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Thread: Having trouble picking in public

  1. #1

    Default Having trouble picking in public

    Hi I been working on picking mandolin tunes on the mandolin and after lots of practice i can play some of them quite well in my living room, but when i try to pick them at a party or a jamm i cant do it, its like i don't know them at all I need any advice , or help i can get I'm desperate as to what i should do... tha
    nks

  2. #2
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Best medicine is to lose the desperation. Maybe Zen, or Yoga? Seriously though, you'll have to get past the anxiety somehow, because to play well, you'll need to be able to relax a bit in those settings.

    Your conundrum raises some questions: How often have you tested this by playing in public? If you feel embarrassed, chances are that you have not put yourself through it very often for fear of embarrassment. So you need to know that pretty much everybody feels a little tense about putting themselves out there, especially when they've only done it a few times and not been comfortable.

    Another question, regarding this - "after lots of practice i can play some of them quite well in my living room" - have you proven this by recording yourself? It's common for any of us to feel pretty good about music we can achieve alone, just as common as "choking" somewhat or finding playing more difficult when doing it in the presence of others - or recording ourselves (man I sound awful on a recording!) But to judge how you really sound and where you need to improve, you should record yourself. Often. This can help you find your weak areas, and can be used as an exercise to overcome jitters under pressure.

    Some tips:

    Before doing a "gig" or a jam session, do these thought experiments, and be very honest about them. Forget about my nudges in italics and make your own scenarios.

    1. What is the very worst thing that could happen to me during this "performance"? (Trip and fall onto my mandolin? Be unable to play a single note? Etc., just think about it.)

    1.b. If that happened, how would I handle it?

    2. What's the best outcome that I could possibly hope for? (Be asked to join a band? Score a recording contract? Etc., just insert your dream fantasy.)

    3. Finally, ask yourself what's most likely to happen? (I'll make some mistakes but I'll keep going. Some of these folks know I'm a newbie and they're on my side. I may do a decent job if I can keep my cool. I may feel embarrassed at some point, but I'll get over that. I'm in this for the fun.) You know, stuff like that, most likely.

    Another thing is to try and relax. Breathe. Shake off your limbs. Some people (including many professionals, as we all know) use a little alcohol or whatever. I'm not going to suggest how to do it, but really man, try to relax and get past the performance anxiety and have some fun.

    I hope some of that might help. You are experiencing a very common problem, and the best cure is to relax, have fun, and do a whole lot of this public playing so you can start getting just a few wins under your belt. Maybe try some busking when the weather is good, and play for strangers who'll mostly ignore you.

    Keep on keeping on!
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Okay, one more thing I forgot. You might get some help from self-hypnosis. Some people do, some people don't. I'm just putting it out there for you. You can get a program as an app for the phone, or as MP3 files for your computer, here: https://www.musicianshypnosis.com/

    I have no financial interest in that product. I have used the product. You can listen to the hypnotist's sales pitch in this video if you're curious:

    https://youtu.be/hF4uLLcWKaw

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    Peace. Love. Mandolin. Gelsenbury's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    This may sound glib, but learning by doing seems to work. The first few public performances are incredibly tough, but it really does get better and even becomes enjoyable quite soon - otherwise you probably wouldn't have any interest in doing it!

    Perhaps smaller steps will help. Recording yourself and publishing on YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud or any of the other services available may help because (a) you can still play in your living room and (b) you can choose the best of any number of takes. If you haven't done this yet, try it. If you have, then sorry for stating the obvious.

    You could also try a staged approach to who your audience is. If the local jam is too much right now, try something else first and come back when you're ready. My first "performance" was to my family at a Christmas party. It's not properly public, but gave me practice in getting it right for listeners rather than noodling on my own. Then at some point I recorded my first YouTube video, then I played to strangers at a friend's 40th birthday party, then I went to a few sessions and open mic evenings, then I went on a proper stage for a student event where I work and have done the same several times since. I'm still only a mediocre player and nowhere near getting a more public gig. But busking may be a next step. You, too, may benefit from trying different contexts and audiences to suit you. It's all part of the journey, so try to enjoy it!

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  7. #5
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Take a look on the DrBanjo website, search for ‘stage fright’. Very good article.

    Keep pushing to play with others. Dare to suck, it gets easier the less you care about trying to sound good.
    Play it like you mean it

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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Uhmm .... Not sure how to say this after almost 6 decades of playing (without, ya know, sounding like a total bufoon) but 4-5 years ago I went thru the same thing myself.

    Brief history, that does matter: Played guitar in several rock bands back in the '60s and '70s, the only really successful one being the first, at college. Later, played periodically with friends, backyard parties, but nothing formal or "organized". Eventually, got into mandolin, then a "mostly classic rock" regular jam session for 8-10 years (both guitar & mando), then joined a mandolin orchestra. THEN the stage fright hit!! Not that I was freaked out, but I occasionally, especially toward the start of a 1 to 2-hour performance, would develop a pick shake, sometimes, especially on a solo, just missing the dang string altogether. And the first mistake breeds the 2nd, and so on... Surprised the heck outta me. Yikes!!

    Eventually, I came to realize that my issue was a matter of WHO was listening to the performance, really meaning MY performance. My rock-bandmates at the same level as me? No problem. A bunch of of college students dancing while the beer flowed? No problem! A bunch of friends sitting around a campfire AND a case of beer? No problem!! A bunch of bar patrons dancing the night away while the beer REALLY flowed? No problem!!! A bunch of orchestra-mates, many of whom are classically-trained -across several instruments- and most of whom can sight-read some fairly complex music ... these people are listening to ME??? ... depending on ME to not screw up, and, as sometimes the only guitar, to set a modicum of rhythm for the rest to follow?? Me?? THEY are listening ME??? And my next mistake???? HUGE PROBLEM!!!

    To keep this shorter than it might be, I came to realize that it's only music and mistakes will happen; the majority of those are heard only by the person that made them, rarely by their bandmates (who are working to drown you out anyway!), and almost never by the audience. So there are two points in that one sentence: the "almost nobody notices" defence being a subset of the "strength in numbers" defense. After enough exposure, these add up to an attitude of "familiarity breeds acceptance", and you stop worrying about what mistakes you might make, and just let the music flow. Eventually, that next mistake hardly ever happens, and when it does, you come to realize that almost nobody knows or cares. That's when the music really works!

    Bottom line: The universal-around-here advice, reiterated above, to "play with others", hopefully not TOO far over your current level and in a casual situation, is probably the best thing you can do at this point. And, uhmm, I guess a beer or two couldn't hurt, either!
    Last edited by EdHanrahan; Feb-28-2020 at 9:23pm.
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Gosh. Ed must be older than me. I've been playing in public for probably 55 years, in one fashion or another. Mostly bluegrass, some jazz, little gypsy. Etc. I've been through the nervous terror stages. For some reason it's calmed down in the last ten years. I've realized, as said before, that most people don't notice a mistake because they're not paying that much attention. To put it mildly. They don't know the music or what you were intending to play.
    And if you (or I) blow a phrase, people aren't there to listen to perfection. They're there to listen to other humans play some music and enjoy being humans together, enjoying some music. Laugh together.

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    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Do any of your friends make music? Playing with another person instead of a group, might be easier for you.
    Do you play along with recorded music? If timing is an issue, playing with a recording can help.

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    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    I've played in a variety of musical groups since high school - folk, rock, bluegrass, swing. I also have experience in public speaking, usually in the form of educational lectures to other professionals. On occasion I've had performance anxiety, depending on the audience. In those situations, I always try to imagine that everybody else is in their underwear before I start and that mental image usually works.

    And I second the recommendation to play with others, especially with others who are better than you are and are forgiving of "mistakes". I participate in several jams where the motto is that there are no wrong notes.

  16. #10
    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Is there a slow jam near you? I get together with just a handful of players for our own little slow jam. Right now we are just working on six songs and picking long breaks together old time style. Picking together takes the pressure off. We will move to solo breaks when we get better.

    If there is nothing BG like that near you and you don’t want to start your own, perhaps an old time jam would suit you and help you with picking in front of others.

  17. #11
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    It's an audience thing for me, too; i find that the more people I don't know in the audience, the better I play! People I know or people who I know are excellent players? I'm perfectly happy to hide in the chorus, as it were. I also found that i'm much better playing with someone else -- anybody else -- than soloing. Duets? no problem. Trios? works for me. Orchestra or 10-member session where I have to start a set once or twice an evening and I've played with these guys for years? bring it on.

    That being said, there are ways to help. Eat a banana before you play. close your eyes or if you're looking at sheet music, keep your eyes on the music --it's easier to pretend you're playing at home with a recording if you can't see the audience. Learn to make mistakes in public. It's going to happen anyway, you might as well be prepared. I have a nervous tic that manifests itself as a smile when i hear a clam, either mine or another musician's. It's done me wonders in public. And remember the player's mantra -- one mistake is a mistake, two mistakes and it's jazz!
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    I know your pain. It just takes time. I started playing with a friend during social time before our Lions club meetings got underway. I knew 3 chords and basically faked my way through tunes. I was awful, but it was a first step to playing in public. As years clicked by, I have become more comfortable and can now do open mics with a small group and actually be relaxed enough to pull off a decent break. I relate to the way Joe Walsh (Eagles) said it. “When you’re starting out you’re gonna suck. As you play more you’re gonna suck less.”
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    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Sometimes overlooked is the the common problem that if you practice by yourself or with just one other person, when you play with others in a group you will have to adjust to what is likely a bit different tempo and rhythm than you practiced with. And the rhythm may change a bit throughout each song. It can make it feel like you never practiced the song - until you get used to playing it with others. The best cure I know is to find a slow jam and keep at it.
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    formerly Philphool Phil Goodson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    I agree with most of the above, but maybe this is a more structured approach to fearing that you'll screw up a tune or break:

    Instead of learning tunes exactly note for note from start to finish (and if you miss a note you're lost), also be sure that you know when the chords change. If you know the notes of the arpeggio of that chord, you can at least fake a few notes and not sound too bad, and this gives you a chance to find your place.

    Tunes always have "corner notes" or "necessary notes" within each line which make the tune SOUND correct. Although you don't consciously think about those notes all the time, if they're down in your psyche, you have a better chance to hit one of those notes at the right time and get back on track.

    These days I try to learn everything I do (not classical) by knowing what the tune sounds like and where the changes are. Then I just play the melody I'm hearing in my head. This means I almost never play a tune the exact same way twice, but as long as everybody recognizes the tune by the end of the phrase, everything's okay. And it's more fun.
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  22. #15

    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    thanks for all the tips , suggestions, ill be trying them what i meant to say was that i was learning to pick fiddle tunes on the mandolin...

  23. #16

    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Suggestions and answers given are very good, but I'd like to mention the issue of trying too hard when playing out. One aspect of this I've found is trying to be heard! Playing in your living room you don't have to play loud, but in a jam in a noisy bar and a large jam circle your living room volume may be inaudible (or it may seem that way). And so you try to play much louder than you play at home, but if you have little or no experience playing at this volume level your right hand may become stiff.

    It's hard to completely get over this, as it's hard to pick as cleanly at max volume, but of course playing in lots of jams will help as you'll learn how much extra volume you can add before stiffening up. You can also, of course, make sure you try at home now and again to play as loud as you can. But I think just hitting the strings harder doesn't necessarily make you much louder, and things like fretting and striking the strings cleanly and making sure you're not dampening the sound by your hand position also have an effect on volume. Finally, as has been pointed out in many other threads, others may hear you much better than you can hear yourself (this may or may not be comforting!).

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  25. #17
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Hall View Post
    Do any of your friends make music? Playing with another person instead of a group, might be easier for you.
    Do you play along with recorded music? If timing is an issue, playing with a recording can help.
    I agree with Jon on this.Play with a few friends, get together regularly. Ideally they would be close to your level of playing or maybe a little higher.

    If you don't have friends who play the kind of music you play then get to know some of the musicians at your local jams and ask them if they'd be willing to get together and work on a few tunes each time.

    BTW a lot of the posts above seem to assume that the OP is gigging. He/she does not say that and only mentions parties or jams.
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  26. #18

    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Yea jim thats right, but thanks everyone for all your help and suggestions i got lots to work on now, and its good to know im not the only one who has this kind of problem.. t.y. all for taking the time to help maybe someday ill try to post a tune....

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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Early on, playing in public is a divide by 3 ordeal. What ever you think you can do - divide by 3

  28. #20
    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    I've been playing for years, decades. By now even if things go wrong, I no longer feel bad about it. But that doesn't help much here. What I've found nowadays is that when I learn to play a new tune at home, I can't always play it in public, even if I start the first few bars well, I might stumble over some later section, and either brush it off and continue, or sometimes just stop.

    What is my solution? When playing in public, if I struggle with some new piece, I switch to a different tune, something I know inside-out, upside-down, forwards, backwards and sideways. I mean, something I've played many, many times and it's embedded in my memory, not just intellectually, but my fingers know it too.

    So the suggestion is to focus on just having one single tune that you play at home, over and over, not just on one day, but day after day, over a period of time. Of course it is necessary to learn more than one tune, but having something solid and dependable in your repertoire really helps when placed in a public situation.

    Another thing which helps is having someone else to practise with, if you can play at home with a friend, whether they play mandolin or guitar or some other instrument doesn't matter much, though playing with a guitar accompaniment works well. The idea is to venture into some public situation not alone, but with both musical and moral support from someone else. This works even if you then switch to playing unaccompanied on one or two pieces.

  29. #21
    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    I used to think a drink helped. What alcohol adds in relaxation it subtracts in cognition and everything else. At some point I learned to tune out the audience. It's just me and my mandolin, and the people I'm playing with. You might think it's difficult or even impossible to tune out the audience, but it's actually pretty easy. Which would you rather pay attention to, the frowning guy in the third row (who might be digging it so much that he's frowning with concentration, or because he has gas, or because he's mad about it being hard to find a parking space), or the music? I know it's easier said than done but try it. Try it at practice, especially if there are other people sitting around, listening in. Your focus should be, firstly, with your playing. Then, with how you're blending in with the other players. The audience is really incidental. Forget them until the piece is over.
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  30. #22
    Registered User wreded's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Quote Originally Posted by Randi Gormley View Post
    And remember the player's mantra -- one mistake is a mistake, two mistakes and it's jazz!
    How many times have I spent an entire set playing "jazz"

  31. #23
    Registered User SincereCorgi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Playing at a jam can be really stressful because it's the toughest possible audience- amateur musicians. Pros have the confidence not to care, the general public doesn't even know it's not a little guitar, but there's nobody more likely to be to be quietly critical and hyper-vigilant about whether you missed a note that somebody who's just a tiny bit better at the mandolin than you are. They don't say anything, of course, but there's an atmosphere. It can be very stressful but you can't put your finger on why.

    So having said that- playing for an amateur jam is as tough as it gets... and it's not that bad. Just keep showing up and try to put yourself in the hot seat as much as you can. Record yourself- if you can't get through it for your phone, you probably can't get through it in public. Ask your spouse/friend/mandolin teacher if you can play a tune for them, and learn to make friends with that feeling of nervousness and to try to be worthy of their attention. Pretty much everybody goes through some version of this, you gotta just accept the initial ego-damage and put the work in.

  32. #24

    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    Quote Originally Posted by wag1943 View Post
    Hi I been working on picking mandolin tunes on the mandolin and after lots of practice i can play some of them quite well in my living room, but when i try to pick them at a party or a jamm i cant do it, its like i don't know them at all I need any advice , or help i can get I'm desperate as to what i should do... tha
    nks
    Practice more...sorry its not an easy answer. You most likely don't know the tune as well as you think you do because when you get with others it falls apart. With continued practice and jam attendance this gets easier and actually becomes fun.
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  34. #25

    Default Re: Having trouble picking in public

    There are lots of different ways to remember a tune, numbers, letters, fretboard map, notation patterns, tab numbers, pitch by ear, muscle memory in the fingers, by resemblance to other tunes, by... well you get the picture. It’s not simple. The point is that when you play it in public you may/will be in a different frame of mind emotionally and rationally.
    So one way that may help is to learn to play by reading notation, tab, by ear, on different instruments (all in fifths) and in lots of different settings. I think if you do that with just one tune it can overlap to others.
    Then play the tune in public for yourself, it’s your tune, enjoy it -most people (thankfully) enjoy seeing someone else enjoying themselves!

    Reacting to the audience can come later.

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