Session Guitar: How to Overcome Nerves in the Studio
If you're like me, you get nervous before a session. I still do. I've even sought help from professionals.
I'm not ashamed of my nerves. We all get them. It's how you use them and deal with them that's important. I don't drink or take drugs. I get by with a few basic skills I've picked up throughout my career. Maybe this will help you relax a bit.
01. Be prepared. Warm up before you leave for the studio. The more rehearsed you are, the better. This is not just a session. It is a lifestyle. If I do not practice daily, I notice it. If I don't practice for two days, the people in the studio will notice it. Three days and I will be replaced. Unpreparedness will cause serious nerve problems. Be prepared.
02. The environment is new. This alone can cause a great deal of discomfort. Especially if you are already a bit nervous. Try and hang in a few studios beforehand. Or at the very least, arrive early to the session. Get a feel for the studio as if it were a new venue. Walk around. Stretch. Feel the walls. Touching is amazing.
03. Make it home. Bring some things to make you feel more comfortable. Something small. A picture. Know why you are doing this. And always bring your gear with your sound. Even if the studio has something better than your amp, bring yours. You can always try out the new gear after you've given the best you've got with yours.
04. Most musicians overlook the basics. Watch your diet and get plenty of rest. Caffeine, soda, salty junk food equals a major problem. Your heart doesn't need this extra stimulation. Rest is also important. Learn how to go to bed at regular hours if you can. This alone will have a great impact on calming nerves.
05. Turn off the distractions. You know what I'm talking about! The iPhone. The computer. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. You don't need to be losing focus by dealing with tweets and all that B.S. Read one stupid thing that might trigger your anxiety and you are finished! What does Eric Johnson do in the studio, even if he's not recording? He practices. Same with Steve Morse. Focus.
06. Do yoga. Learn to breathe. Listen more, talk less. Breathe. Deep. Focus on a single thought. Be in the moment. Breathe. Get it? Breathe deep. Again. YouTube has many fine, relaxing self-hypnosis posts. I use them. Often. See what you can find.
07. Remember you are not any different than anyone else. We all get nervous. It is a perfectly natural thing. Talking about it helps. We all make mistakes. I remember working with a team of legends in the studio. I hired G.E. Smith as a second guitarist on the date. We sat down and I had all the songs with basic charts. I, of course, gave G.E. book one with the main parts to play, out of respect. G.E. looked at the book and leaned over to me and asked, "What the hell does this say?" He didn't read music!
I laughed, threw the books over our heads and said I didn't hire him to read! I hired him to be G.E. Smith. (Hall and Oates, SNL, Roger Waters) He knew the parts immediately! Total pro. I learned! Oh, I learned. He was secure enough in himself to admit he didn't know something.
Same session, Paul Griffin was the keyboardist (Steely Dan, Burt Bacharach, Don McClean, etc.). We were laying down the first song and all of a sudden Paul makes a mistake. But not just a note. He kept playing every bad note he could find till we stopped! We were all laughing our asses off! He just looked up and said, "Wait till ya hear the next one!" We all make mistakes. These guys made mistakes. It meant they were not afraid to try something new. They were laying it out for us all to hear! Learn from that. By the way — because of how comfortable these guys made me feel, I never felt one iota of anxiety.
What are you afraid of now? I feel better already! I think I'll go play on another session!
Till next time…
Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.