How To Handle Your Performance Anxiety

Most musicians who perform live in front of audiences will tell you that at some point in their careers, they have had to deal with performance anxiety and sometimes crippling stage fright. I had a very interesting personal experience a few months ago while performing background music at an event. These are the types of gigs that I never get nervous about, but for this particular job, I had a whole new set of custom arrangements that I had never performed in public before. Much to my amusement, I started feeling the little flutter in my stomach which is my tell-tale sign of performance jitters. It made me sympathize even more with what my students go through at every one of their recitals.

Below are a few tips and techniques that have helped me to effectively cope with and overcome the debilitating effects of performance anxiety. I’ve found that if I actively and consistently practice my set of responses to my anxiety, then I feel more calm and confident on performance day. I’m also less likely to have any memory slips.

Practice well and very thoroughly.
This should go without saying, but it’s very important to stress the significance of preparing and knowing your music well. If you come to your performance knowing that there are certain passages that you haven’t mastered in your music, it will feed into and intensify any negative nervous thoughts that may already be racing through your head.

Do a mock performance (or performances) before the BIG performance.
Gather your family, friends and strangers for a rehearsal sit in. Since everyone’s response to performance stress isn’t exactly the same, this would be the time to focus on how anxiety manifests itself for you:

  • Do you have excessive negative thoughts?
  • Do you have physical symptoms?
  • Are you panicked and looking for the nearest exit?

Don’t try to suppress what you’re feeling. Allow yourself to give a voice to your feelings of angst and pay attention to the physical sensations going on throughout your entire body.

Take the time to reflect after each practice performance.
Think back to how you felt before, during and after you played. Recap for yourself the thoughts that were running through your mind. It’s probably a good idea to write them down. I know that for me, things become more clear and real when I write. Try to relive the moment when your hands started to sweat profusely, when your stomach started twisting into knots, when you felt light headed or when you experienced any other physical ailment.

After you have given yourself the chance to revisit and digest everything that you thought and felt, try countering each specific negative thought with a positive, rational and healthy one. Keep doing this reflection exercise everyday until you have trained yourself to have a different, much better response to anxiety.

I hope that this blog has been of interest and/or helpful to you. I welcome any comments or other suggestions on the subject matter.

You may also find these links helpful:
Piano Practice Tips For Intermediate & Advanced Music
Cello Practice Tips For Intermediate & Advanced Music

I am a professional musician and music teacher. Please visit my website for more information. Music samples are available at Audrey’s Music Page.


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