Sunday, April 24, 2016

Once More Into the Fray! Overcoming Performance Anxiety

I've written before about preparing for performances and auditions, especially when it comes to overcoming performance anxiety. But it's that time of year again, when my students are working hard on their solos for contest, so I'm inspired to take up the topic again. Here are some more tips for having a successful recital/jury/audition/contest.

1. Visualization

Whenever possible, I like to have my students rehearse in the same space they'll be performing in, since that helps them feel more comfortable on stage. Unfortunately, that's not always possible, especially since many contests take place in a different school or location from the one I teach at. In those cases, I try to use visualization techniques to get students to imagine the contest/audition space. I get them to imagine hearing their name called, and picture themselves walking into the room with their music. I might have them visualize all the steps of a good performance, from checking to make sure their piano accompanist is ready, to taking a deep breath and hearing the music in their head before they start playing. Visualization is a powerful technique that many athletes and other high-performers use to prepare themselves, and it works well for musicians as well.

2. Remember the Steps to a Good Performance

These can be different for everyone, but I find it helps my students to develop a "performance routine." This might include checking their technical set-up before they play--bow hold, left hand position, etc. It might include things like taking a deep breath and letting it out before you begin, or trying to hear the music in your head. The routine has the advantage of keeping students focused on the music, not their anxiety or stress, and it makes performances feel less daunting of they're a series of small steps instead of one giant make or break moment. 

3. Find a Healthy Perspective

Musicians can be very intense people, and young musicians even more so. Performances, auditions, and contests can take on an out-sized role in our minds. Even parents can buy into this idea, putting more emphasis on an audition or performance than it deserves. So I think it's always helpful to take a step back and see each individual performance in the context of a person's life or career. Will a child's musical career be devastated if he or she doesn't get top chair in the top orchestra at his or her school? Probably not. After all, Michael Jordan was famously cut form his high school basketball team his freshman year. Sure, it's great to get a one at contest, and wonderful to win an audition. But your family will still love you if you mess up, and you can try again next time. 



  1. When I tell my students about performing on stage, the first thing I say to them is that audience support them. In other words; performing is a social event, not the judgment matter. Second, I tell that the more the person works on his or her work, the more he or she will build up confidence in the performance.

    1. So true! The audience is on your side--that's important to remember.

  2. These are great suggestions, thank you. My teacher would group us by grade level - high schoolers together, middle schoolers together, etc. Each group would meet weekly for the two weeks before a major performance, and we would simulate the performance experience, complete with entrances and exits, bows, etc. She would also video each person's performance along with her feedback. The actual performance would almost feel like a walk in the park after that.

    1. Those are great ideas! I especially like the idea of doing a pre-performance video.