The following is an excerpt from the Modern Drummer book Mind Matters: Overcoming Common Mental Barriers in Drumming, by Bernie Schallehn
Releasing The Pressure Of Sitting In
Q: Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, I was fortunate to play with a band that had a couple of regional hit singles. Now when I’m at a party or a wedding where there’s a band playing, someone always asks me to sit in. The bandleader inevitably introduces me as some sort of “rock star,” even though it’s been years since I’ve felt anything close to that. I take a seat behind the kit, and feelings of dread and an almost paralyzing anxiety set in. I think everyone is watching my every move and expecting me to play something flashy. When the song ends, even though I receive applause, I feel I didn’t meet expectations. Any advice?
A: You’re under no obligation to sit in, so why put yourself through the agony? You can always say you’re not in the mood to play. But I’m guessing you’d ultimately like to be able to sit in and truly enjoy the experience. Two things are ruining that possibility: fear of negative evaluation, and erroneous thinking.
Let’s pretend you agree to sit in and you struggle from the first bar. You’re rushing and dragging, blowing fills…
So what happens then? Are you sent to Siberia for ten years of hard labor? Of course not. I’m sure you beat yourself up for a while afterward, but nothing really bad happens. And here’s the real kicker: Some, or maybe even most, of the audience never even noticed your mistakes or your anxiety. But because your erroneous thinking had you believing that all eyes were glued to you, you manufactured a huge fear of being evaluated negatively.
Although someone’s eyes may be looking at you, don’t assume that he or she is thinking about you. More likely, the people at the party are worrying whether the kids are okay at home with the new babysitter, or they’re plotting a dance with a bridesmaid.
Of course, a few musicians at the party probably watched intently as you flubbed your way through the song. But so what? It’s over, and you’ll get another shot at playing again. Everyone can have a bad day once in a while. Just learn from it and move on. Next time, try to focus on how much fun it is to be able to play music and entertain your friends, even if you don’t have the same panache you once had.
“Releasing The Pressure Of Sitting In ” originally ran in Bernie Schallen’s bimonthly Modern Drummer advice column, Mind Matters. The series was developed to offer creative advice, strategies, and solutions for mental issues that are common among aspiring musicians. A number of Bernie’s MD articles, along with exclusive, previously unpublished material, have been compiled in the book Mind Matters: Overcoming Common Mental Barriers in Drumming.