Stage fright, or performance anxiety as some call it, is sometimes a problem for even professional guitarists. I only play before small groups of people yet I tend to mess up the simplist pieces. As these easy tunes are the first I play in my repertoire, the rest of the performance is an anxious time for me and my audience.
Reading through a post on this subject on the Delcamp guitar forum I picked up this invaluable piece of advice which I paraphrase as, ‘Do not stop or even pause when you make a mistake. Smile and keep on playing even if you have to doddle around just a little before you can pick up the line of music again.” The person giving this advice then went on to point out that few people in the audience are likely to know the piece you are playing, and even fewer will pick up the fact that you made a mistake.
I tried this out the other day when performing for a group of about twenty people in a very casual and supportive environment. Sure enough, I made a major boo-boo in the opening set of three very simple pieces. Instead of pausing I simply added a few bars of improvisation in the same key and then picked the tune up again at the start of the section where I bombed. The result was that my confidence rose immediately and I was able to play even the hardest pieces without major problems. After the performance, I asked someone in the audience if she had noticed anything odd in the piece in question and she said that she had not and had enjoyed it.
Here is a video demonstration by Laura Oltman and Michael Newman on the Strings by Mail’s lessons section that makes the same point.