your audience will too.

But…keep the GROOVE.  Don’t sweat the notes – but always keep your groove.  This goes for classical music too!

Keep your groove and the audience will not even know a mistake happened.

When you KNOW THIS – you’ll be less scared of being judged, and you’ll feel less scared.

Practice “flow”  and do “straight through” performances where you don’t go back and fix mistakes so you get used to the feeling of having to roll past them.

Tip #6 Start Strong & End Strong

It’s very stressful to get up and play just one song at a recital or jam session – much more so than doing an entire gig.  I recently did a 2 song “gig” and it was hard!

Advice for single song performances, like recitals:

Play something simple that you can play well, with elegance and ease, rather than pushing your technical limits.

Your audience will delight in your “elegant ease”  much more than watching you suffer and freak out!

Practice the end of your piece as a “chunk” –  so that even if you have trouble in the middle – you can “see the light” at the end of the tunnel, and feel confident about where it’s going.

Very often, not having rehearsed the end of the piece is a huge source of stress.   Chunk it down, and rehearse your endings.

Advice for playing several pieces:

Make sure your opening piece and your ending piece are strong – and comfortable for you.

Put trickier things in the middle of a performance, so you’ll be warmed up and more comfortable on stage.

Tip #7 Dive in, Do it and Keep at it!

“Do the thing you fear the most and the fear of death is certain.”

After many positive experiences onstage, you’ll get more confident.

Now I experience a “bleed over” from gig to gig. I can envision my delighted, smiling audience even before I play a note of a gig.

That’s why and how you’ll get more confident the more you do it.

Have fun.  Now practice!


Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

11 thoughts on “7 Tips for Dealing With Stage Fright and Nerves

  1. Hi Adam, I couldn’t agree more with the above post. My 12 yr old Amber was having major anxiety issues over the weekend while getting ready to play her clarinet in a Disneyland parade. I used the same advice and such to help her gain control and reset her coping machanizm. Mind over matter. As scared as she was, She reached into her little Theta brainwave and she really pulled it together and preformed well and I couldn’t be more proud of her. Keep the great advice and light coming… Blessing to you and yours… 🙂 Heidi B.

  2. Excellent advice! It means a lot to read this coming from a touring pro like you. I like the comment about one/two song gigs or jam sessions can be more stressful than full gigs — that has been my experience, too, but I didn’t know if that was common. Thanks, Adam! Always enjoy your posts.

  3. I will and thanks again for the great post.

  4. Great article! I liked the point you made about driving your music deep down into your subconscious mind. Sometimes I feel that I’ve forgotten a certain piece, but when I pick up the guitar, my fingers get to work automatically 😀

  5. I’m just starting to perform in front of large groups of people, and I have been looking for ways to deal with stage fright. Your post was extremely helpful. You have excellent advice! Thank you so much for posting this!

  6. Pingback: Another Concert & Stage Fright | Allison Merten

  7. i have a problem of shivering ,lot of shivering and biggest problem is sometimes i have a good control on myself but still my hands shivers and that sucks my performance (happens 5 6 times) what to do

    • Me too – so don’t feel bad. If I have not played a concert in a month, when I get back on stage I am nervous. Crazy, but it’s all a matter of habit & routine.

      I suggest:

      1) play live – longer sets. 45 mins. If you are doing 1 or 2 songs at an open mic, it’s all nerves & no fun.
      2) play more often, once or twice a week if you can.
      3) Practice being nice to yourself with your internal dialoge. Know that teh audience is behind you.
      4) allow teh shakes to quiet themselves. Don’t fight against them!

      Good luck!


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