The Canadian Guitar Forum banner

Tell about your experience getting the "Shakes".

2545 Views 20 Replies 18 Participants Last post by  Big_Daddy
I thought this would be fun since it came up in another thread. I like to think I've had some experience in front of an audience but it still happens to me once in a while when I get all thinking about everything and guessing at other people's expectations. Thankfully I guess it comes with experience that nervousness can be dealt with and I enjoy the rush.

Here's my 2 best to get it going:

Playing at my Nephew's Christening; I was playing a very simple piece of Classical music in front of about 400 people. I'm doing great and I look down at my Sister to notice her watching me, my hands start shaking so badly I had to slow the piece down to about 3/4 speed to finish, luckily the Minister carried my Nephew around the Church for the Parish so the slowdown appeared planned to finish with the Minister's tour.

Doing a short solo between the speaking for a radio advertisement; It was about 20 years ago. I knew the producer really well from some other projects in the past and I wasn't busy, and I think he wanted to get me. This was the first time I'd done any studio work that wasn't for myself. As I'm walking in to do my take he says "remember to get it perfect, this isn't like playing live, your playing will be preserved forever". I was done, I had to let someone else do their track so I could settle down and get it done. And when I see Bill now he still rubs it in.
1 - 20 of 21 Posts
NOt the shakes. It only happened the first time I played in front of a crowd. My whole body felt just like my foot had fallen asleep. All remember is that I survived and managed to play with few mistakes.
I don't get the shakes, I get the palm sweating. It used to be so bad I had a hard time holding the guitar.
I totally get the shakes no matter how comfortable I feel. So much so that I have to turn my back to the audience if I take a drink of water or beer. If they see my hands shaking they'll know that I'm just as afraid of them as they are of me and I can't have that! Haha.

It doesn't affect my playing so much, but when I take my hands off the guitar it's very noticeable. I always figured it would go away after I played enough shows, but that hasn't happened. I just chalk it up to adrenaline because I'm really sensitive to it. I must have a super twitchy fight or flight response.
I think you have to learn to laugh at yourself, then you don't get stage fright. Screw a solo up royally (what key was that again?), and do an 'oops'.
That's the thing, dwagar- for most of us it's not "fright". We choose to go play shows in front of people, unlike in grade 6 when kids nearly pass out because they have to speak in front of the class. For me (and I'm sure quite a few others...) it's just excitement and adrenaline. I get the same thing when I go to boxing class. My hands won't stop shaking for a half hour afterwards.

Oh yeah, and when I'm playing the drums, it's my right leg instead of my hands that gets all twitchy and starts bouncing up and down like a sewing machine. Cracks me up every time. I guess it just chooses whatever limb is free at the time to express itself. Haha.
Paul said:
I never get the shakes. There are 1000's of guitar players better than me, (and that's just here in Brantford), but I got the gig for a reason. I've had my share of clams, (anybody every start "Soul Man in the key of Eb, only to have the horns come in the key of E??), but so what. There are enough other guitar players out there who think I don't belong on the stage at that moment. There is no value in adding my own internal voice to the destructivley critical.
Great attitude, Paul. I wish I was more like you in that regard. I'm currently reading through 'Effortless Mastery' and one of the things it stresses is exactly what you're talking about. After all, in the grand scheme of things how bad are a few screwups on stage in comparison with the really bad things that can happen to anyone on any given day. We're supposed to be having FUN - it just doesn't seem like it sometimes.
Only happened once to me. 1971, a recital at the Grand Theater here in Kingston. I was 13 ,playing a 5 string banjo and wearing an afro and purple and white bell bottoms. (I got a picture of it put away some where). Guess I was in my Jimi phase. First time in front of a crowd and I was scared shitless. Been fine ever since.
I don't much get nervous or shake when I'm playing, oh maybe a little skittish at first if I do a puff right before. Never had a problem getting up in front of an audience to speak, just wing it, when I'm on-stage, I'm in control, actually more nervous in-between sets, fear of some drunk f-in knifing me.

Tarl! Find that pic and show us!
"He got caught in the spotlight, but when he gets to the end, he wants to start all over again" -J.R. Robertson
Ain't that the truth.

My problem is the yips....I rehearse until my fingers bleed, then blow my favorite riff....
Michelle said:
Tarl! Find that pic and show us!
If I find it and get it digitally scanned you folks will be sure to see it. I know I have a few of me playing at St Lawerence College with a bluegrass band I was in at the time. I was 18 and wearing a blue polyester cowboy "liesure suit" with matching hat. Had to dress like the older guys in the,s a good un......LOL
My first stage experience was in grade 3 and I was scared witless. I couldn't see the audience because of the lights. Soon after that I began singing with 3 older brothers in a barbershop quartet on a regular basis and I began to love it. We sang at shows around the Maritimes and New England, did radio and tv, and even appeared at Expo '67. By the time I started my first band, at age 14, I was well broken in. However, to this day I still get what my mother called "butterflies" before I go on. Its not fear but a warm feeling in the gut. The body preparing for the task at hand. Its important to be relaxed, especially if your a singer, it'll leave you short of breath if your nervous.

The audience and performer tend to reflect each other. If your apprehensive, so is the audience and vice vera. Its up to you to break the ice with the audience by saying hello and try and get some response before you start playing. People who haven't played live may not realize how the audience can become your energy source and propell you beyond what you thought were your limits. The better the band plays, the more the audience likes it; the more the audience likes it, the better the band plays. :rockon: and on and on....
See less See more
Every single dam time. My picking hand tenses up and my fretting hand starts shaking like mad. It gets hard to fret anything. But it usually goes away after the first song on stage.
Most of the time as soon as I strap on the guitar it all goes away. But I would say I still get that butterfly sensation while I'm walking up to strap on the guitar. I have done lots of live over the years, mainly local pubs etc, and now getting out weekly it tends to go away and a comfort zone sets in.
But that is mainly because we are becoming fixtures in the pub....:D
I find that I get the shakes when waiting to go on. When I'm finally up on stage, it all goes away, which is good. It's not nice playing when you're all shakey.
bluesician said:
Alcohol or drugs will not eliminate the shakes...anyone that tells you differently is telling you THE BIG LIE.
So true. Then you're both drunk AND shakey, which isn't a great combination. Haha.
Performance anxiety

Playing music on stage is not a problem for me in terms of (shakes) which is performance anxiety because you're up there with other people in front of an audience. When I was in a classical guitar program at College playing at jury time was a stressfest...and I did shake somewhat. You're alone playing in front of a few people (which I think is harder)and they are scrutinizing every note and move.
I learned after the first one to do some deep breathing exercises and jump up and down to get the blood flowing. You can actually turn those nerves in your favour if you dont fight gets worse if you do. I still get butterflies every now and then if i havent played live for a bit. I also knew a guy who's solution was a little different. He'd show up for juries half corked....hahaha
and he did surprisingly well.
See less See more
What's shaking? Me!

I just had a fairly severe attack of the shakes. About 2 weeks ago I was at the bluegrass jam circle...when it came my turn in the circle to play I managed a turn through the lead line fairly well. Feeling happy with my new found lead playing ability I attempted an improvised solo during my next turn. Things started off pretty well for about the first 3 bars and then the shakes started. My hands were all a fluttering and a trembling. That was pretty much it for channeling self expression through the guitar so I just laughed it off and tried to keep going. I played a lot of coloured notes.

This was the first time I have ever experienced the shakes to this degree. I played saxaphone in various bands for over 10 years, blowing solos (to tolerant parents at concert band recitals) since I was in grade 8. I played bass in an original rock band for a half dozen years to some pretty good sized audiences (and some really small ones). I have spoke in front of all kinds of people ranging from a few hundred agitated blue-collar workers to executives who could ruin my career if they didn't like what I had to say. The butterflies never made it from my stomach to my hands quite like this before.

I have always gotten a charge out of playing live, and have enjoyed that rush of adrenaline that reminds a person they are still alive...this was just the first time I experienced it to that degree. I love guitar!
See less See more
Performance anxiety is a fascinating thing. It's your body's biological response to stress. Someone here put it best by saying it's your "fight or flight" reflex. You are stressed, your body floods with a bunch of chemical compounds, and suddenly you're not yourself any more. Motor skills, perception, mental function, they're all a bit different. It's like being in an altered state.

I haven't performed live since I was in high school. I recently took up the guitar well into adulthood, so I may try to play that live some day soon. The thought brings up all those high school anxieties. I used to play sax in the big high school band, and that was no problem. I'd sit there with the whole group and play my part, almost anonymously, no big deal. But I also played in a small jazz group, and also once as a duo. I remember those performances as bizarre out-of-body experiences. I remember going on stage, I remember the people watching me, and I remember coming off stage. I don't remember hearing a single note I played. I was usually well-rehearsed, and by all accounts I played well, but hell if I remember hearing any of it. I would be so much in that atlered state that I would barely be "present" for the performance. It was thrilling, but I can't say I enjoyed it. And that's probably why I stopped doing it.

Over the years I've had similar problems with public speaking and making professional presentations. I've had one spectacular meltdown where I couldn't even complete my part of a presentation from the overwhelming anxiety. But years ago I had an experience which put things in perspective for me and gave me a new approach to performance anxiety - I got my pilot's license.

It may seem unrelated, but stay with me here. Learning to fly, as you can imagine, involves an element of stress. You want to get your "performance" right. There's lots of people watching you, including an instructor, aircraft controllers, and everyone else around the airport. Not to mention, mistakes result in much more than being embarrassed, and you usually won't get a second chance to get things right. I found that this experience really taught me how to handle that adrenaline rush, and control my fight-or-flight reflexes. When you fly an airplane, you have nowhere to run or hide, and no way to end the performance, except by taking control, doing the right things, and getting on the ground safely, no matter what fear or anxiety you may encounter.

My instructor gave me some of the best advice I'd ever gotten in this regard. As I was learning to land, I'd come in on the approach, hands clenched, face drawn, trying to control the airplane's every movement, the very picture of tension, anxiety, and almost terror. He said to me, do you enjoy flying planes? To which I responded "I love it!" And he'd say, "Then why don't you smile? You don't look like you're having a good time." I'd laugh at that, and immediately feel the tension leave my body. It sounds simple and stupid, but a laugh or a smile floods your body with compounds in the same, but opposite, way, that fear and anxiety do.

I started doing that every time I came in for an approach. I'd get set up, reflect for a moment on the utter awesomeness of what I was about to do, and I'd smile. My grip would relax, my breathing would get slower and deeper, and my mind would clear. I'd become present in the moment and actually ENJOY what I was doing. All with a simple smile.

Corny? Yes, 100%. But I started doing it at the beginning of job interviews. And speeches. And professional presentations. And it works like a charm. Instead of the fight-or-flight reflex, I try to initiate the "stay-and-enjoy" reflex. I find I'm able to look at my audience, read them, respond to them, and when it's all over, I can remember how it went, and improve my performance for next time.

I don't know if this is going to work for playing the guitar live... when I actually do it, I'll let you know.

Sorry for the long post, I hope it's useful to some of you.

--- D

(Edit: I just realized I revived a two-year old thread. I hope there isn't a caning penalty for that. It came up as a search result for something else I was looking for!)
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 1
1 - 20 of 21 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.