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Guitar Teacher Stories: The Fear of Getting up on Stage

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By Len Collins
Guitar Breakthrough the Guitar Tuition Program that gives your playing a future

I love dreamers and it falls to me to be a dream maker. Often behind the dreams there is a lack of courage, a strength to see it through. The missing courage is not from lack of faith or talent - although sometimes there is, sadly, a lack of talent. But hard work can build the talent if the will is there. The courage we need is built on confidence.

Sometimes overconfidence is as much a problem as not having enough of the stuff. People see you as pushy and often arrogant. So what are we to do?

Too little and we never leave the bedroom. Too much and we get sent back to the bedroom until we calm down. Both leave you staring at posters that fill the walls.

The answer is knowledge. This is not surprising, as it comes from a guitar teacher.

Here's the story of a seemingly shy student.

Most people don't like going on stage because of the fear of turning into a person-shaped jelly impersonator with a bright red face. Auditions for a band or being asked to suddenly play live and having nothing ready are other problems to be faced.

The students I teach learn by example and by encouragement. All are too young to have known me when I started out as a guitarist but all of them have watched Guitar Breakthrough flourish and grow in reputation. This is important because I feel that a guitar teacher must preach what they practice and that music is a doing thing not just a learning thing.

"Join a band!" I insist as soon as even a vague hint of tonal control comes from the instrument.

"No, not yet," often comes the reply.

"When, exactly, are you going to do it?" I ask quietly.

I battle this corner along with music reading and a whole host of useful tools that I know my student will need to survive.

"Someday, or never." They say trying not to look me in the eyes.

Let me tell you the story of K.

K was (and is) a very shy girl when it comes to standing up in front of people. She has a lot confidence in her playing as long as it is contained inside her house. K would never sing to me.

Every Friday during her lesson K would put up with my version of singing. This is a punishment for all those who refuse to do it for themselves.

The singing thing is so very important. It made me into the guitar player I became.

Right from the start I enjoyed playing and singing to whoever would listen. This was in the really early days before the fear of getting onto a stage got to me. I was safe in my room.

What I didn't understand was the pained look on the face of anybody watching my first efforts to perform.

I didn't think I was playing that badly.

"Do you have to sing?" Someone asked politely. It wasn't a question as such more of a request.

"Chords don't give you the song. I'd just be strumming." I said crossly.

"It does seem a better idea. Why don't you try it." There seemed to be a strange pleading look in their eyes, so I stopped singing until they had gone.

Time passed. I could read my music and my first band was improving. Then came another step forward in my progress. We had a really great rehearsal; everything was falling together instead of apart. By the time I had walked the mile or so home I was buzzing with excitement. I went straight into my room, set up the gear and started to play.

The disappointment was huge. Without the band my rhythm playing was empty and uninspiring.

Sulkily I began to work out the bass line for one of the songs, and enjoyed playing that for a while when a thought occurred to me. Why not add a chord into the spaces left by the bass line.

So off I went…

Bass / chord bass, bass, bass, chord.
Bass / chord bass, bass, bass, chord.

It worked! I was a musical amoeba. Where there was one now there were two. I got out all my music books, played the melodies and into the gaps went the chords. The knowledge of how musical things went together was already in place in my head. The linking of the notation and chord structure was easy.

The world was a better place. I didn't have to sing and people could listen to my music.

Back to K.

One day I arrived 10 minutes early for her lesson and as I approached her house I could hear a beautiful country singer singing a song that I had never heard before. When I knocked on the door the singing stopped and K answered it with a slightly embarrassed look on her face.

"Was that you?" I asked looking over her shoulder into the house.

"Yes." She whispered.

"Did you write the song?"

"Yes." She said.

Over the next few weeks K wrote at least seven songs between lessons. Some were truly brilliant and the rest were very easy listening. A plan began to form in the excitable region of my mind.

"Let's play these songs somewhere. It will be fun." I was getting even more excited. People who know me know that this is not a good idea as it leads to all sorts of complications but always a great result.

"No, I can't do that. I'd be scared silly." She strummed agitatedly at her guitar. For a while the lesson settled down to some sort of normality.

K would look at me, I would smile and she said, "NO!" quite a lot.

One week later, I asked K if she had thought about being in a band. She shrugged in a very noncommittal way. At least she had stopped saying no, or so I believed.

"Yes, I have thought it over and the answer is still, no." K seemed glad to have said her piece.

"What about the other nine?" The look of mischief in my eyes was matched by the puzzled look on her face.

"What other nine?" she asked.

"That band. I've put a band together for you. You'll have lots of company on stage.

"No, I couldn't." She said. I noticed a brief glimmer of excitement, which passed quickly.

Another week, another lesson.

"Do the others still want to do it?" was the first thing K said after I had arrived.

"Oh yes. I've booked a theatre." I smiled a wicked smile.

"What!" She cried. I should point out here that K is a very placid person and shouting was not part of her make up. I explained about the charity gig that I had set up; all of my students were bristling with anticipation and were taking part. As I left I mentioned that the theatre holds 300 people.

Here we go again. I'm standing outside K's house ringing the bell. It's time for her next lesson.

"Alright. I'll do it. I don't want my name plastered all over the place, though." She said as I handed her the program for the gig, which unfortunately had her name in capital letters on the front page.

The gig was a huge success. We raised a lot of money for the local hospital and K had the time of her life. We all did. Two more gigs followed. The third had a much smaller band and K dressed in a short black skirt and was totally fired up. This was the best performance of all of them. After the performance K said she was getting married and wouldn't be playing live any more. That was fine. She had played in front of many hundreds of people, made fine tapes of her songs (all lost, sadly) and enjoyed herself. But before she finally called it a day, K and I played together once more, at her wedding. That is, as they say, another story.

The moral of this story is, get on stage, play live and enjoy the experience of performing. K did, and whenever I meet her she still talks about it.

Len Collins
Guitar Breakthrough the Guitar Tuition Program that gives your playing a future

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Guitar Teacher Stories, The Fear of Getting up on Stage