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!)
Well, I should have gotten this message 50 years ago…
It’s never too late for Carnegie Hall…;-) Or a Goose Pond recital is just fine, too. Andy, Puck and I will be your adoring fan club always.
xox – J
I take Inderal, the generic version. Lasts way past its expiration date. I also like to think about “playing through the notes”, which means committing to sustaining the notes of a legato phrase, one into the other. You don’t do anything different technically. You just hear it and play it in a more vocal way. Looking forward to reading the Centering in 7 Steps Guide! Also, love the cartoons.
I, too, take Inderol for high stakes performances such as auditions or solos at the ballet where I’m thrown into the hot seat without the benefit of a rehearsal. I also have used a version of your “playing through the notes” technique at times, too. One of the things I learned from Linda Case (the violinist who taught me the Brain Gym exercises) was how to properly use my bow. Before I studied with her I used to get bad bow shakes when I was nervous. My coping mechanism at the time (I was in college) was to try and not think about the bow…basically hoping that if I ignored my bow arm the bow shakes would go away. Hah! Thanks to her, I relearned how to use my bow arm. What a miracle it was to feel my heart pounding and knees shaking but to also know that in spite of the nerves I could still draw a smooth, calm bow stroke.
Negative self talk is still a big hurdle for me to overcome. Thank God for cartooning and being blessed with a sense of humor!
Sending lots of love,
Hi Joana, I read the Centering ebook. It makes a great deal of sense. I sent the link to my boyfriend and told Erin about it. I like the idea of physically finding one’s center to mitigate undue influences of right or left brain. I also like the idea of cue words. I sort of do a version of that to remind myself what’s important in a performance (mood, emotion) rather than fixating on notes and technical details. Thanks for posting! I’ll take a look at Brain Gym, too.
Hi Helen, Noa Kageyama’s site is jam-packed with great information and his blog is always interesting, too. I met again with my SCORE mentor today which was a good kick in the pants. Every time I think I’m making HUGE strides with my business I discover that my strides are more like baby steps. All the same, it’s truly helpful to have an objective eye to critique and guide me!
xox – Joana