Flute Punch

Performance Anxiety

Posted on: January 31, 2013

A little while back, I posted some on dealing with nerves. With Solo & Ensemble Contest coming up this weekend, nerves are on everyone’s mind, so I thought I’d revisit the subject with some thoughts and approaches that have helped me.

1. If you’re constantly working to NOT imagine your worst-case scenario (ie, crashing and burning), then allow yourself to imagine it, just once. Do it and get it over with, and recognize that at the end of it,

  • you are still alive!
  • you’re still a great person
  • you still love music
  • you’re a better player now than you were just a few weeks/months/years ago

2. Realize that even if there are a couple spots that don’t come off as well as you like for whatever reason, it doesn’t mean the rest of the performance wasn’t musical. It also doesn’t mean you’re a bad player. I can’t think of any musician I know who doesn’t have some moment in their past where their performance was less than stellar. You might not have total control over what your nerves make your fingers do, but you DO have control over how musical you can be, and that is *always* the most important aspect of performing.

3. Accept that you can’t eliminate nerves. They’re part of the deal. Trying to suppress nerves is a waste of time and energy. Embrace them as a sign that you care about the piece you’re presenting, and that means that you’re becoming the kind of person this world needs: someone who cares about doing things well.

4. Don’t waste mental and physical energy trying not to be nervous. Instead, focus only on what you are doing at the present. If it is 2 hrs before your performance time, don’t think about solo time. Think about eating breakfast, or whatever. 30 mins before solo, concentrate fully on warming up – play scales, or play something easy and fun – don’t hit the solo right away. But of course, you’ll find yourself playing the solo before you perform – at that point, do not try to play the runs as fast as you can, praying in your brain that they’ll magically come out right. And don’t start at the beginning of the solo. Instead, isolate the different spots and **slowly** play them. That is important – it gives you a chance to have control over playing them correctly, and builds confidence, and reminds your finger muscles of what they’re supposed to be doing at different spots.

5. When you perform, devote your concentration fully to whatever spot you are at. If you are playing the intro, devote your brain power *fully* to playing the intro (and enjoying it!), instead of worrying about some upcoming section. It doesn’t do you any good to worry about D when you’re at A, or to worry about what you did at A when you’re at D, for that matter.

6. Embrace the unpredictability of the performing arts. It’s kind of like a sporting event – you seriously don’t know what’s going to happen. It might be internal (nerves), or even external – someone could be sitting in front of you and suddenly sneeze violently, or whatever. It has helped me to learn to enjoy the excitement of not knowing what exactly is going to happen in performance.

And lastly —

7. Have faith in the fact that you have prepared, and prepared well. Enjoy and be proud of the fact that in the last couple of months, you have matured. We chase perfection, but we never catch it. However, the pursuit of perfection makes us constantly improve who we are as musicians and as people, and that is probably more valuable than perfection.


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