Dealing with nerves when performing

Shocked Face!Feeling a bit nervous, or apprehensive can be a very natural feature of performance and is a completely natural reaction felt by the majority of musicians.

The concern for many people is dealing with this fairly strange sensation and understanding how to use these nerves in a positive way.  When thought of in a measured way, nerves can aid a performance and can give things a real sparkle.

The flip side of this is when nerves become all consuming and stop you being what you could be.  How often do you think after a performance that it is a real shame that it was just no where near as good as when you were practicing on your own?

Looking at how you react to performance situations and thinking about how these feelings can affect you will allow you to begin to truly understand, face and alter the physical effects that may cause issues in your performances.  Here are a few pointers to help calm down the possibility of excessive nerves occurring in the first place:

1)   Know the music.  This goes without saying, but is so often the thing that causes the most issues!  You need to really know the music.  Learn everything you can about it, know the places where you are changing dynamics, phrasing, breathing and how the part you are playing fits the accompaniment in terms of the music not just togetherness or tempo.

2)   Remember to keep breathing.  Again this may sound obvious but this one thing could make all the difference.  Take deep breaths, and practice breathing techniques before going on stage.  This will make sure that you start as you mean to go on when you set foot on the stage

3)   Make sure you mark you part carefully.  Put information around the music to help remind of important things, highlight dynamics and other performance directions.  This can be good for providing a mental note as well as giving you a warm comfort blanket

4)   Visulisation.  This needs practice well before the concert and can be something that makes a real difference to how you feel about the whole process.  This involves imagining the concert in the minutest of detail and trying to live the concert experience in your mind in advance of the performance

5)   Music is all about time and space.  In performance it is crucial to understand how let go and move on.  It is not possible to go back and fix any errors or mistakes so dwelling on them can have a negative impact on what we are about to do.  There is never going to be a perfect performance, and it is important to let go and enjoy the time, space and the moment.

6)   Practice as though you are performing

7)   Keep performing to different audiences and practice playing in front of people.  This will give you a variety of performing opportunities and will also allow you to test out feelings in situations with different levels of pressure.

These are some fairly obvious statements that can easily go Trumpetscompletely out of the window when you are standing just off stage.  Trying to block out negative thoughts at this time usually will not work and may well even make things worse.  In fact the only way to deal with negative thinking is to change your focus and think of something else rather than not trying to think of something.

Stress will generally cause a rapid increase in adrenaline – very useful for fight or flight mechanism required when humans needed to hunt or avoid danger.  The mind doesn’t comprehend the nuance of feelings or emotion but it does understand that fear, stress or anxiety will require the body to be alert and active.  The body then produces adrenaline that is helpful should the heart need to beat faster.

This is where the problem of nerves can really occur.  When the body is producing adrenaline and the heart rate increases it can lead to a loss of control and almost a feeling of complete panic.  This could then cause palpitations and shaking, resulting in the production of yet more adrenaline.  As you can see, this may result in a vicious circle. This is of course a temporary state in terms of performance, but when repeated it can simply become a habit and could begin to occur every time (possibly even with worsening effect) every time you perform to an audience.

If you have ever had the shakes or muscle soreness after a performance this is most likely due to the production of adrenaline.  Adrenaline that is produced and then not used lies in the muscles and acts as a toxin that the body needs to get rid of.

The important thing is to try and break the cycle, or better still not let that cycle occur in the first place.

Always remember that in almost every situation you will be involved in with performance, the most important common fact is that everybody in the audience wants you to play well.  They are most definitely on your side and because they have given up the time to be there (possibly even paid to be there) they want to hear the good musical performance that you have prepared and worked on.

Here are some useful techniques that may well help just before a performance and give you the chance to be able to have the chance both mentally and physically.

1)   Breathing practice.  Breathe in slowly through the nose for four beats and out slowly through the mouth for eight beats.  Try this slowly a few times and allow your mind to think of a positive performing experience

2)   Find a quiet space and put your music in order.  Look through the pieces with a focus on musical elements, sound and feel.  (Not looking at notes and particular passages)

3)   Long quiet notes in the middle of your register focusing on tone and quality of sound

4)   Remember that the audience is not hostile and that they are definitely on your side.  It is important to try to avoid any negative chatter in your head.  Focusing on the what ifs or maybes is not very helpful – think of you’re the last time you played the pieces and how well things went

5)   Acknowledge the audience when you go on stage, and then focus entirely on the music.  With that focus nothing else will get in your way.  Lose yourself in the moment and enjoy

brass quintet 1Always take the time to make yourself comfortable before you start playing and remember that just a few seconds might well feel like hours at the start of a performance!

Let me know if you have found any of these techniques useful or if there is anything that you do that helps with performance anxiety or nerves via the comments box below.

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Dealing with nerves when performing — 2 Comments

  1. I have suffered with nerves and a couple of ways I have overcome them are:-make the tune play in my head as I am playing, don’t be frightened of the nervous feelings and effects it has on your body-acknowledge them and thenfocus on the music and they will go when they are ready, know the music so well that you can play it on autopilot and therefore through your nerves.

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