Musicians: getting over stage fright

Richie Beirach and I are about to release our new book called Teaching and Learning Jazz.

As a promotion for the book’s release, we will give away as a bonus our first book called A Framework for Jazz Mastery.

But we wanted to provide more with our new book, so we added a chapter to Framework dedicated to the subject of stage fright, or performance anxiety. I’m hearing a lot lately about huge numbers of people who suffer from this type of fear.

Throughout his teaching career, Richie has helped many students get over debilitating stage fright, and within this chapter he shares his own past getting over stage fright and some unique tips for helping you.  

Here is a short excerpt from that chapter. This is one of the stories Richie tells about helping students when he taught at the Mendelssohn School in Leipzig Germany.

I was living in Leipzig, Germany, and teaching at the Mendelssohn School when I heard a knock at my front door. I opened it, and standing there was a young man. He told me his name was Robert, and he asked for a piano lesson.

I respected someone showing up at my home unannounced, so I invited him in and asked him to play something for me. He sheepishly admitted that he couldn’t. This 17-year-old was too afraid to do that.

I said that if he couldn’t play for me, teaching him would be impossible. I thought for a minute, and then I told him that I was going to take a quick trip to the store and that I’d be back shortly. In the meantime, he could play my piano to get used to the instrument and the surroundings.

I walked out the door, but instead of going to the store, I stayed outside listening to Robert play in what he thought was solitude. What I heard was an exceptional talent. He could swing and express himself beyond his years. He needed to work on his technique, but I was very impressed. This kid had talent and was very musical.

I came back into my house and admitted that I had been listening. I told him that he played very well and that I would take him on as a student.

When I asked him to play again, however, he couldn’t. He was still too scared. So I raised my voice. “Why did you come here for a lesson if you can’t play for me?” Of course he had no good answer. He tried again to play, but it was stiff and lacked the emotion I had heard while standing outside my door.

I told him that if he were to become a professional musician, he would have to overcome his fear. As an intermediate step to get him to play to his potential, I told Robert to play while I heated up some soup in the kitchen. I told him I would barely be listening.

Eventually he got more confident, knowing I was in my house but not in the room with him. Finally I went in, and in an uncompromising tone, I asked him, “You really want to be a jazz musician and play for people?” He said he did, so I said, “Then play for me now or get out.”

This was the kind of tough love that I experienced from my own mentors. I discovered that people don’t learn unless there is emotional impact in the message. In this case, it worked because he knew I was serious.

In the end, Robert did overcome his paralyzing fear, and he became an accomplished and prolific jazz pianist and composer.

Give me your name and email so that you can download a preview of the book and be notified once the book package is released.

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