Guitar Performance ANXIETY? Learn From EXTREME Athletes!

Learn How To Recover Mistakes And Overcome Fear From Extreme Athletes

Tommaso Zillio

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failure fear guitar

If there’s something that held me back when I first started playing guitar, it was performance anxiety.

Well, I got better with time :) While I am not ice-cold when I go on stage, I can definitely hold my own…

… and so can you!

Let me share with you a very important lesson that guitar players can learn from extreme athletes.

Have you ever watched clips of professional snowboarders or skateboarders flying through the air, doing incredible, other-worldly stunts, and thinking to yourself, “how can somebody possibly work up the courage to do that? Was the part of the human brain that feels fear just left out of these people’s heads?”

Well, the short answer is no, most of them have just trained themselves to accept the risk of severe injury, and once that risk is accepted, it no longer controls them.

We should be taking notes on this attitude toward failure and risk because we guitar players and musicians will often be incredibly nervous about the idea of failure or making a mistake when performing…

… even though failing as a musician carries significantly less risk!

(“maybe get a blister on your little finger. Maybe get a blister on your thumb”…)

One of the most important things about how extreme athletes control fear is accepting that failure is part of the job and being prepared to deal with it. It’s only by knowing exactly what could go wrong and then accepting and embracing that possibility that these athletes are able to control their fear.

This is important because many people think that the best way to avoid the fear of failure is by having unshakeable, blind confidence that everything will go perfectly.

(HA! As if I had a single gig in my life that went exactly as planned!)

This is a terrible mindset, not only because it is virtually impossible to truly convince yourself that everything will go perfectly (your brain is not stupid!), but also because even if you do convince yourself of this, as soon as you make one mistake, your entire universe will start crumbling around you, and the spell will be broken.

(Drama added for entertainment purposes)

Instead, we have to accept and embrace the possibility of failure.

Now, this is all well and good - in theory - but how can you actually practice overcoming fear without throwing yourself out of an airplane or sliding on a near-vertical slope on a snowy mountain?

For that, I will direct you to the video below, where I will talk about how we can actually put this into practice.

All this talk about recovering from mistakes and overcoming the fear of failure might make you want to have something new to practice, so you can make some mistakes! Check out this free eBook on making your pentatonic solos sound more professional

Video Transcription

Hello internet; so nice to see you! We guitar players can learn from anything, anywhere. And today you’re gonna learn from skateboarders, snowboarders, and from martial arts. And I’m thinking martial arts where you throw people around, not the martial art when you punch the light out of them.

Now the impressive thing about all the disciplines I just mentioned is that those people can do incredible stunts, things that look incredibly dangerous from our side. And in some cases, they are, I mean, have you ever met a snowboarder? They have more metal on their bones, than actual bone!

But anyway, one of the biggest contributors to being able to perform stunts like this is that they have zero fear of failure, or at least that’s what they say. Any fear whatsoever will cause some apprehensiveness, which makes you tense up and fail; like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I mean, if you’re there, ready to go, and you’re thinking, ‘maybe I’m gonna get hurt,’ don’t go, okay? They are without fear because they practice how to recover from mistakes, they practice how to fall, and skateboarders are all extremely good at falling properly.

Snowboarders are incredibly good at falling properly. And there’s a slightly different skill martial artists who do things like Judo or Aikido, or, again, all those arts or you throw people around, practice, specifically how to break the fall so that they don’t get injured. Okay?

Now, I don’t want to go into the specifics of all those techniques, because they are all different depending on what you want to do, okay, but here’s the thing, they practice that. And now pay attention because not fearing failure does not mean you pretend there is no way you will fail. That’s a different thing. It means knowing what to do if you fail, or I should say when you fail, because learning any of these means that you’re failing a lot.

So it’s important to know how to get back up and not let it affect you or hurt you or break you. Because failure is part of the job. I mean, again, not that those techniques work literally every time. But knowing that will give you a lot of confidence.

This is what many musicians go through when they perform on stage; however, failure for us doesn’t really cause injury, I mean, maybe you can be a bit embarrassed, but it’s not quite as life-threatening. Okay, so as usual, we are pretty lucky on that.

Now, if those athletes can learn to have no fear of failure, or at least less fear, when failure can mean serious injury or worse, it should be possible to not fear failure as a musician, when failure only means playing a wrong note.

So how can you control fear in order to lead to a better performance? You do this by practicing mistake recovery. So here’s what you do. You pick a backing track, and then you play something. Again, guys, you’ve done this so many times. This is nothing strange. Just play something improvised play an exercise, whatever.

But here’s what happens, at this point, you purposefully play a very wrong note. So just play something out of the scale. The longer the better. Don’t be afraid to play a real stinker here. Okay.

And then here’s the thing, try to make his sound good by doing something afterward. What can you do? Well, you can take these super bad notes and slide it to the right note, or you can bend it to the right note. Or you can grab your whammy bar and dive bomb, it works every time you play a wrong note, dive bomb it, and people don’t even realize you’re playing a wrong note.

Or you can use the Frank Zappa idea when you play something wrong. Played again, everything played wrong twice in a row, for example, said is the beginning of a jazz arrangement. Okay, so here will be the first simple exercise to learn your mistake recovery.

To learn mistake recovery, you have to make mistakes on purpose. Okay? So don’t be afraid to do that. Grab your backing track and start sucking. Okay, Exercise number two, pick a backing track like before. Now rather than doing like before and hitting one bad note, play completely random notes. Seriously, forget about the scale. Forget about what works, forget about theory and all this kind of thing.

I mean, I love my music theory, but you have to learn to step out of this kind of structure to make it actually work. Okay? So forget about everything. Close your eyes, put your hand on the guitar, and start playing random stuff. Random, completely out of key.

Make it work because you play with the right rhythm or make it work because you by ear you find the right note. Okay, have fun with what you’re doing. This is supposed to be something funny and slightly mischievous. Okay, try to play everything random stuff and make it sound.

Again, I’m not saying every time you’re gonna get a Grammy-winning performance. Okay, But the idea is to get better and get less scared of playing a wrong note. And the only way to do that is to keep playing and learn to play all those wrong notes until you get used to this and until you get used to how to recover from those notes.

Okay, so important things. First of all, don’t forget to have fun. If you are too much on edge, you’ll get hurt and no, I mean, it will not sound good. Start slow. Build Confidence until you can make all those notes sound good, regardless of how wrong they sound at first. Hey, come on, guys. How do you think jazz was invented? pretty much by doing that. Okay.

Second thing, don’t be too self-conscious. This is supposed to be fun, stop trying to do the correct thing. Just set aside five minutes today to play all the wrong notes. Okay, don’t be too self-conscious.

And third, and most important, think more about how you play those notes other than the notes themselves. Okay, so again, forget about note choices, just trying to put in a good rhythm, some good dynamics, play them loud, play them quietly, but in the meantime, okay? And these will make them sound good. Concentrate on something else than just a note. Okay? Give it a try. Give it a spin and then let me know right down here how it went.

Okay. And again, I am fairly sure not one of you will come back here after trying these, saying ‘Tommaso I tried the suggestion, and I broke my leg’, it is not going to happen. Okay, so relax and start practicing some error recovery, and the next time you’re going on stage or you’re recording in studio or you’re playing with your friend. You’ll have less fear of making a mistake. And whenever you play wrong, you just have a laugh, brush it off, and jump back on the saddle again.

This is Tommaso Zillio for MusicTheoryForGuitar.com, and until next time, enjoy.


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