Nervous about your first public performance??

This article gratefully received from Graham Dixon of troubleatmill, who was one of the original contributors to the top tips for running a session thread. He wrote it for his newsletter, and I reproduce it with thanks. Cheers, Graham!

I don't doubt that there are some 'Natural Born Performers' who have no problem whatsoever - when it come to 'parading' their talents in front of a crowd. However to the rest of us 'mere mortals' - who have an inclination to play or sing, the prospect of facing an audience can be daunting.

You know that you can do it - after all you perform regularly in the relative privacy of your own home - often in front of: - spouse, kids or even parents. Then why is it, that the thought of doing the same thing before an audience of 'relative' strangers- at a Folk Club Singers Night - terrifies you?

In the early stages, this reluctance, to let your light shine out from under the proverbial bushel, can manifest itself in several different ways: -

1. With every good intention, you set off, to the Folk Club, with your guitar in tow but on arrival you 'conveniently' leave your instrument locked in the boot. (Something in your sub-conscious is telling you that - if the Organizer doesn't see you walk in, with your instrument - he won't ask you to play).

2. You take along your guitar but sit at the back, of the room, with your instrument in its case down on the floor - at your feet - underneath the table - out of sight to everyone else. Hopefully, the Organizer, will be so busy trying to work a running order for all the 'Hardened Pro's', he won't even notice you - what a relief. And at the end of the evening you can go home happy with the excuse that although you wanted to sing, you didn't because the miserable 'so and so' didn't ask you to.

3. The Organizer asks if you would like to - play or sing - and although you know that you are capable, a knot suddenly appears inside your stomach and you mutter something - like - "You've plenty in tonight, I'll give it a miss". (Maybe trying to convey the false impression that - you've done it so often, lately - you'll stand down and let the 'Rest' have a go).

4. You're all fired up and ready to go, you've finally plucked up the courage to actually ask the Organizer if you can 'get up there' and have a go. It's all been OK'd and you are sitting at your table in a state of 'High Anxiety' subconsciously running through the words of your intended song. (Even though you've sung it at least three times a week for the past twelve months - you've suddenly forgotten all the words in verse four). Suddenly in walk the "Local Superstars" - the clubs very own Eric Clapton -unplugged & Judith Durham play-a-like/sound-a-likes and your new found bravado is trodden into the ground with thoughts like "I can't play in front of these people - I'll look pathetic".

If you recognize any of these symptoms - read on.

Obvious fact - "Everyone has to start somewhere".

If you are going to give it a try - give a bit of thought to where and when? Personally I would suggest a 'Singers Night' where performers are invited to get up and sing/play, rather than a session where everyone sits around 'informally' waiting for a suitable gap to appear in proceedings so that they can 'let-fly'. Don't, for one minute, think that I am decrying sessions, it's just that - until you get a bit more confident, it can be a bit distracting or off-putting if others - however well meaning - start to accompany you on other instruments. (Though this can be fun, fulfilling & educational as your confidence increases).

Choose the songs/tunes that you are going to perform. Try to stick to the simpler pieces of your repertoire, don't be too ambitious. Give a bit of thought to introductions even if it's only to let the audience know who the composer is. (There's nothing like a couple of lines of chat - to break the ice with the crowd).

When you get to the club, introduce yourself to the Organizer and ask if it its OK to 'Do some'. Explain to him/her that it's your 'first' time and that you are a little nervous. Tell the Organizer what sort of stuff you do and a few background details about yourself. A good Organizer will welcome this information (it gives him a bit of extra material for his chat) and he should - without being demeaning - be able to explain, to the audience, during his introduction, that this is your 'first time'.


While you are waiting for your turn (I don't think any Organizer would be 'cruel' enough to put you on first) try and relax. Relax means sit back and listen - soak up the atmosphere and maybe have a pint of beer or a glass of wine. Relax doesn't mean throw down loads of booze in an effort to dispel nerves and to build up Dutch courage. Too much to drink means that you will perform badly. It may sound good, to you, after a few pints, but certainly not to the audience.

"Get ready"

Make sure that you have everything, that you need, to hand - Capo, Plectrum, Bodhran beater etc. Check that you are in tune. The Organizer will give you the nod, walk up to the spot, don't rush, smile at the audience introduce yourself, and the song, then go for it. When you receive that first round of applause you will float on air. If you've practiced three numbers, stick to them, don't jump on the euphoria ride and start singing or playing stuff that you have not rehearsed - or your set will deteriorate - fast. (Always leave 'em wanting more).

Has this cured your first night nerves? You have now dipped your toes in (at the waters' edge) and realized that you like it. Aim to go a bit deeper - but try a paddle before attempting a swim. As for the nerves, they will still be there next time - but they will be easier to deal with. I've been playing regularly, for the past several years, I still get nervous/anxious before a gig - be it a crowd of four hundred + at a beer festival or half a dozen in a Folk Club. A good friend of mine (nameless cause he doesn't like being quoted) told me that he felt when the pre-performance nerves go - it's time to pack up and do something else. Maybe we all crave the 'Adrenaline trip'.

Although I felt that the previous paragraph was an excellent way to finish, the article, I feel that I must address the problem of 'fluffing' (making a mistake) - during your performance.

1. If you make a mistake - just play through it - the chances are no one, in the audience, will even notice. After all the fluff is just a split second in real time (ninety nine times out of a hundred only you will realize that a mistake was made).

2. If you need to stop - stay calm - don't apologize to the audience - audiences don't like apologies - just smile at them and say something like "I'll try that again"

3. Whatever their level - performers fluff - if you want an example listen to the album 'Eric Clapton Unplugged' - Mr Clapton starts off 'Alberta' -(track 10) in the wrong key and then shouts "Hang on, hang on, hang on," the band stop and then he starts the song again - this time correctly. Every credit to E.C. for leaving this 'gem' on the album - most people would have 'cut it out' at the mixing stage.


If you are thinking of 'having a go' i.e. playing/singing in public, for the first time why not make Gregson Lane Folk Club your first choice of venue? A warm friendly reception is guaranteed from both residents and audience whatever the style, of acoustic music, you play.

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page created 03 April 2000