Your heart races as you step on stage. Blinking at the lights, you feel the familiar threat of panic rising in your throat. You try to ignore it, but the sensation spreads throughout your body. Trembling, you begin to play, but despite your many hours of practice, the piece completely falls apart. Disappointed, you walk offstage feeling defeated and hopeless to overcome your anxiety.
If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. Having struggled with performance anxiety myself, I can attest to its difficulty, but I want to reassure you that your situation is not hopeless. You can learn to manage your performance anxiety by implementing some of these helpful strategies as you practice, prepare, and perform onstage.
After practicing enough to get your piece performance-ready, the first strategy you should try is playing in front of other people. In the weeks leading up to your recital, practice performing in front of your friends and family. These performances will give you the chance to experience nervousness while playing and practice overcoming it. As an added challenge, you can try adversity training. Ask your audience to do whatever they can to distract you while you play. If you can nail your piece while your brother screams like a siren in your ear, then you know that your performance will be a piece of cake.
When the day of your performance arrives, you need to spend the hours leading up to it getting physically and mentally prepared. To prepare yourself physically, make sure to eat well. Although you may feel too nervous to eat, try to eat a light snack within an hour of your performance. This will keep your blood sugar level up and help prevent shakiness. Next, spend some time warming up. You need to get your body loose and your mind focused, but don’t use your warm-up as a last chance to practice. The last thing you want to do is wear yourself out and go into your performance feeling fatigued. Once you’ve finished warming up, spend your remaining time getting “in the zone” mentally. Effective techniques will vary from person to person, but you can try meditating, finding fun distractions, and affirming yourself while striking the superhero pose (chest out with your hands on your hips). These suggestions may seem strange, but I encourage you to give them a try and also come up with other ways to make yourself feel relaxed and confident before you go on stage.
When the time of your performance finally arrives, take things slowly as you step on stage. As the seconds tick by, you’ll feel tempted to start right away, but you should resist that urge. Pause for a moment to get over your initial nerves, and when you’re ready to play, take a deep breath and begin. Then, as you continue playing, remember to keep breathing. This advice isn’t just for singers and wind players! Depriving your body of oxygen makes performing exponentially difficult by causing shaking, racing heartbeat, and difficulty focusing. If you keep breathing, however, the steady supply of oxygen will help you to stay more relaxed and focused. These tips should help you significantly improve the quality of your performance, but despite your best efforts, you may still make mistakes. That’s okay! Try not to dwell on them and focus on the notes ahead instead. You may need to drop out for a couple of beats to find your footing but try to come back in as soon as possible. Even if you make a mistake, as long as you stay focused, the audience probably won’t even notice.
All these tips are helpful for overcoming performance anxiety, but ultimately, experience is the best teacher. Performing is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. This is why we encourage all our students at Vibe to perform frequently. We recognize that performance is an essential part of music education, so we provide our students with numerous opportunities to develop their skills, including four Recital Soirees. Although it may seem scary at the time, performing is one of the most rewarding parts of being a musician. With time and patience, you can learn to overcome your performance anxiety so that you can confidently share your love of music with the world.
- Jordan Koehlinger, Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy.