I’ve been a musician almost as long as I’ve been alive (trust me, that’s a LONG time). But even though I’ve had years of experience performing first piano, then violin and – in this latter half of my career, viola – I confess that I still get quite nervous for certain types of performances. While I haven’t found the magic bullet for eliminating stage fright, I do feel qualified at this point to offer my top ten tips for how to overcome performance anxiety.
How to Overcome Performance Anxiety
Part 1: Practical Advice
- Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for being prepared. In my case, my subconscious even tells me when it’s time to start preparing! Since I’d rather not have multiple nights of anxiety dreams, I pay attention when these dreams crop up and make sure I’m not procrastinating on my preparation.
- Practice performing as much as possible. Dr. Noa Kageyama, Julliard-based performance coach who blogs at The Bulletproof Musician, suggests incorporating Simulation and Adversity Training in this excellent Centering in 7 Days guide.
- Focus on hearing the pitch, tone and the exact quality of sound you want to create before you create it. Doing so leaves you little time to do anything except what you’re supposed to be doing (i.e. creating beautiful music).
- Treat your body well. Eat healthily (I avoid caffeine, alcohol and excess sugar), exercise daily and make sure you regularly get enough sleep.
- Hydrate. Water is brain food, so drink up!
Part 2: The (Not-So-) Woo-Woo Advice
- Meditate daily. Meditation is basically an exercise in focus and brain training. And being able to focus is absolutely essential for optimal performance. Add in gratitude meditation, too, since it helps you view yourself and others with more compassion and acceptance.
- Keep the big picture in mind. I like to play Worst Case/Best Case scenario when I find myself getting worked up about an upcoming performance. For example: Worst Case – What will happen if I shake like a leaf and collapse onto the floor in a puddle? Aside from being embarrassed, not advancing in an audition, or not getting hired back for a gig, probably not much. (I won’t die and my family will still love me.) Best Case – What will happen if I play like a Goddess? I’ll feel great for a little while, but that feeling will also pass. (Bottom line, I won’t be offered a recording contract on the spot and the New York Philharmonic won’t come calling.)
- Visualize the sensation of sinking into the chair (if you’re sitting) or feeling your feet grounded into the floor like the roots of a tree (if you’re standing) to help your body relax.
- Look at the floor slightly to the left and forward of your body. Simple as this sounds, redirecting my gaze this way helps me to regain awareness of my body as a solid grounded mass when I’m feeling extra nervous. (This exercise and other invaluable Brain Gym exercises were taught to me years ago by violinist and mentor, Linda Case. I still do the Cross Crawl, Hook Up, Lazy 8 and Thinking Cap exercises as part of my pre-performance routine.)
- Find the positive in the situation. Going to the bathroom 5 times before you have to perform sucks, but you’ll fit into your skinny jeans later. (If you’re open to learning, you’ll realize that less-than-optimum life experiences make you more human…which is good for those of us who draw from life for cartoon ideas, too!)