Author: Lange, David

Stage Fright

Today’s column from David Lange
Sunday, July 20th, 2008

A while back, a friend of mine who played in a popular bluegrass band explained that after having been one of the musicians playing in the background for many years, was now going to take a lead position front and center. He said he that while on one hand he was excited about this new opportunity, he was very nervous. He said he had a bad case of stage fright. I offered an antidote that had been prescribed to me once. I said “Just picture the audience in polka-dot underwear, smoking big cigars.” I suggested this in jest as much as seriousness, not figuring I could actually have the answer to his dilemma.

A short time later I ran into him and he approached me with this huge smile and a look of relief. He said “Guess what?!! That idea you gave me worked! Thank you! Though I must tell you I went a little beyond what you suggested …..with my imagination that is. But we don’t need to talk about that…..”

Another one of my bluegrass friends tells his story as follows…… “At one time, I was deathly afraid to step onto the stage. I was not the lead singer or the front man in a bluegrass band, and so didn’t have much trouble walking on stage. But that changed very suddenly when, quite unexpectedly one Thursday night, our lead singer just up and quit via with a simple telephone call. ‘I’m out of here’ was the jist of the call. Well, the next night we were scheduled to play our every other week gig, and as the default lead singer/mouth piece, I was terrified. Didn’t know what I was going to do right up till the minute that I walked into the establishment the night we were to perform. But once inside, it suddenly became turning the stage’s orientation (in other words, where we set up our mics) a mere 90 degrees I could sing and play and talk and tell idiotic jokes to a blank wall, with the audience to our far right. Worked like a charm.
After a month or so each time we performed, I’d make sure the stage was turned a couple more degrees to the right. Within six months I finally faced the audience …. There they were …. stuffing their faces with pizza. It was at that point that I realized none of them had been listening anyway. I was cured of stage fright.”

Stage fright is something that is not often talked about, or shall we say…… admitted to, but it indiscriminately affects the young and old; amateur and professional. Jerry Seinfeld once said that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket, than giving the eulogy.

So let’s define it…… Stage fright or, performance anxiety refers to an anxiety, fear or persistent phobia related to performance in front of an audience or camera. This anxiety can precede or accompany participation in any activity involving public presentation….
Ok, we got the official definition out of the way …. In other words, your knees are knockin’, your heart is pounding, the sweat is pouring off of you, and you’re absolutely horrified about going on stage or making that speech.

So what can you do about stage fright?

Well, first, I took a couple tips away from the two stories above. One, sometimes there is no instant magic bullet to resolve stage fright, and you may need to find a creative way to “manage” it. Or, another way of saying it, getting the butterflies to fly in formation. Secondly, quite often if you just keep at it, the stage fright will go away.

Here are some other possible solutions….

Prepare, prepare, prepare…… While there is a very small minority that actually function better, and are able to avoid stage fright through being disorganized and waiting until the last minute to show up for a performance, for most folks your best bet is to practice, practice, practice, and show up for your gig well in advance. Showing up early allows you to set up in a relaxed fashion, and make sure the stage is set up is the way you want it. With the root of stage fright often being a fear of not performing to expectations, knowing you did your best to prepare can help build up your confidence. Showing up early also allows you time to take steps to calm you down like taking a walk or mingling with the audience.

Start out with a strong opening song …….. Play a song you love to play, feel confident with, and that will energize the audience right off the bat. This can be an immediate confidence builder and can result in stage fright vanishing for the remainder of your performance.

Don’t dwell on your mistakes …… Stage fright is more prevalent before performing or speaking, but it can also occur while performing. Most often the audience doesn’t know you have made a mistake, and if you dwell on it… they will. And if you dwell on the mistake, your confidence will drop, and anxiety can set in. Quickly learn from your mistake and MOVE ON.

Don’t second guess the audience’s reaction (or lack of) to your performance…. Trying to second guess what is going through audience member’s minds can be a real distraction. A number of musicians have told me that when performing, if they choose to look directly at the audience, they look only at the people that are smiling and appear to be enjoying their playing. Other musicians say they look out at the audience but without looking at an individual.

While performing, live for the moment. Don’t think about what happened in the past, or what might happen. Focus on the music you are playing.

Enjoy yourself….. You now can share with the audience what you have practiced so hard for. This is not a time to be too self critical. This a time for you to just do the best you can, throw it on auto pilot, and have a blast.

Try picturing the audience in polka-dot………… Oh yeh, we covered that one.

Till the next time………
Posted:  7/20/2008

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email