Can a bad gig…be good?

by | Jul 19, 2017 | Articles | 10 comments

Go back in time for a moment, and think to yourself of performance that…didn’t go quite so well.

Perhaps you lost the form.

Or played some notes that raised a few eyebrows and grimaces from the audience.

Inevitably, that little voice appears from inside your head.

“See? I was right – you’ll NEVER be good at this! Here you go again, screwing up on this tune yet another time…”

What happens next…

Sweaty palms.

Shaking hands.

The feeling like you just want to run away from the bandstand.


I’ll be honest with you…

I’ve been in this situation many times myself.

In fact, it nearly crippled my career.

Upon getting advice about performance anxiety, the general consensus was: “Just keep doing it – you just need more experience! It will get easier…”

But it didn’t get easier.

In fact, every gig that passed by resulted in me getting more and more self-conscious, and I started to second-guess my abilities.

Here’s the thing:

I’m not the only one that this happens to.

A lot of people end their professional musical careers or leave music entirely because of the crippling effects of performance anxiety.

The worst part?

Performance nerves suck out the enjoyment and passion that drew you to music in the first place.


It doesn’t need to be this way.

After training in meditation and mindfulness, I realized something.

The way we view a situation tends to reflect itself back at us in what we experience.

The attitude and philosophy you have towards performing, and the results of performance, is critical to how you experience it, and the results you end up getting.

So, here’s my philosophy:

When it comes to performing, there are no failures – only feedback.

There are only two types of performances really:

Either your performance was 1) a great performance or 2) excellent feedback in order to prepare yourself for your next great performance.

Sometimes the gigs where you flake out are the ones where you learn the most. These experiences are actually the stepping stones you need in order for you to get better.

If you happen to have a bad gig at some point, some time afterward (over a calming cup of coffee), pause and reflect.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Were there any triggers that made me nervous?
  • Was there something that was distracting me?
  • If I couldn’t remember the form or had a blank slate when it came to improvising, are there any aspects of my practice technique that needs improvement?
  • How was my attitude on the day of the gig before getting on the bandstand?

Questions like this can be the genesis of you becoming a better player. And these questions can only arise when you’re faced with challenging gigs.

So in the end, it’s our attitude that can either turn towards negative performance experiences into failures OR the seeds of successes.

So what’s the result of adopting this philosophy towards performing?

I don’t tend to get performance anxiety very much anymore, and if I do, I can manage it effectively without it negatively impacting my performance.

So, give it a try.

Next time you do a gig that doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, sit back and reflect afterward – it may be the best guitar lesson you’ll ever have.

Now the exciting bit:

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The best part:

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 Over to you…

What are YOUR top tips for keeping your cool on the bandstand and recovering from mistakes?

I would love to hear from you, leave a comment below to share your thoughts…

Keep on jazzin’,


Greg O’Rourke,
Founder, Fret Dojo

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  1. Bernard

    I used to play drum’s and never got nervous, but I got so much more nervous when I had to play guitar or sing, I realized over time that this only happened when I was unsure of what I was doing, I played a couple of sets of material that I knew well, stuff I could play all day with my eyes closed , It’s taught me to not take material to the stage till I am totally comfortable with it, that way I can relax and enjoy the experience.

  2. Mark Bauer

    I have experienced everything you discuss in the article. For me, however, my nervousness comes almost exclusively from not being able to play as well as I would like. I can play reasonably well, but my standard is all the greats. I find it difficult to forgive myself for not being as good as the greats, even though I know factually that I only do this part time. People will say, “wow you sounded great!” and my gut response is, “but not as good as….Wes, Joe Pass, Grant Green, etc….” I’ve gotten better at just saying thank you, but it’s still the thing that I struggle with. I guess I just need to learn to be happy with where I’m at while still working to get better. A delicate balance.

  3. Paul Harty

    One of my folk heroes from teenage years was seated in the first row at one of my gigs many years ago. When I saw him, I froze, and I turned in a nervous, bad performance. I am sure that the gentleman in question did nothing to create that situation. After that night was over, though, I promised that I would never allow myself to be shaken in that way again. So I learned a lesson there. So it goes.

  4. jean-Michel BONNY

    You are a great guy, so human and understanting!
    Thanks a lot
    have a nice day

  5. Luke

    Very good points and true. Even the best have bad days. We are only human
    regardless of any ‘guitar god’ appellation given to you. We make mistakes. Every
    performer who has spent any time on stage knows the pitfalls of looking at
    that beautiful looking woman in the audience and forgetting the lyrics that you are
    currently singing.

    Touring can be exhausting. If you are not sufficiently rested before your performance, it is easy to loose focus and concentration during the performance and loose track of where you are in the set list. Start playing the wrong song, or singing the wrong lyrics. We’ve all done it. The main point on stage is do not grimace, or acknowledge the mistake, but keep playing. Most people do not have the trained ear to catch the missed note. Those that do will quickly forget about it listening to the rest of the piece.

    Most performances are filmed today. Everyone’s got a cell phone with video
    capabilities. At the end of your performance, you can generally go to youtube
    and see your own performance within a matter of minutes. If you can afford it
    hire your own filmmaker, or videographer. Film your own performance so that
    you can look at it later to see for yourself what you did right and what you did wrong. Everyone is a critic, but you will always be your best judge in knowing
    what you were trying to do versus what you actually did on stage.

    Everyone misses a note now and then, but a bad performance is always a
    combination of different things. Was it that good looking girl in the audience?
    Were you just too tired to care, or give a good performance? Was it too much
    alcohol and/or drug use before stage time? Do you need more rehearsal time
    for that new piece? We must always remember what no one likes to talk about on tour, the occasional bout of food poisoning, or diarrhea. That can give several
    hesitations in the middle of the performance, or abruptly end it.

    Always remember the basics:
    Think ahead.
    Plan ahead.
    Get ahead.

  6. Benny

    Wow, this article really resonated with me, Greg!

    I know that feeling of performance anxiety only too well. The only way I know of coping with this at the moment it strikes is to try ‘square breathing’—looking at a square or rectangular object (such as a window, notice board or door) and starting at one corner, then slowly moving one’s gaze to the next corner while also slowly inhaling, and then on to the next while exhaling, and so on. This is all pre-gig of course, I’ve never done this during a performance!

    Post-gig, to try and move beyond the feeling of disappointment (to put it mildly), I had previously come to the conclusion that our best learning can come from—what at the time might seem like—our worst mistakes. However, I really like your philosophy of viewing performances as either good, or good feedback on how to improve for the next; it is much more positive and I am definitely going to try this.

    Thanks again for your good advice Greg!

  7. Neil Saunders

    Nearly 20 years ago I found myself playing in a covers band in London, England. I’d played in originals bands and done a lot of jazz gigs, so this seemed no big deal to me.

    I can remember my frustration when we seemed to be rehearsing endlessly (it was probably only about six weeks), before we played a gig. Our bandleader took us through “easy” tunes endlessly, homing in on the tiniest details.

    I stuck with it, despite my misgivings (and a serious desire to strangle the bandleader).

    And Lo and Behold! When it came to doing gigs, for the first time in my life, I had NO stage fright!

  8. nicholas

    Of course to err is to be human and it happen to anybody, you jut simply have an “off day” — but why ?

    An old mentor has said:

    You have to be honest and ruthless with yourself and find reasons why ?

    was it indigestion ? — too many cheese burgers or jalapeno pepper pizza ? or you upset about something — music is conveying emotion after all

    or was it lack of preparation: practice ; revision; neglectedf dynamics to bring out emotional colours and sensitivities of the tune ?

    or have you played the tune so many times it is so boring now and your playing is pedestrian; too robotic ( you sound like artificial intelligence;
    with a boring monotonous -amplified tone ? — which too awful for the ears — you call that music !!! )

    many say that music is a language: it has letters ; words vocabulary ; sentences and importantly “punctuation” – you want to blurt a stream of words with no structure — also how much must ” you say ” for the audience to appreciate the live music — otherwise you just become muzak — background music , am awful feeling.

    I accidentally found this web site with some new perspective on performance anxiety which may help.

    but it helps to have a cosmic perspective and not to get too caught up strumming chords …

  9. I.S.G.

    As a solo performer, before a show, I remind myself that once I strike that first chord…as a result…something good has always come my way. Either an additional opportunity, met someone interesting, shared a celebration in the audience…the list goes on. Something good has ALWAYS happened.
    This gets my mind off of the material and allows me to get excited to see what new adventure awaits.

    I start with the same song…short… one I’m incredibly comfortable with (warm-up)…then it’s off to the races.

    Don’t focus on the material…look past that…to the beautiful experience you positioned yourself to have sharing the performance. I promise, something good will always happen… music is the greatest language in the universe.
    SMILE…Be thankful, not worried.

  10. GadjoGypsy

    Making a mistake is going to happen even if rare.

    The key is to carry on and not think about any error. I play gypsy jazz and you don’t have time to think about what you’ve done but rather about what you are going to do.

    Another is if I’m not having a great day before the concert then on certain songs, I’ll play simpler lines or progressions.

    Lastly, make sure to eat allbeit light otherwise concentration is sure to go.

    I always keep telling myself to make sure the audience sees that I am enjoying the concert and with energy as this has an effect on them.


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