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Are you afraid to play guitar in front of other people?

by Johnny

Be honest. Are you afraid to play in front of other people?

You’re not alone. Lot’s of guitar players, young and old, lock themselves up in the bedroom because they feel insecure about their playing. They get anxious when it’s time to show off what they’ve been practicing so hard on for weeks. And the anxiety shuts them down COLD.

I personally know what it’s like to feel insecure about yourself. For me it used to be with looks. But it doesn’t matter what area it is, it’s not a good feeling.

Listen, it’s going to be hard to give you a quick fix for that (there ain’t one). But I’ll tell you something that may help.

A long time ago…

…when I was still in school and much younger, I was very unsure of myself. I looked to everyone else to make decisions and tried my best to just fit in. And it was a losing strategy. The insecurity never went away, while the situation only got worse.

You see, while everyone else was taking on the challenges of life (and growing because of it), I was still stuck in my shell. I tried to play things safe so that I would never have to “fail”, never have to look bad, never have to face criticism.

But that never works. Not if you want a fulfilling life. You have to fail sometimes in life. That’s how you get anywhere. That’s how you allow BIG things to happen. By not holding back. (read this until you get it)

Think of it this way…

You have three basic choices in life:

  1. Succeed by doing the difficult and failing a lot (fail less if you don’t hold back)
  2. Settle for less, and rationalize it (most common choice)
  3. Look for shortcuts (choosing crime, violence, get rich quick schemes, buying effects to cover up sloppy playing, etc)

The only real choice is number 1.

Number 2 will leave you with a life full of regrets, and number 3 is not worth it because any success you get usually doesn’t last long.

So that leaves choice number 1: Doing the difficult.

Learning the guitar is difficult. That’s why people are impressed when you can play it.

Putting yourself on the line by expressing yourself on guitar is difficult. That’s why people respect you when you can do it 100%, even if they don’t like your stuff.

Lady Gaga

Not caring what other people think is difficult. That’s why Lady Gaga (and before her Madonna), Kanye West, and Miley Cyrus, regardless of what you think of their music… are all huge stars. None of them care about fitting in or being criticized.

You see, it comes down to…

HOW BAD do you want to become the guitarist you know you can be?

Are you willing to put aside your ego and look stupid sometimes?

Because I guarantee you WILL. Not always, but occassionally. And there’s no way around it. You will screw things up at least some of the time while getting to where you wanna get. Success is NEVER smooth. Don’t believe for a second you can get exactly what you want without some pain along the way. Real life don’t work that way.

Unfortunately, I found that out the hard way. By choosing number 2, settling for less than who I could become and pretending it was okay, I never let myself play guitar with absolute freedom. To play the way I wanted, for me and nobody else, no matter who was watching.

One day I realized what I am telling you now:


And that’s the honest truth. Yes, it’s a tired old cliche, and yes, you’ve probably heard it a million times. And hell, maybe right now it still sounds like a load of B.S. to you.

That’s cool.

But do yourself a favor: Take an honest look at the people who actually GET what they want in life.

If you do, you’ll see that what I just said… is dead on accurate.

Ask yourself this question: Do YOU still care? Are you still listening to what other people say instead of ignoring 99.99% of the chit-chat… and going for yours anyway? In life and with your music?

Few people are. Most are still letting the mere possibility of being judged STOP them from letting go with their playing. Stop them from creating the art they are capable of.

But here’s the thing: people will love you one day, and hate you the next. It’s always changing based on the smallest of things. Things you really can’t control it. Someone could have just had a rough day at work and she will say your music stinks. BUT… play it for her after she gets a promotion… and she’ll think it’s the best thing she’s heard all year.

Most opinions about music are meaningless nonsense. They don’t matter at all.

I mean, think about it. Even the biggest baddest no-B.S. guitarists who ever picked up the guitar like Hendrix, Yngwie, SRV, or [insert your favorite guitar player]… Even THOSE dudes get criticized… constantly.

Are you telling me you’ll somehow escape being judged when even the “Guitar Gods” ALL receive a ton of negative criticism?

Exactly. We both know that’s impossible. There’s always someone who won’t like you. And it’s usually the people who are most jealous of you, seriously. That’s life.

Are you really going to let your self-confidence be controlled by something as fickle as other people’s opinions? To have your confidence fluctuate up and down like a roller coaster over a few ignorant comments?

Because if you do, you’ll never be in control. Other people will have you by the balls and you won’t ever know the freedom and peace of mind of being your own boss.

Maybe you haven’t realized something yet: Nobody really gives a damn about how much your playing stinks.

It’s YOU who really cares. Everyone else is too busy thinking about themselves, and they will probably quickly forget any screwups you might have by the next day.

How many concerts have you been to? And from all those concerts, how much do you remember people screwing up tiny things in their playing? Or were you instead too mesmerized by the experience of seeing someone perform his heart out on stage, too distracted by the girl with the huge chest pushing up next to you, too drunk to even notice that the guy missed the D note in his solo by a mile?

Nobody gives a damn. And neither should you.

Do your thing. Play however the hell you want because you want to. Realize that you at least have the balls to tackle something as difficult as the guitar.

Always remember this:

You are the baddass mofo who picked up the guitar… stuck with things when they got difficult… and overcame challenges that have caused 90% of other people to immediately quit… in order to play things how YOU want.

That’s who you are, and you should be goddamn proud of it.

And if you screw it up every now and then, well then you GET TO. Because people who call the shots in their own life can do whatever the hell they want, as long as they’re not disrespecting other people.

And you’re not. In fact, you’re doing people a FAVOR by playing them music. Music that brightens up their day, and gets them in a good mood. That takes their mind off of their boring or stressful lives. That’s giving Tom and Sally a chance to get together after watching you do your thing on stage (or anywhere).

Understand this: Music is a gift.

And it’s VALUABLE. They ought to pay you money and shower you with thank yous, much less criticize you. Realize that you’re not doing anyone any favors by holding back your art. Give to the world, and you will see the rewards of doing that.

And you don’t have to do things overnight. Just make it a goal to bust out of your shell and kill your insecurity over time.

You see, half of this is about training. Everything from guitar to your personal insecurities, is about habits. If you’re used to feeling insecure in the area of your playing, chances are that’s not going to change overnight. You have to slowly TRAIN yourself to become more and more comfortable in situations where you get anxious.

Do small things little by little that push you out of your comfort zone.

Maybe start by recording your music and sharing it online. Once you get the hang of that, then maybe try a video. After that, then maybe play for your friends. Then maybe at the park. Then maybe at a bar for money…

You get the idea.

That’s how I became free. And that’s how you’ll do it too: Step by step. I slowly pushed myself to do things I knew would initially give me some anxiety, but that would make my life better if I did it. Things that would make me grow, but where I also might get criticized, might fail, or might look stupid.

Realize that those are usually the EXACT things you need to being doing, right now. And trust that as long as you know what you want, and listen to the only opinion that matters, Your OWN…

…you will eventually get everything you want… in guitar playing… and in life.

I know you will. And I have no doubt about it, because I was once in the same situation too, many many years ago.

I wish you all the best.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna October 3, 2011 at 2:53 am

I love your articles. Thanks.


Sara October 22, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Thank you for the great article. I have been very shy for years. I can’t even play that well. I start and stop but it’s my dream to be able to play well. I just get nervous because I don’t sound that great but I’ll keep trying until I get it and then maybe take up your suggestion of playing with other people.


Laurie January 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Wow , everything that you are saying is so true. I’ve taken on board, some of this stuff and now apply it to all the areas in my life, especially in the areas where I would always consider what other people thought. . Now I dont give a s..t. If they think my guitar playing sucks, who cares, I’m gonna play and enjoy myself despite what they think. So a big thank you for opening my ears and eyes to what really matters. My guitar is out of the case and I’m rocking…With a big smile on my face..


tom January 18, 2013 at 7:23 pm

It would be nice to get a website going where performers who have difficulty playing in front of others could do so live (via skype maybe)


Milinga January 27, 2013 at 7:53 am

Hey Johnny

Thank you so much for your time to open my eyes and my heart. I’ve been playing Guitar for sometime and I had the feeling of music that I can share with others but I had no confidence or I felt insecure,

Thinking what people will say for my music or if I make mistake?

but after readind this I feel confidence and…


Julio November 19, 2014 at 4:51 am

Hey Johnny,
I will keep this article with me and read it time to time- it gives me a much needed confidence boost for my insecurities which have made me lose lots of opportunities to share my music live and I feel I have a lot I could share with my musical expression. I’m on YouTube under JulioRojas89 if anyone would like to comment or give pointers.
I hope I can overcome my stage fright eventually and feel the same joy playing for others as I do playing by myself.
Thanks again…


Ana January 7, 2015 at 7:10 pm

This article is a life lesson, it applies to everything we are engaged doing or planning to do or dreaming about doing. I feel like I must read it all over again till I really get it. I’ll print it and leave on my bedside table.
Thank you very much!


Dublin June 6, 2015 at 8:07 am

Even the guitar God’s recieve constant criticism…..


calvin morgan January 18, 2016 at 8:03 pm

I here you my friend. Its either I get out the music and energy within me or I cant live with the feeling I am nothing to the world. I am not a show off but I just got this thing inside of me that needs to break out. Cant live this way much longer. Something going to crack.


Nicholas June 16, 2016 at 9:53 am

Dude I am so good at guitar I can play Jack The RIpper by link wray as good as he can its just every time I play in an audience I get scared and stiff asf hopefully I get my shit together


smokieman16 June 23, 2016 at 2:54 pm

thanks for this article please leave it up forever it helps so much with everything youre the best please


Manoj February 12, 2017 at 9:07 pm

Thank you so much Johnny ,for this article, I was really feeling low with my own playing getting worse while on stage and fingers shaking so bad .
I will continue and build confidence step by step.


Kenyon April 18, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Very motivated to play guitar tomorrow after reading this article! Thanks very much!


Foxey September 2, 2018 at 12:03 am

Been taking lessons with an EXCELLENT teacher for 2 years. Only play in front of him or with my husband in other room. Really want to play well. I am 50+ years old…first time ever picking up a guitar. Tonight…for the very first time I played what I have been learning in front of 5 family members. One of my family members had his bass guitar. It was exhilarating and frightening as hell. I couldn’t remember anything… not one song! He must have seen my look of despair and started playing random bass riffs. So I started doing minor pentatonic scales with bends and hammer ons/pull offs with his riffs. Basic. It probably sucked…but I didn’t care…it was so much fun. I was so into listening to him and trying to musically respond. ..guess I forgot. First step!


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