When I was first learning how to play, I would call myself a closet guitarist. I was so nervous to play anything for absolutely anyone. Anytime I would be asked to play something, I replied by saying one of the strings was broken — or something similar — to remove the pressure of having to play in front of someone else. When friends would ask me to join them to play, I would conveniently be unavailable. Or if I wasn’t able to come up with an excuse, I would have a mental block and have a hard time thinking of something to play. Does this all sound familiar?
Just like public speaking, many guitarists have a fear of playing the guitar in front of an audience. Many guitarists want to play in front of others but they instead get nervous, freeze up, draw a blank on what to play, or avoid doing it all together like I did.
The core benefits of playing the guitar in front of others
Unfortunately, these common barriers that stop us from playing in front of other people prevents us from enjoying a myriad of great benefits there are to this practice. In particular, there are 3 core benefits to playing the guitar in front of others.
The first is that it will improve your guitar skills faster. When you have the pressure of having to play in front of others, you will always practice more in order to get as good as you possibly can before performing. The actual performance itself will also challenge your abilities with the piece at a new level, which will help make your playing better in general.
The second is that your awareness of certain aspects of your playing will come into light. When playing in front of others, you will learn to be much more aware of tension in your body and be forced to practice relaxing in a real situation. Reducing tension in the body is an important aspect of improving your guitar skills and it is much easier to be aware of tension when playing for others.
The third is that it’s a fun activity that can improve your confidence. Playing the guitar is already a fun experience to have but it becomes even more enjoyable when you can share the skills you’ve worked so hard to develop with others who appreciate music like you do. Playing music for people who appreciate it will give you a big confidence boost and motivate you to take on more challenging pieces of music to play.
3 tips for getting comfortable playing in front of others
So how do you get past the fear, get comfortable playing the guitar in front of other people and enjoy these benefits? Learning how to play for people and starting right away is the best thing you can do to feel confident playing for others. Regardless of whether you’ve been playing for 1 week or 30 years, here are 3 tips to help you get started:
If you’re just getting started, begin by practicing within earshot of someone else. This could be a friend or family member or fellow guitar player. Practicing around others is a very low pressure way to get used to an audience without necessarily being on stage.
Make a commitment
When practicing with others becomes more normal and less scary, your next step is to commit to a date that you will play a song for only one person. This slight pressure will encourage you to practice more which in turn helps you improve faster, feel more confident and eases some of those fears. When you select a date and plan with another person, it helps to hold you accountable. Furthermore, if you just say you will play for someone soon or keep it general without committing to a specific day, it will remain just a possibility and will likely continue to be postponed.
After you’ve played in front of another person a few times, your next step is to challenge yourself even further by playing in front of a group of people. Begin by committing to playing in front of more than one person and eventually a larger group. After that, consider finding a local open mic to play in front of a large room of people. If you’re taking lessons with an instructor, your instructor might have opportunities available for you to perform with or for other students of theirs. An environment such as this would provide a very safe and constructive opportunity to get experience playing for others knowing that they are also learning how to play too.
Even if your ultimate goal isn’t to perform in front of large crowds, sooner or later someone is going to ask you to play something for them and you will be much happier and get more fulfillment out of your guitar playing when you can do this with confidence. By taking steps to improve in this area now, you will be more prepared for when a playing opportunity presents itself to you in the future.