I have spent the last 2 weeks looking at the power of positive thinking with my year 11s at school.
The last lesson finished with an interesting chat with a couple of them who had not completely engaged with the material. They had chosen not to as they didn’t feel that it would help them. They both had excellent reasons and could defend their thinking, which made for a good debate.
This variation in the way people approach life as a whole got me thinking about the musicians approach to going on stage. Everyone has heard fantastic stories about pre-gig warm ups, from full aerobic sessions, to the classic intake of vast quantities of alcohol, to my fave, Slipknot’s pre-gig vomit. It’s clear that there are a hundred ways to prepare yourself to rock!
I have the distinct honour of being married to a guru of positive, conscious thinking. She has taught me a ridiculous amount about both myself and others in the many years that I’ve known her and I try to apply some of her stuff when I’m going on stage.
I’m going to describe a few techniques and approaches that I have used in the past in the hope that they may be in some way useful to you.
This is a classic and especially good if you suffer from nerves.
When we are properly grounded we are less likely to be knocked off kilter if something doesn’t go according to plan. Being grounded gives us a sturdy, solid presence on stage that is tangible to our audience, it’s the first step of really dynamic stage presence. It also means that we can be fully in the moment, which is not only better for our audience, as we can genuinely connect with them, but means we get to feel the full force of enjoying our craft!
Find a quiet out-of-the-way place, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Lift your shoulders up around your ears and then let them drop down. Do this a few times until they feel really relaxed. Now focus your attention on your breathing. Locate your heart and feel it beat, it can help to put a hand there. Slowly move your focus down your body, pausing in each area to really get a sense of how it’s feeling. The aim is to get out of our heads and fully into our bodies, accessing all the latent intelligence within. If you locate any tension, stay there and breath slowly into that area until you feel it ease. Once you reach your feet, feel the point of contact between you and the ground. You are now going to imagine that your feet are your roots. They are sinking slowly into the ground, keeping you anchored and secure. This feeling will enable you to really access the best bits of your musical self and help keep the nerves at bay. Once you feel really secure which may take up to a few minutes, (and before you attract too many funny looks back stage) bring your awareness gradually back to the room, allowing your eyes to open, take a good deep breath in and out and take a purposeful step on stage!
Find your “Happy Place”:
This can be paired with grounding, or done on it’s own.
It’s pretty much self explanatory. The aim is to have a memory, thought, image, person or anything else that makes you feel instantly happy. It could be the memory of a fantastic holiday, a picture of your child, the smell of cooking bread, and so on.
Simply access this thing before you step on stage and spend up to a minute really revelling in the feeling. The positive feelings that you create will release endorphins, which will help you relax and make you more able to play and perform at your peak.
Choosing your state on stage: “the Haka approach”
Another way to get yourself hyped and ready to play is to use what can be called a ‘power phrase’. I find that wording a bit cheesy, but the idea is sound. The New Zealand rugby team begin every game with a chant called the Haka. It’s seen as a way to intimidate the other team, but in reality it is just as effective for getting the team into the right mind set. The people doing it have to focus their concentration on it and therefore clear their thinking of anything else that might get in the way of effective performance. By the time the game starts they are focused in on the game at hand.
This same thing can work before a gig. Find a sentence, phrase, chant, mantra, anything really. Repeat it over and over. You can do this at any volume. You might find shouting it helps, but whispering it might be just as powerful. Try to empty your mind of anything else and really focus on the meaning of what you are saying. Once you feel centered and ready, step on stage.
This can be really powerful if done by the whole group. Call and response also works well. For an example of this think of “show me the money” from Jerry Maguire or “What Team” from High School Musical. Yep I’m afraid I did just quote from HSM. I never claimed I was perfect 🙂
Post Gig visualisation:
This one may be familiar for anyone involved in sports. The aim is to picture yourself at the end of a really successful gig. Think about all the fills/riffs/high notes that sounded just right. Think about the tough bit in the 3rd song that you nailed. Try to add as much detail as you can to the picture to make it seem as real as possible. Then allow yourself to just enjoy the moment. Really drink in the feeling of success and that amazing buzz you get after a great gig.
Feeling good? Great, now step on stage.
This is a few ideas, of which at least one will hopefully be useful to you. Please give them a try and I’d really appreciate any feedback you can give me once you have, or if you have any of your own.