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  • Justin Zhi Wong

First Time Performance Tips For Guitarists

One of the most exciting things about music is the ability to perform, and to showcase your guitar abilities to your family and friends.

It feels amazing to be good at guitar, and to show others that your guitar lessons and your disciplined practice is paying off.

When I first started performing live music, I definitely felt nervous.

Who was going to judge me?

What mistakes were I going to make?

Will I play my best?

These were questions I had no answer of.

Now imagine those questions appear before, during and after the performance.

By consistently performing in bands and solo, I began to develop a three step framework to approach every guitar performance. Here are three tips to overcome those performance nerves, and present your best self on stage.

  1. Practice for the performance stage

Choose the song/s you are going to perform in front of others and then pretend you are on stage.

Film your whole performance.

Practice how you will introduce yourself.

Play through the song once.

Say thank you to the audience.

Watching over the video should be a good part of your practice routine as a guitarist. It’ll help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Maybe your guitar chords were accurate.

Perhaps your strumming was out of time.

Maybe you need to slow down the tempo on your YouTube backing track and pay attention to your guitar technique.

This video feedback is invaluable in helping you focus your practice habits, set goals for guitar lessons and gain confidence on camera showing your best self.

  1. Forgive your mistakes

The truth is most performances will involve a few mistakes.

During my first ever high school performance, I dropped my pick, broke my guitar strap and had to play standing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on top of a chair.

I asked my classmate after the performance how I played guitar, and he just shook his head in a disappointed manner.

Since then, I have learned that all I can control is how I practice guitar, learn from my mistakes and forgive myself for doing things wrong.

Music is an expression of art, and part of art is showing our imperfections.

Guitar is exactly the same.

I’m glad I have a guitar teacher like Cam Bird who can coach me through these hard times, take guitar mistakes on the chin and grow into a versatile guitarist.

  1. Smile and have fun!

You’re playing the coolest musical instrument ever - the guitar!

Whenever you make a mistake, smile.

When you are playing that guitar riff, smile.

Move along to the music.

And when you look at the camera during filming, smile even more.

As I say to my guitar students, performance is all about transferring energy to the audience.

And I want to be like my guitar idols: Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Santana, Slash - those inspirational guitarists that made me feel something and helped me re-discover what the word ‘fun’ meant.

Music has that power to inspire ourselves, as well as others.

If you transfer positive energy through open body language (shoulders back, smile, looking at the camera), it’ll definitely boost your mood, your confidence, and how people see your performance on the guitar.

These three tips definitely help me on stage when I’m performing on guitar or singing.

I hope these tips are an encouraging reminder to go for your dreams as a guitarist and realise your musical dreams!


Justin Wong is founder and guitar teacher at Leaders of Rock, a music school in Melbourne, Australia that takes beginners from garage to stage in 6 months on their chosen instrument.

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