Connect Like a Rock Star

I am SO not a rock star. And you probably aren’t either. But when I’m playing my instrument, I’m a communicator and I want to connect with the person or audience for whom I’m playing.

 With that in mind, do you ever feel like you’re not connecting with your audience … when you’re introducing your next tune … or when you’re actually playing your dulcimer? Do they look bored (out of their minds)? Are their toes stubbornly still, instead of tapping along with the beat? Does their body language reveal that you haven’t touched their hearts? Have you ever noticed folks frowning or talking to each other instead of listening? If so, we all have something to learn, and here’s some ideas that may help you connect.

  • First, make it about your audience and NOT about you. This is the magic key. Before you even begin playing, engage them with a smile and a hello, and tell them how glad you are they have come. Invite them to be a part of what you are doing. Talk to them a little bit. Let down your walls; be vulnerable and transparent. I know that it is much easier said than done, but you can do it.

  • Change the lyrics. If you’re traveling, change the words of the lyrics to the name of the city or state where you are visiting. Or maybe insert the name of the person, dulcimer club, or festival that invited you to play.

  • Check in constantly. Ask things like, “Are you havin’ fun yet?” or “Let’s make some noise!” Use the word YOU often (or Y’ALL if you’re in Texas), because saying the word YOU connects powerfully.

  • Encourage participation. I hear song leaders at church call out the words to the next line, even though the words are posted right up there on the screen or printed in the hymnal. That leaves no excuse for not joining in.

  • Invite the audience to start the song. Well, you need to start the song by singing a line so they’re in the right key. But then kick in with your instrument after the tune begins. Then they’re engaged before you’ve even played a note.

  • Tell stories. You can establish an emotional connection with your audience if you share why you chose a certain song, or what was going on in your life when you learned that tune.

  • Give the background story behind the tune. For example, the lyrics to “It Is Well With My Soul” were written by Horatio G. Spafford, after his 4-year-old son had died of scarlet fever, and his four precious daughters had drowned when a ship bound for England was involved in a terrible collision and sunk. I always tell his story before I play that hymn.

  • Gift-wrap your song with your own emotional connection to it. If you withhold this sharing of your inner self, if your gift of music isn’t heartfelt, don’t be surprised when your audience withholds their emotions as well.  I always share that I played "It Is Well With My Soul" at my father's funeral, because those are a few of the last words he spoke to me before his death.

  • Be prepared musically. Nothing is more painful than suffering through the performance of a person who hasn’t prepared adequately. People gather to listen to music because they are looking for an experience and it is the performer’s job to create the best opportunity for that to happen.

  • Define your purpose. Have people gathered to be entertained? Have they come to worship? Are they there, sitting right in front of you, to learn something new? Whatever the reason, don’t leave them disappointed.

Here’s the deal. The more you engage your audience, the more engaging you become. And that feeling of holding an audience in the palm of your hand, the joy of hearing them sing along with you on the songs they love, the excitement and energy in a room full of people coming together to celebrate life and the sweet tones of the dulcimer … this is a precious gift, both for yourself and the audience. Don’t you agree?



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