Playing live and nerves

Thank you for your input Brian, it is much appreciated. I’ve not updated this thread to get plaudits from folk but it is nice to hear such things. :smiley:

I really do want to crack the issue I have, especially playing for the people on here, as I would just like to feel semi-comfortable doing it, just like I do when my wife is sat there and I just play without giving it a second thought.

I’m keeping at it, in hope that one day I will reach that point.


Amen to that brother ! :rofl:


Hi Stefan, I battle nerves too before the OMs. On my first one they hit me really bad and since then it has gotten much easier. I figured I’d share some things that have helped me in case they give you some ideas of things you can try.

I do my best to choose my song well in advance of the OM. That way I have plenty of time to get the muscle memory of the song set as much as it can be so even if I’m shaky, I have a better chance of playing through it. I also do at least two full run through sound checks on zoom before the day of the OM. One a couple weeks prior and then one two days before. That way I have an extra day before the OM to fix any tech issues that come up if needed.

What has also really helped me is to try and relax as much as I can the day before the OM. I run through my full song one to two times and then put down the guitar. I try to eat well, go to bed at a reasonable time and do my best not to stress over it. The OMs typically start at noon my time, so making sure I get good rest the night before has been important for me to perform at my best.

I really enjoyed your song and honestly did not notice any flubs. I am finding that mistakes are definitely more noticeable to ourselves than others that are watching. Hopefully you’ll find something that works for you!


Thank you for that Jennifer. There does seem to be a common theme of doing a full dress rehearsal on Zoom before the day, so I’ll be giving this a go this time round.

I’m glad you enjoyed the song and they do say we are our own worst critics.


Having played for a long time I still get nerves but I think they are now “natural” nervous energy and probably a good thing. Most of the stuff I play live is now stuff I’m very comfortable playing and singing so I’m not nervous about whether the song will go okay it’s just the “waiting to get started” type of nerves.

If I’m playing something live for the first time then I’m definitely more nervous. No matter how many times you practice it alone, playing live affects your focus and sometimes you think too much about what could go wrong. Once I’ve played it a couple of times live it tends not to be an issue.

If you can at all try and simulate the environment in which you would be playing I would do it. That may help.








Our Open Mic events are superlatively good. They are a treasure of our little corner of the interweb from so many perspectives.


We are seeing people make many repeat appearances. And part of the drawback of that is the desire (a wholly understandable and natural one) to always play a new song so as not to simply present something already performed to the same audience.

What that means is that not one of us, whether a seasoned Open Mic veteran or someone who has only played at a very small number, is getting the comfort that Jason describes. A feeling of nerves that are natural but knowable. Nerves that precede a live performance but which can be assuaged in the knowledge that the material is tried and tested and has been played to an audience on multiple occasions already.

We are neophiles and that will always bring the ‘first-time nerves’ which are slightly different to the performer nerves that come before ‘another show’.


Wise words Richard.

In fact, because of the direction I have taken in development and practice, I’ve struggled to find “new songs” for the next OMs. And that “never done this one before” does add additional and different pressure. So I have taken to going back over past AOVYPs for songs that I have played before and perhaps never sung. That’s plan going forward, until I stumble on one of those “I have to do that” songs.

So folks should be comfortable using their “back catalogue” when looking for OM songs.

Be cool.



It’s the same audience though… playing the same song is going to get boring real quick. But I do agree with you. Makes more sense with different audiences.


After having been accused of ‘selling out’ and going mainstream at the last OM (Michael Stipe is pulling his beard out :rofl:), I may just have to revert to the old tried and tested formula of finding songs that no one knows what they are supposed to sound like, or even make them up if I’m stuck.
I’m with @jkahn on this. Even if it’s a song I’ve heard someone play before, I’m here to see where people are on their journey (like @DavidP adding in a loop to solo over) or watch the drummer sing etc.
I don’t really want to see a ‘comfortable’ performance on here.
It’s different if I’m in a pub, or even more so if I’ve paid for a gig.
Nothing wrong with a bit of nerves :wink:


Yes, I meant that. Sorry if I was unclear.

One other point that has already has some discussion. The Community Open Mics are now so popular that performers are getting a one-song slot. In real-life open mics that is virtually unheard of. Most people want and are given at least two songs. And from those two songs every performer will come away thinking one was better than the other. Allowing a glass-half-full mentality to accentuate the positives and a reflective mindset to consider how to improve where there were self-identified issues or flubs.
As a performer at a Community Open Mic you get one shot. And that is it. It can be seen as more challenging and more nerve-inducing in many ways than a real-life in-person event.

Mrs C and I used to frequent a monthly sing-around. Not an open mic as such, there was no mic and you performed from your seat. It was simply a room in a bar and an open invite to sit in the round and take a turn. The performer slot passed from person to person. You did one song, it passed on, the next person did one song and on and on. There were only ever a small number of people, usually the same core people, and the slot came back around multiple times in an evening. We often got the chance to play five or more songs each month. And for the subsequent month we always made sure we had at least six or seven new songs we could perform. Some people repeated one or two songs - mostly not in consecutive months though. There was one person who only knew one song and that is all he ever played. It got tiresome hearing it each month! It was a tall order preparing that many new songs every month so we worked at it and gave it the time it required to do ourselves justice.


More …

Some time ago I made a point of praising @tRONd and encouraging others to do what he did at an OM.
He spoke, grounded himself a little, played a few chords in a mellow little progression as he introduced things and got himself in the zone.
It can be tempting to launch straight in to guitar and singing when the spotlight comes around. Taking control of your moment is a way of managing your nervousness.

Also, everybody knows well in advance their position in the running order.
Nobody wants to miss a performance but I would encourage that performers sacrifice at the least the one immediately preceding performer slot and do a full warm-up before their turn comes around. What form that takes will be personal. Beyond tuning up you may want to do one more play-through of your song, or some finger stretch exercises or some guitar and vocal scale runs.Whatever it is, give yourself some minutes to be ‘stage ready’ before the camera is on you. You can catch up with the performer(s) that you missed by watching the recording when it gets shared.


Valuable insights there Richard & Jason, appreciate you sharing the wisdom of real life live playing and how it stacks up to the OMs.

That was partially what was behind my choice in OMXV to go with a song I’d already worked on and posted in AVOYP. I would like to play that at a live OM at some point this year so wanted to give it a try as a live performance to see how it felt. Even with that, and not actually having the benefit to adopt Trond’s approach you mention above, there are still things I’d like to work on with the song, timing especially. So maybe there’s value in encouraging repeating an AVOYP in the OM setting. I was concerned that it was already going to come over repetitive as I’d only posted the AVOYP 6 or so weeks ago, reality is only one audience member referenced it so maybe not as “boring” as I’d thought it may be.


@Notter Thankfully Mark, some of us are that old we can’t remember what happened yesterday, never mind six weeks ago. :smiley:

Some great stuff posted above, so thankyou guys. I’m taking everything onboard and I will try and apply it in future OM’s.

The only thing I’m not sold on at the moment is doing a run through just before I’m up. I feel that if I make a mistake whilst doing that it will just add even more pressure to my performance.



Or…and this happened to me on Saturday and it’s definitely a mindset thing, take any mistakes in a warm up as getting them out of your system before showtime. The run throughs I did on Saturday afternoon were, frankly, terrible! But, coming to Richard and Jason’s points, having the knowledge that I’d put the practice time in led to a faith that it’d come good on the night. Bloody mind talking to ourselves! :wink:


in which case play something unrelated that will ease yo into it and get your fingers moving and your voice vocalising! :slight_smile:


I would always always play a run through BEFORE I’m up…it’s like a runner having a light jog before a race…gives your arms, hands and head a chance to lock in ready for playing live. It’s a bit like Richard says in a real OM you are going to - generally in the UK - get 15 minutes which is three songs. We always try to play a tried and trusted song first off to shake the nerves and rust off. Number 2 and 3 are almost always better.

@Notter if you’re going for a real OM go with that in mind 2-3 songs ready to play and ones you know like the back of your hand and as simple as can be.


Thanks Jason, advice certainly taken on board. I’m tempted to use the next couple of OMs I’m able to be at for this same purpose and get that back of the hand feel.

I’m still a fair way away from going for it but if you’re gonna do it, do it right!!

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I would agree with this. Since I typically end up going close to last in the OM’s because of my time zone, I typically watch the early performances, but keep my guitar in hand so I can at least run pieces of my song on and off to stay warmed up. Then about 2-3 songs before my turn, I will run the whole thing through once or twice. It has been working for me to do it this way the last couple OMs. I will watch the video afterwards to catch anyone I wasn’t able to watch live.


Have you guys seen the video where Kirk Hammett messes up the intro to Nothing Else Matters while playing live? I think it’s so cute how he deals with it.

I have so much performance anxiety, you couldn’t pay me enough money to go on a stage or camera of any kind. Well, other than me recording myself in my room. On piano, when the camera is recording, I can’t play longer than about 10 minutes before my muscle memory evaporates. It’s the most bizarre thing that I can play, then I can’t play, then I can play again, in a span of 20 minutes.

I think if I had enough charisma to deal with a mistake with wit and comedy, the way Kirk did, it would go a long way to relieve nerves in the first place. Watching the Christmas Open Mic, it was clear to me that a lot of you who performed have plenty of that charismatic presence and wit that you can use to your advantage if you were to make a huge mistake.

Playing it off, smiling it off, rolling with the punches, realizing even the most practiced pros can’t always play flawlessly a song they’ve played thousands of times, maybe that’ll help? Small mistakes- ah pssht, nobody even picks up on those.


That showmanship experience.

Of course, they are Metallica and they can get away with everything when you have 5000 die hard fans in front of you :smiley:

But seriously, everybody makes mistakes and if we wouldn’t everybody would be able to play an instrument, sing, entertain, trigger emotion and nostalgia.

I love to play live, I need the energy and I leaned to channel the emotions and “tension”. There is no “negative” energy; only “energy”. and yet…I stumble sometimes.

I had a similar moment and I skipped an entire song after trying the intro 2 times.

I was strumming the first chords of the intro and I blacked out. A song I had done so many times and I forgot the lyrics. Mind you, I never take lyrics on stage and I take pride in not reading off a book or tablet. I do take a setlist on stage though. Not out of snobism but to have LESS distraction so I can focus on the song, the music and the story… But there I was, bashing some chords and forgetting the opening line. I was sure that if I would get the first words, the rest of the song would roll off my tongue but nope… I was distracted and the distraction of my own confusion started to add to it to a point I had to change course.

I just tried restarting the song, quickly noting I took a bad start or something…but then the same thing…my engine was going but there was no 2nd gear :smiley: Don’t panic… improvise :smiley:

So I Stopped. Looked up to my audience…everybody was in a combo of confusion and 100% focus.

So I made a “waving it away” gesture and proclaimed

“Naaaah I’m not going to do that one. It is on my little paper right there and it seemed like a good idea this morning but I’m just not feeling it you know? Imagine sitting there at your table, first coffee of the day, penning down the songs you will play later that day, not knowing how your audience looks like, how they fill the room with their vibe?.. I’m going to give you something else, something that fits you, here and now”

So I jumped in on another spot in the setlist and with that moment, I was cleansed of my distraction. I literally broke some ice.

Afterwards, the show organizer said to me:
“That was pretty cool, showing that you don’t just come to play your list”.

Ha, did he know I just improved that?
but I still meant what I said on stage.

Mistakes are always part of your act

You are there to perform and we put the bar so high for ourselves.
You can be DAMN SURE you’ll make mistakes and even Metallica can get distracted in a relatively easy intro of a song they played a gazillion times. So you better make it part of your act.

You can plan the show but you can’t play the course of events that make the show.
Handling these situations is a skill but you only train it by making mistakes.

Think i’m being cocky about that?

You can be too. I think the best way to approach uncertainty about mistakes is approaching it with a buffer of confidence…because that’s what being cocky or…“over confident” is.

At least it made me comfortable about making mistakes and I make far less mistakes since I do.

It’s like public speaking
Same thing goes with public speaking.


If you make one, create one with about 5 slides and make them all photos. Make the photos work as your visual clues to keep your talk structured. If you put too much numbers and text in it, people will look at the slides and lose attention.

You need them to look at YOU.
You only need to know what you are talking about.

Don’t memorize a bunch of figures.
Don’t say “this has grown 107%”.
no, just say “This has DOUBLED”

Focus on the essentials.
What 2 things do you want them to remember when you walk away?

Make sure you tell them. You tell them, not the slides. Look for eye contact but one at a time. add drama by changing the direction your body is pointing when saying the “doubled” :smiley:

Take time to tell your story
As a musician, this is harder to do, we are often bound by guitar and microphone and that’s ok.
You are still TELLING A STORY". Every song is a story and try to approach it like that. Your set is a big story and approach it like that.

You don’t say “once upon a time” when you start but you need to manage an expectation.

Slow down. breathe, take deliberate 2 second pauses between some sentences. It gives people the time to let something sink in and you to keep your heart rate down.

If you have kids and you read them bedtime stories, you already did a lot of that stuff.
You slowed down.
You looked at the text but sometimes you changed the sentence a bit on the fly. you knew what was coming or you got distracted, whatever. The message is still the same and in your spontaneous style, you added authenticity. Your audience (your kid) didn’t mind, not even when you misread something. As long as you kept the pace of the story going.

You do so in your song as well. if you fumble a lyrics or a chord, just keep the pace/rhythm of the song going and nobody will bother. Most of them won’t even notice

While reading the bedtime story, you switch between looking at the text and your audience and while performing it is ok to naturally switch between looking at your guitar, looking down, closing your eyes but also looking at them.Your first gigs you might need to do that in a more conscious way but you can’t practice 100 things at once when doing your first performances.

Consider it “a public rehearsal”

The second part of the live gig this weekend was together with another musician who was going to bring his brother on bass but he was ill. So I offered to play along with him. Turned out we didn’t have any songs in common in our live set but as he played, I was able to do some extra vocals on about 80% of what he did. “let’s consider it a public rehearsal” he said. So we did.

My guitar became a percussive instrument while I NEVER did the guitar-body-slapping thing in a live gig before :smiley: I even beatboxed some bass and some boom-chick drum sounds :smiley: I just assisted the others guy stories and some of my fingerpicking over his chord strums relly enriched it all. I know my place; a small supporting role but it was in function of his stories and we had good fun.

We didn’t put the bar too high at all

and still, we’ve got to hear that our musical performances, both our solo parts as our impromptu co-op, really made the event. At the end of the say, your own insecurities were never observed, discussed or noted. We were there to entertain and part of that was by ridiculing ourselves when we tried (and failed) some things :smiley:

My impromptu-stage-friend has a small tech issue after the song where I beatboxed so I grabbed the mic and said.

"Hellow, I’m Lieven, I’m forty years old. when I was a kid, I swallowed a drum set. I didn’t eat a thing for 4 days. "

people laughing, me doing a rimshot “badum tissss” only added to the joy and the tech issue was fixed. We made a fun story and that is what people take home.

You can’t practice these events; you can only plan the rough parts.
You’ll need to embrace the uncertainty and have it surprise you and co-operate with you.
So don’t be too hard on yourselves. It’s never a competitions and mistakes are a par of the show, just as you, your instruments, your story., your audience…

I’ve seen some depression and re-occuring moments of ‘not feeling so great’ but keeping a heatlhy attitude about this “bar” remained a safe constant.

Embracing the fck-ups actually made me fck up less.
damn, I could talk on an on trying to inspire people, hoping they can feel like me on stage.

Not being able to wait to get up there. putting your heart out there and feeling FREE. I always feel like I dropped off some emotional weight after a gig.

My highest goals are to inspire and to invoke emotion. If I did some of that and people tell me, I feel real warmth inside of me!

You can only achieve that by being THERE, NOW, as YOU and nothing else!