5 Tips to Conquer Stage Fright on Any Instrument
With proper training the added adrenaline and energy that accompanies stage fright can become an asset. The following tips will teach you how to overcome your stage fright on any instrument
1: Prepare For Your Lesson
Many people have performance anxiety while working with their teachers; this can lead to underperforming in lessons. Most of us students can relate to saying or thinking, “I could play it right by myself! Why can’t I play it for you?” Here are some ways to prepare better for your lessons.
Warm-up before your lesson. So this is obvious, but it took me until my senior year of college before I did it consistently. If it helps, think of your lesson as officially starting 30 minutes before you meet with your teacher. Then you can drive, or walk to the studio.
Develop clear objectives with your teacher each week. It was always intimidating going to a lesson not knowing if my teacher would ask me to play a piece I hadn’t prepared. Instead, ask your teacher to brainstorm objectives with you for the next week of lessons, so that you know exactly what to expect.
Perform your practice objective the day before lesson. At the very least perform the piece/objective for yourself, better yet perform in front of a camera or friend to increase the stakes.
2: Improve Memory
If you are comfortable with your memory of the piece, you will feel less likely to fail, and that will decrease performance anxiety. One way to improve your memory, is to “chunk” your music into meaningful groups.
Chunking in psychology is the process of organizing individual pieces of information into larger more meaningful groupings. For example, if I asked you to memorize the following items:
Cat, dog, ferret, lemon, apple, cherry
You would naturally chunk the information into the categories of “pets” and “fruit.” You would think:
(Pets) – cat, dog, ferret
(Fruits) – lemon, apple, cherry
In music, you can chunk the scales and chords that you see.
For example if you are learning the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven (below), you could chunk the whole first measure into the grouping of “C# minor chord.”
3: Creating Mental Checkpoints
Another memorization practice that I follow is creating mental checkpoints in a piece. This keeps me from relying too heavily on muscle memory.
To create checkpoints, place post-it notes at the beginning of the most important sections (example below). These are your checkpoints. I shoot for a check point every 10-30 seconds – more in the challenging sections.
Now see if you can start right on each checkpoint without looking at the music.
To take it a step further, start at one checkpoint, play for a bit, and then intentionally mess up. Then see if you can start at the next checkpoint without consulting your music.
If you can, you will be much more likely to recover during a higher stakes performance.
4: Building Confidence with Practice Performances
Avoidance may be subtle. Sometimes we avoid performances by procrastinating and not practicing my piece. Other times we avoid by becoming overly perfectionistic and detail-oriented (by becoming hyper detail-oriented, I can avoid performing the whole piece for myself).
To get out of the negative loop, you can follow a plan to put yourself in increasingly challenging performance situations. For example:
You can also put yourself in performance situations by routinely practicing/jamming with musicians at a similar level to you, playing at churches, or playing at retirement communities and nursing homes.
5: A Pre-Performance Ritual
Even if you are feeling crummy, anxious, or unmotivated at the beginning of the day, a pre-performance ritual can help you snap into the right mindset.
Exercise – perhaps a short jog, to get blood flowing to my arm muscles and to my brain. And burn off some of the excess adrenaline.
Piano Warm-Up – Scales, arpeggios, etc so that I am re-acquainted with the instrument. (I rarely play my pieces immediately before a performance, because I think it psyches me out).
Meditation – This calms my nerves and refocusses the extra energy on the task at hand. I visualize/audiate the sounds and emotions I want to create.
By the end of this routine, You will feel alert but relaxed. You're ready to perform!
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