Performance anxiety, or stage fright, can affect a seasoned professional just as much as an inexperienced musician new to the game.
It can strike at any time and doesn’t only occur as you’re about to walk out onto the stage, but can also chip away at a performer’s confidence weeks before a show.
In fact, performance anxiety doesn’t only apply to performing on a stage. People can be affected by it in the lead up to an exam or test, before a job interview, at work, or when preparing to speak in public.
For this article, we will look at some handy tips for dealing with the performance anxiety that musicians might experience, but these tips are also ideal to keep in mind for other events in your life that may make you anxious:
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It’s ok to feel anxious
As soon as a performer starts to feel anxious about an upcoming gig, the natural reaction is usually to try to suppress it. One can feel defeated just by recognising that they’re anxious. But as soon as you realise that it’s ok to feel that way, and it’s a natural part the process for most people, then you can work on accepting those feelings and worth with them rather than against them.
Accepting emotions – whatever they are – as a natural response to a situation will diminish them. This will help you focus on the task at hand rather than they way you’re reacting to it.
In the ISM Trust’s new Performance Anxiety Guide for music teachers, there is a handy acceptance metaphor worth reading that can help with this (on page 18).
Remember to breathe
When panic or anxiety arises, one thing that can happen is the feeling of not being able to breathe properly. It’s one thing feeling like you’re having a panic attack two days before a performance, it’s another having it happen moments before going on stage.
While everyone knows that you should take deep breaths to calm yourself, it is very important to make sure you exhale. Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it, and make sure you properly exhale through your mouth.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
One thing that can give performers anxiety is striving for perfection. If you’re going to perform a piece for a music exam, you should certainly try to do your best, but how often has anyone got 100%? If you scored 98% on an exam, you didn’t do it perfectly, but who wouldn’t be pleased with that? Make sure the standards you set for yourself are high but achievable.
Do something that makes you feel positive before your performance
It can be helpful to think up a pre-performance routine for yourself. Some like to warm up right up until the moment they go on stage, others like to have a particular exercise to comfortably play on their instrument to make them feel positive about their abilities, and others like to do something that distracts them for a while, such as listening to music, reading a book etc.
Eat, sleep, perform, repeat
Our sleeping and eating habits can drastically affect how we feel mentally and physically. Getting a good night’s sleep the day before, and making sure you’ve eaten well throughout the day will go a long way to not only helping you physically perform at your best, but also helping you get in the right frame of mind to deal with any anxiety problems.
Remember that you love playing music
Most people get up on stage and perform because it is what they love, but anxiety can sometimes overshadow your enthusiasm for music. Instead of thinking about what could go wrong, or how frightening getting up on stage can be, think about the feeling you get when you play and how much you enjoy yourself when you’re an audience member watching other people perform.
Another good tip to help with this is to think about past performances that felt really good. Convince yourself that this one will be another great memory.