PHIL KEAGGY - Grammy nominated and seven-time Dove Award winner, is one of the world’s great guitar players and a pioneer in contemporary Christian music.
- March 24, 2017
- Guitar 101
Knowing how to play guitar can be difficult, even if you have some natural talent. It is very interesting to see how an audience can shut some people down. Some find it easier to play in front of thousands than to play in front of a dozen. Playing in front of friends and family can feel even more paralyzing. Playing guitar in front of people takes some careful planning and plain ole guts. The first few times you do it, your nerves may get the best of you and that’s ok. You can expect cold sweats, shaking, and maybe even some grosser symptoms. After you get past this critical and defining moment, if it doesn’t kill you, you’ll be on your way. Let’s break down how to play guitar in front of people into 5 easy steps.
Step 1: Be Comfortable With the Music
No matter what your age is, you should work really hard to know the music you're playing. You may be a student doing your first recital or a teen playing your first church service in the praise team. Knowing your music is step #1 and it will be the difference in your feeling at peace rather than losing it. Not completely knowing the music will leave you feeling unprepared and it will make you sound bad, even if you're not that nervous. The audience needs to believe that you know how to play guitar.
Rehearse your tunes until you can play them without the charts or you can close your eyes and play them perfectly. Then have someone talk to you while you play them. Have them ask you questions like: How old you are, where you live, what’s your phone number and stuff like that. The distraction can actually help you focus in and play the songs better over time.
Step 2: Play In Front Of A Mirror - How to Play Guitar
When you have your songs figured out, stand in front of your dresser mirror and play them to yourself. First, watch your hands and the way you look with the guitar, then focus more on your facial expressions. People know if you're having fun or not. They can sense your nerves and the tension you’re feeling. Play in front of a mirror until you convince yourself of your ability to pull off the songs. Don’t just stare down at your guitar, either. If you know the music and can look straight ahead at the audience and smile once in a while as you play, people will enjoy your playing. If staring people in the face creeps you out, just stare above their heads and smile at something on the back wall. Eventually, eye contact will get easier and you’ll be fun to watch and listen to.
Step 3: Play For Friends and Family First
No one is as critical or as forgiving as your friends and family. They’ll tell you the truth. If it sounds bad or you’re not ready, they’ll let you know. Honest criticism is exactly what’ll make you work harder. When your friends and family applaud with sincere appreciation, you’ll know you’re ready to play in front of a crowd of strangers for the first time.
Don’t let your friends’ and family’s smirky looks or fake smiles discourage you. You’ve got to convince them that you know how to play guitar. Show them that you’re called to do this. It may not be easy because they know you, but they’ll be in your corner if you make a good impression. If you actually get through the first tune without a mistake or having to start over at some point, they’ll react in a positive and affirming way. Take a moment to breath and take it all in. It’s very rewarding to have your loved ones applaud for you.
Step 4: The Day of Preparation - How to Play Guitar
It goes without saying, but you need a good night's sleep the night before the big day. Get up and have a good breakfast, make sure your body is working alright, and go for a walk or get some exercise. You want to feel well so that you can focus. Try not to eat a greasy burger or pizza an hour before the set. That could be a disaster. Run the songs in the morning and again an hour or so before the set. Then, relax as best you can.
When you get set up, take 10 minutes unplugged and play through the tunes one more time or at least work on the hard spots. Now, you’re ready. When you get on the stage, take a second to look at the audience and acknowledge them. Smile and say hello with your eyes if you recognize someone. If you have to speak before the recital or performance. Keep it short and sweet. Announce the song and just begin. Build up places in the tune where it gets really simple and you really know it. Look up at these easy moments and smile, then go back to it. You don’t have to do this more than 2 or 3 times in the song. It helps you to connect and others to believe in your performance. If you’re shaking, remember to breathe. You need oxygen. Start with the easiest song you do and get your nerves under control. Then, progress as you gain your confidence. Drink plenty of water but make sure you use the restroom before you get on stage. Let your hands take over and don’t overthink it.
Step 5: The Critical Video Footage
Good, bad, or ugly, you got the nerve up and did it. You know how to play guitar in front of people, sort of. Hopefully you made sure you had a friend with a phone or video camera who got every note you played. Tell them to get your whole body during the performance. This is the best thing you can do for yourself after a performance. Sit down and watch yourself multiple times. Make notes of everything that you like and dislike about your performance. Count the times you looked up and be critical on your appearance as well as your playing.
When you have your honest assessment, redo the set a dozen more times in front of your mirror and get ready for the next live performance. Work on your weaknesses until you are convincing to yourself. Do this religiously from gig to gig and don’t get sloppy or lazy. It’s really up to you. How far you go as a guitarist is determined by how disciplined you are.
There’s not much more to it, but if you are typically an introvert, you’ll need to work harder to overcome your nerves and inch your way to feeling comfortable on stage. However, if you are generally comfortable in your skin, you may find it comes easier for you to entertain. Just don’t go too far the other way and distract from your guitar abilities by clowning around on the stage. Nobody likes that either. Think of it as 70% about the music and 30% about the visual performance.
The guitar professionals at Pro Lessons know what it’s like to be a novice guitar player with a dream to hit the big time. Online guitar lessons are a great resource to have when trying to improve your playing ability. Find out how you can take advantage of our affordable lesson plans by clicking on the link below.