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Performance Anxiety

Article 28.05.2012 04:32

My personal experiences and what has helped.

I'd like to take a moment to share what has worked for me with performance anxiety.  Hopefully others will find something to try out!  Feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to add.


Obviously, you want to walk on stage prepared.  Simple things like playing your piece once through every day and knowing the music are so important.  Other helpful things are playing in other rooms of your house or outside to adjust your ear to various types of acoustics, and playing in front of your friends. 

Do an entire "performance" at home several times.  Adjust the stand (if you are using music) to the height and position it would be on stage.  If you don't know, try various positions so you can be ready for anything.  Walk "onstage" with your instrument.  Get comfortable, nod to the invisible accompanist for an A, tune.  Take a moment to think of the mood and tempo of your piece, then begin.  Afterwards, get up, take a bow, thank the accompanist, walk off stage.  I find it really calming to feel like I am following a routine when I get on stage.  It is better to have as few things feel new as possible.

It is a huge help to record yourself and listen closely.  Is this the sound you intended? 

If there is any way at all to practice on the performance stage, do it!  If you can't, at least try to get up on stage and see what the view is like.  This is especially important if you've been in the audience at that venue - you think you're familiar with the room, and suddenly it looks completely different from the stage.  This can really startle you if you're not prepared.


If you are nervous about tuning on stage, cheat!  If you are playing with a piano, sneak onstage before the concert begins and tune.  If you have trouble tuning without a tuner, first check the tuning of the piano and adjust your tuner to match.  You might need to set your tuner to A 442, A 438, etc to make the piano in look in tune on your tuner.  Then tune your instrument to the tuner.  If you are playing with a group, tune before getting onstage.


This used to be almost the worst time for me.  I would get more and more nervous knowing that it was getting closer to the time for me to play. 

I tried imagining that I was in a nice, quiet place like the beach, but it was terrible.  Every time I started to feel like I was relaxed, I would panic because I didn't know what was going on onstage.  How much time had gone by?  Is it my turn?  Mentally "leaving" was not a good idea for me.

I tried visualizing myself up on stage playing well.  This just made me more nervous, too.

Finally, I found something that works for me.  I ask myself, "Can you imagine how you would feel if you weren't playing today?"  And of course I can.  I would just be relaxed and listening to the music or to the audience.  By focusing on that, I can be totally mentally aware of everything going on around me, and yet not be nervous about it.  I don't get nervous when I am an audience member, and it helps me to draw on those remembered feelings.


Here's where my practiced ritual comes in.  I walk on and go through the routine I created earlier.  I find it to be very important.  Even if I tuned 5 minutes ago, I tune again.  Even if I feel comfortable in my seat, I give an extra squirm.  I try to do everything slowly and methodically.  Deep breath, and off you go!

While you're playing, when you come to those places that you're worried about, try to just watch them go by.  If something goes badly, just accept it.  Don't tell yourself that it's going to affect other parts of your piece.  Just move on.  Somebody once told me to think of this, "Here is where I am in my playing today.  Sure it's not as good as tomorrow or next year, it is just a snapshot of where I am now."  This helps you to accept that you're not perfect.


Don't beat yourself up!!  Most people don't play as well in a performace as they do at home, yet we all seem to expect it and feel disappointed when it doesn't work out.  In order to keep my mental health, I have a Personal Rating System for performances.  If I play 80% as well in the performance as I did on an AVERAGE day at home, I give myself a passing grade.  This means that I don't expect to play as well as an average day at home.  I assume I can't play as well as that one time three days ago when it all went perfectly. 

I also often have a goal in mind for the performance.  I make the goal something achievable, not something that I rarely if ever could do at home.  "If I can just get that A in tune."  "If I can just count this one entrance correctly."  I give myself an extra pat on the back if I meet my goal.

If that one place that never goes right still didn't go right during a performance, ask yourself or your teacher if there was anything you could have done differently while practicing.  A lot of the time, it's just something that was a little over your head right now.

Hope this is helpful!


Laura Chaskes


Thanks for posting these excellent tips about how to overcome performance anxiety. I'm sure they'll come in handy when I play my first solo at music camp!!

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