Dealing with Performance Anxiety

Your hands are cold and shaky, your heart is racing, and you find it hard to breath.  Are you sick?  Are you having a nightmare?  No, you’re about to play your instrument in a recital, and the symptoms you are experiencing are due to performance anxiety — better known as stage fright.

Performance anxiety affects us all, to some degree or another.  Here are some things you can try out to help deal with your performance anxiety:

  • Practice performing. Play your pieces for other people whenever you can. It’s one thing to practice your pieces, but it’s another thing to practice performing. Ask other people to come in the room to make you nervous, and see how well you can handle running through you pieces.
  • Envision yourself succeeding. Envisioning yourself performing your piece well is extremely helpful. Do it as your practicing, as you’re not practicing, and as you are performing.  Doing so keeps your outlook positive and sets you up for success.
  • Keep your focus on what’s important. As you perform, keep your focus on making the piece as musical and emotional as possible.  Focusing only on getting the right notes will make it difficult for you to “get beyond the notes” and play musically, and will probably make you more nervous anyway.  Besides, in the long run, most audience members would much rather hear a touching, musical performance than a note-perfect performance — so focus on what’s important!
  • Breathe. This may seem obvious, but it’s very crucial!  Take plenty of deep breaths before and during your pieces. When you are nervous, everything tightens up and it’s difficult to breathe. However, taking deep breaths of air will help calm yourself down and slow down that heart rate — plus, give your brain some extra oxygen to you can think clearly. Try paying attention to your breathing sometime when you play, and I’ll bet you’ll find that you aren’t breathing as much as you think you are.  To help avoid this from happening during the performance, choose some specific places where you are going to taking breaths during your piece and mark them in your score.
  • Try some pre-performance stretches. Just before performances, I like to do some stretches just to get my blood flowing and to work off some of the nervousness.  It has made a huge difference for me.  I also wear mittens on my hands to keep them warm.  =)
  • Mentally prepare yourself before you begin your piece. When you sit down to play, take some time before you begin your pieces.  Make sure the bench is at the proper height and distance away from the piano, try out the pedals, take some deep breaths, and mentally imagine the first few bars of your piece so that you can get a proper tempo in mind.  And when you’re ready, the magic begins.

Although it is difficult to completely eliminate all the symptoms of performance anxiety, you can lessen its effects!  What works for you?

Photo credit: SpecialKolin | CC 2.0

PG
Joy Morin is a piano teacher in northwest Ohio (United States) who enjoys keeping her teaching fresh with new ideas and resources. ColorInMyPiano.com serves as a journal of her adventures in piano teaching as well as a place to exchange ideas and resources.

Joy has blogged 1142 posts here.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 5 February 2013 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    First, you need a proper diagnosis from a doctor to determine if you have an anxiety disorder or an actual health issue that needs attention.
    Personal life encounters: daily life activities constantly shaping our personality
    and results who we tend to be.

  2. Hans
    Posted 15 November 2013 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much joy for the tips I hope they are going to help me because I am a begginer pianist but I play in church.

  3. Davina Justice
    Posted 28 April 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I am a student teacher who has always encountered terrible nervousness when performing at recitals or events. However, several things have helped me, and I now share these tips with my students. As you have already stated, BREATHE!!!

    Once in the middle of a performance my hands began shaking–something that had not happened before. I could hardly get my fingers to even work! However, I did finally control the shaking and many people never knew of my predicament. Later when I confided with my teacher about the situation, she told me I probably was not breathing enough; therefore my brain had been deprived of oxygen. She gave me several breathing exercises, and so far it has helped tremendously! Before I perform, I simply close my eyes and take deep controlled breaths. Also if I feel that my hands are becoming shaky during a performance, I take a deep breath again. It has helped wonderfully!

    Another great tip is DON’T TALK TO YOURSELF. It only makes you more nervous! How many people know about this? You are playing beautifully and suddenly you remember, “Oh no…I’m nearing that measure where I occasionally mess up.” Usually if you start worrying, you WILL make a mistake! Or another example…You suddenly do make a tiny slip, and you become annoyed with yourself. “Ugh…I’ve played that correctly forever! I wish that grace note had been clearer. I needed better voicing on that chord, etc.” It’s best to just let it go and keep moving on with the piece. AFTER the performance, then you can critique yourself, but keep the music in your mind while you are playing. Pretend you are listening to someone else play the piece.

    Hope this helps! Good luck on spring recitals!

    Davina

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