The first time I played drums at a live gig, I was so nervous that I dropped beats several times throughout the song, and forgot where the transitions between sections were.
The first time for anything can be scary. Your first time singing in public? Your first audition? Your first time as lead singer? Your first time in front of a crowd of over 50 people? Your first time with a new band? Your first time improvising on stage?
Or even just the first time singing a song you’ve been rehearsing with the band?
Or, are you nervous because you’re worried about the worst thing that is likely to happen? I’m not talking about bizarre things like the roof caving in, an amp stack falling over, or half of your band not showing up to the gig. I mean things that are realistic possibilities, such as forgetting lyrics, forgetting how the song ends, the mic cable coming out of the mic, not knowing what to say between songs, counting a song off too fast or too slow, or no one paying attention to the show.
You can get through these “first times” and “worst times” in a safe way, before they actually happen.
If you’re nervous about a “first time,” just run through it in your head! Take your time and start well before the moment at which you expect to get nervous.
For example, see yourself calmly gathering your things and leaving the house. See yourself driving to the venue, excited for the show, but not too nervous. Imagine entering the venue, greeting your band, arranging your things, doing sound check. See the people filing in, looking forward to seeing your show. Imagine making eye contact and smiling at them. Take yourself through the “first” that you’re worried about with as much sensory detail as you can imagine. Your brain doesn’t know that the sensory data you’re feeding it isn’t real. It processes the experience the same way as real-life sensory input.
If you’re nervous while doing this because it’s the “first time”, fine! Great! You’re getting this “first time” out of the way, and when you go on stage for real, the First Time Nerves will already be behind you.
Ditto with “worst time” worries!
Visualize. Imagine the worst actually happening… and then, continue on to practice handling it calmly. How you react mentally is more important than what you actually do.
Not knowing what to say between songs? Visualize a few things to say, but also visualize how calmly you handle the worst-case scenario of NOT thinking of anything to say.
Forgetting lyrics? Visualize ad libbing, but also visualize how quickly you get back on track afterward, so smoothly that no one even notices.
No one paying attention? Visualize what you’ll do to engage the audience, but also visualize how you’ll handle it if you don’t!
By the way… that “first time” playing drums at a live gig was when I ran through it in my head, at home in my basement. The real-life “first time” went off without a hitch!
(c) 2009 Adrienne Osborn