To continue from last week’s post, I’d like to share what I did to overcome performance nerves. Doing this made me feel more comfortable and confident, and helped me actually enjoy being up on stage. Here is my step-by-step guide to overcoming music performance anxiety:
- Designate your Goal Performance
Maybe you have a particularly nerve-wracking performance coming up that you want to prepare for, such as a masterclass, recital, audition, competition, etc. Designate that as your “Goal Performance”.
- Form a supportive audience
Reach out to friends, family and colleagues to support you through this process. Your supportive audience should be made up of trusted people who will provide you a safe space to perform while nervous, without fear of judgment. If you currently attend a music school, reach out to your close friends and peers and let them know that you’re undertaking this personal project – chances are they experience performance nerves too and maybe they’ll even want to join you! If you don’t currently attend a music school, reach out to close friends and classmates, family members, relatives, etc.
- Come up with opportunities to “practice-perform” leading up to your Goal Performance
Schedule regular performances for your supportive audience (in the age of covid, schedule time to play for them over Zoom), schedule performances to play in studio-class or masterclass, and/or schedule time to meet up outside of class to perform for peers. These practice-performances are crucial. We spend a lot of time preparing for performances in our practice room, but rarely do we “practice” performing. Those two things are vastly different, and I would even go as far as to say that practicing performing is even more important than practicing in a practice room, particularly if you’re nearing a performance.
- Journal your progress
The last step is to journal about these performance experiences, and this can be done in whichever way works best for you. For me, I liked to rate how nervous I was from 1 to 10 and write about the experience – eg. What was easy? Difficult? What worked well this time around compared to last time? Why did I feel nervous? What were the nervous symptoms I was feeling?
Understanding the roots of our performance anxiety is often enough for us to challenge, mitigate and even get rid of those fears entirely. Journaling is chance for you to explore where your anxieties come from, set goals for subsequent performances and explore deliberate ways to perform better next time. If you find that your nerves manifest mentally, find resources on the internet that help address that. If your nerves are more physical, there are many resources out there that help with that as well.
So, feel free to tweak things in whichever way works for you. For me, I kept my list of performances and their 1 to 10 scores separate from the journal, and I was pretty lax about what constituted a nerve-wracking performance experience – if it gave me even mild sensations of anxiety, I’d jot it down. I did 51 performances before my goal performance when I did this exercise, and the goal performance became one of the most comfortable and enjoyable experiences I’ve had on stage.
Some extra tips:
Some techniques that I find helpful on the day of the performance is the lying down exercise and box breathing. I do the lying down exercise (taken from the Alexander technique) on the morning of the performance, which basically involves breathing mindfully while lying down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.* Right before going on stage, I like to do some box breathing (breathing in through your nose for 4 counts, holding your breath for 4 counts, breathing out through your mouth for 4 counts, and then holding for another 4 counts.)** When I’m up on stage, right before I start playing, I like taking a moment just to ground myself, taking more time than I think I actually need to just slow down and breathe mindfully. I then picture how I want the first few bars of music to sound, and start playing.
Here is a quick laundry list of some other things that help with my performance prep:
- Zero caffeine on the day of the performance.
- Eat nutrient-rich foods, avoid heavy carbs.
- Don’t schedule anything too exciting on the day of, go about the day slowly and mindfully, take a nap if possible.
- Don’t over-practice! Instead, run-through some difficult passages slowly if needed and mental practice and/or read the score.
I hope this was helpful! The topic for next week will be Mastery and Performance Goals.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional, I am a performing musician with a background in psychology and cannot offer any qualified medical advice.