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 Performance Anxiety- How Do Musicians Get Past This Obstacle?
Part 1- Mind Set
by Julia Hansen

For whatever reason, there are those rare folks who are not phased in the slightest when getting up on stage in front of a large audience and giving a performance on his or her instrument.
...But then there are the rest of us...

Are you a musician who feels great right up until the moment you begin playing in your recital? But then, all of a sudden, you start second guessing all of your hard work and accomplishments? As you bring your instrument up to play, you say to yourself:

 "What was I thinking? Who was I fooling? I can't actually play this piece!" (Which, of course, throws you off and you begin making mistakes in passages that you didn't even realize were difficult....) Well, what did you expect? Try having a nice conversation with someone in your family while you practice at home. I doubt you'll be able to pull off a successful rendition of your repertoire then either!

Or  maybe you're that other type, where even the thought of your next performance makes you sick to your stomach, gives you a horrible case of jitters, and makes you wonder why you  even considered playing your instrument in public in the first place. After all, who said that just because you spend countless hours practicing for that performance ....that you actually need to perform in it?

I have a lot of experience with being a very nervous performer. For years I never managed to give a performance that I could call a success. At times, it was like playing with some stranger's mind and body. My hands and legs would shake uncontrollably. I would keep chanting in my mind, "What if I forget what comes next?" and "I really don't want to play out of tune!".

I came to the realization, with the help of my teachers and as my performance experience increased, that I gave such poor performances because of several points:

  • Mind set
  • performance preparation- practicing
  • performance preparation- performing
This article will be about our mind set. The reason we get so nervous is mainly because we care. We want to give a great performance. However, we aren't happy with just any great performance. We want it to be the best, and that definitely means that we don't want to make any mistakes at all.

Well, this is unrealistic. Since we are human, we most likely will make a mistake. The sooner we accept that the better. During a performance, you shouldn't hold yourself to the same standard as those great musicians you have on your CDs. It's a great idea to do this while practicing, but you should relax and have fun while performing. Never ask too much from yourself in a performance. Plan to give your best and allow your best  to be acceptable.

Remember, not the best performance of Yo Yo Ma (or even that "really good" student you heard just last week). We are talking about your best!

Once, while I was still in high school, I had a lesson the day before a performance. I confided in my teacher that I didn't feel ready, and that I was afraid that I was going to sound horrible. He said to me, "Julia, it's true that you will not sound like Heifetz tomorrow, but you will sound like you. It will be at your level. It's true you might make a few more mistakes, or it might even sound a bit better than you are used to. However, there won't  be this huge swing in standard that you are imagining."

It hit me in that moment what I was doing wrong. I wanted to play much better than I could, yet I was thinking that my repertoire would  be at a significantly  lower level than how I knew I practiced it. I felt much better when I knew what to expect from the performance.

Lastly, remember that not all performances are created equal. As students, you should take your performance opportunities as learning experiences. If you are performing for a local retirement community, don't treat it as if it was a performance in Carnegie Hall. These performances will not make or break you, so just calm down!

If you are finished reading about Performance Anxiety click here to go home.

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