How I became able to perform freely as a guitarist

As a composer, guitarist and singer I used to hate playing solo in front of people for fear of being ridiculed and wanted to smash up my guitar whenever I made mistakes! Despite this, I would often get enthusiastic feedback from my audiences. This went on for a number of years until I realised that something had to change: either I gave up being a musician or worked on feeling free on stage so I could appreciate what I was doing as much or more than my audiences, despite “imperfections”.
In a nutshell: I took a firm decision to become free and 2 weeks later was offered the chance to play with a Bavarian comedian/musician celebrity on state television for whom I had done recording for his CD previously. At first I told him (Willy Astor) that I was busy on that date but after putting the phone down I realised this was an excellent opportunity to achieve my goals. Despite fear I called him back, to confirm that I was actually free, and committed myself.

I forced myself to play much harder solo pieces in front of unofficial audiences as much as I could before the gig where I was to play a simple accompaniment. The concert went really well and all the musicians were likeable and easy-going. I wasn’t nervous and could hardly believe that! This lead on to further gigs at 4 of the most famous venues in Munich and surroundings, including a further TV performance and audiences of between 1500 and 2000. In the middle of all this I had envisioned my final goal of feeling free, playing a challenging solo piece of my own in front of 1000 people, for example in the flamenco style. Just after this and without having mentioned any of the above story to my colleagues, the main guitarist in the band said that I should do some improvisation at the next gig! I knew this was another fantastic opportunity and took it gratefully. It went well I wasn’t nervous!

After this performing solo became a breeze generally speaking but it wasn’t until about 4 years later that I realised I had achieved my goal after having performed 3 fairly challenging solo compositions of my own in front of 1000 people at a church for the funeral of the brother of a girlfriend who tragically died young whilst snowboarding. It was freezing cold and the church and I had to use hand warmers but I was both touched and happy to support the family of the deceased and was completely free in my mind as I performed. This was an unexpected backdrop to my goal but it also taught me yet again that when one focuses on providing value for others, it is perhaps the best way of feeling free as a performer, rather than concentrating on achieving a high standard per se, free from any imperfections!

When is positive thinking positive?

 

Positive thinking is an extremely powerful technique to use, in order to redress the imbalance of perception in our lives. Negativity can act in a crippling manner; it can imprison the thinker in a small world, seemingly limited of choice and free will. It can stifle creativity. It can suppress courage that is much-needed to confront bad habits, in order to transform them into thoughts and actions which are in harmony with our well-being.

 

We have all heard phrases such as, “how full is a glass of beer? Half full or half empty?" It is true that there is too much negativity in the world today. I might not like it at first when the weather is atrociously wet and stormy during my free time, where I had planned to go for a bike ride. But if if I focus on the fact that I can get some chores out of the way in one fell swoop: tasks that were hanging over my head for weeks – then I can feel great about that. People lack hope, in my opinion, because they are used to either letting information that causes negative thoughts and emotions, just take effect, or they suppress negative information by switching off from reality and thus don't experience the great possibilities of transformation through confronting the problem head on and finding a solution with resolve.

 

Positive thinking can alter the belief system of the observer. If it is used effectively with visual imagery and association with positive feeling, we can actually reprogramme our subconscious into a more pleasant state. We can relieve stress, vanquish recurring nightmares, quit smoking etc.. However, it can also be used to dangerous excess. If we are fearful of negative thoughts, and want to escape from them, we will perhaps find temporary refuge with the use of positive thinking, but we are simply hiding from ourselves – that is very counter-productive.

 

We may try to do this by rationalising, rising above the negativity with pure resolve, or letting go. I believe there is a danger in trying to escape from negative thoughts. We should basically learn to live with them, as a normal part of life, but not be dominated by them. Negativity has a very useful function. It allows us to see what makes us tick. It gives us insights into our belief system, which is not always very apparent because we are not always conscious. If we can learn to face this negativity, to dive into it and find out where it's coming from – from time to time – then we can use it to our benefit and transform our lives. We can use it to become stronger. What we don't want to do is become obsessed with it, or stagnate with it.

 

Nobody really wants pain in the end, but it enlightens eventually. There is such a thing as obsessive positive thinking which stems from fear of pain. Pain is part of life, whether we like it or not, so we better get used to it and just make the most out of it. If we flee from pain – switch off from it by suppressing it, it will come back at some point through the back door, possibly many times magnified. The suppression or bottling-up of emotions always backfires eventually, in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Creating a bubble of distorted reality is not where we really want to head towards. I have experienced my greatest realisations and leaps in development via my most intense suffering. For that I am grateful – how could it have happened otherwise?

 

The implications of the suppression can manifest in any number of ways. One example to illustrate, would be how the sense of compassion is numbed, when we avoid feeling any pain whatsoever. It is certainly my experience, that when I have been through a period of suffering, I can understand others who have been to the same place and give them sympathy. This is a form of sharing pain which creates bonds and a sense of belonging between people, as long as it is eventually understood as a means to transform the suffering. If you can accept pain, you can share it with others as a learning experience. It needs to be felt, nonetheless. Without courage to confront our fear of pain, and therefore look pain straight in the eyes, we won't be up to liberate ourselves more than in a superficial, temporary way. Sometimes this process can be achieved alone, but it may need the guidance of a good therapist or other experienced healer with a solid reputation for success (that person will have to be compassionate and understanding themselves!). It all depends how far the distortion has developed. Switching off may seem like an easy option, but it becomes psychopathic if neglected. That's why so many dreadful deeds are committed in the world today, yet everything is so often accepted – described as normal, human nature, just the way of things. Don't be fooled.

 

We live in a world of seemingly endless bad news. This can be overwhelming for those who have not yet discovered that we can stay connected – instinctively, intellectually and emotionally –  with the whole network of life AND we can dive into the Abyss of Hell and come back with a new-found hope.

 

Don't be afraid of pain and fear, because we are stronger and can go beyond it. Just make sure to find outside loving help if needed. We can reach out to our brothers and sisters in distress AND dive into the ocean of positivity and good vibes.

How I became a singer through a fighting spirit

Back in the days where I wrote my first songs, I hated my voice. I saw myself as songwriter and guitarist but never a singer! I tried working together with a male singer for a short period in Scotland before moving to Germany. I had to record my voice with my song-arrangements, so as to give him an idea of the vocals I was looking for. It ended up as an embarrassingly thin, unconfident and out of tune sound to my ears. He told me I should stick to playing the guitar and I agreed promptly.  Any singing career was seemingly buried for ever in that moment!

Once in Germany, I continued to write songs and embarked upon an endless search for the perfect singer. I heard many styles and levels of accomplishment along the way, from both female and male voices, but I was never satisfied. I knew what I wanted –  a clear, highish pop voice –  but nothing fitted the bill entirely and sometimes there was a chemistry problem.

After a few years I did discover a singer with a voice that came about as close to my expectations as was acceptable. She was easy to get on with, too, and we seemed to have a large amount of common musical ground. So we started a project together which began with a covers programme (she believed in that strategy of slowly introducing original material into the repertoire in order to be able to get gigs – I didn't agree particularly but saw no other option than to follow this plan).

We did a few concerts and put a lot of work into it, both being perfectionist, and I had a lot of optimism for the future regarding our project. She forced me to sing some songs at gigs myself, which in turn showed me how with practice I actually could produce a reasonable sound, at least for a few numbers! I began to think I might be able to pull off singing one or 2 of my own pieces myself, so I started going to an open mic to practice these songs even though I was pretty nervous about it. This was my first, small breakthrough.

Then one day we were due to rehearse for a gig the next week at the same bar that also held the open mic. Quite a number of friends were enthusiastic about coming. She came round to my flat and informed me that she could no longer work with me due to a number of reasons including not having enough time for her own band. Also, she said that the bar owner at the open mic venue had replaced us at short notice because some New York jazz star happened to be in town and available on that evening to perform himself. The first bit of news made me very sad and disappointed. I saw the loss of a great opportunity and waste of hard effort committed to our duo. The other news angered me greatly: Even if we were an “unknown" act it was totally disrespectful to simply discard us and so late in the day.

However, that same evening the open mic was happening, and with as much determination as I could muster, I resolved to play 3 new songs there as I had planned before the bad news. I felt abysmal: severely let down, disrespected with that selfish business practice, low in energy and still hyper-nervous about singing on stage! But I dragged myself down to the bar and sang those pieces! I amazed myself like never before, I don't think I had ever felt so liberated. I can't remember if I sang particularly well, technically, but I didn't care about that aspect. At night, in bed, I couldn't get to sleep for ages. I was simply astounded, hardly believing that I was that person who acted so courageously. It felt completely alien to me. It took me about a day to come to terms with my new-found strength. And then I had a realisation in the typical fashion of a light being switched on: I was able to sing all of my songs myself and that's exactly what I do now with joy and a great amount of satisfaction!

I have often since encouraged others to adopt a similar approach when they feel imprisoned by a fear of embarking upon a dream, or aren’t able to see their own potential. One example was an amateur fiddler who went to a celtic session almost weekly but put herself down amongst the "much better" professionals so much that she barely lifted her instrument to play herself. I forced her to ignore her voice of fear, and simply get on with it. Only 1-2 years later she was already a passionate, happy performer in front of any crowd!

Once you start the ball rolling in yourself you can inspire those around you to break free.