I still remember the days when I competed in solo and ensemble competitions and would practice for hours every day perfecting my chosen solo. Even though I enjoyed playing the solos and the experiences of these competitions, the day of the contest would arrive, I would get nervous and not perform the piece as well as I did in my practice.
Perhaps you can relate to the scenario that was just mentioned. You play very well in a practice room or sing like a bird in the shower. But, when it comes time for you to play and sing in front of others, you feel an unwanted discomfort and may find yourself not being able to play or sing up to the level that you know you are capable of. If you often find yourself in this situation, here are a few suggestions that can help you feel more comfortable performing in front of others.
Two of the big reasons behind performance anxiety is the feeling of being unprepared and the fear of the unknown or unfamiliar. The first and the most well known thing to do to help diminish nervousness in a performance situation is to practice. The more familiar you are with your piece, the more relaxed you will be. Once the initial “woodsheding” of certain passages is accomplished in your practice sessions, it is a good idea to run through a piece of music in it’s entirety as though you are performing it. I like to call this method “performance practice”. When performing one solo, be sure to run it twice and for full recitals, run through the entire program once or twice. You can also perform your program for different people, such as friends or family members, to help you become more familiar with a performance situation. The more you perform your solo or recital, the less nervous you will be over time.
Some people find that exercises such as yoga, muscle relaxation and even meditation help the body and mind prepare for their performance. Visualization of your performance is proven to be effective if you visualize a successful performance before stepping foot on the stage.
Another method in controlling performance anxiety was one that was used on me as a student by my own Horn teachers while I was preparing for competitions or recitals. It is what I call “The Worst Case Scenario” exercise. In this exercise think to yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen during your performance?” The worst that could happen might include losing your place in the music, making a lot of mistakes or getting tired. In other words, a lot of people survived those situations and so will you. You will find out that asking yourself that question will put everything in the proper perspective. Life is more than just a single performance and if you choose to keep playing, there will be more opportunities to play in front of others.
We all know the importance of exercise and a healthy diet is to our bodies on a day to day basis. This also holds true on concert and performance days as well. Even though there are some people that find it better not eat before a performance, it is not the case for others. I find that eating a sensible meal a couple of hours before performing proves to be very beneficial. Not only will eating before a performance give you the energy you need, it will also keep you from getting hungry. Hunger will cause a blood sugar drop which will lead to feeling shaky.
One of the biggest things you have to remember while performing is to keep going if you find that you have messed up. Never back up and redo the offending note or passage because the if you do so, the audience will notice your mistake a lot more than if you keep going. It is highly unlikely that the audience will ever notice that you ever made a mistake to begin with.
Even though we all want to do our best and present a quality performance, be sure that you do not become too critical of the technical aspects of it while on stage. Focus on the music as a whole and enjoy it. After all, like all concerts, recitals and other solo performances, it is about the music and the emotions behind it.
A musical performance is not about how little or how many mistakes a single performer makes and it is really not about the performer themselves. In other words, enjoy your special moment with the people who are there to share it with you and do not forget to celebrate afterwards for a job well done. With all the time and effort put into the preparation of your performance, an after performance celebration is well deserved.