All performers deal with performance anxiety to some degree in their lives. There are several possible reasons for anxiety to come into play. Through thoughtful, diligent work, it is possible to overcome these issues. Why do we get nervous when we perform? Some of the most common reasons for performance anxiety fall into three main categories:
We feel unprepared on the music.
We are uncomfortable playing in front of others.
We are concerned about how our performance will reflect on us.
By taking a look at each of these possibilities, we can begin to come up with strategies to overcome them and build confidence.
We Feel Unprepared
This is probably the most common cause of performance anxiety, and it feeds into the other categories. The best way to combat this situation is to make sure that you are as thoroughly prepared as possible. Another way to ensure that you are prepared is to make your practice session harder than your performances. If you are playing a technically challenging piece of music work on playing it faster than you will performance the music. If you can play that “fast” section 5-10 bpm faster than your performance tempo, then it will be easier when you play it at the correct speed. Likewise, if you have a long lyrical piece and you are concerned about endurance, play that piece slower that you will perform it. Gradually increase the time difference until you can play it well at half-tempo. If you can play the piece at half-tempo with musicality and make it through, then playing at the written tempo will be easy. Also, I have always felt that to really “know” a piece of music, it should be memorized. This way you are not tied to the paper in front of you and can really make the best music possible. The process of memorizing music and the repetition involved will also help to build confidence.
Playing For Others
Many of us spend hours in practice rooms honing our craft and working on our music. However, we usually spend much less time playing that music for others. One of the easiest ways to help you overcome your fears of playing in front of other people is to do it on a regular basis. A great way to start this process is to play for friends or family. Find people who are supportive of you and your playing and people who you are generally comfortable being around. Once you feel comfortable playing in these circumstances, find other people to play for or other situations. Playing for churches, or nursing homes is a great way to build confidence in your performing as these audiences tend to be very grateful and appreciative.
Continue to find more challenging situations to perform in until you are more comfortable playing in front of people. Also, the mere act of going through this process will help to build your confidence in your level of preparation.
How Will the Performance Reflect on Me?
We have a tendency to be very concerned about how other will view us personally if our playing doesn't go well. The first thing to remember is that audiences always want you to play your best, and therefore, are by definition rooting for you to do well. You will almost never perform for an audience that wants you to fail – and in these circumstances, why would you care about the opinions of such people? A great way to alleviate this unnecessary burden is to remember to Always Serve the MUSIC. By putting the music first, the performance is no longer about us as performers, but about the music that we present. In many cases, the music that we will perform has stood the test of time and has been performed by many musicians before. We do not need to prove the worth of the music, or ourselves. If we have prepared the music well, and we are playing music that we believe in, all we have to do is present the music. Also, remember that imperfections happen. There is no such thing as a “perfect” performance. While we always strive to play our best, there is always something that we can do better, or differently. This idea makes ALL performances valid. You have succeeded just by stepping on stage and playing. When you put the music first, playing is easy and fun.