Tuesday 27 September 2016

How I licked nervousness and learned to enjoy performing

I used to have a major problem enjoying my own gigs. Even when all my bandmates and all the audience enjoyed themselves, I would sometimes have a bad time. I decided it was a problem I needed to solve, because I knew music was my life, and I would have an unhappy life unless I figured out how to enjoy it more consistently. I didn't know the answer, but I set about looking. 

I slowly became aware that my gigs were plagued by worrying about impressing others. Between every chord and word, there were thoughts about impressing this woman in the front or that club-owner at the back. I tried hard to banish these thoughts, but found that trying NOT TO THINK about something is futile. I needed something else to place my focus on, something more uplifting than worrying about people's reactions.

This is what I hit upon: focus on the flow of inspiration which bubbles up from below while I perform, giving me all kinds of big and little instructions, like play this note a little louder, play that passage a little slower, say this thing to the audience, close my eyes and move that way during the solo. These aren't mental calculations about how to impress, motivated by fear of not being good enough or not being loved. They are the true creative impulses, the stuff that inspires music in the first place. And they're there most of the time, once you learn to tune into them. Like when you actually hear in your head the next note in a solo you're taking or a song you're writing.

Sometimes these spontaneous impulses tell me to do things I'm sure are bad ideas, like playing a second sad song after I've just played one. But I found that if I really focus on diligently listening to and following them, playing exactly what I HEAR, rather than what I THINK will impress, two great things happen. One is that it always works out. The genuine impulse always turns out to be the right thing to do in the moment, my show becomes more inspired, magical, and enjoyable for everyone else. And the other is that I stop worrying about whether people will be impressed or not, and the show becomes enjoyable for me!

So my key was this: focus on inspiration, not impressing!

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