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Thread: Shakey hands when playing live

  1. #1
    Registered User The Pecker's Avatar
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    Shakey hands when playing live

    Hey there everyone. I've been playing guitar for about 6 years, but only started taking it "seriously" about a year and a half ago. For a vast majority of this time, I've been playing infront of audiences, not that big, but, audiences. People I know, people I dont know, the usual. But, within the last year, I've been playing live alot more and playing much more technically challenging pieces live. Even though I'm not that nervous, I can't seem to stop my hands from shaking! And when you're playing fast alternate picking lines and only moving the pick practically millimeters, you can image how much you'd screw up if your right hand is shaking uncontrollably! The same goes for my left hand. I've already seriously screwed up two very important college music auditions basically due to this problem, and I need to fix it. I know that most people will tell me that this is a "head" issue, which I believe it partially is, but I just can't control my hands! Definitely a problem for a guitar player....

    Any advice would be helpful.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    First of all, a silly question: can I assume that your hands only shake when you're playing in public? If that's indeed the case, and having experienced very similar problems in various types of performance (not just guitar playing, but also singing and public speaking), I believe there are two ways you can approach it:
    1- perfect your knowledge of the piece so that you can play it without thinking about it anymore.
    2- address the matter psychologically.

    1-You'll be amazed at how far down your standards drop between playing in private and in public. Even when you thought you played perfectly in private, it's usually nowhere near good enough for when you're in front of others. By doing over and over and over what you think you already know well, playing the piece becomes "automatic". You won't think about the piece anymore when you're actually playing it, and therefore even the biggest source of stress will struggle to mess up your playing.
    2-Address the self-confidence / fear of public on its own. Apart from seeing a shrink to cry about your mum, you could also try digging out the feeling that whatever piece you're playing can bring out in you: angst, elation, etc. Force that out, or try creating an association to trigger a feeling that you think is appropriate for that performance when the song can't do that to you. If you focus on that feeling and let it drive you, it can effectively divert your mind away from the fear of your audience and what makes your hands shake.

    Good luck.

  3. #3
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Yes, if this is stage fright, the more you play in public the less it will affect you.

    Some stage fright is good, but, you have to keep it under control. In my other life I taught public speaking. The course was built around the concept of; to become at ease while speaking in public you have to do a lot of public speaking. I can assure you that simple concept works.

    Embrace and welcome stage fright as a way of getting excited about your performance. Then be confident in your ability. You mentioned this was happening with the more techniqual pieces. Do you have them ready to take public?

    Good luck.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 03-02-2009 at 12:16 PM.

  4. #4
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    You could take beta-blockers to reduce the symptoms of your nervousnes. I know several musicians who did that during their auditions to college and it helped them alot.

    I'm NOT saying that this is something that's great in the long run. But if you have one of those auditions coming up then you could do it as a one-time-thing. That will 1: Help you with a very important audition and 2: Buy you some time to actually deal with this problem.

    Cheers
    Why do today what you can leave for tomorrow?

  5. #5
    Registered User The Pecker's Avatar
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    Thank you all for your replies. To answer a few questions:

    Yes, my hands indeed only shake when playing in public, but also even when playing for a small group of people (usually strangers) in someone's house. So I guess it isn't really confined to a public setting... You also mentioned possible problems that I have with public speaking or singing. I have done a decent amount of public speaking, and feel that I am much less afraid of it than many others, but I still get a little nervous and hot. I get really hot when playing guitar publically also, start to sweat, which I typically wouldn't do cause I'm normally cold all the time. I also lead sing in my band when we play, but I've never had any problems with that live. As far as the perfection of the pieces, I usually don't play anything publically unless I can play it very close to perfectly in private. But, because of my hands, when I take it on stage, it sounds like crap! I definitely believe in the advice that the more you do it, the less it will affect you. My only problem is that I don't have a stage and an audience to get infront of everyday to practice relaxing, or I would. Sperzel- I've never heard of beta-blockers but it sounds like they work if you need a one-time fix. Wish I would have known about those earlier!

    Lately, I've been doing some relaxing and deep breathing and positive thinking before auditions/shows, but it never seems to fail that my hands go crazy when I hit the stage! When I imagine myself playing live, I don't get nervous or tense... I can tell that I have some stage fright though, because I get that feeling in my stomach, get really hot, and then my hands start to shake. I think that it has less to do with the music itself, but more to do with my body's reaction to nervousness when getting on stage. If there were any way to practice controlling this regularly, I would. If anyone has any thoughts on maybe doing some sort of practice controlling nervous reactions, feel free to post em! Thanks again.

  6. #6
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    Yeah I wouldn't reccomend taking beta-blockers on a regular basis or they might cause problems. But apperantly they work excellent for those times when you just HAVE to nail it, the "symptoms" you describe macht perfectly with the ones that beta-blockers can aid you with.

    If you have another audition coming up and haven't been able to tackle your problem yet I would give it a shot. Your local physician should have no problem prescribing a small dose to you if you explain what you're gonna use them for.

    I can tell you right now though that in the long run, you have nothing to worry about. With regular live performances your probem will disappear and you'll be thinking "how was this even a problem for me?". I suffered from the same thing when I started to play live, but after some time the problem disappeared. Just try as hard as you can to relax, breathe calmly and realize that any mistakes you may make isn't the end of the world.

    Good luck //Carl
    Why do today what you can leave for tomorrow?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Pecker
    Yes, my hands indeed only shake when playing in public, but also even when playing for a small group of people (usually strangers) in someone's house. So I guess it isn't really confined to a public setting...
    I probably didn't use accurate enough words. Instead of public setting, I should have spoken of a "setting in front of other people, especially strangers." The two settings you've mentioned are about as stressful as each other.


    Quote Originally Posted by The Pecker
    I get really hot when playing guitar publically also, start to sweat, which I typically wouldn't do cause I'm normally cold all the time.
    Cold sweat happens to me with stage/public speaking/stranger fright too. After 15 years of trying, I confirm it's impossible to address it directly - you have to deal with the fright/stress itself instead.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Pecker
    As far as the perfection of the pieces, I usually don't play anything publically unless I can play it very close to perfectly in private.
    I'm afraid that's not good enough. You must be able to play your piece perfectly. And once you've done that, do it again. And again. And again. Until you can play it without even thinking about it, and still perfectly.


    Quote Originally Posted by The Pecker
    Lately, I've been doing some relaxing and deep breathing and positive thinking before auditions/shows, but it never seems to fail that my hands go crazy when I hit the stage! When I imagine myself playing live, I don't get nervous or tense...
    Those are techniques like any other, but they're different from what I suggest. Because imagining myself in a situation and actually being there are not the same thing for my mind: my unconscious won't get tricked with this. As such, I recommend the emotional-drive method that I described earlier. See if it works (combined with perfect automatic mastery of your piece of course... )

    Quote Originally Posted by The Pecker
    I can tell that I have some stage fright though, because I get that feeling in my stomach, get really hot, and then my hands start to shake. I think that it has less to do with the music itself, but more to do with my body's reaction to nervousness when getting on stage. If there were any way to practice controlling this regularly, I would. If anyone has any thoughts on maybe doing some sort of practice controlling nervous reactions, feel free to post em!
    The only way I can stop those is to address the stress itself - I've never been able to control the physical reactions on their own. But some people might have found tricks...

  8. #8
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    Damn, dude, you hands freaking shake when playing in front of others?

    It won't last. Just play in front of others more often. Never miss a chance. Make everyone nuts. Be the Guy Who Always Plays. Like anything else in music, this is a function of experience.

    Cultivate a little arrogance. They have no idea what you're doing. You are the performer, and they are the unwashed swine come to adore you.
    "If a child learns which is jay and which is sparrow, he'll no longer see birds nor hear them sing."

  9. #9
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    Amen

  10. #10
    Registered User The Pecker's Avatar
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    Thanks again everyone for your replies. I've got a couple of questions:

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr JJB
    The only way I can stop those is to address the stress itself - I've never been able to control the physical reactions on their own. But some people might have found tricks...
    I guess I'm just a little confused on what you mean by how to address the stress itself. Do you mean that you address the stress that causes those physical reactions, but not the physical reactions themselves?

    Also, Sperzel - how long after regularly performing did it take you for this problem to go away? I've been playing typically 2-5 shows every month for about the last 4 months, but it hasn't seemed to improve.

  11. #11
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    Well, there was a period with my former band when we performed very regularly. I guess it took about 5 shows to get it under control most of the time and about 10 shows for the problem to completely disappear.

    I was still nervous before the shows mind you! But in a good way.

    I have talked with a musician who has about 25 years of experience in the buisness who still feels very nervous before and during performances. But rather than trying to make it go away, he seems to embrace it. He tries to convert the negative feelings into something positive, too bad he's not a member of this forum so that he could give a better insight in this technique.
    Why do today what you can leave for tomorrow?

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Pecker
    I guess I'm just a little confused on what you mean by how to address the stress itself. Do you mean that you address the stress that causes those physical reactions, but not the physical reactions themselves?
    Yes, that's what I meant. So the pieces of advice I gave were all about dealing with / minimizing the stress, and nothing to do with finger / hand technique.
    I guess breathing exercises are a bit of a grey area in that respect, because they do deal with your psyche, but don't really address the sources of stress directly, which is why I haven't included them and believe they aren't really effective (at least not for me).

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