by Linda Ratcliff
Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it.
That is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to CONQUER fear.
– Dale Carnegie
Face Your Fears (at home)!
It will surely happen eventually if you attend jam sessions. The lead will go all the way around the circle and finally, to your dismay, it will be your turn. You try to laugh it off and pass the lead on to the next person in the row, but the others won’t hear of it. They are insisting. It is your turn to take the lead and they want you to get started.
Even though you aren’t literally on a stage, you are immediately struck with stage fright. Your mind goes blank and you can’t even think of a tune you know. Your heart is racing, your mouth is dry, your voice is shaky, and you are blushing, trembling, and sweating all at the same time. As a matter of fact, you think you might just pass out.
To overcome your fear of leading a tune at a jam, I recommend that you practice for that moment. At home … alone. And you say, “How on earth is that going to help? There’s no pressure at home, and no consequences for mistakes. If I mess up, I can just start over again.”
Well, what if we created some consequences for errors at home too? Now, I’m not suggesting you be locked in the closet for an hour every time you play a wrong note. But there are things you can do to increase the level of tension at home, and that will get you more accustomed to playing under pressure. This process won’t eliminate mistakes you might make because you don’t know the piece well enough. But it will reduce errors you make simply because you are so nervous.
Here are suggestions that may sound silly, but I promise – they will work.
- Play a game called “Almost Home.” Make a little game-board on a piece of paper with 4 to 8 boxes. Name the first box “Start” and the last box “Home.” Then divide your tune into 4 to 8 phrases, matching your game-board.
When you play through the 1st phrase perfectly, advance a coin one box. Now play phrases 1 and 2 together. If you make a mistake, you move the coin back to square ONE and start over. But if you play those two phrases perfectly, advance the coin one box, and try to play the first 3 phrases in a row … advancing the coin one box each time you succeed, but back to “Start” each time you fail. The closer you get to “Home,” the more the tension will build as you try to play the entire tune correctly and move the coin to the last box at “Home.”
- Set your iPad or cell phone up to make a video of yourself playing the tune you would play at a jam. Pretend this is a video that is going to be on YouTube for 1,000’s to see.
- Practice with and in front of another dulcimer player or family member.Play tic tac toe with that person, but you can only make a mark on the tic tac toe board if you play a section perfectly. Otherwise you miss your turn, and the opponent can fill in another box.
- Fake it ’til you make it. Have you ever seen someone’s face when they’ve made a mistake? Even if your ear didn’t catch the wrong note, you know something happened by the horrified face. Practice playing all the way through, even if you make mistakes, but don’t flinch. Make a video of yourself to be sure you’ve succeeded.
- Practice in the dark. One thing that often throws me off is, when the lighting is different from what I’m used to at home, I can’t see my strings. Get used to playing without having to visually monitor every move. Teach yourself muscle memory.
Well, that’s about all the ideas I can think of. Do you have any suggestions?
As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Steve or myself.