Confidence is an essential element of good performance. Confidence allows me to go with the flow, to let my body do what it knows how to do--sing and play the guitar. For me, confidence is not just an attitude. It is not based on being sure I can give a perfect performance. It is faith that I can cope with what comes. Confidence comes from having successfully coped with mistakes, forgotten lyrics, failed sound systems, poor monitors, and a host of other distractions.

Confidence's greatest enemy is fear--fear of not remembering lyrics, of not playing the guitar parts well, of not achieving the vocal quality I want, of not being in sync with my fellow performers, etc. The mind can come up with a seemingly endless series of things to be afraid of. 

When I came back to on-stage performing in 2007, I signed up for an open mic at Canon Mine Coffee Shop in Lafayette Colorado. I practiced a few times for this gig but was very apprehensive about being able to deal with all the unknowns--remembering lyrics, coping with poor feedback from on-stage monitors, or dealing with distracting crowd noise. The open mic slots are 20 minutes, which for me is enough time to do about five songs. There was no sound check, and when my turn came, I could not hear myself in the monitor. The crowd was noisy and inattentive. I launched into my first song, a John Prine favorite called Paradise, and after the first verse there was a total blank where the words for the second verse should be. I panicked. I played chords until I remembered the third verse and sang that. On the second song--one of my own compositions called Not a Soul to Hear Me Cry, I did pretty well with the lyrics, but my fingers felt like telephone poles and I couldn't do all the nice riffs that are part of this blues song. By the time I got to the last verse, the panic had risen to the point that I literally couldn't continue, so I just ended abruptly. With each terrible performance, I got worse. After four songs, I said thank you and left the stage, mortified.

Remember the old joke. "Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" " Sure. Practice, practice, practice." This open mic experience had confirmed the truth of this punch line.

Not only did I need to practice my material to the point that I could do it on "automatic pilot," I needed to experience bad sound systems and crowd distractions multiple times. I made it a rule to practice my set at least 10 times before each gig. I practice "fancy" and "plain" guitar accompaniment, so if my motor skills are not up to fancy today, I can effortlessly switch to plain. I played at a variety of venues and came to expect that there would always be some hassle to contend with and that I could handle it.

The panic has not disappeared, it is just laying low. Warming up loosens me up physically and steadies my breathing. During performances, I move with the music to lessen the chances that I will freeze up. I have practiced to the point that I can keep going no matter what. This gives me a certain level of detachment, and I know from experience that I don't need to give in to the fear that may pop up. I now have faith in my ability to roll with what happens and not panic at the first sign of fear. I've learned to dance well with fear as my sometime partner. With this faith, I can perform confidently.

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