It’s difficult to know how we come across on stage or what we look like, until we watch our concert in its entirety, not just the pieces we played, but how we walked on stage, how we bowed, talked, stood up, walked off… There is so much more to being a performing artist, than simply playing the guitar.
So let’s start from the beginning. When you first walk on stage, that is the first time the audience is going to see you, and first impressions matter. Smile, walk confidently to your chair and take a bow. Don’t walk too fast. When we are on stage and the center of attention, the natural feeling is that time is passing too slowly, and we feel like we are taking too much time doing any activity. Our adrenaline is also rushing, so the perception is that everything is slower than it actually is. To counteract that, we end up walking too fast, talking too fast, worst case – even playing too fast. Be aware of how fast or slow you’re making your way too the chair. It’s not a race, the audience is there to see and hear you. After you walk on stage, if there are still applause by the time you make it to your chair, take a bow. If the applause have ended, or you can tell they are quieting down, just go ahead and sit down.
How you bow is also important. I have seen too many very awkward bows, from experienced and not so experienced players. For dancers, the bow is perfectly choreographed and always looks elegant. For us, it’s not always so black and white, but it’s a lot simpler than some of us make it seem. So here is a step-by-step: when you are ready to take a bow look at your audience first, preferably smile, then start bending forward at your waist and at your neck until you can see your shoes, stay in that position for about 2 seconds, then straighten out and look at your audience again. Your bow is not complete until you straighten out and look at the audience, and smile. Once you start bending forward, you should not look at the audience, but rather look at the floor or your shoes. Some of the most awkward bows are when the performer has bent from the waist but is looking up at the audience with his or her neck bent backwards… You should look at your audience only when you have straightened back up.
Be mindful of how fast you’re bowing. As mentioned earlier, our perception of time is different on stage. If you think you’re doing something too slowly, then you’re probably doing it just right! Another mistake guitarists make is bowing, then going straight to the chair, with their head still down, without straightening back up. Remember, the bow is not complete until you’re upright again. Making your way to the chair with your head down and bent at the waist isn’t the most graceful look.
Be aware of how much stuff you’re carrying on stage. Try as much as possible to limit the items you have in your hands. Items like foot stools, music, nail files (although, those shouldn’t even be on stage, if you read my last post)… These add up, and when you add the guitar to it, it becomes awkward to carry, not to mention uncomfortable. Whenever possible, leave your footstool onstage, or ask the stage crew to take it out for you. If you can part with your music, ask stage crew to take it out for you as well. Ideally you should have your guitar and whatever you use to hold the guitar in place. It just looks better, rather than juggling everything but the kitchen sink.
When tuning on stage, try to tune as quietly as possible but make sure you tune thoroughly. Last thing you want is to spend all that time tuning and then still playing out of tune. I have made that mistake myself. I tried to tune as quickly as possible to spare the audience the suspense, but then ended up playing on a not so well tuned guitar. It’s better to take an extra few seconds and make sure everything is perfect before diving into the next piece.
If you decide to say a few words about the pieces, go ahead. A lot of times it’s appreciated by the audience. But keep it to a minimum, unless it’s a lecture recital. I have never heard the audience complain about a performer not talking a lot. They have complained about talking for too long or not saying anything at all. That said, rehearse what you’re going to stay. It’s better not say anything at all, than to make incomprehensible statements.
I was going to write a whole paragraph on after performance/meet the audience members etiquette, but then I realized Simon already has a really good article on that. So, all I’m going to say is; if there is anyone waiting to meet you, meet them. If they want to tell you how much they enjoyed your concert, let them. If they want an autograph or pictures… do it! It is part of our job description when we decided to become performing artists. Plus, it’s always nice to hear that someone enjoyed what we spend our lifetime doing.
Let me know if there is anything else you’d like to know about stage presence and etiquette. Or share your own views on the subject in the comments.